Keeping a Fabric Sample Journal

When you are involved in creating your own fabric designs for art quilts, wearable art, or embellishment on ready-to-wear clothing, you may find it hard to remember what works and what doesn’t. That’s when having a fabric journal pays off. Just like a writer’s journal or an artist’s sketchbook, a fabric sample journal is the place to explore designs and techniques and serves as a creative reference tool.

Start with a couple of yards of pure white, 100% cotton fabric. Wash in hot water and dry without using fabric softener. The pre-wash takes care of any fabric finishes applied by the manufacturer and will pre-shrink the fabric. Then cut the yardage into small sample sizes, either six inch or eight inch squares work best.

Find out which of your stamps and stencils give you the best results. Gather up all your stamps and stencils and clean them off if you used them for other craft projects. Using low-cost fabric paints, use a different repeat design on each sample or use a combination of stamps and stencils on your sample squares. Try different color combinations e.g. one-color, two-color, all shades of one color, warm colors, cool colors, etc.

Preview fabric dyeing techniques. Shibori are tie-dye or bound resist techniques including folding and gathering, tight running stitches in either straight lines or patterns, and fabric tied to a pole. Resists for dyeing include wax, as in batik, flour paste and washable school glue (cold water dyes or paints only), and gutta or paint resist which stay on the fabric and are used with fabric paints to stop the color from bleeding from one area to another.

Make mini-samplers. Try out your hand embroidery stitches and techniques by making mini-samplers. Reinforce the cotton fabric squares with lightweight fusible interfacing ironed on the back and you won’t need an embroidery hoop. 

Once you have a pile of samples, arrange them by technique or by color. You can tie them together at one edge as in book form, or clip a small hole in the top left corner and thread them onto a metal O ring found at office supply stores.

To create the most informative sample journal, mount each sample on a piece of poster board cut to ring file binder size. Write down details, such as the name of the technique or stitch, which dyes or paints were used, and any problems or successes you had with a specific resist. 

Keeping a fabric journal helps you remember which fabric surface design techniques you like and which ones you might want to improve.