The Hand of Fabric

The half-finished red crepe jacket

When I first began sewing as a young girl, I sewed mostly woven cotton fabric and made pretty basic clothes. So I never really had to be concerned about the “hand” of fabric. What is the hand of fabric? It’s how a fabric feels when you touch it – soft, stiff, flowing, crisp, and so on.

But over the past few years, I have delved into making clothes from fabric I had never used before – stretch knits, wool crepe, silk, herringbone tweed, dupioni, and home dec textiles. And now I’ve discovered that hand is really important – especially if I decide to deviate from what a pattern suggests.

Patterns typically list fabrics to use and let you know whether obvious diagonals are OK. They also take into consideration the hand and how it would work with the design. For example, when I made The Trench from Christine Haynes’s book Chic & Simple Sewing, I used a wool fabric that didn’t quite work. I needed something with a stiffer hand so the top part wouldn’t flop. When I made it a second time using a more heavyweight fabric, I didn’t have that problem (see Sewing Another Trench Coat).

I bought a remnant of some beautiful red imported Italian wool crepe from Britex Fabrics a couple years ago. It was one of the more expensive remnants I’d ever purchased (even at 30 percent off the remnant price it was still more than $50 – I’ve conveniently forgotten how much it was).

At the time, I had an Anne Klein jacket pattern in mind but soon realized that I didn’t have enough yardage – luckily I figured that out before I cut it. But I wanted to make a jacket so I flipped through a Vogue pattern book and found a cute cropped jacket. The pattern didn’t list wool crepe but it did say “crepe” so I thought, why not?

Well, after I began sewed the main body pieces, I realized that the hand of my wool crepe and the silk lining was too soft for this pattern. I really don’t like the way the front horizontal seam looks. The fabric just isn’t very forgiving. Maybe if I’d chosen a lining with a stiffer hand, it would look better. But what I should have done is really considered my fabric’s hand and the pattern – and how they would work together.

So it’s been hanging in my closet for months as I try to figure out what to do. I really don’t want to take it apart because it’s pretty hard to pick out the thread. I bought a red silk thread that matches really well. Plus I clipped the seams in some areas in the hopes that that would help.

Now I ponder placing some ribbon or lace over that darn seam but it’s hard to decide what will look best – a black grosgrain ribbon? some grey lace? a red moiré satin ribbon? In the meantime, it hangs in my closet waiting for my decision and for me to attach its cropped sleeves….


Author: Chuleenan

Chuleenan sews, collects hats and shoes, and is a fabric addict. She is also the organizer for the Bay Area Sewists Meetup group.

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