Discoveries of a novice: Woven fabrics

One of the things that is taking me a while is getting to grips with fabric choice. Both which fabric to use and where to buy it. It can be something of a conundrum. You don’t want to spend a ton of money when you’re starting off as you’re fairly sure you’re going to make a mess of at least a couple of pieces. On the other hand, there’s just no point in making something if you don’t really like the fabric. And then there’s the whole “Is it the right fabric?” “How thick is lightweight cotton??” “How stretchy is this knit really?” “Would I need to line this one?” etc. etc. ad infinitum.

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Cotton lawns and poplins

 

This post was originally going to be about types of fabric, and then fabric shops, but in the end, I’ve split it into several posts that will be a rumination on some things I’ve discovered. Fabric is such a massive subject and it keeps on growing! In this one I’m going to talk about a few things I have discovered regarding woven fabrics:

A contentious matter: Quilting cottons for clothes or not for clothes? This seems to be quite the debate in sewing circles, with some people appearing to prefer the prospect of skewering their eyeballs with hot pokers than making a skirt out of quilting cotton. Egad! Meanwhile, the other camp is like, yeah, hey, whatever, live a little. My conclusion so far? They both win! The crucial matter for me is that you have, have, have to feel the cotton in your sweaty little paws. I have in my stash (and I really do already have a stash) so-called quilting cottons that are soft and light enough to make a flowing  skirt and those that are so stiff and heavy, it’s almost home décor material. Almost. The other thing is that it absolutely depends on what you are making. That should be obvious I think, but I’m saying it anyway. Little girls’ dresses are often made with quilting cottons, for example, because they tend to be fairly A-line – and a bit of stiffness is not a bad thing in a cotton summer dress that needs to be somewhat hardwearing. Not so for an adult circle skirt where you want good drape for that full, flowing effect. If in doubt, you could always make it easy for yourself and opt for lawn or voile I suppose. Once you get familiar with a fabric company, you can usually buy without touching, or at least I’ve found them to be fairly consistent in the cotton they use.

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A few quilting cottons from my stash.

 

Where do I get my fabrics? I’ve been buying my wovens from: Fabric.com (seem to have good prices if you know what you want), Fabric Depot, Miss Matatabi (gorgeous range of Japanese fabrics and very reasonably priced), JoAnn Fabric (the main store near me and my tip is to check out the nursery/children’s fabrics. They’re usually softer and not all pastel pinks), Craftsy (you can get cracking deals in the sales) and Hawthorne Threads (gorgeous range and very good descriptions – SO important). I’ve also bought some fabric in REAL LIFE at local stores: Drygoods Design, downtown Seattle, and Esther’s Fabrics, on Bainbridge Island and District Fabric, Seattle. Oh and also a GREAT fabric and notions-dedicated consignment store, Our Fabric Stash, in the famous Pike Market, also here in Seattle.

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Like a bee to honey: When it comes to my favourite cotton designers/producers, I still have puhllenttyy to discover, but, as with anything, you get drawn pretty quickly in certain directions. I definitely tend towards strong colours and prints, or at least strong contrasts of colours and prints and often an illustrative quality.

By far, the designers that feature most in my current stash are Cotton & Steel. This design house comprises five very talented ladies who each produce seasonal collections of quilting cottons, but also lawns, double gauze, canvas and *sigh* dreamy rayon challis. Each designer has a different style, but somehow their collections are all cohesive too. I think they have a similar vaguely retro, cool kind of vibe.

I also very much like Sarah Jane. She designs for Michael Miller, but is an illustrator who works in other mediums as well. She produces books, prints, wallpapers and more. Her designs are fairly clearly marketed at children and I won’t apologise for the sweet, fairytale quality they have. They remind me of my favourite children’s book illustrators from when I was a child and I do think that if you were careful with pattern and placement, you could produce some nice adult apparel that wasn’t overly saccharine. Maybe.

