. . . and I’ll make a dress! Of course, I’m referring to Liberty cottons, one of the great fabrics of the world. There is, as most of you already know, more to Liberty than just cottons – they make silks, too, and one look at their website will introduce you to the full range of Liberty products, appeal, and mystique. It is so exciting to me to realize that this company, which was founded in 1875, is still producing some of the finest quality fabrics in the world. Their most famous fabric is that cotton, more properly referred to as Tana Lawn. Here I quote from The Liberty Book of Home Sewing (about which I’ll tell you more shortly):
“Tana Lawn Synonymous with Liberty, this 100% cotton fabric has a very fine thread count and soft, silky feel. New print designs are created each season, heritage classics are continuously reworked, and there is also an array of coordinating plain colors.”
It just so happens that I lucked into two pieces of Tana Lawn, originally purchased by a relative in the ‘60s, and tucked away, unused, into a bureau drawer. When the contents of that drawer were being emptied about a decade later, I was the happy recipient. At that point in time, Tana Lawn was only 35” wide, so in order to make a dress or blouse, it was necessary to have a good bit of yardage at one’s disposal, to compensate for the narrow width. Of course, the piece I liked the best had the least yardage:
It sat in my fabric drawer for about another 12 or 15 years, until I finally made it into a dress for my daughter when she was about 8 years old.
The second piece had a bit more yardage to it, but it, too, sat in my fabric closet, until last Summer, when I finally decided I would make myself a dress.
I knew it would have to be sleeveless, and I envisioned a simple belted bodice with some fullness in the skirt. The only pattern I could find which came close was this Butterick one:
Then I began making alterations to it: a few soft pleats for the skirt instead of all that fullness; I wanted to add pockets in the side seams; to add pockets, I had to move the zipper from the side to the back, which also made it easier for me to fit the pattern pieces onto the narrow fabric. Finally, I wanted it lined, which I did with a very lightweight white cotton lawn. Here’s how it turned out:
Well, it seems I am always rediscovering pieces of fabric in my extensive collection, and although I have known this fabric was there, it always seems like a new discovery when something so pretty surfaces again. I purchased this piece of Tana Lawn in Bermuda (probably at Trimingham’s, now unfortunately out of business) sometime in the 1980s.
I could never decide on a pattern to use for it – those ’80 styles were just too awful. So this fabric is another one of those “Thank goodness I never made this!” Although it is also just 35” wide, I have a plentiful 4½ yards so I should be able to pair it with a vintage pattern from the ‘50s or ‘60s – I’m still looking and deciding… Ideas, anyone? (Interestingly, Liberty apparently changed their production in the early 1990s, and now their Tana Lawn is 44” wide.)
Now, about that afore-mentioned book: last Summer I was browsing books on sewing and fashion on Amazon, and The Liberty Book of Home Sewing popped up for pre-order. Being a complete push-over for any books which showcase beautiful fabrics, I signed up for it and it arrived in October. Of the 25 projects featured, my favorites are the vintage ‘50s look apron on the cover and the peacock pincushion.
What I really like about this book, however, are the full-page representations of Liberty cottons; the Glossary of Fabrics, which includes a little history about each featured design; and the Foreword, which includes a history of the production of Tana Lawn.
Finally – one last thing: when I purchased my Liberty fabric in Bermuda, this label came with it:
What is it about a label that can give a fabric or pattern purchase – and ultimately the finished garment – its own persona? How can something so small add so much validation and completeness to the dressmaker’s labor of love?