Standing in the fabric store surrounded by bolts of gorgeous colors can be exciting – or intimidating. How can you make sure you have enough fabric for your next project before you’re standing at your cutting table? The key to answering this question is knowing the width of fabric you have available to you.
The standard width of a fabric bolt can be anywhere from 35 inches to 108 inches. The average bolt will fall within the 40 to 60-inch range, with specialty fabrics falling on the outer reaches of the range. Until you know the width of your fabric, you won’t know how many yards you need.
The best way to find the width of your fabric is to measure it on a flat surface. Before you get that far, however, you can estimate the width based on factors like the type of material, where you’re buying, and how the fabric is folded on the bolt. This guide will take you from a fabric width novice to a measurement whiz!
What Is the Width of Fabric (WOF)?
The width of the fabric or WOF refers to the distance between the outermost warp threads. When you manufacture fabric on a loom, there are threads running in two directions, the warp and the weft. If you think of the fabric like a large grid, the warp threads run top to bottom, and the weft threads run left to right.
The usable width of your fabric is the measurement between the warp thread on the left edge to the warp thread on the right edge, minus any selvage. The actual piece of material could be wider than the usable portion, but most manufacturers will provide the usable width rather than the actual width.
In sewing, the WOF is the amount of space you have to place your pattern pieces between selvage edges. You want to cut within that boundary because selvage edges are denser than the rest of the fabric, so including them in a pattern piece can make your garment pucker.
For quilting, WOF can include the selvage edges. This is because you generally aren’t using pattern pieces to cut out quilt fabric. A quilting instruction like “cut out a four-inch WOF strip” would mean to cut one strip of fabric, including selvage edges.
Why Is Fabric Width Important?
Fabric width is important because it will help you determine how many yards of fabric you’ll need to complete your pattern. For example, if you have a quilting pattern that calls for 5 yards of a fabric with a WOF of 45 inches, but you want to use a fabric that has a shorter WOF, you’ll know you need more than 5 yards to complete the pattern.
Most patterns for sewing or quilting projects will give you both a yardage requirement and a WOF measurement. Knowing these two measurements is the only way to guarantee you’ll have the right amount of fabric for your project before you start cutting.
How to Measure the Width of Fabric
Measuring the width of your fabric is easy – all you need is a large flat surface and a yardstick or other measuring tool. Lay your fabric out flat, smoothing out any wrinkles. Make sure you’ve unfolded it so that you can see both selvage edges. Place one end of your yardstick on one selvage edge and note where the number where the other selvage edge touches.
If you use a cutting mat with measurements printed on it, you can lay out your fabric there to check the measurements. Measuring tapes work too, but a stiff tool like a yardstick is more likely to give you an accurate measurement every time.
To check the usable width between selvage edges, adjust the position of your yardstick so that the zero is lined up with the beginning of the usable fabric. Most fabrics will be less than a yard across, but for wider fabrics like quilt backing or upholstery, you may need to use multiple yardsticks or a large cutting mat to measure your WOF.
What Is the Standard Width of Fabric Bolt?
Fabric width varies by manufacturer and fabric type. While there isn’t a standard width for all fabric bolts, there are ways to estimate how wide fabric is before you measure it. Similar fabrics tend to have similar widths; for example, most cotton fabrics have the same width whereas most wools have the same width, but wool and cotton won’t necessarily have the same width as each other.
The average width for fabric you’d find in a local craft store or fabric store is between 40 and 60 inches. When you see fabric rolled up on rectangular cardboard bolts, it’s safe to assume that the width is going to fall somewhere between 35 inches and 108 inches. Knowing the kind of fabric will help you make a closer guess.
What Is Single Width Fabric?
Single-width fabric refers to any fabric that’s wrapped around the bolt unfolded. When you unroll a single-width fabric, you’ll only have one layer on your cutting table. The selvage edges will be on opposite sides of the fabric, and you’ll be able to clearly see the right and wrong sides of the fabric. Single-width fabric is usually wrapped around the bolt with the right side facing outwards, so you can see it.
What Is Double Width Fabric?
Double width fabric is a fabric that is folded in half widthwise before the manufacturer wraps it around the bolt. When you unwrap this fabric, the selvage edges will be on the same side, and the opposite side will have a fold.
This is how extremely wide fabrics like upholstery or drapery fabrics are packaged. Typically, the right side of the fabric will face outwards, and the wrong sides will be facing each other inside the fold. When you cut this fabric off the bolt, you’ll have a double layer.
Fabrics with Narrow Widths
Narrow fabrics tend to be materials that you use for smaller pieces, like interfacing. You don’t need as much width, so bolts of interfacing tend to be closer to 30 inches than 40. Vintage fabrics, especially cottons and muslins, also tend to be narrower than 40 inches.
Smaller looms lead to narrower fabrics, so fabric manufactured outside of a commercial setting is more likely to be narrow. These fabrics are generally older, or more specialty. It is rare to find these fabrics in your average fabric store.
Fabrics with Average Widths
The vast majority of fabrics that you’ll find today will fall within the 40 to 60-inch range. Quilting cotton and most apparel fabric fit these parameters. Within this range, quilting fabrics tend to be larger than others.
Cotton is typically a few inches wider than flannel, and wool is usually a few inches wider than cotton. All of these, however, will be single-width fabrics. If you find an apparel fabric that’s folded double on the bolt, it’s going to be an extra wide fabric.
