Thursday, October 22, 2009

New Sewists Thursdays - Fabrics

Sewing Mama asked, "How do you choose fabric for your projects?"

Oh boy is this a loaded question! *LOL*  Because I believe one of the hardest things for beginning sewists to understand is that each piece of fabric has a distinctive personality.  It has certain traits because of the way it was woven or knit, the weight of it, if it was yarn dyed or dip dyed and if a finishing was added to it ~ all of these things can affect the way the fabric handles.

So let's start at the beginning...when I first started sewing I did not use the fabrics that I sew with today.  There was definitely a progression.  As my skills progressed and as my paycheck increased (*smile*), I had the opportunity and the ability to deal with better quality fabrics.  I also had experience.  I knew what worked for me and my lifestyle.

The first thing I would suggest is to work with as many types of fabric as possible and RECORD your adventures with them.  Say you made a dress out of a polyester blend...and you found that it worked for the dress you chose and you were happy with the end result.  Write down what made it easy to work with...did it take a machine stitch easily?  Did it press well?  Did it work well with the style of garment you chose?  etc. 

You will begin to build your own database of fabrics and styles that you like and you will have a reference to refer to for future garments. 

Also always use the pattern envelope's suggestions for fabric types...that information is placed there for a reason.  The designer/patternmaker had a good idea of what type of look they were going for and the fabric suggestions are aimed at helping you achieve that look.  When I first learned to sew, I rarely chose a fabric outside of this guideline.  It was my bible for fabric selection.

Now there is always a piece that will defy explanation when you make it up.  It will be the right fabric for the garment type and still something will be off.  First you should know that it happens to everyone.  When I worked in a showroom in the garment district ~ the patternmakers would have the sample makers make garments in several different fabrications.  The garment that made it into the line was the one that worked well in the fabric.  Sometimes we as home sewists have to make a garment from several fabrications to get the one that works best too. 

But SewingMama is asking me personally, and I have to admit that I don't have a secret formula.  I could tell you to take this pattern, add this fabric, sew carefully and you will get a beautiful well fitted garment but it doesn't always work that way...let us not forget "The Cheerleading Dress"!  *LOL*  But I do know what fabrics I'm comfortable wearing, as well as what I like to sew.  I've learned that even though I like corduroy pants for warmth, I can't stand the sound of them when I walk in them.  I've learned that as much as I like moleskin ~ its too hot to wear in the late summer and yet very cold in the late fall when the temperatures start to drop...but it tailors beautifully!  I've learned that I like working with wool crepe and 100% wools but I don't really like working with gabardine that won't hold a press...and I absolutely abhor working with chiffon...especially polyester chiffon!

I've also learned what styles work best for my body...okay that's another whole post but since I know what works for me and what fabric types I like to work with...that's how I make my choices.  But again can I stress that these choices are based upon my own sewing experiences...and once again I'm encouraging you to just keep sewing.  Keep trying.  Keep learning and keep making mistakes...cause even after 39 years of sewing, I still make them and learn from them!

I don't know why this came to me but it is so appropo for this post...there is a scripture in the Bible that goes...line upon line and precept upon the way things are built.  Okay that was definitely paraphrased but sewing is the same way.  It is concept upon concept...triumph upon triumph and even failure upon failure that builds a knowledgeable, well-accomplished sewist.

And as an update...
I will be sewing this weekend...and I will take pictures and always...more later!


  1. Great post and great philosophy1

  2. theresa in tucsonOctober 22, 2009 11:14 PM

    I agree and don't be afraid to venture outside your comfort zone. You learn some new things that way. Love your blog Carolyn, I've been lurking for several months and finally figured out how to post comments.

  3. Thanks for this encouraging post. As a relative beginner I'm still finding out about what fabrics work for me and what don't and it's interesting to know how someone with your experience goes about choosing fabric. But I do love the process - I can spend many happy hours in fabric stores!

  4. Great post. The failures are as important as the successes.

  5. You've passed on very important information. Most of my sewing disasters are the result of choosing the wrong fabric.

  6. It is a good feeling to know that trial and error are the best ways to learn what works best for us. When I'm sewing for my grands, I try to think of comfort and style. I also try to come up with fabrics that are practical since they are for children and my daughters have to clean them. I don't usually use something that can't be machine washed, but for Christmas this year, I've chosen taffeta that has to be hand washed.

  7. Thank you, Carolyn! I think that most of my wadders in the sewing room have been when I deliberately deviate from what is recommended by the pattern...and I KNOW that I am doing it, and I DO IT ANYWAY! But like you pointed out, sometimes there is the occasional failure that just defies explanation, and I think it is great for new sewists to know that even the most experienced of us get those...that none of us are are immune to the occasional wadder, and sometimes it is because of a choice that we have made (like my insistence that I can make that pattern from stretch satin and IT WILL BE FINE) or just something that sneaks up on us like the behavior of a fabric that we didn't anticipate. But for beginners, don't get discouraged! Every project is a learning experience, even if it doesn't result in a wearable project!

  8. Bravo!!! Good Post! Hmmmm, is there a book in your future???
    Maybe something like... "New Sewists Thursdays?"
    It's a thought! Best keep your files!


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