Thursday, September 11, 2008

How I became obsessed with fabric

I'm an avid reader and my reading often leads me into new hobbies and interests. About fifteen years ago, I picked up a second hand copy of Melanie Paine's Fabric Magic. Thus began a life long obsession with all things fabric.

If you can get your hands on a copy, I'd highly recommend this book if you're interested in creating soft furnishing and decorating with fabric. It was printed in the U.K. so some of the terms may take a while to get used to, but it's a book that's very accessible to the beginner.
The first American edition was printed in 1987, but some twenty years later, the designs and techniques still look fresh and lively.

The first chapter of the book is a fabric primer that is a must read before you run out and plunk down tens of dollars a yard on fabric. Paine goes into great detail about the characteristics of various fabrics and their suitability to different sewing projects. She also devotes several pages to a discussion of different fabric patterns, how they are woven, and special finishes on fabric.

Need some ideas for using fabric in new and innovative ways? Check out her section called Transforming Fabric. You'll find great ideas for combining fabrics by creating borders, layering fabrics, and decorative stitching. Also, there are some great pics of fabric that has been transformed by painting, applying resists, and stencilling. Although there isn't a lot of detail in this section as to technique, it's a great source of inspiration for your own fabric experiments.

The rest of the book focuses on sewing soft furnishings, primarily window treatments. The photographs are wonderful. If the photos look familiar, that's because you've probably seen them in many other decorating books. They are timeless designs. Instructions on sewing curtains and shades are detailed and well illustrated. You won't find much in the way of time saving devices here! It's evident that this book was written by a professional sewer whose business relied on faultless sewing skills, much of it done by hand.

My very first sewing project was a piped and zippered pillow cover (page 194) in a rose and cream striped glazed cotton. I was so proud of my new creation! I then began sewing other pillow forms in the book, like the self bordered pillow cover and the box pillow cover. These small projects are great first time projects for anyone who is interested in sewing but isn't sure how to get started. You can purchase a small quantity of fabric for pillow covers from the bargain bin section of a fabric store for under $3 a yard. If the thought of inserting a zipper scares you as it did me, try an overlap closure to start with. Then, when you are more confident in your sewing ability, you can move up to snap tape closures, zippers or tie closures.

For your first pillow project, I'd recommend looking for a fabric with an "overall" repeating pattern that is not too large. This will eliminate the need to match a pattern at the seams or position a motif or design in the middle of the pillow. Also, pick a fabric that is washable and prewash it in warm water before sewing. Pillow covers soil quickly. You don't want to save on fabric, but pay $20 to have a pillow cover dry cleaned!

More later about other favorite titles in my sewing, fabric design and decorating library.