How big is a yard of fabric?
Once you've chosen a pattern and you're ready to buy your fabric and get sewing. But how do you know how much fabric you need? A pattern may specify the amount in lengths, but you'll find that the amount you need varies depending on the width of the fabric you've chosen. When you buy fabric for your sewing projects it's usually sold by the linear yard.
So, how do you know how big a yard of fabric actually is?
How big is a yard?
Very simply, one yard of fabric is 36 inches long. But working out how much fabric you need for a sewing project is a little bit more complicated than that.
While a yard in length is always a yard, fabric width varies according to where you're buying it. Average widths are between 33-44 inches. Because of the different widths available you need to calculate how many yards you need overall.
The width required also depends on your sewing project - if you're making a large item, like a duvet cover, you'll need a much wider piece of fabric than you'd need for a dress or bag. If that width isn't available you can stitch two pieces together. Read your pattern carefully when working out how many yards of fabric needed.
It's important to think also about the type of fabric and whether it's patterned. Pre-washed fabric shouldn't shrink, but with other fabrics you may need to build in a little shrinkage surplus in your yardage. Patterns can run lengthwise or widthwise, so take account of this in your calculations too.
Yard or meter?
To add to the confusion, fabrics come in yards and meters. So as well as working out the dimensions of a yard in inches you need to convert inches to centimeters if you normally use the metric system.
The Imperial system of inches and yards is used only in the USA, Libya and Myanmar. The rest of the world uses metric measurements. Which can make it hard to work out how to buy a yard of fabric or to determine the length and width in inches if you're used to meters and centimeters.
If you're using the metric system (meters and centimeters) 1 yard equals 0.9144 meters, or 91cm. Your retailer may specify that fabric is sold by the meter. They will give the width in centimeters. This might look like this '150 x 100cm', which shows you the fabric is 150cm wide and 100m long. You then calculate the amount of fabric required by length.
How is fabric measured?
Fabric is usually sold from a bolt. This is a cardboard tube that the material is wrapped around, and then unfurled on a flat surface to be measured. Width is measured from the selvage (the woven edge, often marked with a white border) across the bolt.
How to measure a yard
Even if you already use the imperial system your tape measure may not have yards on it. To measure a yard you need to convert it to inches and then use your measuring tape to find the right width of the fabric.
Remember, there are 36 inches in a yard. So, for example, if your pattern calls for 2 yards of fabric you multiply 36 by 2 to find out your fabric yardage.
You can also convert feet into yards. How many feet in a yard? A yard is 3 feet. It might also help to know that 36 inches equals 3 feet.
Buying fabric: how much do you need in yards?
Calculating fabric amounts
Once you've answered the question of how big is a yard of fabric, you now need to work out exactly how much fabric your pattern requires. You could do this mathematical calculation using length and width plus the number of pieces required:
- Write down the width of your fabric and the width of one piece. Divide the fabric width by the piece width. This tells you how many pieces will fit into the width of your fabric. Round it down for ease.
- Divide the number of pieces needed by the number that will fit into the width (calculated above). This gives you the number of rows you'll need.
- Multiply this number by the length of one piece to find out how many inches of fabric are needed in total.
- Take this number and divide it by 36 inches (round it up to make sure you've got enough) to get the total yardage required.
Use a yard conversion chart
But the simplest way to work out yardage is to use a conversion chart. If your pattern tells you to use 54 inches of fabric, for instance, you simply read across the chart to find the right number of yards for your sewing project. This conversion chart shows you need 1.5 yards of fabric. For a piece measuring 9 inches you need 0.25 yards (pic via sew4home.com).
Once you've bought the right amount of fabric you're ready to get sewing! If you need tips on cutting fabric straight go here. And to find out how to deal with fabric that puckers when you sew go here.