Q & A: Finding Fabric on eBay

diamonds

One of my favorite eBay finds

Oh boy, I just got my first question. Do you have a fabric question? I will do my best to answer: just respond to this post or email to kim at trueup dot net.

I am new to sewing and collecting fabric, and I was wondering if you have any tips/advice on searching for and buying fabric on eBay. The choices on ebay seem overwhelming, but from your pictures it appears that you often hit the jackpot in collections of beautiful patterns.

Thank you very much!
Caroline

Hi Caroline! Fabric shopping on eBay can indeed be overwhelming. I’ve never bought new fabric via eBay so I will talk about my vintage fabric searching powers.

Most of my favorite scores are from eBay lots of yore, when there was less competition amongst bidders. Things are a bit more expensive these days, and the good stuff is more scarce, but vintage fabric bought on eBay still tends to be comparable or even cheaper than new. My usual search is “vintage fabric lot.” That tends to yield a manageable amount of listings to wade through. It might take some time and patience, but looking through the listings that don’t have photos for the search result listing, or have cruddy photos, can sometimes yield treasure. Lots tend to be mixes of crud and treasure, scrap and yardage, but I love that.

ebayhaul-2

The legendary eBay fabric haul of 2005

I’ve never done it vigilantly, but searching for “material” instead of “fabric” might unearth hidden lots that most fabric collectors won’t find.

I also use the search terms “atomic” and “eames” a lot. Sellers are way too liberal with these labels (rarely do you see authentic Eames fabrics up for auction), but most listings will be fabric that is at least vaguely midcentury. You might also search for “feedsack,” but feedsack collectors are In The Know and drop some serious coin on them.

Searching for specific fabric types, like “cotton” or “quilting cotton” or “barkcloth” or “rayon,” will help narrow things down, as will searching for specific colors and/or pattern types, like “geometric,” “novelty,” “juvenile,” or “floral.” I also sometimes play with variations on decades, like fifties, 1950s, 1950′s, 50s, 50′s. (Does anyone know how smart the eBay search engine is in regard to time period searches?)

Don’t limit yourself to the “fabric” search term … try “drapes,” “curtains,” “sheets,” “bedspread,” “tablecloth,” etc. After all, these are just big pieces of fabric with hems.

I haven’t utilized browsing within categories much. That would probably turn up some things I normally wouldn’t find.

When you come across something you like, view the seller’s other items to see if they specialize in fabric, add them to your favorites, and keep checking back (you can sign up for email alerts that list items from your favorite sellers). I will compile a list of my favorite sellers for a future post.

As far as new fabric, hmmm, I don’t have many ideas beyond searching for specific designers, lines, or manufacturers. And I have never found new fabrics to be cheaper on eBay than they’d be from my favorite online stores, so I haven’t gone that route. Does anyone have any recommendations for new fabric eBaying? Are there bargains that can’t be found in regular stores?

7 Comments

  1. floribunda says:

    I’ve only bought fabric on EBay a few times… I posted a photo of my one “vintage” piece on my blog — haven’t been able to cut into it after 6 years or so! I was really disappointed with an assortment of FQs I bought once — sort of a grab bag idea, and they were mostly real dogs.

  2. Donna says:

    To the best of my knowledge, the search engine will only pick up time periods if the person actually uses that in the description. However, one feature of the Ebay search engine that many people don’t know about is the trailing search. You can use an asterisk to allow for variations. For instance, if I search japan* fabric, it will pick up both japan, japanese, and any misspelling variations. Doing a search on 195* will pick up 1950, 1950′s etc. There is also the – feature–just put – in front of anything you don’t want. So if I want japanese fabric but not kimono fabric, I might search japan* fabric -kimono.

  3. alice says:

    Hello! I have used http://fatfingers.com/ to some success to find things around the search term I want. You wouldn’t believe how many people misspell ‘Danish Modern’.

  4. [...] mentioned in my post about fabric hunting on eBay that people use “Eames” or “Eames era” to describe any vaguely midcentury [...]

  5. caroline says:

    thanks so much for responding to my question!

  6. Vicky says:

    I sell vintage fabric on ebay.co.uk and having looked at my traffic reports the most popular search terms are ‘vintage fabric’ and the year such as 1950′s, 1960′s and 1970′s. Recently I’ve been searching to buy fabrics on eBay and have noticed an awful lot of people loosly using groag, eames, whitehead and heals when the fabrics are definately not made by these designers, so if you are looking for a genuine designer vintage fabric just be aware that you need to read the whole description.