Sunday, April 10, 2022

ABC Post 7--How to Host a Fabric Swap

My friend Simone and I are equally crazy about fabric. Not only do we both like to sew, but we love every aspect of fabric: looking at it, planning projects, feeling it with our fingers.

A year ago, we fulfilled a long-held dream and went shopping together in the fabric/fashion district of Los Angeles.

It was way too much fun.

This year, we decided to host a fabric swap in the loft of our new barn.

I was introduced to the idea about three years ago when I spoke at a ladies’ retreat in Montana. A fabric swap was a traditional part of their retreat, and I enjoyed being part of an enthusiastic swarm of ladies around the well-stocked tables.

Our swap was successful, we felt. The parts that didn’t go so well were still instructive, so we counted the whole thing as a win.

Here are a few instructions and information bits to keep in mind if you’d like to try it yourself:

1.      Just to be clear, we called it a swap because people brought their fabric and went home with other people’s stash, but it was actually a sale. No one swapped one fabric piece for another, as that’s too complicated.

2.      Spread the word. Simone made up a flyer, and I put a pile of them at the local Mennonite store. We both posted information on Facebook and Instagram, and we mailed flyers to friends in other Mennonite churches in Oregon.
A few friends from other churches suggested putting a picture of the flyer on their church ladies’ chat group. That was actually far more efficient than paper flyers.
We started posting about the February 18 sale before Christmas, but it would have been ok to wait a month longer.

3.      Have the sellers do most of the work. Measuring and pricing are the fiddliest parts of the process, so we had everyone measure their own fabric and label it with their name, the measurements, and the price.
We also had them deliver the fabric to our place and pick up the leftovers afterward.

4.      Decide on scope. We chose to offer fabric, notions, batting, and patterns, but not clothing or other craft items.

5.      Document everything. We asked the sellers to make a list of all their fabric and give it to us. Some had detailed pages and some simply took pictures of all the labeled fabric. Either way, it was great to have the documentation to fall back on when a few labels fell off during the sale.
I had a notebook for the sale and wrote each seller’s name at the top of a page.

Label everything!

6.      Decide on your cut. We had invested quite a bit of time, plus we had the postage and other expenses. I thought a 5% cut would be sufficient, but Simone, who has far more of a business head than me, thought it should be at least 10%. As it turned out, 10% wasn’t all that much, divided between us, especially since we had to pay a 2.6% fee on credit card sales.
I think 20% might be more reasonable.

7.      Speaking of credit cards, I got a Square reader years ago so people could pay with a credit card at book sales. It came in very handy at our sale, especially for the women with lots of daughters who spent over $150.
Offering PayPal or Venmo is also a good option.

8.      Find a comfortable and well-lit facility. Our multi-purpose barn loft qualifies because Paul likes everything lit up like Autzen Stadium under the floodlights. Also, I was so enamored with the skylights I saw in Midwestern Amish stores that I insisted on two of them in the loft ceiling. The result is a bright combination of natural and artificial light. One customer who complimented this aspect of the sale said she will shop or not shop at certain fabric stores, depending on the lighting. We were happy to win her approval.
We also had comfortable chairs to sit on if shopping grew wearisome.

9.      Make it fun. We had a bowl of new notions like pattern weights and magnetic seam-width markers as door prizes. Every half hour or so, Simone’s timer would go off, and whoever was closest to the checkout table got to pick out a prize.

10.   If you don’t have fabric on bolts, the easiest and boringest way to display it is spread out on tables. I wanted a boutique look rather than a garage-sale look, so we tried hard to creatively set it up, down, and sideways.
I have a large clothing-display rack that used to be at the old Meier and Frank store in Eugene, so we put the dress fabric on hangers on that rack.
We hung pieces on two laundry racks.
Simone sorted the quilting cottons by color and stacked them on bookshelves.
We brought in benches and baskets to display fabric at different heights.
We set our dress forms in the windows and draped fabric around them.

11.   We set up one table for by-the-yard purchases. Simone had a large cutting mat that she placed on the table along with a yardstick, rotary cutter, and labels. If someone wanted lace or upholstery fabric by the yard, she cut it off and labeled it with price and seller.

12.   Simone’s daughter Dolly puts on exquisite tea parties several times a year with her friend Hannah. She offered to lend her skills to our event. Lucky us. She kept the coffee hot and also served chocolate chip cookies, gluten-free cookies, and tortilla rollups. The husbands and children who came along seemed to especially enjoy the snacks.

Listening to Dolly and Hannah discuss guys on a dating app was an unexpected perk of the process. 

13.   For the checkout process, we removed all the labels from a customer’s choices and added up the prices. After they paid and left, we put all the labels in a greeting-card box.
As she had time, Simone took all the labels and wrote the numbers on each seller’s page in the notebook. She clipped each seller’s labels together with a clothespin. We kept all the labels for a couple of weeks after the sale, just in case any accounting issues came up.

At the end of the sale, she added up the totals, took a 10% cut, and wrote out the checks.

Each sellers labels, clothespinned together.

14.   Dress-sized knits turned out to be the best sellers, especially floral double-brushed polys. Poly knits from the 80s and 90s didn’t sell well, but vintage double knits from the 70s did surprisingly well. I guess not everyone gets mentally transported back to junior high at the sight of those heavy, itchy knits that evoke humid summer Sundays and trying to impress teenage boys.

Older women were more likely to buy quilting cottons. Scrap bags and small remnants didn’t do well at all.

I sold quite a few fabrics I’d picked up in Los Angeles, which I took as a clear sign that I need to go get more.
For our sale next year.
Because of course we have to do this again.

15.   Overall, the benefits of hosting the sale included: getting rid of some of my stash, meeting people, sharing the community’s resources to benefit one another, a bit of income, and accomplishing a fun project and dream with Simone.

Share your questions in the comments. If you’ve hosted or attended a swap and have tips to share, I’d love to hear them.

P.S. You, like some of our family members, might be wondering if Simone and I, surrounded by temptation, actually managed to have a net loss in our vast fabric supplies. I can't speak for Simone, but I'm happy to report that I bought only two pieces and sold about twenty times that. Some of you know what restraint this required.


  1. Hmm, looks fun! Has it occurred to you that you just posted your address and phone number online? 😉

  2. Interesting and innovative!

  3. Oh I love this post! What a great memory!