Fabric Intake Process

0.75x 1x 1.25x 1.5x 2x 0:0000:21:33 Fabric Intake Process


Lisa Woolfork is an associate professor of English specializing in African American literature and culture. Her teaching and research explore Black women writers, the fiction of Black identity, trauma theory, and American slavery. She is the convener and founder of Black Women Stitch, the sewing group where Black Lives Matter. She is also the host/producer of Stitch Please, a weekly audio podcast that centers on Black women, girls, and femmes in sewing. In the summer of 2017, she became a founding member of Black Lives Matter Charlottesville. Actually, she is active in a variety of university and community initiatives, including the College Fellows Program to reshape the undergraduate general education curriculum.

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Lisa Woolfork  0:09  

Hello, stitchers. Welcome to Stitch Please, the official podcast of Black Women Stitch, the sewing group where Black lives matter. I'm your host, Lisa Woolfork. I'm a fourth-generation sewing enthusiast with more than 20 years of sewing experience. I am looking forward to today's conversation. So sit back, relax, and get ready to get your stitch together. 

Hey, friends, hey. Welcome to the Stitch Please podcast. I'm your host, Lisa Woolfork. And as I say every week, this is a very special episode, because for this episode, we are gonna be talking about the fabric intake process. That's right, the fabric intake process. What do I mean by that? How do you manage your fabric acquisitions? How do you know when you have enough of one thing but too much of another thing? How do you know where you're going to put your fabric when you buy it and incorporate it into your collection? That's what today's episode is about. We are going to be talking about questions, decision points that you might have to consider as you are bringing in new fabric. So stay tuned, and we will be right back.

That's the sound of my washing machine. And I have that going because, for some folks, that's the first step for fabric acquisition: You wash it before you do anything. But I want to start this episode, which is about how you bring new fabric into the family, by imagining systems. The difference between a hoard and a collection is systems. If you know that step, A, B, and C can be followed and it will allow you to have the outcome that you desire, then this is the episode for you. If you're not a systems type person and, you know, you don't work linearly—not everybody does—perhaps there are some practices that might be helpful to help you organize your fabric in a way that makes sense for you. I think about stash management as a flowchart. Actually, when I think about idealized conditions, a flowchart is involved. And that's because I like to know here's the step, and here are possible outcomes. If you choose this, then this can happen. If you choose that, then that other thing could happen. You have all these options. I do find that very reassuring. There are not many situations in my life where I actually need to have a flowchart, but I do have one for how I organize my fabric. Summertime, like where we are right now in the kind of midsummer, early August, is a time that I get to do some traveling. And it's also fun for me to do what I enjoy very much, which is finding my two favorite F's whenever I travel. And those are food and fabric, and not necessarily in that order. When I'm buying fabric, before I begin, I look around the studio and I think: What do I have a lot of and what do I not have enough of? So that's just something I keep in mind. I think about the physical space that I have to bring in more things. So right now, I'm looking at my wovens—my fabrics are divided by wovens and knits, and the wovens hang in one section and the knits hang in another so I can look and see which section looks more sparse than the other. This gives me information about what I might think about buying. So if I see something and it's a woven fabric, I might say, you have a lot of woven, so do you want to get any—want to get more? And the answer to that question might be "Uh, yeah!" But it might be like, "Well, that's true." And so it really helps me think: How special does this have to be if it's going to be something that I will bring in when I know I already have a lot already? So it's a little bit easier for me to say, Oh, if I can see some really nice knits, especially some things that are like a double-brushed poly or a nice tight cotton Lycra. That's something that I'd be really interested in. In addition, even though I have a bunch of woven fabrics, woven fabrics are pretty different from each other. I might have a woven fabric that's a denim versus a rayon challis versus a shirting or an encara. Like there's so many ways to call a fabric woven. So that's another thing I'm going to keep in mind.

