Barb’s Fabric Blog

A foray into fabric with the owner of Sawyer Brook Distinctive Fabrics

Fall 2012 at SB

Fabric Rolls

Here they come!


Fall always makes a BIG impression when the stock starts arriving!  This year we’ve brought some seriously fine fabrics to the warehouse.

Sweater Knits


Fine wool suitings

Silk prints in stunning digital detail

Rayon prints suitable for year-round wear


And more…

Fabric Delivery

Our friend, Peter, makes it all look so easy!



Imported Printed Knits



Cartons keep coming…its a party every day here!  We are working very hard to get all these fabrics out to you as soon as possible.

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A Day in the Life…it’s all about the FIT

Remember the story about the cobbler with no shoes?  Sometimes I feel I live that story.  So many fabrics,  sew little time!  So for the most part I wear ready-to-wear at this stage in my life. As life and lifestyles change, I have hope for some more sewing time in the upcoming year, but we shall see.

So for the first time in way too long, I had some “Barb” time last weekend.  Recuperating from a summer cold, I told myself I would only do the necessary errands, but as I drove up to the local Mall I heard a whisper from those Talbots gift cards that had been languishing in my wallet. The whisper turned to a beckoning voice and then a firm command that I must stop at Talbots today.  I told myself, I would not shop long to conserve my energy for my “must do” errands later in the day…Read on for the rest of my adventure.


Once inside the door, I knew I would spend some serious time there.  65% off sale—ok!  As with all my shopping, I touch the display garments first, guessing the fiber, then look for the fiber content tag.  Sometimes that requires a lot of jostling of purse and bags to get at the side seam, one-handed.  Almost always I’m right … it’s just a little game I play with myself to keep my fabric skills sharp.  Sometimes I’m fooled though.  Today I was pretty right on.

Ponte Knit

The black ponte knit dress with off-white trim was rayon/nylon/spandex…very close to the hand of our rayon/nylon/spandex Jet Black Ponte di Roma.  The overprinted cotton jacquard was very close to our Kiku

Cotton Jacquard Fabric

and lined with poly similar to Hang Loose.  The skirt was adorable, but I’m unable to find a photo..guess its sold out now. They had a jersey dress that was rayon/spandex but beefier than our top weight.  Note to self:  find this fabric!  So on I went with my game, but then remembered that I was actually shopping today rather than fabric snooping.

When I shop I pretty much shop by color first.  I know what works for me so it’s easy to weed out colors that just destroy me.  I try to remain open-minded.  Like most of us,  I’ve had my colors done several times over the years.  In reality though, I think I know what works and what doesn’t and I like to try new colors.  Who wants to wear the same colors forever?  As stated above, I’m very picky about fabrication–a true fabric snob.  Talbots can go both ways on fabric.  A lot of their garments use natural fibers or blends thereof, but they also make ample use of synthetics.  Back to my story…much to my surprise I found a separates suit in a midnight/white tweed with top-stitching—wool/viscose blend—say three season anyone?

Talbots Suit

Not the exact suit I bought, but the styling is the same

Then just as quickly a cotton canvas jacket in earthy green.  I found a ¾ sleeve knit top in soft brick and just for fun a soft teal cotton cable cardigan. Off to the dressing room…

The suit fit!!!!  The sale price was irresistible and all it needed was to be hemmed.  The canvas jacket was a no-go.  Too small in one size, too large in the other…this style just wasn’t going to work on me.  Probably non-sewers would not have seen the fit problems that stuck out like a sore thumb to me.  But this is the fate of the experienced sewist.  Once you have achieved good fit, it is very hard to settle for less.  So as I was cashing out (and do I need to say I exceeded my gift cards?…isn’t that the point anyway? LOL),  the sales associate and I got chatting about fit.  She told me they had just opened a Me-Ality at the mall where you could be scanned and find the fit and style for you at a number of mall stores.  The best part, the service is free.  Well, could I resist this temptation?  NO!

A few years ago a friend and I were scanned by Unique Boutique.  I confess to never following through in ordering a pattern.  I thought the measurements would be helpful in tweaking other patterns. I have spoken to others who did…some successfully, some not so much.  Well the idea is the same, in fact  it appears to be the same company under a new marketing name. This looks like a better business gamble than their previous model.

