Sketching with Fabric


I recently picked up my sketchbook again.  It’s been a bit of a rough re-entry.  I had a consistent daily practice going for about six months, but it fell apart with our move here.  Things do that.

But, I’ve missed it.  When I get it right, sitting with my sketchbook is a meditative, exploratory practice.  Something about it opens me up.  Tendrils of insight creep into all areas of my creativity.  So, I’ve carved out a tiny corner of time to begin again.

My heart and my spirit feel lighter already.  It feels good to be pushing paint around on paper.  But, I want to be clear about this: it doesn’t look good.  It’s messy and tight and flat.  I’m not creating anything to get excited about.  But, I am creating, and that’s exciting.

All of this works perfectly well on paper.  It don’t have any qualms about  using paper and paint to create something I don’t particularly like and will serve no practical purpose.  I can see its usefulness merely as an exercise.


Where I really struggle, is in attempting to transfer this practice to fabric.  I know that I need to have a space to explore with fabric.  I need to try out ideas for quilts and create muslins for clothing patterns.  I know there needs to be space for experimenting.  But, it feels like waste to me. 

Maybe it’s because the fabric feels more precious.  It’s almost all entirely impossible to replace a particular kind of fabric.  Also, I’m also more keenly aware of the environmental and human cost of producing the fabric.  So, I stay stuck.  I’m unwilling to commit a great deal of precious fabric to a full project.  But, I’m simultaneously hesitant to use a small amount of fabric to explore.  I arrive at a creative dead end.  I can either create nothing at all or a safe, stifled version of what I envision.  It’s awfully difficult to do good work within those constraints.


This past week, I broke through all that resistance to “sketchbook” a bit with fabric.  I still struggled—not wanting to use any fabric I really, really love.  Of course, the result is that I’m less than excited about the results.  Partly this is because I was trying out techniques, and some of them worked while others did not.  I learned so much from these little fabric experiments.  They changed entirely the direction that I’m taking with my bed quilt.  I feel far more confident in my design direction.  I’m thrilled with the process.


Only, here’s the rub.  I still feel this obligation to use them, to turn them into a useable item.  But, I don’t love them.  It’s bizarre, really.  I don’t operate under any illusion that every page in my sketchbook needs to be displayed on my walls.  So, why do I demand that every piece of fabric I sew to another becomes an object in my home? That probably isn’t a sustainable solution.  Nor is creating without experimentation.


I find myself, then, at a conflict of values.  On the one hand, it’s important to me to stymie our waste stream.  I hate the idea of creating to no end.  On the other hand, I become increasingly convinced about the necessity of keeping only things that I love in my home.  I don’t want to create an environment where my creations can hold me hostage.  I don’t know how to balance these two desires.

When I began, I had in mind what these experiments would become.  For some time I’ve wanted to create little quilts backed with a few old towels to use as mats for drying dishes.  But, now that the tops are completed, I can’t decide if I like them enough to look at them on my counter.  I could rework them and see if I can make of them something I like better.  Some part of me thinks that may be throwing good money after bad.

I’m, no doubt, overthinking this.  I may well need to just put them aside for a while until I can look at them with fresh eyes.


Thoughts? How do you approach experimenting with fabric?

Quilt, SewMicah Bremner2 Comments