How to Get the Most Out of Your Pretty Fabric

How to Get the Most Out of Your Pretty Fabric

Hi sewing friends! Don’t you just hate it when you have ALMOST enough of that gorgeous long hoarded fabric for your sewing project but you’re coming up a little short? Or you have leftover fabric from a project that feels like too much to discard or throw in your scrap bin but not quite enough to make something else? Today I’m going to share some tips and tricks to 1) get the most out of your fabric and conserve your yardage, 2) piece together fabric into pattern pieces and highlight a few Ellie & Mac patterns that are perfect for that in between amount of yardage.

First, some basic tips for finding the most efficient ways to cut out your pattern pieces:

  1. Always, always do a test layout with your pieces before you begin to cut, especially if you think it’s going to be a close call. Fabric widths and sewists sizes vary so much that I never rely on the fabric layout diagram of a pattern - I always check before I cut to make sure I have enough fabric (or if I need to use a few of the tricks in this blog post!). Sometimes there are more efficient ways to lay out the pattern pieces, so try a few ways before you determine if you have enough fabric.

  2. Don’t cut on the fold – trace/duplicate any pattern pieces that are half pieces into full pieces. I find that I can usually find a more efficient pattern cutting layout if I am working with full pattern pieces. Many projector files now offer full pieces instead of pieces cut on the fold, so if you are working with a projector, the work may already be done for you. Working with full pattern pieces also makes it easier to fully visualize how a patterned fabric may line up with your pieces (to avoid that dreaded misplaced flower on your upper bodice….)

  3. Cut your biggest pieces first, like bodices, back pant legs, and sleeves, and then the smaller pieces like bands, cuffs, etc. This will help you make sure you have enough continuous yardage.

  4. A tip for those that use projectors – if your projector pattern doesn’t have big margins, add more in PDFStitcher (available for free online). This will give you more room to scroll and really find all the options for pattern piece placement on your fabric.

  5. Lastly, most fabric sites (and most brick-and-mortar stores) will let you buy fabric in half or even quarter yard increments. I oftentimes find that 1 yard is too little but 2 yards is more than I need – so 1.5 or 2.5 yards of wider fabrics seems to be a good fit for most of my projects.

Next, let’s get a little more creative with cutting out individual pattern pieces!

Did you know you can piece together most pattern pieces from multiple cuts of fabric if you are ok with a few extra seams here and there? But you need to follow two VERY IMPORTANT rules when doing this. First, pay attention to the grainline or direction of stretch of your fabric. You want to make sure all your cuts are done properly as it relates to these directions – so you don’t end up with a sleeve where half of it stretches and the other half does not. And second, always add your seam allowance to the edges of where you will attach to pieces together to make a full pattern piece. I’ll be reminding you of this a few times in this post. 😊 So here are a few creative ways you can do this.

Cut your bodice in two vertical pieces

Many patterns already have this approach to help you conserve fabric or add some shaping to the back, but most still have you cutting your back bodice on the fold. And you can also cut two vertical pieces for the front, which is a little less conventional but still works and can add a design element. Split the pattern piece as below and cut in two pieces, adding back that seam allowance. The dotted line below represents where you would cut the pattern piece into two. You can top stitch the seam for a more professional finish. If you use a busy patterned fabric, you may not even see the seam. Or, again – design element!

Did you know Ellie & Mac has a pattern where this is incorporated into the design for you so you don’t have to worry about adding the seam allowances? It’s the Half Pipe Tee, and I’ve mostly seen it used for scrap busting – see my version below which is what I did. But you could totally use this pattern with all the same fabric but with smaller cuts to make it work with your yardage limitations.

Cut your bodice in two horizontal pieces

This works too! Whether you use the same fabric for all the cuts or different fabrics for a unique look, you can get more out of your yardage taking this approach. You can raise and lower the cut line depending on how much fabric you have and what look you’d like to achieve. Ellie & Mac has a few patterns you could use for this approach (like the Autumn Spice Top) or you could alter your existing pattern pieces, making the cut as shown below and adding back your seam allowance.

Use a different fabric for the front and back bodice pieces

I love this one for tank tops! I wrote a blog post for E&M a few years ago where I show how to do this with the Curved Hem Pocket Tank – find the instructions here. You get two tops for the price of one!

Cut your sleeves in two pieces each

Next, let’s talk sleeves. Especially if you’re using a patterned fabric, the seams will not be obvious, and you can really stretch your fabric this way. I find that sleeves can consume a lot of fabric for some patterns, especially long sleeves. You can easily modify the pattern piece using one of the two methods shown below.

Redraw the curve of a dress to remove some width

I do this ALL THE TIME. Some of my favorite dress patterns are real fabric hogs – like one of my fave E&M dresses which is the Sweetie Pie. I love this dress but I rarely have enough fabric for that super wide flared skirt. You can remove as much of the flare as you need to work with your fabric, just keeping in mind that you will have less fullness to the dress. Here is roughly how you would do it:

I recently sewed a new Sweetie Pie where I took off at least three to four inches on each side and I still feel like its got some swing to it!

So these are my top tips and tricks for stretching your yardage. I hope you discovered something new you can try in your sewing practice! If you use any of these tips, I would love to be tagged either in the E&M Facebook group or on Instagram so I can check it out! Here’s my Insta handle:

Happy Sewing!



(Written by: Andrea Mulford)

PDF Sewing Patterns

Download your pattern immediately after your order.