Have you ever stumbled across an excellent fabric sale and decided to buy a few yards just in case? The danger of buying fabric without a specific pattern to guide you is that you have to guess how much cloth you will need for your project. For example, how many yards of fabric does it take to make a dress?
Most dresses require at least three to four yards of fabric, though a dress for a toddler or a girl may require one to two yards of material. The amount of fabric necessary for a dress depends on the length of the dress, the size of the dress, and the width of the fabric bolt. Different dress styles, such as ballgown vs sheath dresses, will also need varying amounts of material.
In this article, you will learn how to plan your fabric purchases even without a specific pattern. You will find an overview of how much fabric you need for the most popular types of dresses. Finally, you will find a handy fabric calculator to help you make estimates.
How Do I Know How Much Fabric I Need to Make a Dress?
The easiest way to find out how much fabric you need to make a dress is to read the pattern instructions. You can also estimate how many yards of fabric you need based on your size, the type of dress, and the dress length.
Most sewing patterns come with a size and yardage chart. You can find this printed on the back of a paper pattern or in the instructions on most digital patterns. Sizes will run along one side of the table, and the yardage will run along the other so you can find the right amount of fabric.
If you have not used sewing patterns before, please note that these sizes have nothing in common with retail clothing sizes! You should always use the measurement guide on the pattern first to find out what “sewing size” you will fit.
Smaller sizes, like dresses for children or teens, require less fabric than Misses or Plus Size dresses.
But the style of the dress itself will also impact how much fabric you need. If you plan to sew a tea-length dress, the extra length of the skirt will require more fabric than a short knee-length sheath dress will need.
Two more important factors can change how much fabric you need for your dress: the pattern in the material itself and the width of the fabric bolt.
If you look at the cloth you want to use to sew your dress and it has an obvious pattern like plaid or stripes, you will need to try to fit the edges of the pattern together every time you cut out pieces of the dress. This often requires extra fabric, which the pattern instructions should tell you.
Finally, most dress fabric comes in a 45”, 54”, or 60” width. You can easily spot the difference if you buy material in a physical store because the 60” bolts will stand up much taller on the shelves! If you order material online, make sure you pay attention to this difference.
A piece of fabric three yards long but 60” wide will contain much more material than a length of fabric three yards long but only 45” wide. Again, most patterns will specify what width you need. But if you want to estimate how much material you need to make a dress, just remember that if you buy cloth in a 54” width, you may need more yards of material than if you buy 60” width.
How Many Yards of Fabric to Make a Dress
You can estimate how many yards of fabric you will need to make a dress based on the style, size, and length of the dress.
In the United States, dress fabric is sold by the yard. A yard means a three-foot length of cloth, typically in either a 45”, 54”, or 60” width. In other parts of the world, you may need to adjust your estimates slightly for fabric sold in meters, or about 3.28 feet in American measurement terms.
Summer DressMost summer dresses require around two to three yards of fabric as they often have a sleeveless style, a short skirt, and a simple design. You often want a soft, lightweight jersey knit or a semi-transparent, pretty print like rayon or tulle for this type of dress.
Consider these factors before buying your fabric:
- How long is the dress? Many summer dresses end at or above the knee, so you need significantly less fabric.
- Does the dress have any gathers, smocking, or pleats? These shaping elements tuck away the excess fabric to form a 3D shape, meaning that you may need extra material to begin with.
- Is your fabric see-through? In this case, you may need to double up and buy a lining material.
Child’s DressBaby, toddler, and child dresses typically need only one to two yards of material. The age and size of the child will determine how much material you need, though. For example, you may need just half a yard or less to sew an outfit for an infant.
As a pro tip, avoid super-fitted patterns and look for a looser, one-size-fits-all type of baby and toddler dress. Or sew the garment one size up from the child’s current size to allow for the rapid pace at which all little ones grow.
Look for soft, pretty cloth when you make a dress for a young child, avoiding uncomfortable elements like prickly lace or stiff satin. If possible, pick out organic, baby-safe fabric instead of synthetics like polyester or nylon. Synthetic material can cause an allergic reaction in some children.
Girl’s DressA girl’s dress also usually requires between one and two yards of fabric. For a sleeveless, short dress for a child, you can estimate about one yard of material. For a child’s dress with a full ankle-length skirt, such as a flower girl or confirmation dress, you will likely need at least two yards of material.
One thing to keep in mind while picking fabric for a fancy dress for a girl is that you may need more than one type of fabric. For example, if you want to sew a confirmation dress for a six-year-old, you may want a stiff-bodied satin for the skirt but softer material for the bodice.
