I took a fashion textile class to discover better strategies for how to choose fabric.

I took “How to Think About Fashion Textiles” at the Original Sewing and Quilt Expo, and it was one of those classes that confirmed what I already knew. Natural fabrics (cotton, linen, etc.) are predictable. Denim is hard to buy. A fabric’s properties will determine how a garment turns out.

The course did, however, introduce me to new ways of thinking about how to choose fabric. I also have a new interest in fabric shopping in L.A., and I gained insight on how even fashion pros something pick the wrong fabric. I came away with more confidence as a sewist, even if the class didn’t get into the weeds of fabric specs.

Meet the Instructor: Joe Vecchiarelli

Joe Vecchiarelli is an expert fit specialist for ABC. These days, he’s with “Dancing with the Stars,” ensuring costumes look beautiful and stay on. (If there’s a wardrobe malfunction, it’s his behind!)

Vecchiarelli also runs a business that imports fancy-schmancy, professional-grade French European dress forms. (I took another sewing expo class with Vecchiarelli where he demonstrated how to pad a dress form to match your measurements.)

The Fashion Textile Class at a Glance

Fashion textiles and how to choose fabric are huge topics. If you’ve had the opportunity to shop at a mega fabric retailer (something like Mood, let’s say), you know how many options there are. Choices stack up from floor to ceiling. Literally.

The fabric class was 60 minutes, and Vecchiarelli remarked repeatedly how it wasn’t nearly enough time to cover everything. So, he covered high points of how to choose fabric and allowed lots of time for questions.

What We Learned

Because we were in a time crunch, Vecchiarelli’s “lecture” was split in two (and then he went into Q&A):

1.) Natural vs. manufactured textiles
2.) Advancements in textile technology

Natural vs. Manufactured Textiles

We received fabric swatches as part of the class. One card featured natural fabrics — cottons, silks, wool, linen, and flax. The other card featured manufactured fabrics — polyester, nylon, lycra, rayon, smart fiber, and cotton blends.

My understanding of fabric always grows when when I get use my sense of touch. Plus, it’s often hard to determine drape when you’re not in person.

Vecchiarelli didn’t give a lot of advice on which fabrics were good for which patterns/applications. I think he assumed that we had a handle on matching fabric to patterns.

What’s more (and this is me sort of putting words in his mouth, so bear with me), there really aren’t wrong fabric choices; it depends on what you’re going for. If you understand fabric properties, you can make a selection based on your needs and creative vision.

Advancements in Textile Technology

Vecchiarelli was more passionate talking about emerging fabric tech. He talked about the search for sustainable fabric. For example, in the lab at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in L.A., there’s fabric made from wine. It’s a product of fermented grape skins.

Vecchiarelli told us about a new fabric he saw at an industry trade show that would interest anyone who sews for babies. This new fabric changes color to indicate wetness. The big idea is that it could be used to make children’s clothes — the clothes that go OVER a diaper! Not having to undress a little human to check if his diaper is wet would awesome!

Super-Surprise Bonus: Free Fabric!

While learning about how to choose fabric, I took home these gorgeous textiles from ABC TV's costume department!

Unbeknownst to the class, Vecchiarelli brought all of us a surprise — fabric from the costume department at ABC! He set up a table full of fabric that was used to make costumes on DWTS, and each student was invited to take two cuts.

INSANE, RIGHT?

I chose a stretch navy lace and a lovely, squishy knit jacquard. I think the stretch lace could be good for unmentionables, and I have a vision of a maxi Colette Moneta for the knit.

Expert Advice on How to Choose Fabric

My opinion is that Vecchiarelli wanted to customize the class to our interests, so he opened the floor to questions quickly. And most of the questions were about buying fabric, especially how to choose fabric when you’re buying online.

Anyhoo, here are some fabric nuggets from Vecchiarelli:

1.) Buy Fabric in L.A.

Now, Vecchiarelli is an L.A. guy, so his preference for Los Angeles isn’t surprising. He said if you’re hot to take a sewing-related trip, come to the L.A.’s Fashion District over New York’s. According to Vecchiarelli, there are 5,000 fabric stores in L.A. The fashion district in New York is shrinking, Vecchiarelli said.

2.) Be a Smart Online Fabric Shopper.

Of course we had to ask Vecchiarelli about online fabric shopping, because for so many sewists, Jo-Ann is the best we have for in-person fabric retail. He said that prices at Mood were on the high side. Vecchiarelli said he favors Michael Levine for online fabric. Look for free/discounted shipping, he added, because fabric is heavy.

3.) Do a Burn Test.

Identify mystery fabric with a burn test, Vecchiarelli advised. Manufactured fabrics, especially polyester, will melt. Natural fabrics will ash.

Vecchiarrelli said when he was fabric shopping with friend Nick Verreos, a “Project Runaway” alum, Verreos started burning fabric in the store! Try that at Jo-Ann and tell me what happens, OK? 😂

4.) Choosing Fabric is Hard.

If you take ONE THING away from this blog post, please let it be this: Choosing fabric is hard!

Even fashion professionals sometimes make poor fabric choices. On DWTS, Vecchiarelli said he’s glad he’s not in charge of buying fabric. He said he’s seen fabric for the show ruined in the laundry. (DWTS has a $500,000 fabric budget in part to cover such disasters, Vecchiarelli said.)

5.) Natural Fibers are Predictable.

To avoid fabric disasters, Vecchiarelli advised sticking with natural fibers. Natural fabric that’s blended with manufactured fabric (example: cotton-poly) often causes sewists grief (see DWTS laundry disasters above).

6.) Denim is VERY Hard to Buy.

Our class wanted tips on buying denim. Vecchiarelli told us it’s one of the hardest fabrics to choose because of all the denim options — types, blends, weights, etc. Don’t feel bad if you don’t buy the right denim, he said. It’s challenging.

Final Thoughts on the Textile Class

I own this book about fashion textiles, and it gives great insight on how to choose fabric.
I expected more info about fabric properties from this class, technical stuff like weaves, weights, manufacture, etc. — real fabric wonk stuff. I have a textile textbook (affiliate link) that I’m slowly reading, so most of that information is in there.

The Hollywood stuff was entertaining, and Vecchiarelli was candid and willing to answer any questions. In my opinion, this topic was too big for him in the allotted time and he wasn’t sure how to present the content.

To people interested in this class, I say if you really want technical info about textiles, get a textbook. If you’re OK with a brief overview on how to choose fabric and an interesting convo with a Hollywood fashion insider (and maybe even some free fabric!), you’ll enjoy this class.

Over to you, sewing peeps: Have you taken a class with Vecchiarelli? What would you have asked him about how to choose fabric, or anything else fabric/sewing related? How would you rate your knowledge of fabric textiles? Please share your lovely insight in comments! Thanks in advance for sounding off! Sewists have so much to say.

P.S. Here’s my post from last week, ICYMI: Your Body Double: How to Pad a Dress Form. It’s a review of the other class I took with Vecchiarelli.

I wasn’t seeking classes with Vecchiarelli, FWIW; he happened to be teaching topics at the expo that most interested me!

P.P.S. This is a bit of insider intel that you might want to pass along. The Original Sewing and Quilt Expo is not coming back to Schaumburg (a Chicago suburb) next year. This is a major bummer for me, because I’ve had a hard time finding fashion sewing workshops in Milwaukee.

P.P.P.S. Next week is the first of a two-part mini-series on the pants-fitting intensive I took at the expo! Yay, pants!