Saturday, September 22, 2012

On Swatching...

We all know that there are LOTS of stores in the NYC garment district.

With ever-changing inventory.

And you can get overwhelmed, or far too picky, or indecisive.

A few years ago, I chose this silk fabric (on top) as a visible lining, to make with this chiffon a bridesmaid was given to use "pop"... Based on just a swatch, the bridesmaid was uncertain, but, trusting my gut, I hand draped and made the dress pictured below.  She really loved it, thank goodness. 

The garment district stores know that you may have to check the budget, match things with other things, get an idea of yardage, get approval, think it over... Those are all good reasons to take a swatch.  They also know that the fact that you can swatch may lead you to research endlessly, take swatches to compare, overthink, consult with a million different opinions of others, haggle endlessly with others offering similar goods, and possibly compile an overly optimistic wishlist.

Here are my suggestions for successful swatching:

  • When you find a great swatch, attach it to the business card of the store where you found it.  Most stores will give you a card to attach it to.  Failure to do this will result in a pile of random swatches in your pockets, you will wonder why you collected later on. (Ask me how I know...) Write the price and date you found it. Write the fabric's name and fiber content, if needed.

  • If needed, wash test your swatch (secure it with a safety pin to some other well-worn item in your laundry), burn test it, and/or check it in daylight.When you decide that you do want it, order it, or return to the same store to buy it.

  • When you decide that you do want it, either order it, or return to the SAME STORE to buy it, within a reasonably short amount of time.
For the professionals among you, over-swatching can lead to client confusion, and the problem of just TOO MUCH information for a real decision to be made.  Fact is, there are plenty of "right" fabrics, plenty of acceptable ones, plenty of wrong ones.  Your gut (and experience) will often respond to what will work.  Trust it.

A client gave me a sketch for a costume she designed, and I submitted a bunch of swatches to her, indicating what I felt was a "right" combination of fabrics, and some others, in case she felt differently.  She did accept what i chose, and we were both happy with the outcome.
Swatches from New York Elegant

So yes, swatch when it is useful to you... but not to make endless fabric "scrapbooks".  Then, swatch your own fabrics at home, so you can keep track of your stash.  What?  You don't have a stash? No "someday" pile?  I don't believe you...


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you! I sewed that one entirely by hand - no machine at all. Kinda crazy, huh?

  2. Absolutely gorgeous chiffon dress!

  3. What I've done on past trips to the GD: Print out 1/2 sheets of paper ahead of time with blank places for date, store name, address, fiber content, bolt number, and price. I keep those in my shopping tote with a roll of Scotch tape & a pen. Then when I'm at the store, I'll tape a swatch to a paper and jot something like "9/12, NY Elegant, 40th, cotton, #xxxx, $xxxx." And I'm good to go!

    At home, I gave up keeping a swatch notebook when I got to 2,000 swatches. That was at least 10 years ago, so I probably have twice as much fabric now. Quilters can have enormous stashes! I keep my fabrics organized very tightly by color & design, light to dark, like one gigantic fabric notebook open on the shelves. It helps to have a good visual memory for fabric, too.

    For my quilting cottons stash, I write (with fabric pen) the store name & date purchased on the selvage of each cut. If the full maker & print name/number isn't on the cut I purchase, I get that info from the bolt before I leave the store. It helps to shop with a fabric pen in your purse.

    1. Ok, now that's just "over the top"! That's expert-level organization! Wowza. So... now I need to see some of your quilts!

    2. I have 2 levels of organization: Total disarray (my natural state), or expert-level organization (what I have to do to compensate for my natural state). :D

      I'll e-mail you some quilt pix...


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