Again, you probably want to sew the dress one size too large in case the child grows before the important event!
Wedding DressWedding dresses may need anywhere from two to twenty or more yards of fabric, depending on the style of the gown. This huge variation occurs because some women rock a simple slip or sheath dress at their weddings, while others prefer a massive whipped-cream style ballgown skirt with a train!
Take a look at this estimate for the most popular types of wedding gowns:
- A classic A-line style wedding dress with a full-length skirt often takes 5 to 7 yards of wide fabric.
- A mermaid dress with a fitted bodice and a skirt that flares below the knee often requires 4 to 6 yards of wide material, though it is common to add a lace overlay to this style of gown.
- A ballgown wedding dress with its wide bell-shaped skirt will take at least 8 to ten yards of material, though this amount can increase greatly if you have tucks or a long train.
- A tea-length or midi wedding dress will likely only require 3 yards of material.
Prom DressProm dress styles can vary a lot, but on average, you need five to seven yards of material to make this fancy gown.
- Longer dress styles will need more material. For example, a flared, full-length A-line dress often takes around 6 to 7 yards of material.
- If you want sleeves, add another ½ to 1 yard of material to your estimate.
- If you plan to use lace or sheer fabric, remember that you will need to double your fabric yardage to include a lining material.
Costume DressCostume or cosplay dresses may need anywhere from one to ten or more yards of fabric, depending on the costume you want to recreate, the size of the person who will wear the costume and even the type of fabric you need to create an authentic version of the original costume.
Check out these tips to help get the right amount of fabric for your costume:
- As always, the age and size of the person you plan to make the costume for will impact the amount of fabric you need. That said, many costumes require more fabric than everyday clothing. A Cinderella dress for a toddler will take two to three yards of fabric instead of the usual one to two yards for an ordinary toddler dress.
- Many costumes require special types and colors of fabric to recreate a particular look. To use the Cinderella dress example again, you would want sheer baby blue material for the sleeves and waist poofs but a glittery blue satin for the bouffant skirt. This means that you need to consider the amount of fabric you want for each part of the costume.
- Costume dresses often mimic the kind of dresses worn at various points in history, and these older clothing styles typically used way more fabric than you see in modern clothing. Fashion standards change over time which is one reason you will need around 8 yards of fabric to sew the average Renaissance fair costume but only about three yards to sew the average modern-day dress!
Maxi DressMaxi dresses typically require between two and three yards of fabric.
Most maxi dresses use a soft, stretchy fabric such as jersey knit, and have a simple, long shape and easy-to-sew design.
Technically, a maxi dress means a dress that hangs between midi and full length. This means that sometimes, you may want to sew a more elegant type of maxi dress using a slippery material like rayon or a semi-transparent fabric like chiffon or tulle. In these cases, you may need to account for lining material.
Sheath DressMost sheath dresses require between two to three yards of fabric, depending on the length of the dress.
A full-length sheath like a wedding or evening gown often needs three yards, but a knee-length office-style dress often just needs two yards.
Other similar styles, such as a bodycon dress, may need only one and a half two yards of material, but you will need a super-stretchy fabric that has elastic fibers in it for this close-fitting dress.
Depending on the length, a slip dress can take 2 to 4 yards of fabric. Slip dresses typically have a simple spaghetti strap style with a v-neck and slightly flared side seams. Many slip dresses have a shorter length, requiring only two yards or so of fabric.
That said, slip dresses often require a bias cut. This means cutting out pattern pieces diagonally across the grainline, which can take more yardage than cutting pattern pieces straight on the grainline.
Ball gowns can come with many style variations, but they typically always feature a bouffant skirt that requires at least 8 to 10 yards of material. This full, sometimes gathered or tucked skirt also typically styles a fancy kind of material like satin, velvet, tulle, or embellished material such as glitter or embroidered sheers.
You often need structural fabrics like stiff netting beneath the skirt, and you may need a full lining if you use a sheer-like embroidered netting as the top layer of the skirt.
The body on a ballgown is traditionally sleeveless and can feature many different necklines like a sweetheart, Queen Anne, or scalloped style.
A long dress skirt usually takes about two yards of fabric, especially for a skirt with straight, severe lines. This type of skirt pairs well with a matching shirt or jacket to create the illusion of a dress. You can also wear it with a contrasting top for an elegant business casual style.
If you want to make a shorter skirt like a pencil skirt, you may only need one to one and a half yards of material.
Plus Size Dress
Most day dress styles, like sundress or summer dress in plus sizes, will require 3 to 4 yards of fabric. This does depend on the width of the fabric, though. Also, you may find it possible to fit plus-size pieces onto smaller amounts of fabric yardage with a careful arrangement before you cut out the dress.
