I started sewing in part because I wanted to know where my clothes came from. I remember merrily shopping at Forever 21 in my first year of college, only to have my better-informed friends react with horror. Learning to sew my own dresses made me more confident in what I wore, in so many ways. But the story doesn’t start at garment construction; the fibers must be gathered and twisted into thread, the threads assembled into a solid piece of fabric.
How does this happen? Is it possible for me, or anyone, to start at the very beginning of the process?
… Probably not. The lovely bolts of fabric that we wander through in the stores are made by machines like the crazy monster pictured above. It’s a knitting machine, and it creates one of the two basic types of fabric that we use for sewing.
However, most of us start sewing with wovens. A woven fabric begins with a sheet of vertical, or warp, threads. Horizontal, or weft, threads are laced through them to form the solid material. There are three basic weaves, each with variations:
Plain weave is a simple pattern in which the warp and weft interlock, with each horizontal thread passing over one vertical thread and under the next. Some examples of plain-woven fabric are lawn, batiste, and gingham.
Twill weave involves feeding the weft threads through alternate warp threads, forming a diagonal design. Denim is made with a twill weave, as are other sturdy fabrics.
Finally, satin weave has a smooth face. The warp and weft interlace fewer times, creating a shiny surface.
Knits are a very different beast, made from interlocking loops of fabric. They generally stretch, and lots of our clothes are made from them — T-shirts, socks, underwear. You can also make lovely dresses and skirts from knits. They can be very fun and very quick to sew; if you have a serger, you can whip out a shirt in an afternoon. Even using a conventional machine, knit projects can go very quickly, since they tend to have fewer pieces and may not require facings or closures.
However, learning how to manage stretch, select thread, and create a garment that looks truly professional is a challenge indeed. Wendy Mullin’s Sew U Home Stretch is a good primer, and for expert advice check out Alyson Clair’s series at Gertie’s blog!
I don’t know how to knit much beyond a scarf, but it seems like a great hobby and I’d really like to learn. I also hope to start doing some basic weaving. While I know I can’t actually make the fabric that I’d use for sewing, creating my own knitted and woven projects seems like a great way to better understand how my fabric is constructed and how it may behave.