Friday, November 9, 2007

The Art of Fabric Swatch & Paint Chip Collection

In the course of my studies at Parsons and my stay in NYC, I've learnt the subtle techniques of getting things for free/cheap (ie. free furniture from the garbage, getting into museums for free, cheap Broadway tickets, cheap drawing paper = legal sized Xerox paper etc) A new thing I've learnt this semester is scoring fabric swatches and paint chips.

In colour theory class - I've learnt that paint chips provide a far better and more accurate sampling of colour when doing colour palettes. It saves me alot of time because then, I don't have to mix the colours from scratch and paint them into chips - I simply cut and paste. My personal go-to place is the Benjamin Moore store near school where I'm sure several art/fashion students flock to for paint chips which are of course free. The sales people don't blink an eye when I step in, armed with my computer print-outs of Vermeer and Sol Le Witt and my art bin which holds an arsenal of paints and colour aid papers, I head straight to back of the store where walls of paint chips in a multitude of hues, shades and intensities await - crying to be chosen by me. I happily gather as many as my heart desires and am never disturbed, disrupted or distracted by the sales people. No weird stares, no "can I help you with anything? but I really want to kick you out, you cheap student!" - just peace and quiet and the whole wall of Benjamin Moore's collection at my disposal.

Fabric swatch collection is a little more tricky and requires a little more manipulation and tactics. First of all, New York's Fashion district is lined with many fabric stores at a designer's disposal. And being in one of the fashion capitals of the world, I'm sure dozens if not hundreds of fashion students go to these stores to source fabrics for their projects - fabrics which they do not purchase, but merely use for presentation and mood boards. I am one of these students. Now, the rule in this particular store is that each student cannot swatch more than 10-15 fabrics. What I learnt on this fabric swatching trip, was the subtle but effective method of choosing the right people to swatch for you. What many people don't realise is that when you enter a fabric store, you cannot simply whip out your own scissors and cut whatever fabrics you want - you require the assistance of a staff person to do it for you.

Now, you can see how frustrating this can be, when the number of people sourcing fabric versus the number of staff that can help you is improportionately imbalanced. There are clearly more students/designers than staff - thus making swatching an extremely challenging task, especially when the store is 3 storeys big. First, you need to find a staff person amidst the isles of chiffon, jersey knits and tweeds. Second, you need to hang on to that staff person before another student steals him away. Third, once you have his attention, you need to hide from his attention the fact that you already have 30 swatches of fabric and kicks you out of the store. Although, that night when I was there I came across 2 types of staff: a) the one who is anal about the number of swatches you collect and really isn't in the mood to follow you around and cut swatches for you or b) the one who doesn't care how many swatches you collect, is super friendly and even suggests the matching fabrics to go with the ones you already have in your hand!

Note to all swatch collectors: bring a bag to keep your swatches - that way, you can easily hide them from prying eyes. Happy sourcing!

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