Book Review: Fabric for Fashion - The Swatch Book

Let me preface this review by clarifying the review is based on the 1st edition of the book and it was obtained via an interlibrary loan, not purchased, not provided by the publisher.

Woo, title page :P! I dare not step on copyright toes.

A few weeks ago, after a bit of bonding over our mutual love of silk, Amber (@soisewedthis) mentioned submitting an interlibrary loan request for the much admired, but somewhat pricey, Fabric for Fashion: The Swatch Book from Laurence King publishing.  Like her, I was eager to delve deeper into love and knowledge of my favorite luxury fabrics, wool, silk, so, I took her lead and submitted my own request.
Hint: I highly recommend utilizing this resource through your local library if available.  To increase your chances of success, do a search for your desired title(s) on WorldCat.org to see how many copies are available in libraries country or worldwide. If you see that an older edition is more readily available, as was the case here, submit your request for that isbn instead.
I've seen a lot of positivity surrounding this title and, while I don't entirely disagree, I thought it might be useful to have a review from someone coming at it from a slightly different angle.

I do not in any way have any kind of fashion or textile education or background (ok, one fashion history class in college :P).  Any fabric knowledge I have has been largely gained from internet research, sewing books, or asking questions at fabric stores.  Since moving to metro Atlanta, I've gained access to a few incredible fabric stores where I can find some unbelievably fine silks, wool, etc. but, they aren't often well labeled.  One in particular merely divides offerings by the largest content and lets you work it out yourself, in exchange for insanely good prices.  So, I've come home with some amazing things that I don't know the name of.  I had hopes that the book would be able to solve those riddles. It can't. This in not a book to help you pinpoint exactly what you have or help you distinguish between two similar fabrics. And due to a lack of continuity among fabric sellers, I wouldn't hold out too much hope for it being able to help you avoid every possible error when ordering online. However, that said, I would say this would be very helpful in the opposite direction. One could very easily thumb through the swatches included, say "I want that," then turn to your local fabric store, book in hand, Google, or preferred online seller using the new keyword.  I can easily see why this would be a popular book with budding designers, those with prior textile knowledge who just need a simple reference, or those with very limited fabric experience who need to learn the basics.

The book is roughly divided by fiber type (with some spilling over into more broad chapters) and each chapter, and the book itself, starts with general, appropriate technical knowledge, such as descriptions of twist and ply.  There are small diagrams and a few photos throughout, all very clear and add to the text given.  This edition includes 100 generously cut swatches, which allow you to easily see and feel many of the most common fabrics available.  The focus is primarily on natural fibers but, there are a few polyesters and nylon thrown in at very useful places (such as comparing them to their natural counterparts).  The text descriptions of each swatch are brief and sometimes confusing but, likely good enough for very general information.  There are excellent sections on weave types and satins.  The book also includes a trade fair list, a glossary, and the sources used for the swatches.

Sounds perfect so far, right?  I agree, it's a good book but, there are a few faults:
First, the section on knits is very limited, no ponte, no ITY, etc.  The focus is on jersey and even that section wasn't entirely clear.  Also, the terminology used to define each swatch may not be universal.  In some cases, such as with "muslin," it's a matter of geography - US sellers would generally use the term "gauze" instead, while "gauze" is something different in the book (but I can't hold that against them).  In other instances, I can only assume it's a matter of home-sewing vs. industry sewing.  The best example of this is the text description of "wool tweed" which plainly states that fancy bouclé yarns are used in the warp and weft and a swatch of such (from Linton Tweed!) is given.  However, to many home-sewists, this would be more accurately known as wool bouclé. If a beginner were to fall in love with the swatch included and then ordered wool tweed based on that, it's not unlikely that person would be disappointed.  For our market, wool bouclé may(?) be a type of wool tweed but,certainly not all wool tweed is bouclé.  Lastly, if, like me, you need help identifying a particular type of fabric or distinguishing one from another very similar, the descriptions aren't thorough enough for that (ex. between chiffon and georgette).  Not yet having read the companion book, The Complete Guide, I can't say whether or not this is expanded on there.  There may also be a chance my interest may be too technical and I may need to seek out a textile textbook. (Can anyone comment?)

For a more detailed review see my post on PatternReview, skipping the first three paragraphs.

Overall, I'd say this would be a great book to get your hands on but, whether or not it's by purchase would be up to you.  (I'm not yet sold on buying the book rather than $60+ worth of fabric but, I always weigh my hobby purchases against fabric :P.)  Though it didn't answer every question I had, and even added one or two new ones, I did enjoy the read and certainly may reference it in the time I have possession of it.  If my views change during that time, I'll certainly share an updated review.

Have you had a look at this book?  Any others you recommend?

