Think Like a Designer – Let the Fabric do the Talking
Two weeks ago, I spent the afternoon with a friend who is a women’s ready-to-wear designer in New York City. He and I went fabric shopping together, and besides finding some great new sources for fabrics, I observed part of the design process from his point of view.
Which comes first?
The way I was taught to sew (and I suspect I’m not alone), the first stop is the pattern catalogue or website. My mother always told me to pick my pattern out, then pick out fabric, then pick out trims and notions. Then I could set to work on the project.
What I observed with my designer friend was that, while he has a vision of his collection in mind when he shops for fabric, that vision can be influenced or perhaps even completely changed by the fabrics and trims that are on the market at any given time. In fact, in many instances, he might buy a fabric with no clear design in mind, but when he gets his hands on it (literally as well as figuratively), it inspires him to sketch new garments to take advantage of the flow and drape of the fabric. Let’s consider how you might do the same, shall we?
Let the fabric be your guide
Start with an idea, not necessarily a pattern, for what you would like to make. Do you want a dress for work? Think about (but don’t necessarily set your heart on) types of dress-appropriate fabrics. Then go looking, on-line or in stores. Keep an open mind. You may set out thinking of a solid jersey, but if you stumble across a stretch velvet in rich tones, see if it sways your decision! Or perhaps you are planning a coat for the winter months? There are so many coating options out there right now that you can keep an open mind for colors and textures, and come up with something completely unique!
Once you have the fabric in hand, try draping it over a dress form, a chair or yourself. See what you think about the hand and drape of the fabric, and visualize it in different types of garments. Check out fashion magazines for inspiration. Look at pattern catalogues or websites for guides, and don’t forget to see what stores are showing. The beauty of sewing your own garments is that you have the ultimate control over the look. Take your inspiration wherever you can find it, and then have fun!
Trims can change everything!
Fabric isn’t the only design influencer. Sometimes the trims you use can influence the entire look too. Just as with the fabric, keep an open mind with your trims, and you may find that a zipper, buttons, or embellishment will steer your vision in an entirely new direction. One time I planned to make a button down jacket using wool denim, but I came across a Riri zipper that inspired me to re-work the entire pattern to make the zipper the centerpiece.
Now you’re ready for the pattern
If you’re lucky to be like my designer friend, now you can start sketching and developing your pattern. Me? This is when I hit the pattern catalogues and websites in earnest. Look at several different pattern options for your fabric. Wardrobe patterns are great for giving you ideas for coordinating garments. Compare and contrast different companies’ patterns and visualize how each would look made up with your fabric. Let your imagination run free and you’ll find all sorts of great options. And you’ll come out of the experience with your very own designer garment!