January 21, 2010

Choosing the Right Fabric for Your Project

I first discovered Colette Patterns through Amy Karol of Angry Chicken, a fellow Portlander and incredibly inspirational crafty artist, when she posted this glowing review of Sarai’s gorgeous patterns. Not long after, I sent in my order—one of the first for the shop.

Sarai Mitnick, founder and creative designer of Colette Patterns, is a self-proclaimed lover of vintage styles and beautiful details, which is evident in her lovely designs. She started designing patterns when she got frustrated enough with the lack of patterns for design-oriented sewers. The result is a line of lovely, original, and extremely wearable fashions reminiscent of earlier decades.

So, no question, she is a woman who knows fabric. And lucky for us, she has offered this tutorial on choosing the right fabric for your project—something I’m notoriously awful at (I’m easy prey for rich colors, regardless of weight, drape or difficulty!). I’ve printed out her suggestions and plan to take them with me every single time I go to the fabric store or fire up the computer to buy fabric online!

Choosing the Right Fabric
One of the most important decisions you make when sewing is choosing the right fabric to go with your chosen pattern.  The wrong fabric choice can ruin even the prettiest design.  I think we've all had the experience of looking at a garment we've made and thinking it has a bit too much of that homemade look.  I'd say that 90% of the time the major culprit is simply the wrong fabric choice.

I've learned a few easy tips for better envisioning what your finished garment will look like with your chosen fabric, and hopefully it can save you some heartache.  Some of the factors you should look at are weight, drape, color, and how difficult it will be to sew.

{image credit: only alice on Flickr}

Fabric Weight
You probably have a pretty good idea what this is. In short, the weight of your fabric refers to its thickness. For example, silk georgette is a lightweight fabric while wool coating is heavyweight. A cotton poplin might be considered medium weight.

What to look for: Look at the weight carefully, and compare your fabric to what's recommended by your pattern.  Consider that heavy fabrics can add bulk, and decide whether the design of you pattern can support that.  I once made a fitted skirt in a gorgeous thick melton wool.  But the wool was so thick, it added inches to my waist, something I definitely did not need!

{image credit: Abraxas3d on Flickr}

Fabric Drape
So what is drape?  Fabric drape refers to the way a particular fabric falls from the body.  In other words, we're talking about the stiffness of the fabric.

Isn't that the same as weight?  After all, it seems a lightweight fabric would be more fluid and a heavy fabric would be stiff.  This is often the case, but not always!  Consider a piece of silk organza.  It is very light, so light that it's sheer.  But it is also quite stiff, and is even used as interfacing to add stiffness to other fabrics. Organza is lightweight, but not drapey.

What to look for:  I like to literally drape my fabric all around my dressform, hanging it from the shoulders.  This gives me a really good idea of how it will hang, and also helps me better envision it as a full garment.  If you don't have a dressform, you can easily drape it from something else, such as a piece of furniture, just to get an idea.  If you're in a store, most won't mind if you unfold a bit from the bolt and drape it if you're uncertain.

{image credit: kk+ on Flickr}

We all know what color is, but this is a factor I'd like to encourage you to really think about before sewing.  It's a tough one for me, because I love wearing neutrals and soft muted colors, but once I get in a fabric store and see all those lovely, bright colors and prints, I find them hard to resist!

What to look for:  Make sure you look at your fabric in natural light to get an accurate sense of the color.  Try to envision your entire garment in this color.  Draping the whole length of fabric, as I described above, will really help with this.  You may find that your bright poppy orange silk looks lovely all folded up, but an entire dress of it reminds you more of a prison jumpsuit.

Try to be honest with yourself about your tastes, too.  I once made a lovely 1930s day dress in bright lagoon blue silk.  It was very pretty, but a year later I realized I never wore it.  I just felt too self-conscious in such a bright color.

{image credit: only alice on Flickr}

Some fabrics are notoriously difficult to sew.  Satin is one of them, especially charmeuse.  It is so slippery, it will often slip right off your table or out of your hands.  Some fabrics also tend to roll or fray, making accurate seams a bit of a challenge.

What to look for:  Check the cut ends of your fabric for rolling or fraying.  If your chosen fabric has a tendency to roll or fray, be aware of this when cutting and sewing.  If your fabric is slippery and seems difficult to cut, try a fabric stabilizer.  I swear by Sullivan's Spray Stabilizer.  You just spray it on your pre-washed fabric. It becomes stiff and easy to work with, but washes right out when you're done.

Pay attention to all of these factors, and you're much closer to getting that perfect dress you have in your head a reality!

Many thanks to Sarai and happy sewing everyone!

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