Ooh la la, my swatches are here.

So I’ve committed my way to making the Lady Grey coat, at least in the form of buying swatches. They arrived yesterday, along with the pattern.

I’m an insane collector of fashion images, color schemes, design layouts–both physical and virtual–so gathering the supplies and going through swatches is probably my favorite part of sewing. Silhouettes are one thing, designs another, and I’m even less concerned with fit than many people. Even the actual sewing itself comes behind this part. I often fall asleep at night thinking about all the possible outcomes of a project, imagining details and fabrics. (I’m a fan of beginnings. I usually “hear” my best potential poems falling asleep, which doesn’t help me much as a poet.)

First, there’s the pattern. Colette Patterns is an indie pattern company I just discovered a few months ago but never really considered the patterns to be my personal style. But their ethos and site is just so darn hip–it was made with this generation of dressmakers in mind. The packaging itself is a little piece of art (and I couldn’t help but order a dress pattern, too). Each pattern is a little creative booklet, folded in a lovely cardstock envelope, stitched by machine, with a pocket containing the tissue pieces.

I re-watched the documentary Helvetica last night with a friend and was reminded that visual design intelligence is increasing at an insane rate. Twenty years ago, nobody knew what Helvetica was, but personal computers changed all that. Where design was once the province of professionals, anyone with a computer can express and personalize their identity with increasing complexity. Not that access to tools makes one a good designer, but the intelligence about good design is always in front of us.

Take Etsy, for example–a simple but beautifully designed storefront that makes eBay look like a Buick used car lot. Nearly 90% of the sellers on Etsy seem to understand how to take decent photos and lay out their products. To be fair, Etsy is by and for creative people. There’s not only a certain level of design and artistic intelligence among users, but Etsy itself is constantly teaching its sellers how to improve one’s visual presentation.

Point being, I guess, that a pattern company like Colette seems to be rare in that they understand the level of intelligence, irony and awareness of their users. Not just sewing intelligence. They also understand that people love and feel connected to something with a personal, creative touch. (I love buying things like buttons on Etsy. Even when I’ve spent just a couple bucks, these little packages are always so personal to the store–like a little hand-wrapped package with silk ribbons and a signed wood-cut-printed tag.)

But back to the swatches.

I ordered mostly silk/wool blends, which I really love. I’m looking for something light, not exactly winter fabric. This is central Texas, after all. Unfortunately, most of them were almost blouse- or dress-weight and very drapey (i.e., difficult to hold shape). There are also beautiful light wools like this gorgeous satin gabardine–but, eek, at £42 a yard coming from England, and $50 a yard from Fabrics.net, I will have to pass.

My swatches came from Mood and Gorgeous Fabrics, and I think I’ve narrowed it down to these two. One is a silk/wool with a twill-like texture. The fabric is hard to photograph–described as “clay” by Mood. In some lights it looks almost burnt umber-ish, and in others like pale-pink flesh tones. Strange neutrals like this can really morph in a larger garment, depending on what is in the background (the light, your other clothes, even the paint on your walls). It’s a gamble, but if it turned out more earth-toned I’m not sure I’d like it.

On the right is a 100% silk tweed and it is almost the lightest of the fabrics but by far my favorite color–a soft, subtle coral-peach. It’s almost like a silk matka.

Gertie at her blog just posted an interview with Colette owner Sarai Mitnick, which specifically addresses types of fabrics to look for. I also googled around to see who else had made the coat before, and loved seeing how it suited different women’s styles and shapes. Here’s a few:

the cupcake goddess
pink chalk studio