How to Know How Much Fabric to Buy for a Shirt

The amount of fabric you buy when making a shirt is part math and part guesswork. Your personal measurements determine the pattern size you use. In addition, the type of shirt that you're making affects the amount of fabric: long sleeve versus short sleeve or fitted versus bloused. The dimensions of the pattern give you a concrete number, but the type and width of the fabric you want to use ultimately affects how much you need to buy. In the end, you want to buy extra fabric for errors or awkwardly fitting pattern pieces.

Things You'll Need

  • Assistant
  • Measuring tape
  • Pencil
  • Notepad
  • Shirt pattern
  • Calculator


  1. Taking Measurements

    • 1

      Enlist an assistant to help you take your measurements. Bending to see numbers on a tape measure and awkward positioning ultimately result in incorrect measurements.

    • 2

      Have your assistant measure your waist, hips, the fullest part of your bust and the fullest part of your back and chest just under your armpits to determine your pattern size. Write down all of the measurements.

    • 3

      Choose the pattern size that most closely matches your measurements. It's better to choose a size slightly larger than your measurements. You can always adjust the clothing to fit once assembled.

    • 4

      Take additional measurements such as neck size, circumference of your bicep, length of your arm from shoulder to wrist and circumference of your wrist. This is particularly important for collared shirts and shirts with sleeves. Use these measurements to choose the sleeve and collar pattern sizes you will use to construct the shirt. These measurements will be pattern specific and not necessarily related to pattern size.

    • 5

      Measure the height and width of each piece of the shirt pattern. Depending on the manufacture, these measurements maybe printed on the pattern for you. Write down all of the measurements. Don't forget to include seam allowances when writing down final measurements.

    • 6

      Add all of the heights together to get an initial total yardage.

    Buying Fabric

    • 7

      Read the pattern packaging to see if it suggests a fabric yardage to buy. This is an estimate and doesn't take into account any unique changes you may need, such as 2 inches extra in the bust or the width of the fabric you will choose.

    • 8

      Bring the pattern with you. If the mathematics becomes tedious, most fabric stores will allow you to lay out the pattern pieces on the fabric.

    • 9

      Examine the fabric that you want to use for a nap, meaning you will require additional fabric. An example of nap would be a pattern that needs to meet at seams or be oriented all in one direction. Velvets and microfibers also need to be oriented in a single direction.

    • 10

      Compare the width of the fabric to your pattern pieces. It should be at least as wide as your widest piece with a margin of an inch or more on both sides. If you can lay two or more pieces side by side on the fabric, you won't need as much length.

    • 11

      Buy one to two yards more fabric than you think you will need. If you made a mistake in your calculations or make a mistake while cutting the fabric, you'll have extra.

Tips & Warnings

  • Ask for help. Especially, if you're a beginner, knowing exactly how much fabric to buy can be confusing. Most fabric stores are more than happy to help you determine how much fabric you need.
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  • Photo Credit Jupiterimages/ Images

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