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Word of the Day

Monday, December 15, 2008

On the use of "Inappropriate" fabrics

And no, by "inappropriate fabrics" I do not mean those with risque prints of pinup girls. What I am referring to are those fabrics not listed in the "recommended fabrics" section of the envelope back. I follow the Dressaday blog, and in the last couple of months there have been several commenters objecting to her use of "inappropriate" fabric in her dresses. Now, the reason that these commenters have had reason to comment is that Erin has produced a couple of what are less than stellar dresses, which happen to use fabric *gasp* not recommended on the back of the envelope.

First, I applaud Erin for showing these dresses, which she knew hadn't turned out ideally, and in one case, asking for opinions of what to do. It takes self-confidence to put things out for public review and comment that you know are going to get some negative comments. But that has nothing to do with this post.

Every pattern envelope has a list of fabrics that someone at the pattern company recommends for making up the garment. I'm not sure who that someone is - whether it is the designer, or someone else. This list is a tool to help potential consumers of the pattern pick out a fabric that will work with the pattern and produce a garment like the one shown on the envelope illustrations. It can really be a help to beginning sewers (seamstresses, sewists? I'm never sure what term to use).

This list of recommended fabrics does not come from on high. It isn't written by someone who has tried every possible fabric/pattern combination known to man, or who is infallible and omnipotent. In other words, lightning will not strike you if you fail to follow this list of fabrics, and pick out something entirely different. Vogue patterns, especially, seem to have a particularly narrow view of what the patterns should be made up in.

There are great variations in weight and drape of fabrics within the same fabric type (denim, cotton, etc.) Figuring out which fabrics work with which design types takes experience. And experience, as they say, is something you don't get until just after you need it. In other words, you learn by doing.

I disregard the recommended fabrics on patterns quite often. In fact, that's just part of the envelope back that I pretty much skip, except to check if a pattern is for knits or not. In doing so, I have produced at least one dress that never made it out of the sewing room. It's still there, nearly three years later, in bits and pieces, partly assembled. This is partly because the pattern was written badly and unclearly, but also because I realized that the fabric choice was not going to work with the pattern, and it wasn't worth trying to decipher the instructions to finish it.

BUT at least two of my favorite dresses and skirts are made with fabrics not recommended by the pattern company, including the one shown above. It's made from a cotton flannel, though I think a wool flannel or other wool would have worked, as well. The list of recommended fabrics, if you are curious, reads "Laundered Cottons, Damask, Pique, Poplin, Seersucker, Sateen, Shantung, Soft Lightweight Linen and Linen Blends, Sueded Silks/Rayons, Jacquards, Crepe De Chine". I'm pretty sure "laundered cottons" doesn't refer to flannel, because flannel usually gets its own listing. All of the dresses shown on the pattern envelope were spring and summer type dresses.

To sum up: I think it's good to think outside the pattern envelope, and that sewing with non-recommended fabrics can produce surprising and beautiful results, but when you do it, you do take the risk of making something that won't ever see the light of day. And that's okay, because as long as you learn something from the experience that will help make your future work better, it hasn't been a total loss.

If you want to be safe, there is nothing wrong with adhering to the recommended fabrics. It will probably save you some time and money. But it can also keep you from having those learning experiences that help expand your sewing knowledge and abilities. If you ever aspire to making your own patterns (skirts can be quite simple to draft) a good knowledge of how different fabrics act in different designs can be quite handy, as there is no "recommended fabric" list for self-drafted patterns. There is also the fact that when using vintage patterns, we have fabrics now (for example, polar fleece) that were not available years ago, and thus won't show up on their lists.


Myra said...

Also, laundered cotton does not always mean quilters cotton is appropriate as it may still be too stiff. I have learned that the hard way. Sometimes the recommended fabrics don't work with you and your body type, too. I have come to realize it is almost always a gamble, unless it is tried and true for you.

bee said...

Your dress looks very comfy. I love that type. Also like the new style of tights/hose you are wearing.

Eileen said...

I thought part of sewing was about creating.......making whatever you want out of whatever you want. Who is really to say what is "appropriate"?

MadeByAmanda said...

Eileen - Exactly! If you like the finished product, there is no such thing as "inappropriate fabric". And if you don't like the end result, at least you took the risk, and hopefully learned something.

DJ said...

The dress is nice, but I'm impressed with the write-up. You definitely need to use seamstresses not sewists, lol, even if swewists is cute! :-) I enjoyed the piece.

Anonymous said...

I rarely look at the recommended fabric personally (and I said that on Erin's site too, lol). I just figure in the drape of the garment, the way the fabric reacts and if I want it to look like the envelope or something else.

I'm a nerd I swear. I think about things too much. I'll sit and study the fabric and pattern. I mean, you should see some of the things I make, I'm not going to preach to anyone about fabric choices (shiny rayon for an Audrey style dress? Parachute stuff for a 50s shirtwaist? Some unknown shiny, stretchy, glitter shot mod fabric for a bowling shirt?) because I hope you're happy with it or if not, you learned something from it and can make it work.

The dress pictured I love. I don't think I'd like it as well in a recommended fabric, and it (to me, and I have an opinion that everyone is always free to ignore) looks more expensive then it might have in another fabric.