Selecting BOY fabrics

by Dana on June 7, 2011

With Boy projects in the air, let’s talk about fabric.
When it comes to boy fashion I’m definitely a minimalist. I do love a cool/interesting print (such as funky elephants, moons, or robots) but I prefer those textiles on home decor projects and bags.

If we’re talking specifically about boy apparel, I love stripes, plaids, geometric shapes, and solids. I rarely use a detailed print fabric on boy’s clothing….and not because there aren’t tons of cool ones (just check spoonflower and you’ll ooo and ahhh). The simple look is just my preference. And if a busier look is yours, that’s great too! I’m certainly not setting ground rules here. Just thought I’d share how my fabric-selecting brain works, since some of you have asked.
Where to buy fabrics?
I have a detailed post about my favorite fabric shops and online links HERE.
My favorite place to browse, feel, and purchase fabric in person is the LA fabric district. I know that doesn’t help most of you since you live nowhere close. I don’t anymore either. It’s sad. But there are many wonderful online resources (check the post above). And to be honest….

Because I don’t sew with many detailed prints for boys, 99% of the fabrics I use are from nondescript fabric designers, from normal old shops like Joanns, Hobby Lobby, and (eek) Walmart. I feel somewhat bad saying that because I don’t mean to slight the many talented fabric designers out there. Hey, I’d even like to design fabric one day! But what I mean to say is this:

Don’t feel like you need to have the latest Amy Butler or Michael Miller print to make your clothing design look cool. Interesting textiles are all around us, even at the generic shops. So when you spot one that you love, buy a yard or two and you’re ready for your next project.

Favorite BOY Fabrics
I’m sure some would disagree but I honestly think there are just as many boy fabrics out there as girl fabrics, even when you put the printed fabrics aside. Solids alone offer a huge spectrum of choices! It’s all in the way that you look at it.
Am I losing the argument?
Let’s take a look through my stash to see if I can convince you.

KNITS
Who doesn’t love a good T-shirt? It’s kind of the staple in every boy’s wardrobe. I always have a pile of knit fabrics and XL men’s T-shirts on-hand so I can cut them up for new projects. I purchase most T-shirts from thrift shops and from Old Navy and Target clearance sales. I purchase knit ribbing at Joanns, when it’s on sale. And I purchase other printed knits whenever I see them–even if there’s not a project in mind. Cool knits are hard to come by!
Aside from sewing boy shirts, I also love using knits for pants, bags, even gift wrapping.
If you’ve never sewn with knits but have been itching to try, put your fears behind you and go for it! Nothing to be afraid of. What’s the worst that can happen? The fabric comes out of the machine bunched up, looking like a monster ate it, and you toss it in the trash? Okay sure. Nothing to be scared of.
I sew with knits about 40% of the time…and on my standard old machine.

A few things that help when sewing with knits: ball and/or stretch needle, polyester thread, and a zigzag stitch. But here’s where the truth comes out and I admit to rarely using any of those!
I’m a “make-it-work with what’s on-hand” kind of sewer. And when I want to sew a knit, I just start sewing it. So pick up a knit from your local fabric shop or thrift store and give it a whirl!
LINEN
I never knew I would love this fiber so much until I started sewing. Linen just screams summer, feels breezy, and it gets softer and softer with every wash. I mostly use it for boys pants. And over the years, I’ve gathered a variety of colors.
If 100% linen is too pricey, many fabric shops carry “linen look” or “linen like” fabrics, which are a cotton/linen blend and cost about 1/2 the price. I’ve used and purchased these from plain old Joanns and love them too.
STRIPES
Browsing my blog it’s almost embarrassing how often I sew with stripes. I use them for clothing, home decor, bags, kitchen linens, anything I can think of! I’m an addict.
And when I think of a”boy print” fabric, stripes are what come to mind. They add character to a boyish wardrobe without overpowering the look. They don’t feel too young and they’re never too old. Stripes are the perfect fabric? Okay, that’s a bit much. I’ll just say that I love them.
PLAID, HOUNDSTOOTH, GINGHAM and CHECKS
These are another Boy Clothing favorite at our house. 99% of them come from nondescript fabric makers.
Plaid and houndstooth have always been associated with men. But today the colors and options have morphed into a wide range of fabrics for boys (and girls).
And it’s fun to mix prints as well. When I was in London a years back, I was impressed with the way trendy businessmen mixed stripes, plaids, and dots all in the same outfit–A striped dress shirt with a plaid tie, and a suit jacket. Totally cool. And totally worked!
Plaids and gingham add a pop of surprise to the outfit without feeling too cutesy.
They can be as bold or understated as you want.
DOTS, CHEVRON, and other SHAPES
I probably use these fabrics the least on boy clothing (and the most on girl clothing!) But they do pop up from time to time. The fabrics in the photo below are by Michael Miller but you don’t need a fancy designer to find simple dots.
I prefer dots on baby clothing and gear.
SOLIDS
Solid-colored fabrics are the perfect compliment to a bright pair of gingham pants. Yet they can also stand on their own as the focal point of an outfit.
A cool pair of cherry red pants with navy-colored piping? Solid fabric cut into stripes for a pair of jammies? Solid knits used to make an argyle pattern on a shirt? They have a lot to offer!
Solids come in variety of fibers and types: simple cotton, corduroy cotton, denim cotton, wools, felt, and knits. I love to use them all.
I even love the subtle quiet colors.
And there you go!
BOY fabrics from my cupboards, bins, stacks, and unorganized piles to yours.

I’m sure you’ve got some similar stuff hanging around.
Have fun sewing!

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kelly March 8, 2012 at 11:02 pm

Hi Dana,
I need your help. It is coming into winter over here in Australia and im having a mind blank when thinking of winter fabrics that arent fleece. I have searched for fabrics like corduroy, denim but they are mostly in solids and not really any prints. I see some of the fabrics above look thicker than normal cotton but dont know what type of fabric it is. Please help :-)

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2 Dana March 8, 2012 at 11:33 pm

I have some heavy linen in the photos, interlock knit (which is typically heavier than Jersey knits), some wool blends (those are good for winter), corduroy, and some upholstery weight cottons.
Hope that helps!

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3 Lucy April 5, 2012 at 1:04 am

i really want to sew with knits, but every time i try i ALWAYS end up throwing it in the bin. the garment loses all stretch with a straight stitch and if i use a zig-zag the exterior seams look terrible?! i do have an overlocker but the seams still don’t have any stretch and after a few wears the seams break apart especially around the neckline. do you have any tips or suggestions as to why i want to through my sewing machine out of the window everytime!! thanks

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4 Leah Joy Sample April 19, 2012 at 10:40 am

Soooo, I’m completely in love with that little orange bow tie! Is there any way you might be able to post a tutorial on “how-to” bow ties for boys??? Hey! Mayber even for men too! My husband is obsessed. I’d be sooo sooo happy. (: Shpanks!

-Leah

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5 choose the gender of your baby January 19, 2014 at 8:09 am

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