Tag Archives: textiles

Fabric for Fashion: The Swatch Book

It seems to me that making beautiful, wearable clothes is as much about choosing the right fabric as it is about the sewing skills and techniques.  Maybe even more so. (But probably not as much as getting the perfect fit.)

I have, many times, been drawn by the beautiful colours and prints of quilting weight cottons to make dresses for my girls, and while they were lovely there was something undeniably, unavoidably ‘stiff’ about them.  Granted, with repeated washing and wearing the cotton can soften, but the print may not look as fresh by then, and your kids may have outgrown the clothes anyway. <

See what I mean - gorgeous prints, very cute dresses, but STIFF

See what I mean – gorgeous prints, very cute dresses, but STIFF

Now I’m embarking in a making-clothes-for-myself adventure, I want them to drape and flow on my body in the same way that ‘proper’ (shop bought) clothes do.

The first step is, obviously, to take note of what fabrics are suggested by the pattern manufacturers/designers. After all, they know how they intended the item to be worn and they want you to get the best result from their design.  But sometimes there are loads of recommended fabrics listed, and how are you supposed to choose between a peach crepe and a cotton poplin?

How about by using a book like this?  I can’t remember how I stumbled across it, it was during one of my many internet meandering, blog-hopping sessions – but however I found it I was pretty excited that I did.

swatch book cover

Fabric for Fashion: The Swatch Book by Clive Hallett and Amanda Johnston.


This version is available cheaper than its RRP all over the internet, probably because a 2nd edition  is due out in September (which I believe will have more fabric swatches).  It has a partner book, “Fabric for Fashion: The Complete Guide” which I think goes into more description on the fabrics and their uses, but I haven’t looked at it and, for me, nothing beats being able to touch and handle examples of fabric, which is what this book’s all about.

swatchbook int

Look at all the lovely, flappy little swatches of fabric. You can spend all day running your fingers through those delicious little fluttery samples.

It has over 100 swatches of fabric samples, most of which are undyed and unbleached so you get a feel for the fabric without being distracted by colour.  Except where colour is unavoidable, like the tweed effect examples in the photo above.

It’s set out in two sections: Animal Fibres and Plant Fibres and is easy enough to navigate.  All the swatches are on the right hand side for ease of flicking through and there are nice, helpful descriptions of the fabric types and uses as well as overviews of different fibres, fabric construction etc.  The swatches themselves aren’t huge, but at about 10cm x 10cm each they are big enough for you to have a good tug, a squish and a feel, and even to rub your cheek against it for softness-testing.

This is going to be a very useful resource for me as I begin to learn about the properties of different fabrics and try to make the right fabric-buying decisions without wasting a lot of money on buying the wrong stuff.  However – nothing beats having a good nose at the actual fabric you’re going to buy before you buy it, and if you’re ordering over the internet, as I tend to do quite a lot, the fabric descriptions don’t always convey the weight, drape or stiffness of a fabric.  In this case, if we’re sensible, I suppose we should be requesting samples before buying them, but at 50p per sample + postage, I usually find myself too impatient to want to get on with the sewing to wait that bit longer and spend that bit more before starting. But I really, really ought to.  And then keep those samples in a folder and label them properly, with a description of the fabric, where it’s from, fabric content, washing instructions (if supplied), etc.

My swatch folder - there isn't much yet but I'm pretty certain it will grown faster than I would like to admit.

My own version of a swatch folder – there isn’t much yet but I’m pretty certain it will grown faster than I would like to admit.

So this is what I will be doing from here on in.  OK, maybe I probably won’t always order a swatch before committing to buying 3m of a lush must-buy-it-now-in-case-it-all-goes-away fabric, but I’m definitely at least going to start keeping my own swatch book of fabrics I have bought and, along with the other stuff I covered above, I’m going to keep a note of what I made with it and any notes on the finished item (was it the right fabric to use?) and where I bought it from, in case I want to make a repeat purchase.  In this way I will build up my own encyclopedia of fabric and start to improve my own knowledge of different fabrics and their characteristics.

And I will make beautiful clothes. And everyone will be amazed.  And I will be smug.

*Happy sigh*


The world’s single most beautiful piece of fabric. Ever.

Yesterday lunchtime I was hunting for some cotton lycra jersey when I stumbled across the single most beautiful fabric I have ever seen, in Calico’s, Cardiff.  Just look at this.

Floral fabric

The world’s softest, brightest, most glorious piece of ‘Wool Mix’. (although I have no idea what it’s mixed with). and it belongs to me.

