Many patterns give suggestions of the types of fabric which might be suitable. But how do you know if you could substitute something else (perhaps something special from your stash) if it isn’t listed in the suggestions. There may be times when you can deviate from the pattern suggestions and end up with an even more special garment, personalised to you.
If this is something you are thinking about, here are my thoughts and process for deciding if a fabric will be suitable for the project I have in mind.
How similar is your chosen fabric to the suggestions?
If you are substituting one fabric for another similar one then you will probably be fine without making any modifications. For example, using an upholstery weight cotton for a skirt pattern which suggests denim, cotton twill or corduroy. Here all the fabrics are all woven and of similar weight and drape, so there will not be any real change to how the pattern fits or is constructed.
However, if you wanted to make the same skirt in a lightweight cotton lawn, this is significantly lighter than the pattern suggestions. To get the same effect, you may need to line or interline your fabric, and consider adding interfacing to keep the structure of your garment.
In making my K4015 coat (which will be revealed on Sunday) the fabric recommendations include double-sided pre-quilted fabrics, laminated fabrics, or water repellent fabrics. I chose to ignore them and made my coat in a wool/acrylic blend with no changes to the pattern, because I was ok with my coat being a little sloucher than the pattern samples.
What if you want to make bigger changes though? Keep reading on for my thoughts!
Woven or Knit?
What qualities does you pattern require. One of the first decisions might be about stretch- how much do you need to make the pattern work and how will you get the item on and off if previously it relied on stretch rather than fastenings. My Rowan bodysuit needed fabric with stretch in both directions to help get it on, off and to fit. Many jersey or knit patterns need stretch to fit the neckline over your head. Substituting for something with less stretch may mean you can’t even get your new outfit on, let alone move in it!
Modifying a jersey pattern to a woven is not terribly common, partially because many jersey or knit patterns rely on negative ease to fit, meaning that the finished measurements are actually smaller than the body measurements. This is fine when your fabric has stretch, but patterns for woven fabrics need to include ‘ease’ or a bit of extra space for you to move, breathe and take it on and off. Melly at Melly Sews has a good set of questions and considerations that you may need to think through when changing your fabric from the pattern suggestions.
If you are planning on making a woven pattern in a knit fabric you may need to make a few pattern modifications, such as sizing down, removing fastenings/zips and switching out facings for bands at the neck or sleeves. It does depend though on what type of knit fabric you use. A Ponte de Roma or scuba doesn’t usually have a huge amount of stretch, nd is pretty stable so may not need huge modifications. Tilly at Tilly and the Buttons does have two blog posts talking about adapting woven patterns for knits. One is all about using Ponte and the other talks about modifying a pattern for a lighter weight jersey. I would say, that for both of these options, the key to success is actually looking at qualities of the pattern you are going to sew, which brings me neatly onto my next consideration.
Drape or Structure?
Another consideration is how should the fabric move? Should it be fluid and drapey, or does it need structure and weight to hold the shape of the pattern? This is something which I do struggle with from time to time. My basics pocket skirt was made with a linen, but unlike the light linens in the samples, mine was a bit stiff and heavy. This means that my finished skirt is a bit more structured than it should be. I’m still hoping that as it keeps getting washed it will soften up, but this is an example of not quite matching the requirements to the desired end result
I now try to think through what is the shape of the garment? Will it be close fitting or will it need to skim over my body? This has helped my more recent projects to meet their intended purpose. There is no point in dreaming up a flowing evening gown if the fabric that it is constructed in is too stiff to move and drape.
Print or Plain?
The other major consideration in my mind is about balancing the desire for lovely printed fabric, with the practicality of solid colours. When I first stated sewing I was enticed by every cute print going, but they were hard to pair into my wardrobe because they didn’t go with anything. In the last year, I have been more disciplined in thinking about what do I need. Do I need another printed skirt, or is a plain t-shirt actually what is missing from my wardrobe. If you are struggling t=with style considerations like these then perhaps the Colette Wardrobe Architect project posts might be useful in defining your style and what you want to wear and sew. I am contemplating going through these posts for myself on the blog, so let me know if that is something you would be interested in reading.
So I hope that has been helpful in considering what fabric to use for your next project. Feel free to break the ‘rules’ though. Sewing is also about creativity and problem solving so go your own way if that is what you like. Look back in next week for some thoughts on prewashing fabric ready for sewing.