The hilarious thing about this is that if you are listening to this episode on August the third, which is a Wednesday, and that's when the podcast episodes come out. I am actually in Los Angeles...shopping for fabric. The August third was the day that I was—intended to go to the downtown L.A. fabric district. And so by making this episode, I'm making some pre-accountability for myself, as well as sharing my process about what a fabric shopping trip might look like. If the trip goes well, which I have no reason to doubt, I think it will go wonderfully. I have an episode about that. But just to get ready, I can share a little bit about participating in my system. As I was saying earlier, my fabric is divided into woven and knits. It's also divided based on the amount. If I have a fab—and this is where the flowchart comes in. If I have a fabric that is three yards or more, it gets hung up. If I have a fabric that is between three yards and one yards, it gets folded in a fourteen-inch block. I fold my fabrics into a fourteen by six-inch plank so that I can put it into these drawers. Any fabric that's between one and three yards gets folded and put into a drawer. If the fabric is a knit fabric, it gets folded into the A column of drawers. If the fabric is a woven fabric, it gets folded into the B column of drawers. If a fabric is one yard or less, there are several pathways. First, is it a knit or is it a woven? If it is a knit and it is less than a yard, it is likely that the only thing that will be suitable for is for underwear, which is great. I take those pieces and I fold them up. I fold my fabrics so that I can fit three columns of fat quarter-sized folds, I'm calling them that because of some retailers fold their fat quarters to this measurement. It's about four inches across by maybe six inches long or five inches long—about the size of an index card. And so I fold my fabrics this way so that the top fold lines up with all the other top folds. This way, when I'm looking for a piece, I can just pull out the drawer and look at all the tops and I can see where this fabric is. If it's a woven fabric, it works even better. Because there's always the opportunity to fold your fabric into the shape or size that's right for you. Then you can press them and press them flat, and that gives them even more uniformity and it gives some nice compression that allows for more space for other fabrics. So that's another tip: If you're going to fold your fabric into things that are stackable, pressing can be really helpful for that. We will press on after this break. Get it—press on? [chuckles] And when we come back, we'll talk more about the fabric intake process and how that connects to an overall sewing asset management strategy. 

Hey, friends, hey. I wanted to share a little bit about the abundance of the Stitch Please podcast. The growth of the podcast has been so exponential, that the work has exceeded what I am able to do. And this is where you come in—to retain the joy practice and the liberatory vision of the podcast, and to not have it reproduce capitalist extraction and overwhelm. I am recalibrating the Black Women Stitch Patreon for increased sustained financial support. You can find links to the Black Women Stitch Patreon in the show notes and be on the lookout for more information as the recalibration unfolds. And thank you for your support. 

We're back and you are listening to the Stitch Please podcast talking about the fabric intake process. In the previous segment I shared how I organize my fabric based on the length. If it's three yards or more, it goes here. If it's between one and three, it goes there. If it's less than one, then it goes there. But before I can put it anywhere, I got to figure out how I am going to treat it. And by "treat it" I mean two things. One, how I'm going to use it, like in what capacity this fabric will be used. And then treat in another way is essentially am I going to prewash it or not. And if I'm not going to prewash it, am I willing to live with the dire consequences of not doing so?

Now, I could totally sit here and tell you every piece of fabric that comes into this studio is washed, but that would not be true. I do, however, have some systems in place that help me know when to wash my fabric. The first step is, if I am making anything for a child, I will prewash the fabric. If I'm making it for grown kids or somebody else or my nieces or nephews who are littles, everybody that I'm making for gets their fabric prewashed. The next one is if it is going to be underwear or swimwear, I will absolutely wash that fabric first. That seems like just a necessary thing to do. If it's an ITY fabric, I will wash it as well. It's easy to wash, and it's important to know how that ITY is going to behave after it's been washed. Does it look like somehow some of the fibers are coming up? Does it look like it's fading or something strange is happening? That's something I would like to know ahead of time. And then the fourth thing is, if it's a loose-weave fabric that I believe might shrink or change under washing, I will take a swatch and wash that swatch and see how that swatch behaves. And then I will decide if I'm going to prewash the whole thing like, oh, this was fine. It shrank twenty percent, which is what I expected, and now I'm ready to throw it in. But if it does badly, I say I need to take this whole piece to the dry cleaner and have that done ahead of time. And then that means I either make a garment from that fabric that requires dry cleaning, or I just decide not to use it. I don't like to baby my clothes. I don't want to beat 'em up. But I don't want to feel like they have to constantly be handheld, I want to be able to wear them. I want them to last. I want them to look nice. And I don't want that to be something that I have to spend so much time being preoccupied with. I mean I spend enough time making the outfit. I don't need to spend the equal amount of time trying to figure out what it needs in terms of laundering. At this point, I have decided to prewash this fabric. If the fabric is a knit fabric such as an ITY or cotton Lycra or bamboo Lycra, I will just put it in the washing machine. I use a Color Catcher, which is a laundry product that can catch or trap released dyes, which is something you might find in a fabric that's not yet been washed. And so rather than having these dyes redeposit onto your garments or onto your fabrics so that it looks as if the garments are stained. These things are wonderful and they grab loose things that might stain your clothes, I throw it in with a Color Catcher, and I launder it like I normally would. Then the fabric is clean and ready to go. If the fabric is a woven fabric, I will do something different. It's the same procedure. I like this particular detergent, and I like the Color Catchers to trap the loose dye. But before I put it into the washing machine, if it's a woven fabric, I will surge the cut edges. This is important because, if the fabric is a woven, the agitation that will happen in the washing machine, even if you wash it by itself, the fabric can unravel, which is totally fine. The fabric is going to be highly agitated. And that could absolutely lead to some unraveling. Once that unraveling starts, you can get a split in your fabric, it can unravel as much as two inches or more depending on the weave of the fabric. All of this is information that you want to know. You want to know how your fabric responds to laundering, because that's how your garment is going to respond. Don't be afraid to throw it in the washing machine, or if you are concerned about it, you can just take a swatch and wash a swatch. I did that once. I had—I wanted to test some silk for my son's pajamas. I wanted to see how they would work in the regular washing machine because an 18-year-old is not taking his pajamas to get dry-cleaned. Okay. I took a piece of that silk. I safety pinned it to a sock so that I wouldn't lose it. And, of course, what are the things that get most lost in the laundry? Socks! But in this case, the sock came out and the swatch was attached. It looked just fine. So who knows how it'll hold up. But I do believe that since I have prewashed this silk and I'm ready to make his pajamas, he can take care of laundering it in the way that he does his regular clothes. We've washed. Now we decide: Do we put them in the dryer or not?

