Last week, Lady Tiny left a comment with an interesting question. A question, in fact, which I think is very common for anyone who sews and even more so for a beginner: she will soon have a 1 meter piece of beautiful fabric left-over and is looking for a suitable project.
Now, I think it might be useful to give you my personal tips for guessing how much fabric is needed for what kind of garment, but first, I will attend to Lady Tiny's case.
Her fabric is kashmir (wow!). As far as I know, kashmir fabrics come in lots of different weights, mostly ranging from suiting to coating variaties. This matters when you have to decide what to make from it.
For a coating weight fabric, I'd recommend looking for a pattern for a fairly short jacket with three-quarter length sleeves or, considering the information in your profile, a short cape (Lady Tiny, if you can read even the smallest bit of German, check out Natron und Soda for tutorials for fantasy clothing. It's on my little list of links)
For a suiting weight fabric, you've got plenty of options. A skirt always works, even if your piece of fabric is a bit smaller that 1m. Depending on the length you want for your skirt, you can pick from several styles: 1m of fabric would make a long straight or A-line skirt, a knee-length semi-circle, pleated or gored (I made a tutorial for one of those here) skirt or a short circle skirt. A pair of trousers might be possible, if you are slightly below average height and have a small enough size that you can cut out the trouser legs side-by-side. And there is still the option of a little jacket or cape.
Because you are using beautiful and probably quite expensive fabric, I'd recommend making a muslin: just try out the pattern, without any seam finishes in a very cheap fabric.
A lot of this advice can be applied to any fabric you may want to plan for. Personally, I tend to think that buying as much fabric as pattern tells you to, plus a bit extra to be on the safe side, is a recipe for a huge stash of left over pieces. Of course, that attitude may be strengthened by the fact that I make my own patterns. However, I have quite often heard fabric sellers recommend fairly outrageous amounts of fabric to their customers (sometimes I interfere).
As with everthing in sewing, there's nothing like experience to get your fabric-buying right.
In a lot of cases, you can actually place your pattern pieces closer together than the drawing on the pattern says you can (without compromising the grainline or seam allowances). Also, pattern-manufacturers tend to group sizes, recommending the same amount of fabric them. If you are at the smaller size, you may be able to make do with less fabric.
It also pays off to keep your 'standard pattern changes' in mind when fabric shopping. If you are below the pattern's standard height, you will (with experience) know how to alter it to fit you. Which means you will need less fabric.
If you often buy fabric without a specific project in mind, it is also good to develop a 'rule of thumb' for the amounts of fabric needed for styles you like to sew (there are cards available to help with this but don't have any personal experience with those).
Mine is as follows:
- 70 cm will make me a straight or A-line skirt at knee-length. Or a vest, or shorts, or if it's jersey, a top.
- 1 m will make me a fuller or longer skirt, capri-length trousers or a short-sleeved top. In jersey, it will make a sleeveless or cap-sleeved dress.
- 1,20 m will make me a pair of trousers, a more complex top or a short-sleeved dress
- 1,50 m will make me a blouse, a jacket or a fairly full skirted, short sleeved dress.
- 2 m is needed for a jacket with a big collar or a dress.
- If I'm going to make a true 50's style dress, with a very full skirt, I will need 3 to 4 meters, depending on the design and the skirt length.
These are the rules I buy by, given for fabric which is 140 cm wide (which most are). In all cases, I am refering to basic styles of each garment, added details may require more fabric.
It is worth knowing your leg length (waist to ankle) and hip circumference. You can always make a straight skirt out of a piece of fabric which is of the desired length plus seam allowance and a bit extra for waistband or facing, if it's width is more that your hip circumference plus seam allowance (if it is less, you will need twice the desired skirt length).
For trousers, the calculation is more complicated and only those with the smallest sizes can really place the legs side by side. Keep in mind that, on a fabric without nap or directional print, you can often put one leg up and the other one down. Most of people will be safe when buying 1 and a half times the desired length (and again, twice the desired length for large sizes).
For all tops and some dresses, it's sleeves which take up a lot of fabric. The general rule here is that you will need garment length plus sleeve length.
Ok, that's a lot of text, I hope it is helpful and don't hesitate to ask any questions which remain or are raised now.