The Savvy Sage of Sewing Stimulation

Molly’s Questions – The Fear Part

From yesterday to continue the answer to Molly’s question:

Do you have any favorite patterns for your silk dupioni?

I’ve had 4 m of golden silk dupioni in my stash for a couple of years now, but I’ve been reluctant to use it. I’m worried I’ll pick the wrong pattern and/or style, wasting both its beauty and my investment (it’s not cheap).

OK – next, let’s get to the crux of this….the fear of cutting into that silk.

I get this question a lot although it’s phrased a bunch of different ways?

  • How do you pick out the right fabric for the pattern?
  • How do you pick out the right pattern for the fabric?
  • How do you make sure you don’t make any mistakes?
  • I make something up and it just seems to turn out poorly every time?
  • I wish I could sew well enough to make something up and be happy with it?
  • I don’t want to cut into a piece of fabric till I know it’s something I’ll really like?
  • I’m scared I might mess up this beautiful (or add/replace expensive or hard-to-get) fabric?

Basically all of these are the same question:  How do I get past the fear of starting the project?

The answer to this question involves some serious soul-searching.  This starts with who you are.

But you say, “Claire!!! What?  I’m just trying to sew something up for goodness sakes!  Soul searching for that simple thing?”

Yep, Soul-searching.  Why?  Cause you’re dealing with a lot of stuff in that one little question.

When my clients come to me and contract me to design a special gown almost always for a special event, the first thing I do is look at them and think – what does this person do on a regular basis?….is this gown going to work for them EVER again?….how can I make it work for them again?

I’m expensive when you contract me for a design, but I’m good.  And the reason I have that reputation is that I work to make sure that my client can use the garment again.  I get a lot of moms and grandmoms who just want to look nice for a wedding or an event, but their lifestyle is such that they will probably never wear that again – but wait, what if I make it so that they can.  This means I have to dig around in their heads a lot and figure out what they like without too much falderal.

The same is true of  my students. I want to dig around to see what’s cooking in their brain so that I can help them discover what’s really wonderful for themselves.  This sounds like a lot of extra-curricular activity that just isn’t needed.  But the truth is – it IS!

Here’s what I’m talking about.  If the fabric you have doesn’t match your Shape, Size and Style, then you’ll miss your goal by a mile.

So what do you do to make sure that you don’t miss that goal?  You have to do some background work.  You’re going to have to look seriously and honestly at your Shape, Size and Style.  And I’m not talking about loosing weight.  Those who have been following me for a while, know I’m not into eating one rice cake a week, and sticking my finger down my throat the rest of the week.  What I’m talking about here is looking at each one of these areas, and then determining what is good for you.

Shape – I think we all know what that is.  And it’s easy enough to determine, thanks to Madison Avenue – we all know where our faults are.  What we want to do with that information is learn how to better disguise the bad part and bring out the good part.    You can do that with lots of different techniques like color, volume, and line.


Size – And by this I mean fit.  Wearing a stretch fabric that is two sizes too small for you is NOT a fit.  Wearing a garment that is too small is not fitting either.  Wearing something that is form fitting is not fitting.  Wearing something that shapes over and around your body is a good fit.

So the first thing you have to do is unlearn bad fitting characteristics and re-learn good-fitting characteristics.

And lastly and most importantly is your Style.  By this I mean the clothes that you need to wear, that you like to wear and that you will wear.  It includes all those clothes.  Are you a professional and require certain dress code for your work?….do you work at home?….do you drive carpool?….are your kids in and out of college and they and their friends getting married and you need something to wear to these events?….are you recently retired?….have you made a job change?….have you made a life change?

All these have something to do with what should be in your wardrobe.  Some of us may like to wear Lycra pants for everything, but don’t look good in them no matter what, while others would like to wear jeans and shirt to their office managerial job, but that doesn’t work either.

For example someone when fabric shopping, picks out the most gorgeous silk brocade and are in love with it.  It’s a perfect color and coordinates beautifully with everything in the closet.  But this style is not even close to being anything that is useable in this person’s wardrobe.  Then comes the conundrum of why they can’t figure out what to do with the fabric.  What pattern to use?  What style to go after?  What lining to use?

All of those questions are really asking the wrong question.  Why?  Because the real problem here was that the fabric never fit into this person’s wardrobe to begin with, and making it try and fit was causing her to have fits about what to do with the fabric.  She had to completely rethink what to do with the fabric.  Her lifestyle has changed from being a top management officer in a huge company to being a retired artist, and brocades just didn’t work in her current style of life.

But what she could do was use the brocade as a small contrast – a collar, a cuff,  pocket lining, the inside of a top yoke, and that sort of minimal use of this really fancy brocade worked in her much more casual style of life and wardrobe.

So thinking about your style of life is VERY important when you are choosing fabric and patterns. If a fabric doesn’t work or is giving you fits, either think about replacing it with something else, or rethinking totally how you are going to use it.

In my case, my life has changed immeasurably in the last 10 years.  Where I required more formal ensembles 10 years ago, I don’t today, but that doesn’t mean I like to give up the formality completely.  I like to look a little formal, and that’s just my nature (at 8 y/o, I was making evening gowns for my Barbie!).  But I don’t like having to cinch myself in, but I adore silks, but I don’t like pants that show my crack when I sit down, but I love wearing great-fitting pants.  So instead of wearing a lot of the formal silk blouses that were my mainstay in my younger years, I now wash that silk so that it’s a much more casual style, but with a dressier look because it’s still in silk (and the silk is washable after I’ve finished it!)  Here on the left is my old style, and the one on the right is my current style.  Both have a lot of style, but just rethinking the way I use silk these days.

01-2008-107b 01-2008-107c

Basically the way I choose patterns, styles, fashion trends and most of all fabric for myself, is that it has to speak to me.  If I have a question, I will walk away and if I keep walking back, then there’s something about it that appeals to me.  Many a time I’ve been on the road home from the fabric shop and thought – dang, I loved that stuff, and every time I’ve found that the store is more than happy to accept my credit card and ship it to me, (unless it’s my local store and they are so sweet and hold it for when I’m there again – usually in a couple of days!)

This is a good way to choose fabric.  But it’s also vital to know your needs, tastes and weaknesses when you are developing and discovering your own style.  You may have a weakness for brushed cotton, but it doesn’t fit in your corporate office style of life;  you  may have a hankering for delicate floral chiffons, but job of operating heavy machinery doesn’t work with chiffons well.  That doesn’t mean you have to give these things up completely, but it’s good to know what you can and can’t do in your wardrobe.

Frumpy or Hipster or Neither - What's Your Style?

Frumpy or Hipster or Neither – What’s Your Style?

So here’s a suggestion to get past that block of cutting into a particularly treasured piece of fabric:   take a good hard look at what you’re trying to do.

Sometimes, you’re going to find that what you’re trying to do is something that just is not going to work for you.  If you’re looking to make the end-all garment from one piece of fabric that will fit every need in your closet, well, I’m hear to tell ya, there is no such animal, no matter how well you sew.

For Molly, I might be tempted to wash this silk if it’s a washable kind (dupioni, taffeta, broadcloth), or think about using it differently as a contrast here or there in very small amounts that will keep an outfit casual, but I’m not sure about Molly’s lifestyle and so I can say definitely what would work for her.



Leave a Reply