Happy sewing! x


Finished: Jennifer Lauren Vintage Felicity Dress

Pattern Test Review*

You may have noticed it's been a while since my last post (over a year!).  Things, health, life, got in the way.  But, while I haven't been blogging, I have been creating!  In fact, it was necessary ;).  During my unplanned hiatus, I had the opportunity to be a pattern tester for Jennifer Lauren's new dress release, which has since been named Felicity.

I choose view 1 - a perfectly swishy 3/4-circle skirt

With the first glace at the line drawings, I knew this was going to be a great dress.  It's vintage inspired, of course, as all Jennifer's designs are but, it wasn't over the top.  The little details make it easy to put either a vintage or a modern spin on it.  The subtle shaping of the armscye in particular caught my attention.  It's slight, but it's clear this dress was made to be sleeveless, rather than a dress with removed sleeves.  Always a good sign for the drafting.  The pattern overall was very well done and Jen was great about receiving and responding to feedback so even the tiniest of issues were addressed before the official pattern was released.  Actually, testing for her was a breeze!  I should also note that, while Jen doesn't use symbols to assist with pdf assembly, this one is the easiest I've put together.

I changed the grainline of the pocket piece to allow for print matching.
I won't go into fit changes this time, because my pattern was a draft but, I can say the dress went together easily.  It sewed up perfectly in muslin and was relatively easy to fit (and there are now fitting posts on the JLV blog).  I do have to admit though, from there things did get a little tricky.  The lovely neckline gathers lend themselves better, particularly to someone like me with limited bias binding experience, to a thinner, lighter fabric.  But, as someone who doesn't want a lot of show-through, it had to be the right thin fabric.  First, I got a refresher in proper muslins - testing in a fabric similar to your fashion fabric - though we worked and achieved a near-perfect the fit in the muslin/calico, the fit in my first fabric was way off.  I'd chosen a medium weight rayon challis in an effort to balance the neckline/show-through issues but, as the fabric was so much less stable, the whole garment drooped and stretched.  The poor thing is still in my sewing room closet waiting to be corrected. After a few tweaks in throwaway fabric, I moved on to this beautiful Art Gallery voile from Fabric.com.  My thinking here was that the voile would be less droopy while still easy to gather at the neckline but, the higher quality and thread count of this line would keep things a bit more modest than a typical voile.  To help avoid disappointment, it tried the dress on a few times during construction. There are still a few things I'd like to tweak since the voile isn't a perfectly stable cotton and my weight has fluctuated since I finished it but, overall, I'm very pleased.

This was my first Art Gallery fabric purchase and I quickly understood the hype.  It was a dream to work with.  Though voile is notably less stable than other cottons, it cut and sewed much like normal.  Of course, I used a smaller needle and adjusted my tension for the thinness but, it went through both my regular machine and serger perfectly.  (A little hint: I'd recommend using a mesh tape zipper with the voile if you can find one.)  It's also wears beautifully!  It feels almost like a silk/cotton blend and is so light and airy, it feels almost scandalously minimal ::blush::, which is a godsend for summer here in Georgia (it was 93F when we took these photos!).  I can easily see this dress being in regular rotation through August... and I may just need a darker voile version for the early fall :)

 I highly recommend both this pattern and the Art Gallery voiles.  Now, time to catch up on the rest of my posts ;)

Happy sewing! x

*Full disclosure: I received a pre-release version of this pattern in exchange for my honest feedback.  No blog post was required and all opinions are my own.


Me-Made-May '14: Round-up

We made it to the end!  Happy June!

Day 31 (Poor day 31, all by itself :-P) - "Lilly Alligator" dress - for a day out with Brandon - I saved this one for the end for two reasons: 1. I was terrified it wasn't going to fit!  My post-surgery diet hasn't been as healthy as I like since chewing is harder now and high-maintenance. Luckily, it's been getting better so, my dress turned out not to be a problem :) 2.  I wanted to end the month on a high note.  I love this dress!  This was the four version of this pattern so the fit is pretty good.  I love the lace and the high-quality (Lilly!) fabric. The print is almost ridiculous (alligators and mini-flowers!) but, so cute and the colors are similar enough that, in my opinion anyway, it isn't loud.  Oh, and it's turquoise. Need I say more?  So, yeah, I still love this dress!