So off I went to be scanned…the process was quick, very little info transferred to the company and I left with a list of mall stores for jeans. If you would like to get a sense of the experience watch the Me-Ality Promo Video 

Most of them didn’t appeal to me and I really am not in a jeans mode right now. Like most of you we are hot here this month.  But, the last one caught my eye and with renewed energy I headed for White House/Black Market.  I’m  not a regular shopper there so rather than browse, I asked for help to find the exact pair of pants recommended.  The size was one size down from my usual so I was very skeptical, but I was shown the jeans and headed for the dressing room.

Blanc Jeans

WH/BM Blanc stretch trouser jeans

To my total surprise, they fit!  Later in a conversation with the sales associate she explained that their jeans run large and that they tend to stretch out so that she would have sized me the same way.  So this is a beginning venture for the company and the choices are limited, but I will be interested to follow along with their growth and see what the expansion brings for options.  For today, the store made a sale they wouldn’t otherwise have made and the customer went home happy…isn’t that every store owner’s vision?  Has anyone else tried this method?  I’d love to hear your experiences.

What pleased me about this experience was the fact that the styling had been taken into account. I would be interested to see behind the scenes as to what data the program was fed from the manufacturers to come up with this match.  Others claim the same kind of success. It makes me wonder whether the problem with the sewing patterns was not in the measurement but in the translation to the paper pattern. Have you tried the scans for patterns?  Any feedback to share?

Oh, and the bonus to this experience.. When I got home I logged on to Me-Ality to look at my other recommendations and I agreed to a survey.  I always say no to those things, but I was relaxed so what the hey.  Later in the week, I received a notification that I had won the drawing for a $50 Amazon gift card!  Was I the only one in the drawing or was I actually that lucky!



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A Touching Moment

Recently I had the opportunity to pinch hit in the sampling process.  What a joy! I was instantly transported to that wonderful place where vision begins and creativity takes over.  Just the ability to feel the whole experience of each fabric is so transformative.

Insert photo of layout here. Woops, we lost it…you’ll have to use your imagination on this one.

My office is filled with fabric samples…some are small scraps of solids, others are about 10 inches square,  most are about ½ yard strips.

Sample Rack

Receiving strips help with copywriting

These receiving strips help me when I write the copy for the mailers and the web store. It is enough fabric to identify colors, motifs, drape, and hand.

I never write the copy without a look at the full piece.  I take seriously the responsibility I have to be the “eyes” of my customers.

Swatch samples

Pairing coordinates

The full view allows me to see what is not visible in a small strip of a print…the overall effect of the print. You will find words to that effect in my copy, but nothing can replace the benefits of a good photo…thanks Colleen! Look at the swatch in the middle of the box above.  The print paired with a solid purple is our viscose knit from France.  Now look at the photo below for the full impact.


Jagged--viscose jersey knit

What is harder to explain is the experience of handling the fabric. If you have a swatch of the fabric, you miss out on the full display of the print, but you win in that you can judge the hand of the sample.  I do my best with words like soft, creamy, crisp, substantial, etc. to help our customers understand the drape and we use “matilda” our resident model.

Watch the fall from the shoulders to judge the drape

It sounds like I’m making a case for shopping locally…well, in a way I am.  Wouldn’t all of us prefer to view the full piece in our own location, even at home if we could?  But this isn’t possible for most of our customers.  They rely on us and have come to trust us with that responsibility.

Here are two fabrications that I think look somewhat similar in the photos, but are very different fabrics.

Burnt Cork Texture

Burnt Cork Close Up

Textured Silk

Treebark-Close Up

The yarns in Burnt Cork, above, are thick and soft, woven with textural contrasting wide ribbon-like sections. The resulting weave is slightly loose making it ideal for less constructed jackets.

Treebark features a rustic tweed in tan and white alternating with fine yarns in sesame tan.  Separated  by thick earthy brown variegated yarns that are stitched together giving a rough hewn look to the stripe. Crisp with lots of surface interest, this stunning jacketing will work up in  structured top or suit.


Best Match Service

Best Match Service


We are always available for questions.  We can match two fabrics that you’ve chosen and tell you if it works.  We can respond to questions about drape and applicability to a certain silhouette.  We can match thread, lining, interfacing, zippers and buttons.


We do our best to give you a virtual touching moment.



