A tool to calculate fabric use

Awhile back, a new iPhone application was created to help people figure out yardage conversion. Say, if you had the fabric yield for a garment for 45″ wide fabric and wanted to know the yield for 60″ goods. I didn’t tell you about it. On purpose. I was holding out for something better and contacted the developer. That new and better application -called Fabric Calc– is ready to go. This utility will be invaluable whenever or however you’re sourcing (but especially at fabric shows), costing across the board and even being able to give quotes on the fly. This will be useful for anyone who deals with fabric and product costs, from designers and pattern makers to marker makers and production sewing rooms. There are four parts to the Fabric Calc application:

  1. Yardage width conversion, fabric width options are 33″-66″
  2. Compare costs to determine which fabric is the better buy.
  3. Calculates the allocation needed for a quantity of production units which includes number of yards to buy and the total fabric cost for the lot.
  4. Metric conversion: converts yards to meters and vice versa.

Here are some details on how each feature works.

yardage_width_conversionYardage width conversion
This first module can be used to do a straight yardage width conversion. Use this when you have the allocation for a given fabric width and want to know what it would be in another width -very useful at trade shows. Let’s say the allocation for a production run of your widget is 40 yards of 47″ fabric and you want to know how much fabric to buy if you find fabric that is 54″.

  • Move the scroll wheel on the left (A) to match the width of fabric (47″) for which you know the allocation.
  • Move scroll wheel B to match the allocation, namely 40 yards for our example.
  • Move scroll wheel C to match the new fabric width you’re considering buying (54″).

The answer is shown in D. You would need only 34.8 yards of the wider fabric rather than 40. You can also click on the answer (D) to toggle between a decimal or a fractional number, which will round up to the nearest 1/8 yard.

Yardage pricing comparison
The second portion is yardage pricing comparison by width. This will be extremely useful in purchasing or even on the fly at a fabric show. Let’s say you have the choice of two different fabrics you like and could go with either one but want to know the better value between the two.

  • Input the width of fabric 1 and its price.
  • Enter fabric 2 and its price.
  • Click “compare”.

The better value (view B) will be indicated with a check mark.

yardage_pricing_a yardage_pricing_b

Allocation/Yield and costing
The third function of the application aids in allocation and costing.

  • Enter the yield or allocation for one unit of production (“per unit usage”). The example shows 2 3/8 yds.
  • Enter how many units you want to cut for the order, our example shows we want to make 30 of them.
  • The quantity of needed yards will display below (A).
  • In the box labeled B, add the cost per yard of fabric.
  • The total fabric cost for this cut order will display in the box labeled C.

allocation_costingIf you can’t do these figures in your head, you can use a spreadsheet or a calculator to figure these things  out if you happen to be in front of your computer or have a calculator handy. But what if you’re talking to a vendor at a fabric show and are doing well enough trying to juggle a notebook and pen? Or, you’re meeting with a buyer in a hallway or something? Again, you may have a calculator with you but the calculator doesn’t put it all together for you so neatly.

I think this is a neat tool if you have an iPhone. If you don’t, well, I can’t be objective. I’m not one given to be fond of objects but I love my iphone.

The price for the application is $14.99 which I think is a great value. There are more details and purchase information on the site. You have to admit that having a tool like this handy when you’re sourcing at a show is pretty impressive considering how suppliers are technological laggards.

Disclosure: Yes, I had a hand in suggesting features for the application and for which I got a free app. No I don’t make any money on it. Please tell all your friends about it. People always complain there isn’t this or that such thing they need and when there is, nobody buys it and then people (like I said) complain about it. All told, it’s a nifty tool to have handy. I get a lot of oohs and aahs on the rare occasions I go to the fabric store.

This entry is the follow up to my premature announcement back in December.


