My new book, The Home Sewer’s Reference: Fabric and Notions, is all about the materials used in home sewing. It answers the questions of how fabric is made and what raw materials are used in these processes. It also explains how to select, prepare, and store fabrics. Most importantly, it demystifies the terms used to describe fabric and notions – terms which are often more confusing than helpful.
Even as experienced sewers we still have questions. Should I be using all cotton thread when I’m working with quilter’s cotton, or is it ok to use cotton wrapped polyester? And, what is the difference between cotton flannel and brushed cotton anyway?
Envisioned as a series of books, the first is planned to be available this summer. It addresses fabric (both natural and synthetics), and notions (things like thread, fasteners and elastic). Additional books in the series will cover equipment and tools, patterns and alterations, sewing techniques, and specialty needlework.
I’ve been having a great time researching the book and for the past couple of weeks have been focused on fabric finishing techniques. Fabric is treated after manufacture for many purposes. In general, these can be divided into finishing techniques to apply color, change texture, increase durability or easy of care, and to add decoration.
Though it may not be necessary for the home sewer to have a deep understanding of all these techniques, the terminology is often attached to fabric descriptions, so it is useful to have this background when purchasing material. These finishing processes can be wet or dry and often involve the addition of different chemicals and coatings. These coatings can include resin, wax, oil, varnish or lacquer, etc. Application methods include dipping, spraying, brushing, calendaring (the use of heavy rollers or plates to compress the fabric), etc.
For example, fabric may be treated with a type of resin, which creates a film on the fabric. This can be done to make the fabric firmer, more stable or to add wrinkle resistance. It may also be done to reduce shrinkage, or to prepare the fabric for embossing or other texture treatments. Since these treatments can significantly change the properties of the fabric, it is not enough to only know fabric by the fiber and weave. Some of these treatments are temporary, so for instance if a fabric is used for a garment that will be washed often, it is also important to know if it will retain the properties exhibited at the time of purchase.
Keeping watching this space for examples of some of the more unusual things I’m learning in my research. For example…
Kalamkari [kuh-lahm-kahr-eee], also spelled Qalamkari, is a hand-painted or block-printing technique in which fabric is treated and then dyes are used to draw a design on the fabric. After the addition of each color, the fabric is washed. Quite complex designs can be created. The original term is derived from Persia and the word for pen and craftsmanship (drawing with a pen). This craft is still practiced in India, and Kalamkari fabrics can be purchased at specialty shops.