Book Review: The Fabric Reference Series by Julie Parker

Think back to the days when you first started sewing. Do you remember the first time you combined fabrics that behaved differently once washed – how they puckered and pulled and made a mess of your garment? Did you ever make a garment out of the wrong type of fabric? I have made more mistakes than I care to count and with the rising cost of fabric, the last thing I want to do is buy the wrong material. Worse yet, would be spending all that time making something out of the wrong fabric. Of all the things my mother taught me, a firm understanding of the different qualities of fabrics was not among them.

Julie Parker, a former newspaper editor, wrote the definitive series on fabric after leaving the publishing industry and going back to school for a degree in apparel design. Had I owned this book series sooner I could have saved myself a lot of headaches. She included three books in the series: All about Silk, All about Cotton, and All about Wool. The books include swatches of fabrics so you can feel the samples as you learn about their qualities.

All About Silk

The first in the series is All About Silk. In the book Parker doesn’t just talk about the qualities of the fabric. She delves into the history of silk and the silk industry. Of course, no discussion of silk would be complete without learning about the silk moth.

The book includes 32 samples of silk so you can feel what Parker is describing and gain a better understanding about the qualities of silk prior to buying fabric for any project. Imagine walking into a fabric store and knowing exactly the right type of fabric to request. Now that so much can be purchased online, imagine knowing exactly what to expect from a fabric you’ve purchased online even without feeling it.

Take a peek inside:

The book is useful to anyone who wants to know about silk fabrics, though. You don’t have to spend time behind a sewing machine to need to know your fabrics. Are you planning a career in fashion design? Do you want to be a buyer for a clothing store? Maybe you simply want to know what you are ordering when buying clothes online. For all of these reasons, All About Silk, is a must-have book in your home library.

All About Cotton

Next in the series is All About Cotton. Most of us would think cotton is the fabric we know most about. Many of us wear cotton and cotton blends on a daily basis. Of course we know the fabric best, right?

Did you know that a fabric that is chalky in appearance or that feels like it has a residue on it is heavily sized and typically a sign of inferior fabric? I didn’t know that little tidbit. All I knew was that a fabric with a lot of sizing needs to be washed and dried to get the sizing out prior to cutting and sewing your garment because the sized fabric will have different qualities and behave differently than the washed fabric with no sizing in it. I had no clue it was inferior fabric.

Other bits of advice include:

Count the number of yarns per inch in both directions of the weave. Better fabrics have more yarns per square inch.

Hold the fabric up to the light. The tighter the weave, the less light will shine through. Look for uniform spacing between yarns. Beware of fabrics that appear to be thinner in some areas than others.

Inspect the twist of an individual yarn, preferably a yarn pulled from the lengthwise direction of the weave. A tightly twisted yarn is stronger and the fabric will be more durable. The presence of short, wispy fibers may be a sign of low quality yarns.

Inspect the yarns for variations in thickness. They should be uniform in size and thickness, although they may not be the same size in both directions, depending on the weave. (Keep in mind that slubbed yarns and irregular weaves are part of the appeal of some fabrics, especially handwovens.)

On top of the tips and advice about different cottons, Parker includes 40 swatches so you can feel the different fabrics. Next time you’re shopping online, whether you are buying clothing or fabric off the bolt, you will know what you are ordering.

All About Wool

The final book in the series, All About Wool, teaches everything you need to know about wool. It is the fabric I seem to have the most trouble with. Oh, I know the differences between wool and blends, but what’s the difference between blanket cloth, boiled wool, boucle, cavalry twill, challis, coating, crepe, Donegal tweed, double cloth, double knit, felt, flannel (woolen), flannel (worsted), gabardine, glen plaid, Harris tweed, herringbone, homespun, houndstooth, jacquard, jersey, loden cloth, melton, menswear suiting, novelty suiting, plaid, satin, tropical suiting, tweed, whipcord, alpaca, angora rabbit, camel’s hair, cashmere and mohair?

Use the 30 samples included with the book to feel your way through Julie Parker’s descriptions of the different wool fabrics. Learn why one wool might be perfect for a suit and another wool the very thing for the loose, flowing dress you want to make.

Another peek inside:

These are expensive books, but the series is well worth the investment. Even if you memorize all the facts about the different fabrics, nothing replaces being able to run the swatches through your fingers to know if the fabric you want to buy is perfect for the project you plan to start.

Click here to read reviews or to learn more about the books in this series.


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