It took me a while to realise that not all fabric is equal, and through a lot of trial and error (and I mean A LOT of error), I discovered just how important it is to choose the right material for your sewing project. Here’s a few important considerations I’d like to share with you now.
Characteristics and performance
What is it you are expecting from your finished sewing project? Will it be a lovely floaty dress, or a strong sturdy bag? The fabric you choose is crucial to achieving your desired outcome. Stop to consider the characteristics your fabric has; run it through your hands, hold it up to the light. Does it drape and flow, is it at all see-through, does it crease easily? It may sound obvious, but I honestly did once get swayed early on in my dress-making journey by an inexpensive navy material that I thought would look lovely as part of a dress I was making for my sister. However, it was so stiff that the finished result made her look like she was wearing a box. Not the outcome I was intending, and hours of sewing time wasted.
So, whilst some of these characteristics can be manipulated with a good choice of interlining, it is still important to be sure the characteristics of your fabric are fit for purpose. You’ll save yourself a lot of disappointment in the long run.
Pattern vs plain
It may be the most lush and pretty fabric you have ever laid eyes on, but its worth taking a moment to consider whether a patterned fabric is the best choice for you. Firstly, they can be harder to work with; if you are a complete beginner, its sometimes worth making life easier for yourself during your first few projects by going for a plain fabric that is a lot more straight forward to manage. Some patterns need special attention to make sure repeats are balanced and match up, and lines and stripes in particular can be very unforgiving; if your sewing is even slightly off-kilter, certain patterns will shout it out to the world.
Patterns can also be tricky to manage for certain projects; larger patterns can end up looking strange if they are chopped about too much, smaller repeats can look a bit chaotic, and certain designs may be way too busy for the project you are working on. So whilst you may have fallen head over heals in love with a certain design, don’t start cutting it up until you are sure it is going to be right for the project in hand.
I covered this issue a bit in my post ‘Ethical Considerations for Dressmakers Working With Cotton‘. The production processes of many fabrics can have serious and negative impacts on the environment and also the people working in and around the production site. Use of chemicals, unsafe or unfair working conditions and devastation of natural resources are all some of the fall-out from fabric production throughout the world. So you may want to seek out shops that specialise in ethically and sustainably produced fabrics, and through your sewing contribute that little bit more to making this world a better place.
Linked to many of the points above, if your fabric of choice is so inexpensive it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Cheaper fabric is usually that way for a reason, either because it is made up of cheaper synthetic blends that are unpleasant to feel and work with, or because its production process has been detrimental to this beautiful planet of ours. And whilst many people are drawn to sewing as a means of saving money, often buying cheaper fabric is a false economy; it’s characteristics will likely not give you the professional finish you had hoped for, and chances are a higher price has been paid somewhere along the production line. So for your own sake and that of the wider world, be open to spending a little more in order to gain a lot. Cheaper is rarely better.
What is it you want your sewing project to say about you? Whether making clothes or homewares, bags or gifts, what we create has the potential to be a unique and characterful expression of ourselves. Choose your fabric accordingly to share with the world a little more of your wonderful self, and let your creativity produce results that no mass-produced item could ever deliver. Have fun, and let the materials you use show something of your authentic self…the world deserves to see it.
That little summary of knowledge took me years to amass! I hope it has provided you with a couple of short-cuts in gaining more sewing experience, and will help you avoid some of the many mistakes I have made over the years.
And if you love to sew, try taking part in my Creative Sewing Challenge. Our growing community sews to a new theme each month, and along the way I share ideas, tips and tutorials tied to each theme. If you are keen to keep this wonderful hobby we share on the radar during the busiest of days, please do join us (we’d love to have you!) Find out more here or sign up below.