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The Right Material

Bolt of red and gray materialLast week in my post about knitting (or more precisely, about not knitting), I mentioned that I was trying to decide between red or gray fabric for a new winter coat. I ultimately settled on both –– red for one style, gray for another.

The red was on a ‘buy one-meter-get-two-free’ sale; the gray was half price. These markdowns, combined with the amount of fabric required for each pattern, meant I ultimately paid roughly the same as I would have if I’d chosen the red boiled wool for the pattern I had planned to sew first.

Two coats for the price of one, if you don’t count the hours involved in sewing them. Not a bad deal.

If this blog was about sewing, I’d now proceed to fill you in on how I cut out the gray coat on Saturday afternoon (along with a couple of black tops), but decided to wait a little longer on the red. Since it isn’t, let me head in a slightly different direction.

One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that choosing the right material for a particular sewing project is instrumental to its success. You also need to have the skill required for the difficulty level of the garment you’ll be creating, but even if you’re highly skilled, it won’t work if you choose the wrong fabric.

Interestingly enough, sometimes what’s recommended on the pattern envelope isn’t the only option, so you have to know when you can break or bend the rules. For instance, one of my favorite projects this past summer was a high-collared sleeveless top that I wore as a vest. The fabric guidelines said knits only. Using a non-stretch fabric when the pattern calls for knits is generally quite risky, but 40 years worth of sewing experience gave me the confidence to use a reversible upholstery fabric instead. The top is striking and holds its shape in a way a knit wouldn’t allow, making the collar in particular a defining feature.

I’ve often thought that there are similarities between sewing and writing. In both cases you take what is essentially a blank canvas (be it a piece of ‘paper’ or a length of fabric) and create something with it. In both cases, you have to choose the right material, and cut and shape pieces to fit with your end product in mind. In both cases you need to be skilled enough to tackle whatever project you’re embarking on (which comes with practice and experience). And in both cases you need to not only know the rules, but also know when you can break them.

People who sew often find they’re more comfortable with particular types of projects –– I love to sew garments but am less motivated to sew curtains, cushion covers or other household items. The same is true in terms of writing –– writers will often be more comfortable with certain genres or styles as opposed to others. But it’s good to try things outside your comfort zone from time to time because the learnings are transferable.

The ultimate reward whether you’re sewing or writing is that you get to create something entirely unique. No one else is going to create a piece of clothing that’s identical to the one you sew, even if they’re using the same pattern. And no one else is going to put words together the same way or tell exactly the same story as you do.

Which, when you think about it, is incredibly cool.