Fabric for Fashion: The Complete Guide & The Swatch Book

Grainline Studio | Book Report | Fabric for Fashion: The Complete Guide & The Swatch Book

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.

Grainline Studio | Book Report | Fabric for Fashion: The Complete Guide & The Swatch Book

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.”

Grainline Studio | Book Report | Fabric for Fashion: The Complete Guide & The Swatch Book

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.

Grainline Studio | Book Report | Fabric for Fashion: The Complete Guide & The Swatch BookGrainline Studio | Book Report | Fabric for Fashion: The Complete Guide & The Swatch Book

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.

Grainline Studio | Book Report | Fabric for Fashion: The Complete Guide & The Swatch Book Grainline Studio | Book Report | Fabric for Fashion: The Complete Guide & The Swatch Book

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.

Grainline Studio | Book Report | Fabric for Fashion: The Complete Guide & The Swatch Book Grainline Studio | Book Report | Fabric for Fashion: The Complete Guide & The Swatch Book

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.

Grainline Studio | Book Report | Fabric for Fashion: The Complete Guide & The Swatch Book

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.”

Fabric for Fashion: The Complete Guide & The Swatch Book

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.

Grainline Studio | Book Report | Fabric for Fashion: The Complete Guide & The Swatch Book

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.

Grainline Studio | Book Report | Fabric for Fashion: The Complete Guide & The Swatch Book

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.

Grainline Studio | Book Report | Fabric for Fashion: The Complete Guide & The Swatch Book Grainline Studio | Book Report | Fabric for Fashion: The Complete Guide & The Swatch Book

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.

Grainline Studio | Book Report | Fabric for Fashion: The Complete Guide & The Swatch Book

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.

Grainline Studio | Book Report | Fabric for Fashion: The Complete Guide & The Swatch Book

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?

11 replies on “Fabric for Fashion: The Complete Guide & The Swatch Book

  • Francis

    As a beginner who fears choosing fabric, I can’t wait to buy these books. Most of my failures have been selecting the wrong fabric for the job.

    Reply
  • Stephanie

    These books look like awesome references. I wish I could justify purchasing them, maybe one day! I still use a swatch book I made in Fabric class at Academy of Art in SF. Even though I didn’t finish my degree (oops! Lol) I still reference it and wish I had an even larger one. A lot of times I use my closet as a reference too, and look at fiber content of items I already own and love if purchasing fabric or garments online. Especially if I’m purchasing a newer version of the same garment. Just bought a new pair of madewell jeans and I checked the fiber content on the old pair to make sure they were still the same fiber content and would give me the same fit. And it worked!

    Reply
  • Miss J

    I recently bought the Swatch Book and just love to open it, look and touch the fabrics.

    As I am currently only stash busting, I’ve not allowed myself to buy any fabric, but as soon as that’s over, this book and Claire Shaeffer’s Fabric Sewing Guide together will guide my way!

    That’s a great review you gave.

    XXX

    Reply
  • Julienne

    Thanks for putting this review together Jen; I’ve been meaning to add The Swatch Book to my personal library for some time now. It’s great to know there’s also a companion book as well. Fabric content and what the differences between two very similar weaves/fibers is something I’ve wanted to know more about for awhile now.

    Reply
  • Carolyn

    I recently got the swatch book and would highly recommend it! As a home sewer with no formal training (or informal training, for that matter), I found the swatches to be an extremely valuable reference. It’s one thing to read about certain fibers and weaves online, but it’s quite another to feel them with your own fingers and see how they drape in person. I find that fabric stores often don’t have very detailed labels, so even though I had felt some of the fabrics before, I didn’t know their names. The book is great because it matches the name with the fabric and offers useful comparisons (as Jen had mentioned above) and some background information on each.

    The price of the book is a little steep, but do what I did – ask someone to give it to you for your birthday. 🙂

    Reply
  • erniek3

    I have an old copy of Sandra Betzina’s “Fabric Savvy” and swatches I stapled into it. Fabric stores are full of fabric with content information and usually employees who will cut swatches for you. I like Fabric Savvy because it has a lot of tips and tech for dealing with different fabrics.

    But I have a store I can go to. And I never consult those swatches.

    This does make me feel rather sorry for you online shoppers who are just starting out. I know that buying any fabric online is buying an total unknown, as texture and drape are pretty individual assessments (and you know what I mean, kids). I have gotten burned as often as I have gotten a deal from ANY of the online retailers. In a way, having a swatch book just makes it worse; what should be soft and breathable is stiff and plastic. And it’s all called faille.

    If you can get to a store, do. Talk to the employees, talk to the other shoppers (they often know more). Touch the stuff. Would you want to wear this? What can you make out of it? What do you WANT to make out of it?

    If you can’t get to a store, the swatch book is probably all you need. Just be careful. And using a swatch service is a good investment if you’re doing something big; better to waste $5 and a week than $100 and a month.

    Reply
  • Chloe

    If I could go back in time, I would take these books to university! We had to make our own swatch books, and although I am not a fan of hand holding, it was such a hit and miss experience, and did not leave me with a reference worth holding on to. And the technical information we got was very industrial/science based, not presented well for a costume program student. Thanks for the review!

    Reply
  • Haylee

    Ahh I want the swatch book so bad, saving my money for that one. That’s annoying it doesn’t have an index though. Still I really think I need something like this because I find myself not knowing what a type of fabric is called that I want to use and it gets old googling things like “fabric that looks like ____ and feels like ____” etc. haha, I need to take a textile class!

    Reply

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