However, it is true that pattern pieces for a plus size dress will have a larger size than Misses-size pattern pieces for the same dress, so make sure you account for that in your yardage estimate.
There is, unfortunately, no perfect equation to know how much more yardage you need for a plus size than for a misses size. This is because dress styles vary so much.
For example, on a slip dress, you will see about ⅛ yard of fabric added on for each additional size. So a size 2 slip dress may require 1 ½ yards of fabric, and a size 10 might require 2 ⅛ yards of fabric. But if you compare ballgowns, the additional yardage could increase dramatically.
Long dresses such as maxi dresses, full-length dresses, ballgowns, and wedding dresses can take anywhere from three to ten or twenty yards of material.
- A straight long dress like a maxi or slip dress usually only needs three to four yards of fabric. This depends on your size, though.
- A long dress with a flared skirt, such as a peasant-style or a long A-line dress, will likely need 5 to 6 yards of fabric.
- A long dress with a super full skirt, such as a ballgown or some styles of wedding gowns, will need 10+ yards of fabric in most cases.
A dress jacket such as a bolero often requires just ½ to 1 yard of material. You typically use a light to medium-weight fabric for this small shoulder-covering jacket that pairs with a formal dress. Silk, sateen, cotton, or light wool can all work well for this jacket.
Bolero jackets usually have ¾ length sleeves and a hem that ends just above your natural waist. Sometimes, you might make a suit jacket or peplum-style jacket to go with a formal dress instead. These jackets usually come down to your hip and will require close to 3 yards of fabric plus a lining material.
How Many Yards of Fabric Do I Need: Chart
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How Much Fabric Do I Need for a Dress Calculator
There is no easy calculator or app you can use to estimate how much fabric you need for a dress, but you can use several calculations to figure out how many yards of fabric you need for a project.
The easiest way to calculate how much fabric you need for a dress is to use the chart provided on a pattern.
- First, take your measurements. Sewing patterns do not typically use sizes that compare to retail clothing sizes. You should not assume you should make a size 8 dress from a sewing pattern just because you would buy a size 8 dress off the rack!
- Next, find your size on the pattern. You can do this using the handy chart provided on most sewing patterns. Use your largest measurement (usually the hips or bust) to pick the correlating size.
- Use the chart to find the recommended fabric yardage for that size.
If your pattern does not include a sizing chart or a recommended fabric amount (for example, if you lost the pattern envelope that usually features this information), you can make an estimate using some math and the physical pattern pieces.
- First, unfold or print out the pattern pieces in your size. Spread them out on a flat surface as if you were about to cut them out. Make sure the grainlines point the right way and that all the pieces fit within a 60” width, just as they would if you laid them out on the fabric. It may help to place two lines of painter’s tape on your flat surface 60” apart.
- If any pattern pieces need duplicates, trace them out of tissue paper so you can place the piece in your 60” space twice.
- Finally, measure the length of all the pattern pieces laid out within the 60” space. Divide this by 12 and then multiply by 3 to determine how many yards of 60” fabric you will need!
Is Three Yards of Fabric Enough for a Dress?
Three yards of fabric can make many different kinds of dresses, such as sundresses, most maxi dresses, and most knee-length or midi dresses. However, this does depend on your size, as plus-size dresses may require additional yardage. The fullness of the skirt may also mean that you need more or less fabric for your dress.
In general, though, you can safely estimate that three yards will make a narrow full-length dress like a maxi or slip dress and a fuller knee-length dress like a sundress or peasant dress.
Is Two Yards of Fabric Enough for a Dress?
Two yards of fabric are enough to make certain types of dresses, such as some sheath, bodycon, and wrap dresses. This depends on your size and height, though, as taller or plus-sized people may need more fabric to increase the shape of the dress.
Two yards of fabric can easily make most toddler and child dresses. Two yards of fabric can also make most dress jackets and many dress-style skirts.
Most dresses use between 2 to 6 yards of fabric, but exactly how many yards of fabric you need to make a dress depends on the style of the dress, your size, and the type of material. Fabric often comes in either 45”, 54”, or 60” widths which can impact how many yards of cloth you need to purchase. Different sizes of the same dress will also require varying amounts of fabric.
Popular dress styles like sundresses often require three yards of fabric. Fancier dresses like evening gowns, ball gowns, and wedding dresses can require anywhere from three to 10+ yards of material. Dresses for a child usually take from 1 to 3 yards of cloth.
Have you ever sewn a dress? What method did you use to buy the right amount of fabric? Leave a comment below to let us know!