Design, Design Inspiration, fashion

My captivating affair with fabric

I’ve been on this new buzz of fabric exploration over the last few months. Living in Venice, the fabric central of Italy, has been a BIG learning experience for me. I’m not the type to sit in my house during the heat or rain and sulk. I’ve been getting out there, going to fabric factories like Bevilacqua and Fortuny and learning my butt off about how fabric is woven, designed, inspired and sold. My eyes are on the lookout like a hawk searching for fabric stores everywhere I walk. When I go into stores I often “rompo la scatola” (break the box) of the owner with all my questions…”are these real Venetian fabrics”….”can I take a video of you explaining this”…”do you ship all over the world”…etc. If I’m not going to stores I hop into museums or old Venetian palaces where the walls are covered with baroque fabric and the chairs are upholstered with detailed designs.

But, when I do stay home here at the Arsenale (Military area) I read this book called Fabrics A to Z. I’d like to share with you all some exerpts from the book on select fabrics that I like as well as interesting fabric tips.

So there are three basic types of fabric




MAN-MADE FIBER (polyester, nylon)

Remeber the khaki pant and brown sandal fad of the late 90s? Well khaki is not the name of the fabric, who knew! The name is Chino which means Chinese in Spanish. This fabric comes in several colors, but is often used in the khaki color. The story goes that this fabric, developed by the Chinese, was worn by peasants then later taken on in Europe and used in military uniforms which then made its way into the fashion world.

Another famous pant that screams American cowboy is jean. PSYCHE. Jean is not the fabric either! The fabric of jeans is called Denim. Denim is a woven fabric of dark blue threads overlapping white threads. The blue is a natural dark dye from the Indago plant. Here is a pic of dried Indago below that I found in a museum here in Venice.

 But Denim can be found in several colors depending on how the manufacturer washes it, bleaches, or blends it with other things. So a pair of white jeans are REAL DENIM without the indago dye. Denim was originally used as workwear, but thanks to Levi Strauss who helped bring about Denim Jeans in the fashion industry denim has become a trademark of American style.

There are several types of Denim: Raw (unwashed, naturally dark blue), Washed Denim (washed using different methods to get the aged look right away), Stretch (blended with spandex), lightweight, and heavyweight.

HANDY HINT: darker denims bleed with each wash. Natural, raw denim is made to fade gradually, which some people prefer. If you don’t want to dive into the art of aging your denim, just buy washed denim. Denim can be faded using various methods such as washing with stones, bleach, or acid.

Enough about jeans…what about Gauze..what? Gauze is actually a fabric? According to my book! And it’s used in many creative ways that I would have never guessed. It’s available in several colors, often used to make summer baby blankets. I’ve seen artists use gauze as a background texture in their artwork here in Venice.  Muslin is similar to gauze, also used in baby receiving blankets. Interesting note about Muslin is that it’s used in the fashion industry to make a test garment instead of using expensive fabric. Bright idea! I’ve been sewing for almost 2 years and never thought of using something as a test fabric…

Now let’s go the silk road. Everyone knows that silk is costly…but why is that? Silk is a natural animal fiber (not man-made like polyester) and the STRONGEST of all natural fibers. Silk comes from the cocoons of silk worms. It takes thousands of cocoons to produce a small piece of fabric. The cocoons have to be warmed in order to open up and reveil the silk. Believed to originate in China, an Empress discovered silk while drinking tea outside when a cocoon fell into her cup and the warmth of the tea opened up the cocoon unveiling the silk inside. China kept this discovery a secret for hundreds of years until the rest of Asia caught on. Now India is the second largest producer of silk, and the number one consumer. Silk is easily damaged, but wrinkle resistant. There are several forms of synthetic silk which blend other fibers into the mix.


Do you have an indistinguishable fabric? There is a method to find out what it is: the burning test. All you have to do is take a piece of fabric and light it up to see how it burns. Fibers burn differently. Cotton burns quickly with a yellow flame and has a distinct papery smell while polyester gives off black smoke and almost melts leaving a sweet and fruity smell.

Don’t know which fabric pen to use? Air-soluble pens are good if you’re planning to sew within the next 2 days. Water-soluble pens are good to use if you need days or weeks to sew because the markings will remain. Chalk is a good idea if you have a dark fabric where a pen won’t show up. Soap can be used instead of chalk if you aint got nothin.

Pins or weights? Pins are the usual go-to method for securing your fabric, but isn’t always the best method if you have a delicate piece. Pins can leave permanent holes in fabrics like silk or velvet. In this case it’s best to use fabric weights.

How do you cut or sew with slippery fabric? The book recommends sandwiching your fabric between tissue paper then cut out the pattern. After this you can still sew your fabric sandwiched between the paper and then peel it away. Use tweezers to get the small bits stuck between the thread.

Can I backstitch all types of fabric? NO…It’s really important to read how to handle your fabric before pinning, cuting, and sewing so that you don’t ruin it or waste your time! I can’t even tell you how many times I backstitched on slippery fabrics and had to rip it out because it bunched up. After I made that mistake I realized there were holes all in the fabric that were irreversible. Each fabric has a specific needle size and recommended sewing stitch, method of cuting, way to iron, and wash…etc. If you don’t know this information then get Fabrics A to Z because it’s seriously the fabric bible and has been my guide!




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