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Lesson Learned: Know Your Fabric, Test the Details Before You Sew

failed top_1 That little peek at the neckline is all I can bear to show you of this failed top I recently made.

Recently I was talking to a designer who buys fabric from Mood for her collections. Does every garment you make turn out just the way you had envisioned?, I asked her, wanting to know if she ever had failures like home sewers are prone to. She laughed and admitted she still did from time to time, but that she did a lot of prep work to avoid wadders.

"I play with the fabric on my dressform first, making sure it will drape the way I want it to without having to force it," she explained. "Then I consider all the details. I'll test first how the fabric will perform when sewn as a hem or a pocket, for example, before I start on my garment."

And as she said that I knew exactly why my most recent sewing project had failed: I didn't test the details first. If I had, I would have seen that stitching a narrow hem causes the fabric to become wavy. Instead of the chic and delicate top I'd envisioned, I was stuck with something that looked lumpy and unbalanced.

Picture 11Watching Project Runway this week, the moment Cindy said she had never sewn shantung before but was making a dress out of it for Heidi anyway, I knew she'd be the one packing up her work area. It's funny how often we home sewers fearlessly cut into a fabric that's new to us and then just start sewing away, fingers crossed for the best.

That's what I did with this novelty fabric of boucle threads sandwiched between poly organza. I told myself I'm just making a simple little top, what could go wrong. A lot, actually. (Sure, this top is salvageable, but I'm still putting it aside for now.)

The next time I sew with a fabric that's new to me—and there are fabrics at Mood Fabrics I haven't sewn yet—I'm taking the time to test the details first. With God as my witness, no more skipping the getting-to-know-you phase with my fabric!

What about you, readers? Do you test all the details, like hems, before you sew? Do you feel you spend enough time getting to know a new fabric? Tell us here!

15 thoughts on “Lesson Learned: Know Your Fabric, Test the Details Before You Sew”

  • Wanett

    I'm mostly a try and see what happens type, but lately I've been rethinking this strategy. Right now, I am obessesed with a Jason Wu fabric in Mood that's layered a bit like this. I don't have a clue what I would make with it, though.

  • New York Sewer

    I do try to do tests, along with muslins. I find garment construction rewarding but stressful and time-consuming . It's one reason I'm not terribly prolific.

  • Vanessa

    When using a pattern, really try to follow the "recommended fabrics" listed on the back. The pattern companies really know what they are talking about and know how particular fabrics drape (or don't) in order for the best garment outcome.

  • Kristine

    Recently, I've started pinning/draping my dress form in the fabric up for consideration. I've been much better about listening to my guy lately, and really thinking all the details through before grabbing the scissors. Part of it is "prior knowledge" experience of working with many fabrics and knowing their behavior, but some of it is also being humble and knowing your limitations. I've found that when I get to a step of construction I'm nervous about, I go online or check my bookshelf, and see what advice others can share.

  • Melanie

    I used to not test sew any swatches, but I've have a few issues with my Serger, which has led me to test sew the details first, both on my sewing machine and my Serger. That way when i get to the construction process all my settings are correct for the fabric I'm working with. Saves a while lot of frustration.

  • Cameron

    I swear I have learned SO MUCH at Mood just asking the person helping me "Is this is a good fabric for drapes? why not? Why is this a better fabric?" Mood staff never fail to steer me in the right direction.

  • Ginger

    What great advice! I can think of some heartbreak that I could've avoided had I tried sewing a curve/hem/pocket with the fabric beforehand.

  • oonaballoona

    meg, i swear, i've been eyeing this exact fabric for months now. i fondle it every time i've been in the store, but have shied away because HOW. do you work with that amazingness? i'm certain you'll conquer and share the details.

    i normally dive right in, but that was mainly because i didn't know the content. now that i do, i research a bit first!

  • Suzanne

    Fabric Behavior 101 — no matter how many things I have sewn, there's always so much more I don't know. Unlike Project Runway contestants, we have the luxury of testing something out....and then running back to the fabric store when our first choice is a bust!

    If something is not working out because a fabric is not behaving how I thought it would, I try to change it to make it work. I hate wasting good fabric!

  • Hallie

    I wanted to make a yoga top out of lightweight gauze. I did not take into account how difficult the arm holes would be (it was sleeveless) when I went to finish them. I had to really work with the fabric and force it into place. Thankfully, the top still turned out great, but I wish I had played with it before hand! I am CERTAINLY guilty of jumping in and wishing for the best! Lol!

  • Erica B

    I don't. I find that even at the risk of having a wadder, I learn best through trial and error.

  • Barbara H.

    I'm usually a jump right in sort of gal, but I sewed my first project with a jersey single knit this weekend and I tested everything. Pressing, seam stabilizer, narrow hem, pockets, gathering, seam finishes. What a difference from my normal sew, pray, rip out mode! I determined that pockets are going to weigh this lovely drapey dress down too much and have left them out. I'm thrilled at the way the dress is coming out. Lesson learned. I will spend more time getting to know my fabrics, especially when they are new to my repetoire.

  • Carolyn

    OMG! I bought this fabric a couple of months ago in a peachy color and have been touching and dreaming but I haven't come up with the perfect garment for it yet!

  • karen

    I usually go by the suggested fabrics in a pattern and that will work. If I find a bew fabric that I really like but have never made anything with it, I try it on something small first before making a whole outfit with it. I try to read up on it and find out what I can about what kind of hand it has and what techniques work best with it! I would love to have a store like Mood close by so I could "pick their brain" for knowledge like you used to be able to at fabric stores. The employees used to have to be very knowledgeable about fabric now most don't have a clue between a cotton and a wool!

  • Debra

    I'm a little late to the thread, but I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate this information and everyone's input! I just ordered some 100% silk (novelty) tweed-like suiting fabric and, if it weren't for this thread, I wouldn't have thought to "test sew" it first. Thanks for the advice!

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