Dress: McCalls 4440, Purse: Coach (vintage), Shoes: Clarks

Final Thoughts:

I'm particularly grateful for Me-Made-May this year.  Not only did I get to test my wardrobe ideas and be inspired by lots of new sewcialists, but, it also kept me blogging.  I've been very self-conscious since my jaw surgery so, I haven't been up for taking my normal photos for all my new makes.  One photo at a side angle was boring but, a lot easier.  It's getting better now though so, hopefully I can resume my regularly scheduled blogging soon :)

This year, I pledged 5 items per week.  Save for one day where a migraine got in the way, I succeeded!  :-D

What did I learn?
  • I'm on the right track!  I'm learning what styles/colors/fabrics I prefer and I'm choosing those over things I may like but, won't wear.  All of my recent makes have been successes! (Not all perfect, mind you but, successes.) 
  • I really do prefer separates.  I like my dresses.  I do.  And, I want to make more.  But, on a day-to-day basis, I like to keep things a little more casual.  Separates also mean I can wear prints without them wearing me (it's a personal preference but, I tend to feel overwhelmed by allover prints).  Going forward, I need to add shorts and simple tops (mostly woven) to my queue, as well as continuing to replicate my already loved pieces (semi-circles forever!)
  • I still haven't learned how to accessorize.  Reading previous round-ups, this was something I've been trying to work on but, I'm easily intimidated by larger pieces.  Meh, I think I'm good with my simple jewelry.
What will I do next year?
  • Expand on this year's successes.  Next year, I hope to be able to up my challenge to a me-made item every day!  Now that I know I'm on the right track with all of my new makes, I think I'll get there.  There will be a lot of woven separates in my future, as well as some more knits, particularly t-shirts and yoga-wear.  Eventually, the goal will be to wear 100% me-made.
  • Choose a comfortable, consistent method for documenting.  I previous years, I've been disappointed that I allow MMMay photos to be "lazier".  Honestly, I think it's better that way.  I would like to find a uniform way to do it though.  Perhaps Instagram?  I saw a lot of fellow me-made-Mayers using that application for their daily shots and I liked it.  It's quick, easy, and consistent.  Now that I'm nailing my style down a bit more too, I think less text would ok too.  I just have to learn how to take a proper selfie :-P
  • Add Brandon to the mix.  I've hoped to do this before but, my sewjo comes and goes and life gets in the way.  Hopefully, I'll have a chance to make him a few things this year so he can participate too.
So, that's another Me-Made-May done.  I had fun, as always, and am even more inspired to keep creating! 


Me-Made-May '14: Week 5

Nearly there!

Day 24 - n/a - I wore a semi-boxy t-shirt from J.Crew that I love.  So much so that I traced it a couple of years ago.  I finally made one this week!  see below.  Oh, and rtw shorts, cause obviously a girl's gotta wear more than a t-shirt ;-P

Day 25 - n/a - This was the dirtiest of the home improvement days this month so, I wore a (free) souvenir t-shirt and shorts.  I don't dare mess up my me-mades :-)  Maybe when I have plenty more to choose from?

Day 26 - Navy Ikat linen skirt - One more time! For a Memorial day cookout at a neighbor's house.  Ok, this day cinched it.  No one else showed up to the party wearing a skirt and yet, I still felt perfectly comfortable in it.  I think the fabric and the print make it casual enough to not stand out.  Normally, I get "Aww, you didn't have to get dressed up." but, not this time.  And, the linen was downright heavenly in the humid, raining off-and-on, summer heat.  Grade: A

Shirt: Brooks Brothers, Skirt: self-drafted, Shoes: Hush Puppies, Jewelry: Lilly Pulitzer & J.Crew, Umbrella: Totes

Day 27 - Self-Drafted Lavender Linen Skirt - Another day, another repeat.  For running errands and whatnot.  Not much new to say about this one.  I really wanted to wear it when I woke, which is always a good sign.  It's a bit tricky to pair though.  I Googled and, apparently, the trendy option would have been mint.  Having a mint silk blouse, I considered it but, I think it's a bit too "omgfashun" for me to pull off and would have just looked way too sugary sweet.  So, I went with blue. Blue's always good (I hope).  I felt good in it at least :)  Grade: A-

Brandon was away on business again but, I remembered the timer on our camera, trying to spare you the cell phone selfies :)
Shirt: Brooks Brothers, Skirt: self-drafted, Shoes: Dolce Vita, Bracelet: Lilly Pulitzer

Day 28 - Self-drafted (traced) "Daphne" T-shirt - This is my first attempt at finally remaking my aforementioned beloved J.Crew t-shirt.  I can't find a lightweight stable knit like they used so, mine came out drapier and less boxy but, I do still love it.  Oh, and more blue-green (turquoise, jade, teal, I love it all)!  I plan to make more of these and write up a proper post eventually but, my overall thoughts are very good.  I'm still a knits-newbie but, I finished it the closest to the original way as I good (I even used a twin needle!!) and I'm really pleased.  It filled a me-made gap and it's going to be a regular wear :)  I do think the outfit overall is a little boring though.  Grade: B+

T-shirt: self-drafted, Shorts: AE, Bracelet: Target, Shoes: Dolce Vita

Day 29 - Maria Denmark Kimono t-shirt  - more home improvement - Ok, so I said I never wear me-mades for construction but, I attempted this pattern a few years ago when I knew absolutely nothing about knits and the quality is less than I like.  I like it, I just don't like to wear it out of the house.  Now that I'm a bit more knit-educated, I really should try this pattern again - it's cute, comfy, and on-trend.  No grade.

