Well the answer depends on a few things: Your skill level, your project, and your budget. It also depends on where you live. If you live in a big city you don't have to wonder where to go because you probably have a great store in your local vicinity. But if you are like many other sewers (SOH-ers) you may live somewhere where the answer isn't a dedicated fabric store but instead a local craft outlet or general merchandise retailer. This guide will be most helpful to you.
For New Beginners I recommend Walmart.
Pros: Their sewing and craft department has the sewing essential tools you need at a price point that doesn't break the bank when you need to load up on several new tools like needles, seam rippers, scissors, rulers, cutting mats and more. The best part is they have the name brand tools you will see featured in sewing magazines so saving on the price does not mean skimping on the quality.
They also have a decent selection of basic cotton prints and matching threads. So they are a great place for beginners who need fabric they can "practice" with. No one wants to invest in expensive fabric they are likely to make mistakes with and if you are a beginner mistakes are just part of the learning process.
Cons: Their selection is very limited. It is not a place to find inspiration, but they have what you need to get started at a price almost anyone can afford.
For Experienced Beginners I recommend JoAnn Fabrics and Hobby Lobby (or Michaels,etc).
Pros: They offer a wider range of prices and products and sewing patterns. If you are sewing a fashion project like a dress or a coat, these are the best places locally you can currently go and still save a little in the process. They both offer weekly specials and discounts. Their associates are usually experienced in some level of sewing and can help you with basic sewing and project questions like how much yardage you need and so on.
Cons: They do cost a little more on some things and a lot more on others. They are filled with a lot of inspiration and ideas, so keeping control of a budget is difficult if you are not focused. Not a safe place for Fabric-holics, LOL. While their selection is bigger, it can still feel limiting to a very "Creative" fashion sewer.
For Experienced, Intermediate, and Advanced Sewers I recommend getting creative and expanding your search beyond the city limits.
A lot of the other fabric stores that pop up on Google are for quilting, upholstery, and decor fabrics. If you are making a trench coat or handbag an upholstery st
ore like Gifford Street Fabrics in Chattanooga is a great place to explore and feel fabrics that might have been intended for home decor but can easily translate into a one of a kind clothing project creation. The trick to this conversion is making sure the fabric feels good against the body and can be reasonably laundered and cared for. Anything you wear like a coat or carry like a handbag will undoubtedly encounter stains. So be mindful of these limitations. Otherwise be as imaginative as possible.
Another source for creative shopping is a Home Goods Shop or a Thrift Store where fabric decor is sold. Depending on your project there are some beautiful curtains that can be remade into clothing or crafts. The same can be said of napkins, place mats, pillow covers, table cloths and so on. Anything that is fabric can be conscripted for use as part of your next sewing project if it is the right size for the yardage you need.
Let us know where you like to shop for fabric in Chattanooga or in your local community.