Thursday, March 3, 2011

Tutorial: Fabric Swapping 101

Warning: long, wordy post with few photos.

I should start off by putting it out there that I am by no means an expert on the topic of fabric swapping. In fact, I am a veteran of a grand total of 4 fabric swaps. What I am, however, is someone who had read on numerous blogs about acquiring this out of print fabric by swapping or that cute FQ in a fabric swap, and I became curious.  Then I joined Angela’s Fabric Diet and started thinking creatively about how to augment my stash without buying any new fabric. I knew swaps were happening, but I wasn’t entirely sure how to get in on the action, as it were.

I’d like to share with you what I’ve figured out, and would invite anyone who’s got more swaps under their belt than my four to add their advice or opinions in the comments or via email to me at So let’s get started.

What is fabric swapping?

You trade your fabric for someone else’s.

Why would I want to swap fabric?

There are lots of reasons to swap fabric, including but not limited to:
  1. Add some variety to your stash;
  2. Upgrade your stash by trading out fabric you don’t love anymore for something you *do* love;
  3. Acquire hard to find (“HTF”) or Out of Print (“OOP”) fabric you can’t otherwise buy except for an arm and a leg.
How do I find someone to swap with?

I do my swapping via Flickr. Don’t know what Flickr is? It’s a place to upload your photos and share them with others. As a Flickr user, you can join groups and add your photos to the group pools. And you can join groups that are all about fabric swapping! You have to join a group to post photos to its pool.
Here are just a few groups that I found on Flickr whose purpose is to facilitate swapping:

How do I get started?

First, decide what you want to swap *for* - are you looking for certain fabrics (colour, style, designer, manufacturer) to add to your stash or use in a quilt (e.g. I Spy fabrics, boy fabrics, etc.)? Or maybe you have just discovered the awesomeness of Denyse Schmidt’s Flea Market Fancy (“FMF”) or Katie Jump Rope ("KJR") fabric lines and you want some for your very own. Perhaps you’re looking for a quilt pattern and you’d rather swap fabric than lay out cash for it? Or maybe you’re open to whatever strikes your fancy in your fellow swapper’s swap set? It could be all of the above!

Next, update your Flickr profile to list what you’re in search of (“ISO”). It’s a nice efficient way of making it known what you want, and you can easily update it as often as you want. Be as specific as you want – if you’re looking for Anna Maria Horner (“AMH”) Garden Party fabrics, say so. Specify the colour if you want. If you’re open to whatever, say that too. If you’re willing to swap for something other than fabric, list that too!
Here’s an example of a basic ISO list for someone’s profile:

ISO: (in order of priority):
Denyse Schmidt - Flea Market Fancy - any
Mendocino - Presentation Mermaids - Brown, Aqua & Blush
Heather Ross - Lightning Bugs - pretty much all except goldfish bags.
Amy Butler - Lotus Full Moon Dots in yellow / Linen (yellow & gray)
Joel Dewberry - Modern Meadow - All but the navy
AMH - little folks, any voile
Denyse Schmidt - Greenfield Hill
Tula Pink - lady bugs & ANY - Try me!
Castle Peeps - the blue ones
I would also trade for rulers (Fat Cat or bias square), rotary cutter blades, Clover brand marking pens – try me!

Generally speaking, there are three ways to initiate a swap.

1.  Advertise your fabric and wait for swap inquiries.

Decide what fabrics you have available to swap, take a good quality photo and upload it to one or more of the swapping groups. Here’s one of mine:

 swap fabric - Heather Ross and Erin Michael
Yes, I'm aware I said it should be a good quality photo and this is anything but.

Be sure to identify the fabric (designer, line and colour if applicable) and how much you’ve got to swap. If someone’s interested in your fabric, they’ll most likely send you a Flickr Mail (“FM”) message, possibly offering you one of your ISOs, or inviting you to look at their Swap Set. If you are interested in what they’re offering, arrange the swap by exchanging addresses.

2.  Check out the fabric swap groups and look for fabric you’re interested in swapping for.

Check out the swapper’s ISOs (in their profile or in the fabric description, or you may have to send a FM) to find out what they’re interested in. Then contact them via Flickr Mail or email (in their profile) and make an offer. If you don’t have anything they’re specifically ISO, it’s helpful if you’ve got a set of photos (or list in your profile) of some fabrics you’ve got to swap. In this case, just saying “take a look at my swap set and let me know if there’s anything you’re interested in” could work.

3.  Check out the fabric swap groups and look at the ISO photos people have uploaded.

If you’ve got some of what they’re looking for, have a look at their swap set and see if there’s anything that interests you. If there is, go ahead and FM them. Even if there isn’t anything in their swap sets, you could invite them to check your ISOs in case they’ve got something to offer.

Another way to learn about how to go about swapping is to go to those Flickr groups and click on photos - sometimes there are swap negotiations/conversations via the comments - you can be a fly on the wall and watch it happen and see how it's done.

How do you know how much to swap?

By that I mean, if you’re not offering a super HTF/OOP fabric but that’s what you’re looking for, can you expect a one-for-one swap? The answer is…it depends. It really depends on whom you’re swapping with. Some people might be willing to do a one-for-one, others may insist on a two-for-one scenario. I've recently seen fabric offered on a 2:1 ratio, meaning she'll swap twice what she's getting because she happens to have so much of that fabric. It’s important to be open about what you’re willing to do.


If you commit to swapping, it’s appropriate to send your fabric out in a timely fashion. Make sure it’s packaged safely in a sealed plastic bag inside the envelope to protect it from water or other damage. As an extra precaution, I slip a piece of paper inside the bag with the recipient’s name and address on it just in case the envelope gets ripped open (it happens, believe me).

Something I’ve been doing after successfully completing the swap (and the person you’re swapping with is a Flickr Contact) is to leave a positive testimonial. It’s kind of like leaving positive feedback like on eBay.
Speaking of feedback, as with any transaction, communication is key. If you’re unable to mail a package when you have said you will, FM your swap partner to keep them updated. Don’t be a flake. Life happens sometimes, but FMs or emails take seconds to send and can save you a lot of hassle.

Be creative

If you don’t have a lot of fabric to swap, maybe you’ve got some extra notions to swap. Or maybe you make awesomely cute pincushions, bags, pouches, knitted cowls, felted mittens….the list goes on. Think outside the box and be open.

Most of all, have fun!


  1. Thanks! I have been thinking about this. Maybe I will jump in!

  2. Thanks, this is a really informative. I'm definitely going to jump in!

  3. Thanks for that scoopla, Felicity!!

  4. I didn't even know this existed, thanks so much for the great tips!

  5. I may have to look into this...thank for the great tips :)

  6. Omg. I have been searching for that mermaid fabric!! Is that still yours? Our guild's biennial show theme is "making waves". Please tell me if you have this. Ok? I will check the flickr swap if tou do not have it available.

  7. Great tips - I'd spotted some posts about people's swaps but had no idea they started out on flickr!

    BTW, I couldn't help but think of the ISO list as a personal ad for crafters "Would like to meet cute fabrics with big personality that can work with anything..."

  8. Interesting thanks miss! I think I might take a peruse of those swapping sites later!

  9. Just found your post. So good, thank you! Can you answer a question: most of my fabric that I'd like to swap is prewashed, is it still "swappable"? Thanks so much!

  10. I have a swapping group of 600+ in facebook everyones welcome to my beginners group Fabric Swap Collective Beginnets swap

  11. I have a swapping group of 600+ in facebook everyones welcome to my beginners group Fabric Swap Collective Beginners swap

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