Book Review: Fabric for Fashion - The Swatch Book

Let me preface this review by clarifying the review is based on the 1st edition of the book and it was obtained via an interlibrary loan, not purchased, not provided by the publisher.

Woo, title page :P! I dare not step on copyright toes.

A few weeks ago, after a bit of bonding over our mutual love of silk, Amber (@soisewedthis) mentioned submitting an interlibrary loan request for the much admired, but somewhat pricey, Fabric for Fashion: The Swatch Book from Laurence King publishing.  Like her, I was eager to delve deeper into love and knowledge of my favorite luxury fabrics, wool, silk, so, I took her lead and submitted my own request.
Hint: I highly recommend utilizing this resource through your local library if available.  To increase your chances of success, do a search for your desired title(s) on WorldCat.org to see how many copies are available in libraries country or worldwide. If you see that an older edition is more readily available, as was the case here, submit your request for that isbn instead.
I've seen a lot of positivity surrounding this title and, while I don't entirely disagree, I thought it might be useful to have a review from someone coming at it from a slightly different angle.

I do not in any way have any kind of fashion or textile education or background (ok, one fashion history class in college :P).  Any fabric knowledge I have has been largely gained from internet research, sewing books, or asking questions at fabric stores.  Since moving to metro Atlanta, I've gained access to a few incredible fabric stores where I can find some unbelievably fine silks, wool, etc. but, they aren't often well labeled.  One in particular merely divides offerings by the largest content and lets you work it out yourself, in exchange for insanely good prices.  So, I've come home with some amazing things that I don't know the name of.  I had hopes that the book would be able to solve those riddles. It can't. This in not a book to help you pinpoint exactly what you have or help you distinguish between two similar fabrics. And due to a lack of continuity among fabric sellers, I wouldn't hold out too much hope for it being able to help you avoid every possible error when ordering online. However, that said, I would say this would be very helpful in the opposite direction. One could very easily thumb through the swatches included, say "I want that," then turn to your local fabric store, book in hand, Google, or preferred online seller using the new keyword.  I can easily see why this would be a popular book with budding designers, those with prior textile knowledge who just need a simple reference, or those with very limited fabric experience who need to learn the basics.

The book is roughly divided by fiber type (with some spilling over into more broad chapters) and each chapter, and the book itself, starts with general, appropriate technical knowledge, such as descriptions of twist and ply.  There are small diagrams and a few photos throughout, all very clear and add to the text given.  This edition includes 100 generously cut swatches, which allow you to easily see and feel many of the most common fabrics available.  The focus is primarily on natural fibers but, there are a few polyesters and nylon thrown in at very useful places (such as comparing them to their natural counterparts).  The text descriptions of each swatch are brief and sometimes confusing but, likely good enough for very general information.  There are excellent sections on weave types and satins.  The book also includes a trade fair list, a glossary, and the sources used for the swatches.

Sounds perfect so far, right?  I agree, it's a good book but, there are a few faults:
First, the section on knits is very limited, no ponte, no ITY, etc.  The focus is on jersey and even that section wasn't entirely clear.  Also, the terminology used to define each swatch may not be universal.  In some cases, such as with "muslin," it's a matter of geography - US sellers would generally use the term "gauze" instead, while "gauze" is something different in the book (but I can't hold that against them).  In other instances, I can only assume it's a matter of home-sewing vs. industry sewing.  The best example of this is the text description of "wool tweed" which plainly states that fancy bouclé yarns are used in the warp and weft and a swatch of such (from Linton Tweed!) is given.  However, to many home-sewists, this would be more accurately known as wool bouclé. If a beginner were to fall in love with the swatch included and then ordered wool tweed based on that, it's not unlikely that person would be disappointed.  For our market, wool bouclé may(?) be a type of wool tweed but,certainly not all wool tweed is bouclé.  Lastly, if, like me, you need help identifying a particular type of fabric or distinguishing one from another very similar, the descriptions aren't thorough enough for that (ex. between chiffon and georgette).  Not yet having read the companion book, The Complete Guide, I can't say whether or not this is expanded on there.  There may also be a chance my interest may be too technical and I may need to seek out a textile textbook. (Can anyone comment?)

For a more detailed review see my post on PatternReview, skipping the first three paragraphs.

Overall, I'd say this would be a great book to get your hands on but, whether or not it's by purchase would be up to you.  (I'm not yet sold on buying the book rather than $60+ worth of fabric but, I always weigh my hobby purchases against fabric :P.)  Though it didn't answer every question I had, and even added one or two new ones, I did enjoy the read and certainly may reference it in the time I have possession of it.  If my views change during that time, I'll certainly share an updated review.

Have you had a look at this book?  Any others you recommend?

Happy sewing! x


  1. This is an interesting balanced review. I've seen this book in the shop and looked over it. It's great to have all the samples. I think that must be it's unique selling point. But the cost was prohibitive for me. I cut small samples of fabric from all my makes and stick them in a notebook - so I can build up my own textiles reference.

  2. Thanks, I'm glad you found it balanced :)! I agree, the pre-attached swatches are a nice selling feature. The traditional swatch books seem to leave too much room for error, not to mention they're also cost-prohibitive and time consuming. I think I'm going to do what you've done and build my own as I buy "identified" fabrics.


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