Next, Art Gallery Fabrics. This is another company that features a roster of talented designers and I have some recent standout collections that I love. The Denim Studio is one of them – the printed denims are maybe not so much my thing, but I love the range of coloured denims in the collection and I’ve seen some gorgeous makes from this range. I also like Imprint and Maker is really cool. Another nice feature of AGF is that all their collections have a lighter weight cotton voile or two and also knits. The knits inclusion seems a little unusual to me, but very welcome!

The Denim Studio

Robert Kaufman is one of the “big guys” from what I’ve seen, in the sense of the range of fabric. I’m definitely a fan of designer Carolyn Friedlander, who has produced three collections for them: Doe, pic below, Botanics and Architextures. Her work is right up my street – gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. The other important aspect is that her prints seem very appropriate for apparel. I often see prints I like, but I’m not sure if they will look a bit gimmicky in a garment. Or you can tell that the range was designed entirely with quilting in mind and that it really won’t suit apparel. There’s hardly a print from Carolyn Friedlander that I think wouldn’t look good in a garment. Talented lady.

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Now that I actually think about it, there are so many fabric makers/designers I admire. This post could go on for ever, so I’ll end this part by mentioning Dear Stella, meandyou fabrics and of course Liberty of London if you’re feeling flush! I can’t end this section without mentioning Japanese fabrics. I’m a big fan of Japanese print in any medium and fabrics are no exception. You can see a good range at Miss Matatabi and I dare you to check out Nani Iro (although I’m sure most seamstresses are familiar with her) and not salivate.

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Some Japanese double gauzes. They’re un-ironed here, but they are so soft.

 

Types of woven fabrics: Okay, so there are a lot of types of woven fabric. I’ve mentioned a few above: quilting cotton, voile, double gauze, denims… but there are lots and lots more. I’m definitely not going to go through them as this isn’t intended to be an encyclopaedic blog post, but just list two ways that I’ve managed to make a dent in my knowledge of the myriad types and terms and weights and structures of woven fabric!

Books: Descriptions and pictures of fabrics definitely do help and when you have a huge variation in a grouping like quilting cottons, shopping in person will yield the best results. But something that has helped me immeasurably with fabric (and definitely, definitely also for knits and other fabrics) was the purchase of the book “Swatch Reference Guide for Fashion Fabrics”.

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I guess it’s a reference and course book for textiles students as it is set up as a kind of classroom text, with little exercises after each chapter. But the best part is it comes with over 200 swatches of all sorts of material and descriptions of them. You spend the first while attaching the swatches to the cards with double-sided sticky tape and I just loved that. But that possibly comes under my own personal “weird likes that other people hate” section. It retails at around $160 (!) on Amazon for some reason, but I picked up a secondhand Amazon marketplace copy for about $15 and it was seriously as good as new. It looked like it hadn’t been touched.

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I’ve already learnt tons and I’ve only read a couple of chapters, but it’s so nice to be able to feel the different swatches and recognise different fabrics by touch. In addition, the first chapter touched on modern technology with fabric and it was SO interesting. I had no idea what was possible these days, but I think I’ll save that for another post.

Swatch sheets: The other thing was to make my own swatch sheets. The template itself was actually made up by another blogger and I just printed them out and made sure I took swatches of all my material. It’s pretty helpful to distinguish between fabrics and it is absolutely invaluable when I’m trying to decide what fabric to use for a pattern. Yes, I am a “buy fabric because it’s nice, not because I need it for a particular pattern” kind of person. Fabric, then pattern. 🙂

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Alrighty, well, I think I’m going to leave wovens there right now. I hope I’ve given you a little insight into the sort of things I’ve discovered in 6 months or so of sewing and I hope at least one link will be useful to someone else! Have a great week and talk to you soon! 😀

 

8 thoughts on “Discoveries of a novice: Woven fabrics

  1. Great article! I get so confused by all the types and what feels like what, etc. It’s easy to stick to 100% cotton but even then, as you say, there’s so much variation! I wear a lot of jersey knits when I buy dresses/tops but it’s a bit of a nightmare to work with! Love Art Gallery fabrics too – they give me ‘fabric crushes’! 😉

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    1. Oh, I’m glad you liked it! I felt like I lost my thread once I started writing a post on this topic – it’s so huge! My husband was like, “Well, it’s not boring, but not crazy interesting either…” Haha, cheeky!! Oh my gosh, knits are a nightmare indeed! I’m going to write about them next, but lordy. I’ve only made a few things now from knits, but some are decidedly better than others. Cutting and marking knits can be a particular pain in the proverbial, I find. 🙂

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  2. I’m joining in with creativelittlecwtch — thank you for this post!

