How to Estimate Fabric Yardage

    by Kate Lee

    About the Author

    Kate Lee's how-to articles have been published in "Sew Simple," "Craft Stylish" and "Soft Dolls & Animals" magazines. She has been sewing for more than 20 years and has a master's degree in technical writing.


    Whether you want to sew clothing, a quilt or a home-decor project, you’ll need to know how much fabric the project requires. Having an accurate estimate for fabric yardage helps ensure that you won’t run out of fabric, or that you buy more fabric than you need. Most patterns come with the required yardage printed on the envelope, but if this information isn’t available, it is to your benefit to know how to estimate your yardage needs.

    Things You'll Need

    • Measuring tape
    • Calculator (optional)

    Determine the width of the fabric you’ll be using. Most apparel and quilting fabrics come in bolts that are approximately 45 inches wide, but some are 58 to 60 inches wide. Many home-decor fabrics come on rolls that are 54 inches wide. If the fabric width is not marked on the bolt, ask the retailer to measure the width for you.

    Look at the fabric and determine if it has a print or texture, such as the nap in velvet, that must orient in one direction. If so, you’ll need to cut all the pieces in the same direction which can require extra yardage. If not, you can arrange the pieces in any direction to make them fit provided the straight of grain line on the pattern piece is followed.

    Lay out your pattern pieces (for clothing, stuffed animals or similar projects) on the floor or a large flat surface so that they’re arranged as they would be on the fabric. Pay attention to the width of your imaginary fabric. Most pieces in garment sewing are cut double, but check the pattern pieces. The number of pieces required information is printed clearly on each piece. Measure the total length of all the pattern pieces and multiply the result by two. Divide the result by 36 and round the result up to the next quarter yard for the number of yards you need.

    Estimate yardage for curtains by measuring the width of the window frame or rod. For most types of draperies the fabric is about twice as wide as the window. Multiply the width of the window by 2 and divide the result by the width of your fabric. Round this figure up for the number of pieces of fabric you need to cover the window width. Measure from the top of the rod to the place where you want the curtains to end. You’ll need enough fabric for this length, plus rod casings and hems. Multiply the number of pieces you need by the length you need, including the hems and casings, and divide the result by 36 for the number of yards you need for the project. If there is a pattern that must be matched, add about 20 percent to your fabric requirements./

    Decide what size pieces of fabric you want for a quilt, and how many pieces of fabric you’ll need. Determine how many pieces you can cut from the width of the fabric. Divide the number of pieces of fabric you need by the number of pieces you can cut across one width. Multiply the result by the length of one piece and divide the result by 36 for the number of yards you require. For example, to make a standard crib-sized quilt top (45 by 60 inches) using 8-inch squares of fabric, you’ll need six squares across and eight squares down, for a total of 48 squares. You can cut 5 8-inch squares across the 44-inch wide fabric, therefore you will need 10 times the square length, or 80 inches of fabric. This length will produce 50 squares. If you want to use different fabrics, ensure that the total of all the fabrics adds up to, in this instance, 80 inches, and that all the lengths are divisible by the size of a square.

    • Keep in mind that some fabrics, especially those that are 100 percent cotton, may shrink slightly in the wash, and some fabrics may ravel at the edges. This can reduce the amount of usable fabric in each yard. Be sure to add a little extra to your yardage estimate to take these factors into account.