It’s been a long time since I’ve done a book review but I wanted to fill you guys in on these two books, Fabric for Fashion: The Complete Guide and its companion Fabric for Fashion: The Swatch Book by Clive Hallett and Amanda Johnston. I was sent these by Laurence King a bit back and was pleasantly surprised by both. After thinking over them for a bit, I felt that they could really be useful since so many of us now purchase fabric online and swatching isn’t always an option.
Let’s start with The Complete Guide: “This book is intended as an easily navigable fabric lexicon that explores the relationship between fashion and textiles and encourages an awareness of fibers and fabrics in a broader fashion context. It is designed to inform the reader of the endless possibilities that fabrics offer to the design process. It is not intended as an exhaustive technical manual, but rather as a tool to inform, inspire, and encourage the creative use of fabrics.”
I’d say the description the authors offer is pretty spot on with what I thought about this book. It isn’t an exhaustive manual and they tell you that in the opening book, but honestly, it contains all the information I could ever see myself needing outside of an extremely technical context. The book begins in the first section by explaining some of the processes used to turn fibers into yarn and fabrics, explaining different types of weaves types of weaves, touching on the differences between wovens vs knits, and more. There’s also a nice section on color theory and selection which is a fun read.
Each of the fiber type sections in the book start with a history of the fiber, how it’s processed, and the general characteristics of that fiber in order to give you a bit of background on the fiber or fabric you’re working with before talking about the specific fabrics made from each fiber. This is a nice touch since it helps with a deeper understanding of each fiber and ultimately a more informed fabric selection.
From there each fiber is broken down into the many different kinds of fabrics and weaves made from it and explains how each of these is produced and the specific properties they hold. There are plenty of photos illustration both the fibers before they’re made into fabrics as well as the steps they go through during processing.
One of my favorite parts of the book is that the types of fabrics made from each fiber are divided into groups that share specific properties that would be instrumental when choosing fabrics. For example, with silk they’ve broken them down into sheer fabrics & fabrics with liquid drape to give you an idea of which fabrics may share similar characteristics. They have also included many current photos of the fabrics sewn up into garments which helps to illustrate how the final garment would act. I thought this was a really nice touch that carries throughout the book.
All in all this book is chocked full of good information that I think would be useful in learning about and choosing fabrics, but it really shines when paired with its companion The Swatch Book since that’s where you’ll actually get to touch the fabrics The Complete Guide is talking about.
Now lets talk about my favorite of the two, The Swatch Book: “This book is an easily navigable swatch resource guide that aims to provide an introduction to a basic understanding of fabrics, and to support study into specific fibers and basic weaves. The book considers both natural and man-made fibers. The intention is to encourage students and practitioners to make informed textile choices based upon an understanding and basic knowledge of raw materials, together with the processes that make up a fabric.”
As you can see from the table of contents, these two books really are meant to work together as companions and that’s definitely something they’ve done well. All of the fibers, talked about in The Complete Guide are present in The Swatch Book, which is nice as I know a lot of us are really tactile people.
Much like The Complete Guide, The Swatch Book starts out with a bit of info on each type of fiber so that in the case that you don’t own the companion book you’re not flying blind. I like that they really put thought into the fact that many people may end up owning one or the other and made sure that each book stands on its own.
By far, hands down, my favorite part about this book is the section Natural, Artificial, and Synthetic Comparisons. This section is exactly what it sounds and is something that I’ve found a lot of authors don’t cover in their books and a lot of people don’t fully understand. Aside from a written comparison they included this amazing page of swatches with the natural version of a fabric next to its synthetic or artificial counterpart. You can really see the difference between silk organza and nylon organza when they’re presented next to each other. A lot of time the synthetic version of a weave is harder to work with than the natural version and I think you can really see how this is true with the side by side comparison included in the book. Honestly I think this section alone makes the book worth purchasing if you’ve ever felt on the fence about this.
This is a swatch book so, apart from descriptions of fabrics and comparisons, it contains many swatches of many types of fabric. The swatches are quite large and, unlike the swatch book we used in college, come adhered to the book rather than in a large bag requiring you to sort through and try to figure out what is what.
There are a multitude of both natural and synthetic fibers covered here, even some odd ones you wouldn’t expect. There is a a banana swatch in there somewhere as well as some really fun synthetics.
The one thing I don’t like about these books is that while there is a glossary at the back of each book, there is no index. I feel like a good reference book should always have an index for quick page reference. I get that the color coded tabs along the sides of the pages are supposed to act like this but it’s not as quick or accurate as an index would be. That said there is so much good info in these books, particularly my favorite, The Swatch Book, that the absence of an index is not a deal breaker for me.
One thing to note which isn’t a negative, just a heads up, this book is British and as such, many of the fabric names have slightly different spellings and in one or two instances a different name. I don’t foresee this being much of a problem though as it’s usually very easy to know what fabric they’re referencing. Also certain things like fiber will be spelled fibre, again, no big deal.
All in all I recommend this set, Fabrics for Fashion: The Complete Guide and Fabrics for Fashion: The Swatch Book, if you’re looking for a fabric guide this set would more than do the job, but if I had to pick one or the other my favorite would be The Swatch Book. This is due to the size of the swatches as well as the comparison between the natural, artificial, and synthetic fibers as well as the fact that I can see it being of great assistance in ordering fabrics online.
Do you own either of these books? What do you think? Is there a fabric guide you use and love?