Love at First Sight: The Fabric

Genesis of a Design


Stop traffic: I have to have that fabric!

This happens just about every time I visit the illustrious garment district, especially Mood Fabrics.  Which is why I try to limit my excursions there to when I truly need something, or when I am imagining I have more money than I really do.  Mood is the ideal spot for nearly one-stop shopping, because they have almost everything.  On this particular visit, I was looking for a yellow cotton voile to line the bodice of a dress.

I just love fine cottons, especially lightweight printed cottons.  I can't help but just look sometimes, and touch: soft, gorgeous, well-made fabrics that long to be turned into flutter sleeves and full skirts.  I love bright colors and I love prints, though I'm rather particular about them.  There are a lot of prints that just don't do much for me.  While my favorite patterns tend to be florals, I don't get excited about many of the ones that I find.  They can be a little too expected: oversimplified renditions of floral shapes, basic color selection, without much movement that truly excites the eye.  There's certainly no harm in picking these prints.  They are plenty serviceable and can make fine garments.  However, they are easy for me to pass up, since they don't overwhelm me with beauty.  But then there are the ones that do.

Approaching the cutting table, I spied a splash of vivid colors: tiger orange, canary yellow, cobalt blue, hibiscus pink, and crisp white.  The colors began to swirl and dance, and I came closer to inspect this captivating spectacle.  Flowers, at the same time photographic and yet painterly in quality, popped so vividly they looked to have a smell.  I touched the gorgeousness.  Light as a feather, silky soft, lightly crisp cotton voile.  I unrolled a bit to see its drape and imagined it billowing and floating as a dress.  Hopefully it wouldn't be too expensive, because I had to have it.

I dug out the tag from inside the roll and read: Italian cotton voile, $18 per yard.  I'd been hoping for $12.  I was on a slim budget.  Could I resist?

"That's very good quality cotton from Italy," said the man at the cutting table.  I nodded my appreciation and tried to resist for several minutes.  The flowers nodded and bowed in the imaginary breeze, doing a little dance, showing me how beautiful they would be on a flowing summer dress.  If I went home to think it over, the fabric would surely be gone.  Something that beautiful does not stick around. 

Perhaps I could buy just a little to make a camisole, or a sleeveless blouse, so that it would be just a modest diversion from the budget.  But the fabric wanted to be a dress, a draped and gathered confection that would unfurl like sheets on a clothesline, like a whirlwind of feathers.  I thought through several design possibilities.  The dress should be long, fitted yet draped.  Perhaps kimono sleeves, or perhaps a ruched bodice with spaghetti straps.  A skirt that whispered around the ankles while walking.  I wasn't sure yet what to make, but the possibilities danced in my head.  I decided on three yards.  Any less than that wouldn't do justice to the possibilities of the dress.  All the way home on the train, with the beautiful fabric in my shopping bag, I imagined all the designs I could create, and wearing them to a party with pretty red cocktails and summer late afternoon sun.

Rachel Blackmon

Rachel Blackmon is an artist, writer, and teacher in New York City.