Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Personality of Fabrics

I have been off on buying trips these past weeks for Stonemountain & Daughter Fabrics, searching for fabrics that speak to me and that I think will inspire you to sew a wardrobe for yourself. As I wander through the multitudes of knits and wovens available, I am always mindful of how easy (or difficult!) a fashion fabric may be to sew. My choices represent a collection of fabric "personalities" that loosely remind me of the vast variety of personalities of our customer base.

Like our own personalities, each fabric has it's own set of unique characteristics, both good and not so good, easy going or difficult to manage. A lot of how a fabric responds to the dressmaker depends on her skill level, the tools she works with and her level of experience.  Budding seamstresses choose more forgiving fashion fabrics, such as cottons and other woven fabrics. Seasoned dressmakers will go for the silk charmeuse, linen and wool every time.

Most of us are middle of the road sewers - "Sew 'n Gos" (I just made that up!)...we've worked with some knits, a silk here and there and even tackled an occasional wool.  My dressmaker and fellow fabric enthusiast Laurel (of Laurel's Quill) contends that even a beginning home sewer can choose some of these "intimidating" fabrics, if she just learns a few tricks.

I love the many personalities of knits. You can find a wide variety of colors, textures, fabric contents and lively prints in knits. Though a lot of knits are lightweight, some are heavier in texture, such as the ponte knit skirt in my fall wardrobe (collection). Again, once you've chosen a knit, just remember a few sewing hints so that your knit garment will reflect your design style the way you imagined.

For instance, almost all of my quilting friends pre-wash their cottons, but not everyone thinks about pre-washing a knit. Other than polyester and certain other synthetic knits, it's a good idea to pre-wash AND dry your fabric before cutting it out.

Not all knits are printed exactly on the straight of the material, and you'll find that out rather quickly after a wash cycle...better to find that out first than to make the garment and wonder why the back is riding up or the sleeves are all twisted around your armpit!  Pre-treatment gives you time to correct the shortcomings of your dream fabric and fix it in the cutting process.

Laurel purchased this great rayon knit from our collection (she picked it for the rich cobalt color) and after the wash/dry cycle, she had to trim the outer selvage edges before layout and cutting - it was rolling up as knits often do - its part of their charm!

When sewing knits, you should always test out a few stitch patterns from your machine before starting on the actual garment. Sometimes,  the "knit" stitch doesn't work as well as a plain old zig-zag stitch. And some knits don't have as much give in the fabric's stretch and a straight stitch works just fine.

Fabric draping is a big part of how garments hang or flow on our bodies. If you want a fluid, drapey look, fabric cut on the bias of the weave is one way to achieve it. But let's get real, working with fabric cut on the bias scares a lot of our Sew n' Gos.  There's just something about that extreme "ease" that wovens on the bias have that freaks us out, generally because we've perhaps chosen a more expensive fabric, such as a silk or lace. Working with bias cuts is like knits -choose the right stitch to maintain the stretch and drape in the garment. And PIN, PIN, PIN! You may even want to baste your seams first (you remember basting, don't you?)

My Sandra Betzina blouse our of silk charmeuse, cut on the bias
Having the right tools makes sewing on the bias (or any sewing for that matter) a lot easier as well.  Do you have one of these?? If you had a home economics teacher who taught you haw to sew, how many times did she tell you to PRESS before you went to the next step?

A pressing ham (available at Stonemountain) is a must have, especially when you're working with delicate fabrics
One of my favorite fabric personalities is linen.  There's something about wearing it that feels very "natural", very homey. We've discussed the pre-washing method for linen in a previous post.  Sewing linen fabric is very easy. I have several linen crop pants in my summer wardrobe, but linen can also be used in a Fall wardrobe. Our Nevada linen (available in many colors) is a heavier fabric with lots of depth - I love the way Laurel made up in this sumptuous red jacket for her Fall wardrobe (Dang - it's not mine??)

We have this pattern...The Sewing Workshop Riviera Shirt

Oh, the details you can get when you sew on this luscious fabric!  Laurel said she had to You Tube how to make a bound buttonhole as she hadn't made one in years.  What a great resource we have on the Internet - don't forget to use it when you get stuck! . Or just drop buy the store - we have a host of experience in our fabric loving staff - they can help! Or better yet, sign up for a class here at Stonemountain & Daughter.

And I can't go without saying that no fabric has more personalities than cotton!  As any quilter will tell you, cotton is the best fabric for a quilt.  But because of the huge variety of patterns, prints, stripes and batiks available, your fabric can reflect your personality and style all by itself.  Remember my Decades of Style vintage dress? Cotton! See how Victoria and I reflected our own style, just by choosing fabric that spoke to our personal design aesthetic.

So whether you are a budding seamstress, a Sew n' Go, or an experienced dressmaker, let fabrics speak to you.  Choose them "thoughtfully", as Tim Gunn would say, but don't forget to try something new and fresh for the Fall season...maybe a boiled wool, or a silk - something you haven't sewn on before. 

So many fabrics, all speaking to Victoria and I, at the International Textiles Expo in Las Vegas ~
Stop by and see all the daily shipments!
Creatively Yours,
Creative Director, Stonemountain & Daughter Fabrics
2518 Shattuck Ave. @ Dwight Way
Berkeley CA 94704
Lots of parking and great service!


  1. Suzan, I can't believe I haven't found this blog til now! I frequent Stone Mountain and Daughter and am obsessed with sewing blogs myself, and have been wondering where their blog was. I'll be following you now for sure!

  2. Thanks Meg! We are super excited about garment sewing and hope to inspire folks to come in and make beautiful clothes!