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Fearless Fabrics

February 20, 2007

I haven’t been able to sew since I’ve been sick, but that’s given me plenty of time to read. I’ve been reading some of the new sewing books I recently bought. As I read through these books, I find great advice about dealing with fabrics. There is a bounty of sage advice on how to pretreat and sew wools, silks, sheers, linens and so on. There are tips for dealing with the slippery factor of a silky sheer or the bulkiness of a beautiful boucle.

There is so much I have to learn about fabrics – beginning with just identifying the fabric by name and content. The basic fabrics are obvious to me. I know what linen is, what cotton, toile, chiffon, seersucker, denim, cordoroy, matte jersey, and so on are. But the more obscure fabrics are harder to remember.  I recall not so long ago on one of the sewing boards I visit that I asked what a faille fabric was. Learning about fabrics is exciting, challenging, and for some, possibly intimidating.

What occurred to me is that my lack of education or knowledge about some fabrics has never scared me or stopped me from purchasing the fabric, cutting it, or trying to sew with it. But I wondered how many others have been stopped from purchasing or using a fabric simply by not knowing what to do with it.

I sew by jumping in. I really have no fear of fabrics. In some cases, ignorance is bliss, but not always. I buy a fabric because I think it is beautiful. I can imagine what it looks like in a finished garment or item. I match it up to a pattern and I cut and sew. I practice. If it works, great – I’m a success. If it fails, I’ve learned by experience and still, I had fun along the way. Yes, there are the discouraging moments, but in the end I know what not to do.

I tried making a jacket a couple years ago for my mother using a beautiful woven fabric – not quite a boucle, but a chunky woven jacket material. (See what I mean? I don’t even know the correct name for the fabric.) There was much I didn’t know then about working with that kind of fabric – stuff like using a fusible interfacing on the entire jacket so that it kept some body and structure. The jacket came out horribly and maybe someday I’ll try redoing it (likely not, though.) Much of the problem was from not knowing to do an FBA (full bust adjustment) on the pattern to accomodate the fitting issues my mother has. But my lack of knowledge didn’t stop me from trying, and look how much I learned by this exercise. The jacket still hangs in my closet as a reminder.

I was showing some swatches to some new sewing friends the other weekend and one lady asked me what I do with all the sheer fabrics I buy. I have a variety of things I use them for. I’ve used chiffons for a lacy edge to a linen skirt, or as an overlay to a nice top. Sewing with sheers doesn’t scare me., either. I’ve learned now that there are different machine needles to use for sheers than for, say, stretch fabrics. I didn’t know that several years ago.

I guess one of the things I’d like to say to my fellow sewing enthusiasts is this: Plenty of blogs and websites are written by highly skilled, trained, and knowledgeable dressmakers, tailors, seamstresses, or whatever we call ourselves. I respect and admire these people enormously, and I strive to be as good as they are. However, it can also be daunting to those of us who are less skilled, have fewer tools and notions, or even less time each week to spend perfecting our skills. We might think that, gee, we’ll never be that good, and then we discount our own work.

I’m speaking for myself here because I’ve gone through these emotions. I’ve discounted my own talents and abilities because I’ve measured my skills against those who have sewn for a living for decades. How unfair to myself is that? If I let fear get the most of me — fear of making a mistake, fear of not being good enough, fear of not knowing enough, fear of ruining the fabric, fear of judgement, or more — then I’d never sew, and I’d miss out on all the fun associated with sewing.

Some fear is good, and training, education, and learning is to be encouraged, and I strive to soak up as much knowledge as I can. But I can’t let my perfectionism takeover my fearlessness, or I’d never get anything sewn.

Just my observations. Feel free to share some of yours with me. I’d love to hear.

  1. February 21, 2007 10:35 am

    I am a recovering perfectionist. 🙂 However, I am somewhat fearless too. The only way to learn sewing is to do it. Yes, there will be mistakes along the way, but those mistakes are lessons one will never forget. Some of my favorite projects suffered a seemingly irreparable mistake along the way. The mistakes forced me to think differently, be creative, and venture into unchartered territory. Don’t think of it as a mistake. It is a design opportunity. Keep sewing, keep experimenting. It’s only fabric.


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