This is an important decision point because, for some fabrics, you absolutely want to put it into the dryer because that process of laundering is not fully complete if you don't know how heat will affect the garment. On the other hand, for certain fabrics, like, specifically in my case for ITY knits, I tend not to put those in the dryer because when I make garments from those fabrics, I don't put those in the dryer. The best practice is to treat your fabric in the same way that you would treat the garment. I'm not putting my ITY's into the dryer, so I will definitely not put that fabric into the dryer. On the other hand, for woven fabrics, it's important to either put them in the dryer or commit to drying them in the way that you will dry that garment. There are some folks who don't want to put their linen in the dryer. It's a little bit easier to press it and to get a nice clean press when you get it out wet. There's also folks who like the wrinkled look. So there's all sorts of reasons to not put your fabric in the dryer. Drying heat is really hot. And that heat can sometimes have adverse effects on fibers, especially in the sense of both discoloration, as well as the agitation pulling loose fibers off your fabric so that it looks like it's old and worn before you even make something out of it. And that is another thing you want to know. There was a time in my sewing life that I did not prewash my fabric, and a dress that I really liked and had finally figured out all the modifications. It fit like a T. Everything was fine. And it got thrown into the washing machine, and then it got thrown into the dryer, and then it did not fit, and then I was sad. All of that could have been avoided for a variety of reasons. But the most important one would be if I had known that this fabric was going to respond in the way that it did, I might not have even made anything with it. Because when I tell you, when that dress came out of the dryer, it looked like it had—it looked like it had a time last night. Boy, we had a time last night. That is what that dress looked like coming out of the dryer. It was faded in some parts. It was... It just did badly. And it could have been the case that maybe this is not a fabric that you're meant to just throw in the dryer after you've washed it on warm—I'm not sure. And I'll never know because I'm not a time traveler. And if I did, I wouldn't time travel back to that particular place in my life. Um, maybe I might—I might say, hey, Lisa, you should wash that fabric and see what it does. And then I would have found out. Prewashing and treating your fabric and understanding where you're going to put it and if you're going to dry it and how you're going to wash it—all of these things are important steps in the fabric intake process because this helps you to determine how much labor is required for you to build your collection. So I hope this episode has been helpful. We talked about swatch cards before, so I won't go into a whole lot of detail on those. But I like to bring them with me when I fabric shop because it helps me to stay focused and reminds me that this fabric that I'm looking at will have to come home with me and be incorporated into an already-existing collection. This is why I bring the swatch cards with me. But if you want to find out more information about the swatch cards, you can find that info out on episode 56, back in November eleventh of 2020. Wow, y'all, almost two years ago. If you are a Patreon supporter, you have access to the swatch cards template so you can print that out and make your own.

You've been listening to the Stitch Please podcast, the official podcast of Black Women Stitch, the sewing group where Black lives matter. We appreciate you supporting us by listening to the podcast. If you'd like to reach out to us with questions, you can contact us at Black Women Stitch at Gmail dot com. If you'd like to support us financially, you can do that by supporting us on Patreon, P-A-T-R-E-O-N, and you can find Black Women Stitch there, in the Patreon directory. You can help support the project with things like editing, transcripts, and other things to strengthen the podcast. And finally, if financial support is not something you can do right now, you can really, really help the podcast by rating it and reviewing it anywhere you listen to podcasts that allows you to review them. So I know that not all podcasts directories or services allow for reviews, but for those who do, for those that have like a star rating or just ask for a few comments, if you could share those comments and say nice things about us at the Stitch Please podcast, that is incredibly helpful. Thank you so much. Come back next week, and we'll help you get your stitch together.

Hosted by Lisa Woolfork

Lisa is a fourth-generation sewing enthusiast who learned to sew while earning a PhD in African American literature and culture. She has been sewing for more than twenty years while also teaching, researching, and publishing in Black American literature and culture.

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