How to Avoid 6 Biggest Fabric Shopping Mistakes

Shopping for fabric can be overwhelming.  This guide you save time and headache by avoiding biggest fabric shopping mistakes.  It is fruit of helping thousands of clients.

fabric shopping mistakes


Project and Fabric Mismatch

Fancy style or grand project, but with cheap fabric. This is the first of the common fabric shopping mistakes.

All projects have some restrains, even those with unlimited budget. Where do you control cost? Do less but with the best materials you can find or afford—-or not afford, still use the best material. Less means smaller space, less furniture pieces, less new purchase, less frequent changes, less shopping. Everything can be compromised or saved—color, style, size, location, except one thing: quality of the material.

Material is something at cellular level that cannot be changed nor hide. A good piece of material, be it wood, stone, clay, fiber, metal, will always be good, even old and scratched, even broken. Poor quality material will always be one step away from junk, even brand new. 

High quality material in simpler style always beats low quality material in complicated style.

This is illustrated in these 3 examples. 

Design A

A simple valance in stunning silk  uses only 1 yard of EXPENSIVE silk $100, 1 yard of lining  $10 for lining, sewing labor $60-100. 

Total: $170. 

Design B

Full coverage in high quality but cheaper silk/other designer fabric: $50/yardx6 yards simple valance style, 6y of lining.  Sewing labor $100-150

Total: $460-550.

Design C

Complicated drapery in common fabric with sache and tieback and sheer: 12 yards fabric $25×12, 12 yards of lining $10×12, 16 yards of cheap sheer $5-10x$16. Sewing labor $400. 

Total: $904 

 The cheaper Design A & B will provide much difference experience and last longer. 

 So many buyers told me that they regret using cheaper fabric for their project. Their “saving” on $20 vs $50 material almost always turn out a huge waste of money and time a few years down the road. 

When I stayed at some hotels or Airbnb, the “trendy” fabric on pillows and chairs may look “new” to inexperienced eyes but you can tell the project is waiting to fall apart or age badly merely 3 years down the road. They actually are much more expensive than those “expensive” fabrics that will last for 15-20 years and still be gorgeous. 

Invest in Learning About Fabric

Second of the fabric shopping mistakes is spending too little time educating oneself. Staying in your home for 10-50 years, fabric is almost as permanent as furniture thus one needs to know oneself, the space and the fabric itself.Lots of stuff on TV channels or “popular” media will not last. They are mass produced “taste makers”. We don’t know what we really like until we know what’s really has already been done.

Expose oneself to the “best of the best” which is synonymous to time-tested. Soak in. Go to museums whose admission is just a few cup of coffee or a pair of cheap shoes. Read books. Browse trade magazines. All these can be accessed at public library. Travel, in books, internet or on feet. Any designer or artist will tell you, “80% is learning and composing in one’s head; only 20% of time is spent on ‘making’ or ‘executing’.” Most inexperienced people spend 10% time learning and 90% of time shopping.  

Look for Discounted Premium Quality

Go with retail fabric when adding just $50 or $200, one can get discounted designer exclusive fabric for the same project. Think about Walmart garment vs discounted designer piece, or one of a kind quality vintage.. 

$35 of polyester for 2 years; $300 silk discounted  to $95 for 20-30 years….much better experience. 

Home deco fabric will serve you for 5-10 hoursx350 days x 10-20 years minimum=17,500-70,000 hours. Spending $1000 more on the material equals adding just 1 penny per hour! 

For things that serves you for many hours, the cheapest way and best experience of purchase is to buy the most expensive you can afford

Get Samples

Not asking for samples when one is not sure. Samples, samples, samples.

Any experienced designer will tell you so. Samples allow you to see the actual textile and feel it.

You can also put in the actual space because same fabric, especially high end silk, woven, jacquard, damask, can appear differently in different houses, rooms and even the hour of the day!  

Samples in hand, you can coordinate them, play with your existing rug, furniture and other pieces.  It’s very much like painters need the paint in hand to create!

Another benefit of ordering sample is to get a feeling of the vendor’s quality of service.

If you are looking for something to match what you already have, you have even more reasons to order samples! Never assume what you see online or even in store is “what I have”. Same pattern can be done in different but similar colorways. Even same colorway can have different dye lot throughout the years and decades—classic patterns can be produced for 60 years continuously at different mills and even different countries! 

Decision Fatigue

Browsing for too long can lead to “decision fatigue”, the 5th of the fabric shopping mistakes. There is a sweet spot of “knowing enough” and “seeing too much”.

I myself had been in the second category.  It took me a whole three years to decide which fabric to use after we moved in. The window was bare. After new window was installed, I was forced to install drapery. After I decided which fabric to use, it took merely 3 days to have the project finished. The moment the draperies were hung up, I clearly heard an inner voice, “you’ve made a mistake.” The mistake was, not to do it three years earlier. For same cost, I had missed out three years of beauty, joy, functionality (privacy, insulation and noise reduction).  Plus all the time and energy wasted on agonizing over for the fifteenth time, “how should I do the drapery?!” Full disclosure, the fabric was a thick cotton print by a highly respected designer house with deep tradition. 

Inability to decide often stems from perfectionism or fear of failure. If we never decide, we can never be wrong. 

Chose a Professional Retailer

Go with amateur hobby sellers rather than professional ones. The former may have some “deals” but the latter will offer so many other values that you will find out only later.  Much later. Sometimes too late…

First of all, professional seller will help you avoid expensive mistakes such as using the wrong fabric for the project. I have seen a client wasted near $1000 (material and labor) because the fabric vendor didn’t tell them to get proper lining for the face fabric…Or using seemingly durable garment fabric for upholstery.  Or even suggested synthetic fabric to antique French chairs!

Professional sellers can understand your vision or goal, sometimes even better than yourself. Thus their advice of which color, pattern, style to use will make a world of difference in terms of functionality and aesthetics. Nearly every month, we have a buyer or two coming to our store asking for certain fabric—the less ideal choice or simply wrong fabric for their project. To catch these mistakes are part of our duty, no matter the buyer ends up ordering from us or not.

Their fabrics, trims, wallpapers, rugs, furniture match! They keep record of pattern name and sku that is traceable three years later when your cushion is damaged by puppy or you want to now add the brocade to your bed. Hobby sellers are likely gone by now.

Professional sellers have access to many resources that hobby sellers or retail fabrics don’t have. Their merchandise and advice come from a much larger and better pool of knowledge and skills.


Follow these principles, and you will avoid most common fabric shopping mistakes.

 To live with quality material, is to live a quality life itself. 

To surround one with beautiful textile, is to experience life’s ever changing but ever beautiful texture itself. 

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