*sigh*  Isn’t it just heaven? It’s a wool mix and feels a bit felted, has lovely wispy textured bits on it and is just so bold and vibrant.  To give an idea of scale the largest roses are about 20cm across.

So today, after anguishing over it all evening, and my husband agreeing that I would be stupid not to buy it, I went back.  I was actually shaking a little bit as I watched it being measured and cut, and I told the lovely sales assistant all about my plans.  She agreed that it would make a fabulous coat and confessed that she’s been eyeing it up herself also.  (I think it’s probably for the best that I don’t work in a fabric shop.  I don’t think I’d have any wages to speak of to take back home with me.  But I’d have a glorious fabric stash.)

I see this as a fitted frock coat with a swishy, twirly skirt.  I have my eye on McCalls 6800 but I want to browse a bit more before I commit.  I want to be sure that the pattern I choose is absolutely right.

McCalls 6800 – a splendidly swooshy frock coat pattern.

It has also occurred to me that such a bold fabric and such a fitted pattern might end up wearing me rather than the other way round.  As you can tell from my DIY dress form I’m a bit on the stumpy, stout side.  So I think I should probably try to apply myself to Slimming World between now and Christmas so I can get the best out of this fabric.

I can’t help feeling this fabric is going to end up being named, as I can’t keep saying ‘this fabric’ over and over, ever after.  But not today. Today I’m not feeling moved or inspired to name fabrics.

(In case you were wondering, I didn’t manage to find any suitable jersey in town, but I did order some from Tia Knight which should be with me shortly, so it’s all good.)

Bleaching and tea staining cotton calico

I’ve been thinking about what to ‘put’ my embroideries on.  Calico is lovely in its simplicity but I want to move some pieces on, which means having some sort of depth, texture and colour behind the main character or object.

So I’ve been playing…  heh heh heh *sinister laugh*



This is a large-ish piece of calico that’s been tea-stained then bleached, it’s out on the line to dry from the bleach right now.  (How lovely is it to be able to dry things on the line again.)

I tried being clever with the bleach by soaking a cotton doiley in thin bleach and laying it on the fabric to transfer the pretty doiley shape.  It didn’t really work like that, either there was too much bleach and it spleurged everywhere, or not enough and the pattern didn’t transfer.  But some bits of it look quite interesting.   It isn’t satisfactory or complete yet, but I’m having a lovely time experimenting with it.

I’m also thinking of enrolling on Karen Ruane‘s online course on embroidering lace (as in embroidering on lace and embroidering pieces of lace to create a background fabric, not making lace out of embroidery, IYSWIM).  I only have a couple of days to enrol if I’m going to do it, and no lace in the craftroom to get me started!

In other news – I have a place in another local gallery for three small embroideries with shibori balloons and one large, so I’m busily finishing them so I can deliver them next week.  Yay.

Textiles Technology Project, Swansea

I attended “Manufacture@technology #whatsthatallabout”,  the Textiles Technology Project dissemination event in Swansea Met yesterday morning.  I really had no idea what to expect, what the focus of the day was going to be or even how long it would last, so went along full of anticipation and enthusiasm hoping to find new inspiration, ideas and opportunities.

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Isea Surfwear Design produce beautiful hand screen printed clothing.

The Textiles Technologies Project  was formed to “encourage and facilitate the uptake of knowledge, new technologies and technical expertise within the diverse Welsh textiles sector”.  As far as I can understand they made exciting technologies (such as laser cutting and etching, water cutting, digital printing onto fabrics) and expertise (such as help with product design, designing bespoke machinery and pattern grading) available to Welsh textiles makers.  Part funded by EU money I think this may have all been free of charge, but sadly not any more.

The project is coming to an end at the end of this month and this event was to showcase the projects they had been involved with.  They are hoping to continue to offer their facilities and skills to Welsh makers, but on a commercial basis.

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I was completely blown away by this beautiful woollen tunic by Wench Clothing. Innovative fashion textile designs by KanUcMe in the background.

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Images of work by Michelle Griffiths showed how technology can translate textile design into different contexts. With the help of TTP her shibori designs have been etched onto slate at the National Botanic Gardens of Wales.
The textiles book by Julia Griffiths Jones (in the foreground) was so beautiful with its thick, squidgy, tactile pages that I had real trouble putting it back down.

It was interesting to hear from other makers and manufacturers and to see the types of work people had produced with TTP’s help.  The highlight for me was to get to see some of the machinery – laser etching is amazing!  I was very impressed with a sample of laser etched denim I got to see and handle as well at etched leather.  I would have like to see the digital fabric printer too but unfortunately that wasn’t possible yesterday.