And Ye Shall Have Fabric

My fabric!
The photo makes them look like farmhouse dishtowels.  They’re not.

So it starts with fabric.  It always does.  You can do almost everything, or do away with almost anything when designing fashion but you are always a slave to the fabric.  A few years ago I had a little daymare at work about how much fabric ruled my life.  I imagined myself not just making garments with it and ordering it, but eating it and dragging it around with me, draped in it; slowly turning into a fabric-human hybrid like the pirates on Davy Jones’ Flying Dutchman.

Vacations have passed, schedules lined up, and it became fabric time.  Time to see what my collection will really be, time to collaborate, reassess and let go.

The "plan."
The “plan.”

Remember these sketches?  When we last left off, these were just daydreams but since then, I’ve passed it off to a textile artist, Ryan Parker, who helped me make decisions about pattern, color and dye techniques.  He’s one of the many talented people of the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia and is the artist behind the textile prints of Lobo Mau.

I have only a small idea of what the dyeing process is.  I heard the words “mordant” and “woad” being thrown around.  They’re the kind of words that you say a LOT in one particular place at one time but never hear anywhere else.  I participated in a dyeing seminar one time and I can’t tell you how many times the word “thiox” was said and I haven’t said it since.

Primal approval.
You know it’s  good sign when the animals like it.

A designer friend of mine was once presented with a trillion amazing options and questions from a textile artist about what she wanted her fabric to look like.  The possibilities are truly endless when you consider fiber, weave, dye technique, color, pattern.  Her response to the artist?:  Just do whatever.  I chuckled when I heard this because designers are thought of as such control freaks and it’s actually a much easier task to work with what you’re given instead of micromanaging.

I like to think of textile artists like playwrights.  They create the backbone of the collection by tying it together with color and technique, just like a writer used words and sentences to convey thoughts and ideas.  The designer is the director who makes sense of it all and brings the many parts together to create a cohesive image.  In that sense, it’s important to start with fabric.   Some designers have an unyielding idea of what fabric they’re looking for and they ultimately don’t get what they want.  You have to see what the industry has to offer, learn what’s impacting them, and see how new technological developments are applied.  (I wanted to use feathers one time and was surprised to see how the avian flu effected the prices.  You also haven’t seen ANYTHING until you’ve seen a disenfranchised feather salesman.)

This, of course, is a different story if you have a department in your big important company that engineers your fabric for you every season.

BAD gold leaf! BAD!
BAD gold leaf! BAD!

There was an initial desire to incorporate gold leaf in the collection but it turned out to be tedious, it took two people to do it, and the result was tacky and “Greek Goddess.”  In my book, things can take time, things can take money, but things sure as hell better not make me frustrated.  It ruins the entire creative experience.  I felt bad about the “ruined” fabric, the flaking gold leaf, the frustrating process that wasted his time but we thought the fabric could be salvaged.  There was faint stripe running through it that looked promising.

So he’s gonna try something else.  Mix it up.  Make it cool.  Turn lemons to lemonade.

I told him “just do whatever.”

It will work out.