    Somewhat unfortunately, learning to sew coincided in my life with a period of very necessary belt-tightening. Buying fabric has been hard for me, not just because of the need to economize but also because messing up a sew hurts so much when you are consciously trying to constrain your spending as much as possible. (Not that I imagine it doesn’t hurt otherwise.)

    Luckily I’ve been able to make some purchases at a store that specializes in re-selling donated fabric, yarn, and related supplies. They end up having a lot of fabric in mint condition, much of it donated, I imagine, by families of sewists and knitters who passed on without a younger relative to pass the treasures on to.

    And… I just bought a used copy of the fabric swatch book. Thanks so much for writing about it!

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    1. I was definitely lucky in that I had my 40th bday, got married and had a baby all last year (well, in some ways that wasn’t so lucky, but…), so I ended up with some money from gifts. I decided to basically use all of it to learn to sew and therefore had a little capital to get started with the sewing machine, fabric etc. I’ve got some great fabric from consignment-type places – I made some of my first items with it. And if the fabric you’ve been using for your makes is also from there – wow! You either have a good eye, or a great store, or both! 🙂

      Yay! I’m glad you got the fabric book too! It’s great. PS. I was just reading the Colette post from today and they mentioned you! Exciting!

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      1. Thanks, Claire! I got *some* of my fabrics from that store — and I’ve bought plenty online. Like you, I often buy from Fabric.com and I got some gorgeous yardage from the Craftsy store. For knits, I like Girl Charlee. And, of course, I’ve bought some fabric at Jo-ann, which is the closest brick-and-mortar store to where I live.

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      2. I ended up thinking about your reply a lot. First of all, that sounds like an intense but absolutely amazing year 🙂

        Now, as far, as the need or desire to save and fabric shopping… I wouldn’t want to make anyone feel guilty about buying fabric (and I sure wish I didn’t guilt myself unnecessarily, by the way). My situation has been pretty exceptional and I’m looking forward to more financially relaxing times when I might take the plunge and maybe even buy silk…

        I believe in consciously stashing less rather than trying not to have any “unplanned” fabric. Moderation shouldn’t mean self-denial. And I’m going to guess that both you and I faced the same challenge when we just started — we needed to learn about fabric and collect enough of it to be able to mix, match, line, and above all learn.

        Thanks for the pictures of the fabrics from your collection — those lawns, gauze, and quilting cottons are so lovely!

        PS: I can’t deny, I was so happy to see my film recommendation got a mention in that Colette blog post!

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      3. A very thoughtful reply! And yes, you are right – it has been a challenge to get to know the fabric and buy the “right” fabric for sure. 🙂 Don’t worry though – I don’t feel guilty: I probably make myself out to be worse than I am. Maybe. I definitely wish much silk/financial relaxation to come your way and from what you’ve said, it sounds like the only way is up (as Yaz once said)? I will cross my fingers for you. On another sewing-related note: did you see the new Seamwork patterns? What thinketh you? I also checked out the new Named designs. Not my thing, although it could have a lot to do with the styling at this early stage of perusal..

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  3. I was just going to ask you about your impressions on those new patterns 🙂
    I really like the Hayden top from the April Seamwork. I’m not overly fond of maxi skirts. I have seen fairly short ladies pull them off wonderfully but so far that hasn’t swayed me to give them a try.

    I know what you mean about the styling of the new collection from Named… I clicked over to the line drawings to figure out what I actually make of the patterns. I like the Astrid wrap pants a lot. I’m not sure I could pull them off but the construction looks really intriguing. I also quite like the Elizabeth gown — the design, really, because it’s not a dress I’d wear. I’m not a fan of anything that would require going bra-less.

    What about you? Any Seamwork sewing lined up? 🙂

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