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Care for Your Sisters

Do you work in an all female environment?  If you haven’t had that experience some of this discussion may seem odd to you.  We are all women at the Clinton warehouse of Sawyer Brook Fabrics.  Yes, we have male customers who stop in periodically, we work with male vendors who visit on occasion and there are several male craftspeople working in the same warehouse, but predominantly our days are filled with single gender communication.  So we could write a ton just on that subject–the laughs, the vents, the creative appreciation we have for one another’s work, the great finds in apparel, shoes, homegoods, the shared recipes, the opinions on the latest episode of Project Runway, the “best book I ever read” reviews at the lunch table….I could go on and on, but what I really want to talk about in this blog is the importance of watching out for each other’s health issues.

We often joke that we could write a book sharing all our experiences in various conditions and diseases. Whenever anyone has a health issue in their personal circle, we all share our concern and multiple suggestions based on past experiences.  What a gift!  There has been more than once that one of us here has benefited from another’s experience with a particular situation.

Heart Health

So what does this have to do with Go Red?  Back in 2005 I happened on a book in the library called Take it To Heart by Pamela Serure.  It was a short, readable book, but it made a huge impression on me.  It changed the way I looked at heart issues,  emphasizing heart disease as a syndrome rather than heart attack as an event—a differentiation I had failed to make. I had watched and cared for my mom when she suffered a heart attack back in the 80′s.  I was struck by the fact that she walked around for several days with some mild symptoms, but it wasn’t until my father insisted on a visit to their PCP that she was rushed off to the hospital in the throes of a heart attack. (She survived that episode, but a weakened heart impacted the rest of her life).  How does this happen?  Because women’s symptoms are sometimes different than men’s which have been the traditional talking points for discussions on heart health.

Every year since 1984 more women than men have died of heart disease, said [Dr.] Magliato, and 50 percent of all women never experience chest pains.

“We have to think of this disease as a woman’s disease, it’s not a man’s disease,” said Magliato, who is also president of the American Heart Association of Greater Los Angeles. “The symptoms between men and women are so drastically different that what women believe is heart disease is really men’s heart disease.”   See Full Article 

Here at SBDF we started supporting the Go Red for Women’s Heart Health several years ago.  We are pleased to be offering a donation based on sales of red fabrics and buttons in February.  So many of you have stepped up to make your “red” purchase this month and we thank you on behalf of all those who will benefit from the research that is supported by the American Heart Association.   So not just this month, but every month we urge you all to “take care of your sisters” whether they are in your workplace, your home or your community.  Speak up with one voice for women’s health.

 Go Red this month at SBDF!


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Addict or Connoisseur?

Do you consider yourself a fabri-holic?  I’ve been thinking a lot about that term recently.  I believe this is a distorted description of someone who values the materials that are used to create.

Many years ago when I first bought SBDF, a new acquaintance in the fabric business told me that it didn’t matter what I offered, it was finding the right customers.  “They’re all addicts; they’ll buy anything!” he said.  I was horrified by his statement as this did not at all characterize the customers in our base and I surely did not want to develop a business which simply fed an addiction.  Perhaps there are those in our industry who fit this description, but they are not generally customers of SBDF.

The other day I chatted with some local customers in the warehouse, a young design student and her artist mother.  As I often do, I asked “what are you looking for when you design your garments?”  The answer was the same that it has been for the 20+ years I’ve been buying for this business….something unique in fiber, color, and surface design.  These are not the words of those who are just “feeding a habit”.  These are the words of someone who values a fine piece of fabric and yes, maybe covets it, but doesn’t settle for “just anything”.

Silk Photo Print Fabric

This silk photo print is one of my current favs

The connoisseur looks for the finest fabrics in their category of interest, the best quality, the stand-out print for their taste, the right color values for their wardrobe or client.  Do we collect fabric?…why yes, of course.  By the very nature of the industry, fabric is produced, used and discarded, never to be milled again.  Thus we, as connoisseurs, must decide rather quickly that a particular fabric belongs in our treasure trove.  My favorite term for a fabric stash is “resource center”.  It is a collection of fabrics that we have gathered that have the potential to “become” when we are ready to create.  I am not at all ashamed to be a collector myself and I think there is nothing more fun than going through my treasures periodically to visualize future projects.  But, I do take offense when someone refers to me as a fabri-holic.  Now a choco-holic is a different thing—I wear that label and probably always will!

