Make it in your head before you make it with your hands
Think back to a few of your most disappointing sewing disasters. What were they? What made them so disappointing?
I’ll bet if you think about it, most of them have something to do with your fabric choice. Maybe you loved the fabric and you loved the pattern, but the two just didn’t work together.
This has happened to me plenty of times. Plenty. I’ve made fitted skirts that ended up lumpy and bumpy because of a thick fabric. I’ve made dresses that were a bit too tailored for a flowy fabric and just looked like sad droopy messes.
But, as my friend Jenny Rushmore pointed out when she visited recently, you can’t learn to sew without actually sewing. And that means sometimes you fail. And hopefully, you learn a few things along the way.
Here’s what I’ve learned about visualizing fabric into a garment before you start cutting.
- Go with the flow. One of the most common mistakes we make as sewists is choosing fabric with the wrong hand for a particular style. Generally, tailored styles that are fitted with darts and seam that follow the contours of the body need fabric with body to them. Loose styles that are meant to gather, billow, float, or skim require fabric that drapes. Before you pick your fabric, ask yourself where the garment falls on the tailored-flowy spectrum.
- Think bulk. Another disappointing outcome you might face from time to time comes from choosing fabric that is too thick or bulky. This can be a problem particularly with close-fitting garments, where thick fabrics add, well, thickness to the silhouette. Any garment that has a slim cut and/or lots of seams can look weird with bulky fabrics. If you fall for a thick fabric, fold it in half and check the thickness of two layers held together. Most seams will be at least two layers of fabric, maybe more.
- Find examples. After you’ve chosen the type of garment you want to sew but before you’ve settled on fabric, look for examples of that style online and in stores. Try to determine what sort of fabric they’re made from. There’s probably a reason, and this can teach you a lot about why designers put certain styles and fabric types together.
- Drape it first. Once you have your fabric candidate and know what style you plan to make, drape the fabric on a dress form (if you have one), another person, or yourself. Imitate the shape of the garment a little by pinning the fabric in place. If the style is loose, drape it loosely. If it’s more tailored, pinch out excess fabric and pin little darts or seams, just to get a feel for the style.
These four simple tricks will get your 80% of the way to making great fabric choices. All you need after that is practice, a few more learning mistakes, and a dash of patience.
What were your worst sewing disasters? Were they due to fabric choice, or something else?