Select Page

Readers,

Thursday Jack and I are flying to New York for a week’s visit.  I’m no stranger to the Garment District–over the years I’m sure I’ve visited it a dozen times, and easily spent five dozen hours petting woolens and sizing up shirtings in happy reveries.

My 3 in 1 Color Tool is great for helping me discover color relationships as  well as interesting neutrals. Plus, card blanks and a mini-stapler for collecting swatches.

I’ve spent hours similarly occupied at Britex in San Francisco; Vogue Fabrics in Evanston, Illinois; and at every fabric and notion store I could find in London for the article I wrote for Threads magazine a few years back.

I was thinking this morning, “I wish I could bring more clothes to swatch fabrics for.” Then I tried photocopying my skirt on our printer. It’s a decent enough color reproduction.

You’d think by now I’d have the drill down–what I should pack as memory prompts for what’s in my stash and wardrobe, what colors I want to coordinate and what yardages I need before being bedazzled by thousands of choices and millions of permutations.   And yes, I’ve gotten better–I haven’t hauled my unwieldy pattern catalogue with me for years.

Now that I live in a city (no–a state!) with very limited fashion fabric choices, I want to make the most of my opportunity to see and touch fabrics for myself.

I bought this snappy black and white checked wool on a Chicago trip back in October 1999. It’s been waiting for the right moment ever since. Oh dear.

In the past I’ve made the mistakes of buying too much fabric on trips, thinking “I’ll never see this again!” or buying nothing, thinking “I don’t know where to start! This is overwhelming!”

The upper photocopy is of the scarf in layers. The lower photocopy is of a single layer of scarf with a blank sheet of paper laid on top.

This time, I think unless I’m absolutely certain a fabric is perfect, and that I have a plan for it, I’ll just ask for a swatch to bring home.  I need time to see the swatch next to items in my wardrobe or fabrics or buttons in my stashes.

The coloring is so subtle that I’ll bring this vintage Pendleton jacket with me to the fabric stores.

If it’s a home decorating fabric, it’s essential to see it under the lighting conditions in our home with other fabrics, paint colors, and furniture.

The fabric I used for our living room curtains, with paprika-colored linen trim and covered buttons to jazz it up, and samples of the paint colors for the walls and fireplace.

I used to think buying the fabric right then and there was saving money on shipping and swatch requests.  True enough.

Swatches of fabrics I’ve sewn into garments.

But when I edited my stash three years ago, I saw that the majority of my bad decisions were made on my travels.  The money spent on fabric I never ended up using could have paid for a multitude of swatch requests. Now I know.

When I buy a ready-to-wear jacket I usually have to shorten the sleeves–and then I get a swatch. I’ll be looking for coordinates.

It’s entirely possible that I won’t buy a thing on my latest foray into the Garment District.  I’ll come home with fistfuls of cuttings to consider at my leisure and a myriad of ideas for fall sewing.

A chance to find out-of-the-ordinary notions: these Vintage Vogue blouses call for 18- or 20-inch separating zippers.

One thing I can guarantee: I’ll see a color—-a color combination–a print–a weave–a plaid–knits–trims–buttons–home dec fabrics–that I’d never imagined before but like instantly, that gets me thinking in an exciting new way.

So although I do my best to plan, and to leverage my precious opportunity to find fabrics to build a wardrobe purposefully, it’s those electrifying surprises that really put a smile on my face.

Stash fabrics waiting to be sewn up.

What will give me that sensation of “I’ve never seen that before!” and “Hello, old friend!” at the same time?  I can’t wait to find out.

Pendleton jacket photo by Cynthia DeGrand