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Good Friends and Bucket Lists

I consider myself so fortunate because my days are filled with interactions with people in the creative arts. This includes our staff, each of whom is rich with stories and experiences to share.  Janee recently returned from this year’s ASDP convention.  She shared many stories of her experiences and brought paraphernalia for all of us to peruse.  On the table (our habit is to leave books, articles, etc of general interest on our lunch table) I found the catalog of Théâtre de la Mode.  I was immediately transfixed.  Janee told us about her choice to visit Maryhill Museum where the fashion dolls collection is now housed.  “Could I please borrow the catalog to read?” Generously Janee gave up the catalog to me, knowing it would be a bit before she would see it again.  Now a catalog doesn’t sound that exciting to read, but I ate up everything I could in this beautifully done revised second edition and along the way learned  the history of the haute couture fashion dolls.

Simultaneously on the West Coast a close friend was about to begin a class with Pati Palmer , one she’d had on her list for a long time.  I mentioned the museum collection and Pati’s connection with it. (*This edition of the catalog was published by Palmer-Pletsch.)  Much to my surprise and pleasure, Lois sent photos back to me of the Tonner replicas of the original fashion dolls. Thank you Pati for allowing us to use the photos from your collection.  What a circle of friends!


fashion dolls

Replicas from the Tonner Dolls collection



I tell myself I must save this diary to be reopened again at a later date when it will bear witness that in February 1941, between standing in line for milk, rutabagas, and mayonnaise with no oil or eggs, Candlemas with no crepes, and shoes with no leather, Paris brought forth its most characteristic feats, producing a figured velvet dress…a very dressy pink lame blouse…” (Colette, Paris de ma fenêtre).  That was how Colette described the Paris of 1941, where life was made up of daily hardship, of nostalgia for a suddenly vanished age, and the odd miracle of creativity.  Nadine Gasc, Théâtre de la Mode catalog, pg. 75.


To give a quick summary of the story of Théâtre de la Mode does not do justice to the telling of the “odd miracle of creativity” which is so eloquently written by Nadine Gasc.  To whet your appetite for the book and for a visit to the display I will give you the basics of the story. The original displays were contrived and produced in mid-1940’s Paris.  The plan was to demonstrate to the people of Paris and to the world that haute couture still lived even in the dark days of that post war era. Spirits were low and supplies were scarce, but the couture community came together and created a magnificent collection that announced to the world that the fashion industry and the artistry of Paris couturiers were not dead.

theatre de la mode

From the virtual gallery at


The original mannequins were formed in wire and fitted with porcelain heads. The outfits replicated the current season of the prominent couture houses.  The sets, themselves miniature works of art, were designed and built by well-known artists.  Real hair was used on the mannequins along with real leather for shoes (can you imagine making those tiny shoes?) and jewelry using real gemstones.  The proceeds from the showings were donated to war charities.  After a successful opening in Paris, the collection travelled to major cities around the world.  It ended up being stored in the basement of the City of Paris department store (Neiman Marcus today)  in San Francisco. By good fortune, one of the directors of the Maryhill Museum in Goldendale, Washington was able to obtain the collection and it was brought from the basement to the public once again.  In 1990, the collection was loaned back to Paris for re-furbishing and a re-introduction to the European public. The collection again toured major world cities and now resides back at Maryhill Museum of Art where it is shown a portion at a time.  A trip to this museum is definitely on my bucket list!!

Has anyone else seen it, or like me, read the catalog without the benefit of the visit?  Share your experience with us.


* Here is the publishers release which Pati shared with us…a full description of what you will find in this wonderful catalog.


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Cordially Yours

Corduroy Fabric


Some historians tell us that Corde-du-roi was the name given to this cotton pile fabric in the 17th century.  Worn by servants in the French royal houses, this durable fabrication gained popularity with the townspeople and spread to the extended trading areas. Others insist the origin was England where it was manufactured. There it became known as Manchester.  It is still common today to refer to corduroy trousers as Manchesters. Whatever the origin, this wonderful fabrication is still with us and offers many possibilities for fashion and practicability.  Corduroy is milled using extra filling yarns which are then cut and brushed to form the piles or wales.  Similar to velveteen in the process, corduroy is woven with linear binding points as opposed to the random points in a velvet.  Ribs of varying depth are created depending on the density of the filling yarns.  The most common classifications are:

Fine Cord  22-30 wales per inch (aka mini-wale)  Shirt or dress weight.

fine pincord fabric


Pincord:  18-21 wales per inch. Shirt or dress weight or children’s garments.



We were thrilled to find this fine pincord this season. The fiber is unusual also in that it is rayon and cotton blend rather than all cotton.  The sheen produced gives this a dressier feel than most corduroy fabrics.