Wider than Average Fabrics (Extra Wide Fabric)
The most common extra wide fabrics are for upholstery and home decor. These fabrics tend to be packaged as double width because they’re so wide. They are typically between 54 inches and 108 inches wide. Home decor fabrics with intricate patterns like brocades are usually extra wide to reduce the need for pattern matching and seaming on large items, like couches or drapes.
Some less common apparel fabrics also show up in extra wide widths. Knit jersey, corduroy, and twill skew wider, because of the way they’re made. Knit jersey is more likely to be sold double width than corduroy, however, because it is easier to fold.
Quilt backing is also commonly sold in extra wide widths. Backing an entire quilt in one seamless piece of fabric usually requires more than 60 inches in width. A standard queen-size bed is 60 inches across, so making quilts to fit anything larger than a queen requires wider quilt backing.
How to Find the Width of Fabric Bolts
Before you pull down a bolt and roll it out to cut, it’s a good idea to try to find the width. That will help you calculate how many yards you’ll need, and whether the fabric can accommodate your pattern.
If the fabric is wrapped around a rectangular cardboard bolt, check the end of the cardboard for a label. Most cardboard bolts will have a sticker with information about the fabric, including the WOF, fiber content, and washing instructions. Depending on the retailer, this label could also include pricing per yard information.
If the fabric is on a roll or the cardboard bolt is blank, check for a hanging tag or another label nearby. The tag should contain all of the same information that the bolt would.
Keep in mind that the yardage the label states may not be accurate, especially if someone else has already purchased some of the bolt. Always measure the fabric before cutting or purchasing the bolt. Measure twice, cut once applies from the very beginning of your project!
Does the Width Change How Many Yards Are On a Bolt?
The WOF doesn’t have a huge influence on how many yards are wrapped around a bolt. The average bolt has between 40 and 100 yards, to begin with, regardless of the width. The thickness of the fabric has more impact on the yardage than the width.
Thicker material will have less yardage length than thinner material because it is harder to wrap around the bolt as many times. Denim will get too thick for the cardboard bolt before a cotton/lycra blend will.
When you’re buying an entire bolt of fabric, make sure to measure it even if the dimensions are printed on the label. Especially in retail chains, you may not be able to tell if someone else has purchased part of the bolt or not. It’s better to take the time to measure out your fabric in the store than to get home and start cutting, only to realize you’re short a few yards!
Is a Bolt Measured the Same Way as a Roll?
When you’re buying fabric wholesale, or from a large outlet, you might notice that the fabric isn’t folded onto bolts. Rather, it’s rolled up on tubes, like wrapping paper. Rolls of fabric aren’t measured the same way as bolts.
Extra wide fabric can be put on rolls in a single layer instead of folded double over bolts. This is useful for thicker, less flexible fabrics that won’t fold as neatly. Rolls are a more common practice for wholesalers because they are dealing with larger quantities at a time. Selling 250 yards cut from a single roll is easier than selling that much in 40-yard bolts.
How Wide Is Fabric Sold by the Yard?
Fabric is usually sold by the yard, no matter how wide it is. The price per yard should account for the width of the fabric, too. For instance, double width fabric might look like it costs double per yard as a similar fabric sold single width. Actually, the price per square foot is likely the same, you just get twice as much fabric per yard in double width as you do in a single.
“By the yard” is a shorter way of noting the size of fabric than labeling fabric by square feet or square inches. Selling it by lengths and providing you with widths is a way to give you more information about the fabric than other ways of measuring it.
How to Make Sure You Get Enough Fabric
Knowing the width is the first step in getting enough fabric for your project. Once you know this information, there are a few more things to look at to make sure you don’t end up short-changing yourself.
Look at your pattern to see how you’ll need to cut out your pieces. For quilting, double check that the fabric can accommodate the widest pieces of your pattern. For sewing, look at the lengths of the individual pattern pieces. A width that works for a blouse, for example, may not work for a full circle skirt.
Make sure to check the selvage edge of the fabric when you’re making your calculations. Even a little overlap with the selvage could make constructing your pattern difficult if there’s a huge difference in fabric density.
At the same time, make sure you have enough fabric to account for fussy cuttings or lining up directional prints. While you might be able to get enough fabric out of 3 yards of striped fabric, that may not be enough fabric to line up the stripes so that they are all facing the right direction. Given the choice between buying extra fabric and having crooked stripes or plaids, it’s better to have extra fabric!
Fabric Width Conversion Chart
Figuring out how much fabric you need when your pattern width and your fabric width don’t match can be tricky. Use the chart below as a handy guide for converting the yardage for various fabric widths. The most common yardage requirements are listed.
Always err on the side of getting extra fabric, especially if you’re working with directional prints or hard-to-find fabrics. The largest yardage on this chart is 2 yards of 60-inch fabric, but the conversion is the same for any yardage; just swap the whole number for the yardage you need (i.e. if you need 4 yards of 60 inch, you could use 4 ¾ yards of 35 inch).
Fabric comes in a variety of widths, based on the type of fabric and its intended use. Even though there is a variety, there are easy tricks to figuring out the right amount of yardage for your project. Knowing the width of your fabric is the first step for making the perfect project.
If you found these tips helpful for your sewing and quilting projects, please let us know in the comments! Share this article to help others learn about the importance of fabric widths and measuring your fabric accurately.