Day 30 - Maria Denmark Kimono t-shirt - ditto - and ditto.

Only 1 day to go! (Ok, technically that was yesterday... post coming tomorrow with my end-of-challenge thoughts :)

Previous posts:
Me-Made-May '14: My Pledge
Me-Made-May '14: Week 1
Me-Made-May '14: Week 2
Me-Made-May '14: Week 3
Me-Made-May '14: Week 4


Me-Made-May '14: Week 4

Let's pretend I didn't post this four days late and just jump in, shall we?

Day 17 - n/a  - A sudden chill came through and I didn't feel I had any appropriate tops... must work on that. I wore jeans, a Liberty lawn button-front, and a lightweight cardigan. The cardigan isn't something I feel I can make myself (It's lace-weight but solidly knit...it would take me decades) but, the shirt is, so I plan to add a few to the queue.

Day 18 - n/a - We're doing a lot of improvements to the house and I didn't bother putting on any "nice" clothes.

Day 19 - not-yet-blogged turquoise top - to babysit our neighbor's son (which turned out to mean 'sit by the pool for two hours, reading a book and check on the napping baby at regular intervals - easy peesy) - Right, so, we're getting a little more real here this year.  Not seeing many fancy dresses, are we?  While I've basically boycotted jeans since college, this year, I've embraced the "casual norm" a bit more. Enter this simple but glorious rayon top. Oh how I love rayon. And turquoise. And rayon... you get the idea ;-) While I don't think this is "my best look", I know this top will get regular wear.  Despite the unexpected lounging in the sun, this top stayed cool and comfortable.  Grade: B+?

Top: Simplicity 1690, Jeans: Gap, Shoes: Hush Puppies
Brandon pointed out the wrinkles and I said "It's Me-Made-May. It's about keeping it real!" :-P

Day 20 - Gah! The day that killed the month! (I've now officially failed my challenge of five days per week.)  I had a migraine for a large portion of the day and, admittedly, stayed in [rtw] pjs all day. :-(

Day 21 - Three Seasons shirtdress - for, you know, daily activities and some home diy.  Sorry, didn't get a photo.  I think this is the year that has finally done this dress in.  Ugh, I felt awful in it.  It was made pre-serger, which would have been fine if I'd used French seams or something but, nope.  I used my old machine's faux-overlock, which is still allowing the edges to fray a bit.  Also, the fit is off just enough to be annoying.  Is it noticeable to the general person?  Probably not. But, it doesn't feel right.  It's time to look at this one as a learning process and start again.  I'll likely use the pattern again but, I think the view with the waist seam will make it feel a bit more me.  I'm thinking navy linen... and maybe another blue shirting. Pinpoint perhaps?  Grade: D

Day 22 - not-yet-blogged 60s Floral Skirt - Errands and dinner out with Brandon - I really like this skirt.  That said, I'm having a bit of trouble deciding what to pair it with.  It's harder than I thought to avoid 'matchy-matchy' and/or 'sugary sweet'.  I think this rtw wear top is teetering on both but, I was in a rush.  The outift was seriously comfortable, I just felt a hair too "cutesy" while everyone else seemed to be bustling about in their modern colors and hi-lo hems.  Grade: B+

Oh hey, look! You do get to sneak a peak at this skirt :-)
Top: Banana Republic, Skirt: Self-Drafted, Shoes: Dolce Vita via TJ Maxx

Day 23 - "Dock of the Bay" dress - so. much. shopping. - Sorry. No picture for this one either.  I was way too worn out by the time we got home to pose for a shot, particularly in unflattering indoor lighting.  Another iffy selection.  I had to force myself to pull it out of the closet.  If it weren't for MMMay, I wouldn't have.  I really like it in theory but, 1. it's overfitted.  It's a casual sundress but, fits like something more um, attention-seeking? 2.  it's too small in the bust.  I was totally winging my pattern alterations and didn't add enough room there (seriously, I'm not a full girl - who is this pattern designed for?).  Also, the embroidered fabric apparently has zero give so, yeah, there's a lot of smooshing happening and the sports-bra look is not a flattering one.  If I can ever stop getting distracted by shiny new fabric and patterns, I'll redo the bodice and maybe let the side seams out a touch.  Then, I think she'll be a winner.  Grade: C+ (for now)

Previous posts:
Me-Made-May '14: My Pledge
Me-Made-May '14: Week 1
Me-Made-May '14: Week 2
Me-Made-May '14: Week 3