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  1. Rocio says:

    Wow!… What a great tool…
    This alone could be the justification I need getting an iphone from at&t (and selling my soul to the devil for 2 years)

  2. Britannica says:

    Wouldn’t that be problematic though? Width and length constrain how the pattern pieces can be placed, so some length cannot always be transferred into width and vice versa. For example, a wide skirt pattern could be easily placed on 60 inch wide fabric, but not on 45 inch wide fabric, and a decoratively long pattern piece could be placed on a longer piece of 45 inch fabric, but not on the equivalent length (area being equal) of a 60 inch fabric. Multiple pattern pieces only complicate the matter.

    That would be my only concern. Otherwise, it looks pretty handy! :)

  3. Kathleen says:

    Yes Britannica, there can be constraints and you’re right, it depends on the knowledge of the buyer. However, someone likely to buy this tool and use it, will have run through the scenario of having to make cost/width comparisons on the fly and would readily see the benefit of it. Meaning, they likely also have some acumen as to the specifics of their product and any sorts of constraints particular to it. At least that’s my thinking. I tell people to get all kinds of things, do they? Not nearly as I’d like.

  4. LizPf says:

    Britannica touched on my question … since pattern piece layout, and waste, are quite different for each width, is it possible for sensible conversions to be made? I know when an enthusiast cuts one garment, the layout can be very different; I would think this would be even more true when cutting several garments out of each length — wouldn’t the markers be radically different? I just can’t visualize how an equal-area conversion would be useful.

    Enlighten me, please!

  5. Okay, I have to join the crowd. My immediate thought was the layout problems mentioned above.

    Also, if you can’t multiply fractions in your head, surely a paper and pencil is as fast as pulling out your iphone, putting in numbers (correctly) and getting the answer. Maybe faster. This is why I’m insisting my 9 year old learn his mult. tables and be able to do calculations like these.

    Off the soapbox.


  6. My immediate thought was the same as everyone else’s. Then I saw the Allocation/Yield and costing function, and thought that anyone who has a marker with constraints will know their allocation for that product and will find that part useful.

  7. Kathleen says:

    Marguerite, I *knew* you were going to say something about the math.

    Re: layouts. Do I need to be more specific about constraints? To be sure there can a variation in percentage of waste -either way- but again, someone using this tool is likely to be more sophisticated regarding their product attributes. I never claimed this tool is a total solution to resolve one’s fabric calculations. For example, it doesn’t resolve the matter of lay ends or one-ways should those be required on the new fabrication either. Lay ends as a percentage, will be less on a longer lay of narrower goods. Similarly, if your pieces are of such size, it is possible they can’t (for example) be cut on narrower widths. Likewise, if they are of such size, cutting on larger width goods results in higher waste, not lower. This speaks to the matter of pattern engineering, another facet I didn’t mention.

    The whole shooting match relies heavily on the chapter in my book on making markers which includes the working in of all sizes; not something that people cutting single items at home would do. The marker chapter illustrates how to calculate allocation as a rule of thumb that encompasses all sizes. The questions raised here also speaks to the matter that no sane person should order production yardage at this stage. You should only order sample yardage until you have produced samples for pre-order. The point being, if you have a body you’ve already been using and think the goods you’re seeing at the show would work for it, you need to do a rough cost calculation to determine whether the fabric would work within the cost constraints of the new goods. If the cost of goods are too high, you wouldn’t buy any yardage for sampling. If it fits in there, then you would buy some and therefore be in a position to arrive at more solid figures.

    A lot of people skip the chapter on marker making thinking it is too technical but it’s the only way through this. If one can’t see their way through doing that and keeping the constraints of their product uppermost in mind, then this tool obviously (as I said before) is not as useful to them as it will be to -perhaps primarily- production people. It can’t be all things to all people. No, the app won’t make markers for you on the fly. It doesn’t mean it won’t be useful to people who can map the pattern pieces in their head from memory and arrive at an estimation of either reduced or increased waste percentages. This is rather easy for me to do (throwing in an allowance for perhaps needed re-cutting of pieces) so I sometimes forget that not everyone can do this. But I also think that people who would use this do have rough figures in their head of what their product takes based on width groupings. If not, a quick phone call to whomever does this for them would be called for.