Needlecord:  15-18 wales per inch.  Slightly finer than classic cord, this also works well for shirts or pants.

Mid-wale corduroy fabric

Brassy Orange Cord

We have several colors currently in stock of this classic cord.  To view, check in our Denims, Cords and Twills collection.

Classic Cord:   10-14 wales per inch.  (aka Manchester or mid-wale) works well for pants, skirts, jackets or jumpers.

Classic Corduroy

Black Cord

Jumbo Cord:  3-10 wales per inch.  (aka Constitutional or wide wale) Best for jackets or outerwear.  Softer versions can be used nicely for casual pants.

Wide Wale Corduroy

Double Fun

This wide wale cord is double the fun because it is double sided with a slightly smaller wale count on the reverse.  Great for subtle trim or roll back collar and cuff.

Sewing Tips:  Use a one way layout always!  Pile fabrics are brushed in one direction and will show a marked contrast in the way the light hits the wales.  Pre-wash to adjust for shrinkage. Consider using a walking foot to keep the layers even.  Otherwise, this durable cotton is easy to work with, easy to launder and comfortable to wear!



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National Sewing Month

We have a winner!

Thank you to all who participated in this drawing in honor of National Sewing Month.  Your entries were fascinating to read.  I found each one inspiring, humorous, and many familiar.  I will fess up that I have been out of the office the past few weeks due to a family urgency.  Checking in on my blog comments was a light part of the day. Thank you all for sharing so much of your personal sewing journey.

The winner of the $50 gift certificate is Sandra Gerritz–congratulations!

As a thank you to all of you who participated, we will be sending you an email with a code to use for FREE shipping on your next order.  We really enjoyed your participation and look forward to doing this again sometime.

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The First Print?

Paisley Fabric

One of the most well-loved decorative designs is the paisley. Named for a village in Scotland (more on that later), the paisley claims roots in many cultures:  India, China, Middle East and Europe.  One legend I read reported the paisley shape as the oldest print design because it resembles a clenched fist pinkie side down.  Others describe the basic shape as a pinecone, a date palm, a cashew or a teardrop. Whatever the “true” derivation, this traditional shape has been present in prints for several centuries.  The Kashmiri shawl was woven meticulously by hand from cashmere yarns.  First the shawls were plain, often natural white, with colorful borders using the designs that evolved into the paisley patterns we know today.  Then as fashion dictated, the design became all over. Each shawl could take up to five years to complete.  Once this luxurious handwork reached Europe, there was a huge demand for a more affordable version.  Industries sprang up weaving similar designs using a blend of wool and silk.  Paisley, Scotland became the hub of the production and thus the name became associated with the design.

In the late 19th century the shawl became obsolete on the fashion scene in part due to the introduction of the bustle in European women’s fashion making a full length shawl unwearable, and also due to a famine in Kashmir which wiped out their shawl industry. The design returned with vigor in the 1960’s.  By then designers were using it in prints and in textures. As fashion trends look back to the sixties and seventies for inspiration, we’ve seen a resurgence of this classic pattern. To wear the paisley trend today, you have many choices.  Find the interpretation that works best for you and wear the trend.



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For the Love of Sewing

When all is said and done, we sew for the love of it!  The Sewing and Craft  Association has chosen this theme for National Sewing Month 2011.  Sewing offers comfort to us and to those around us. The gentle rhythm of a needle in hand carefully placing stitches where they belong, the hum of a machine under our direction, the stimulating reverie as we envision the next garment, the thoughtful process as we engineer the construction, the memories that stir our hearts as we create on the shoulders of those who taught us.

Scientists have told us there is a definite connection to stress reduction, but don’t we know that? When my children were young, I set aside a time to sew just for me. It was Sunday afternoon.  Just a few hours, but I cherished those times alone as I re-grouped and let my creative juices flow uninterrupted.  Once they were in school I found time to participate in a sewing group that met once a week with a marvelous leader who inspired all of us to greater heights.  Many of us are still in touch today.  Now my sewing room beckons less often since my focus is here at SBDF, but I still spend time there and it is always restorative for me. I will definitely have needle in hand this weekend…I hope you do too.

Join us as we celebrate our love of sewing throughout the month.  Share your stories here and we’ll post them in the next newsletter.  (first names only)  A few sentences or an essay– every comment will be entered in a drawing for a $50.00 gift certificate…drawing on October 1st.  I’m so eager to hear your thoughts.

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