    So you’re all right, this app isn’t a magic wand for everyone. That doesn’t mean it won’t be useful to a lot of people who routinely have to figure these estimates on the fly.

  8. Alesia says:

    Sounds like a neat application – I usually pull out the paper and pencil as others stated; would be even better if it helped calculate conversions for leather skins to yardage.

  9. Kathleen says:

    would be even better if it helped calculate conversions for leather skins to yardage

    But then if it did, people here would be complaining that the app didn’t adjust allocation for smaller hides like lamb vs large ones (cow), ones with nap vs grains etc. I’m teasing you Alesia (not criticizing you) but people would have something to say about it how it won’t work for them. No app, program or person can do all of the work. There’s no big red EASY button for complex matters.

    Eric works with this guy who is famous for saying “but…but…but…did you think of this?”, stellar at figuring out all the ways something won’t work rather than being flexible enough to see the ways it would. He had a name for it, wish I could remember it.

  10. mark miller says:

    A long time Verizon customer, I switched to ATT about a year ago in order to get an iPHONE.
    My contract was up (by 1.5 years) and I needed a “new” phone. I admit I had iPhone envy…but did not want to leave Verizon….I was happy enough so why leave? My wife (and design partner) pushed me into it (as she has on so many things that have typically worked out very well).

    While not addicted, (I am not compelled to check it every 2 minutes) I have to admit I LOVE it.
    It has become a very useful tool, especially when traveling to trade shows and being able to keep in touch with customers, the office and home. We do business overseas (we export) so I can roll over in the morning can get an immediate “jump” on those emails.

    I read the NY Times on it (something I thought I would never do) read from NPR and listen to both NPR and Pandora. While I am sure there are mobil devices that perform certain functions better than the iPhone…I am not sure what they are or what they do…(my ignorance here is my bliss). I am no more “enslaved” to ATT than I was to Verizon because anytime you upgrade and get a new “phone” you are on the hook for something.

    Despite the spitting match that ATT and Verizon are in…I have not found a significant difference. In fact, when I was traveling more to Dallas and did shows at the merchandise mart there, Verizon had almost no service in the mart.

    the APP:
    As for the APP (the real reason for writing), this does seem useful. Personally I keep a collection of formulas in a moleskin book that travels with me. Yards-meters, $/yd vs EU/M…etc. I love the moleskin to keep and collect bits and pieces, notes, thoughts, drawings….in that way I am “old school”…but there are places where the technology becomes quite handy.

    I will admit that I have not paid for ANY apps yet… (have only used free apps) and $15 seems like a fairly expensive app (or 3 large lattes)….so I will check it out and make sure I have a caffeine alternative in my budget!

    Thanks for the tip!

  11. Harmony says:

    Sounds pretty cool to me, I just wish it handled wider width fabrics. As someone who sells 110″ and 90″ wide organic cotton fabric to see it only goes up to 66″ is disappointing. Any chance they will expand the width options??

  12. Mark says:

    Hello everyone, I’m the developer that worked with Kathleen to create Fabric Calc.

    I just submitted to Apple an update of Fabric Calc that includes support for widths from 32″ to 110″.

    Harper Della-Piana:
    We are focused on developing apps for the iPhone, so we currently have no plans to develop for the Blackberry. Since you already have a phone, you can always buy an iPod touch to run most of the apps available in the App Store, including Fabric Calc. In fact, all our apps are developed on the iPod touch.

    Thank you for your interest in Fabric Calc!

  13. Jennifer says:

    Mark and Kathleen – I have this app and it is great. I tend to make a lot of home goods such as window coverings and bedding. It would be very useful to be able to enter length and width measurements to get total yardage needed – – – and also an options for fabric width 54″-110″. Does this make sense? Your thoughts?

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