Guest Post – Fabric 101

I have another wonderful post from the ladies over at Starnigh Industries. If you haven’t checked out their blog, you should! 😀 From the 101 series to costume breakdowns, they have some pretty awesome stuff on their blog!

Now, onto their article, Fabric 101!

Ah, fabric. When planning a costume, you head to the local fabric store and can get lost and overwhelmed by the plethora of styles, colors and grains arrayed before you. Quilting fabric, upholstery fabric, apparel, dancewear… the list goes on and on.

So how do you choose?

Honestly, by trial and error most of the time – and in the begining that can be expensive. So I’m going to try and put together a little something to help you brave the beginnings of crafting and get your feet wet, metaphorically speaking.

In my previous post, I’d talked about breaking down your costume and deciding on what fabrics would work best with it. School uniforms, for example, can be cotton, or for the more experienced, suitings material. Each have their own benefits.

Good fabrics for beginners are fabrics that are easy to work with, don’t fray, and don’t have a real grain to speak of so when you cut out your costume pieces and forget to cut with the grain, you haven’t thrown out $20 a yard because you screwed up. (Oh ho ho! And the first time that happens, I dare you not to curse like a sailor!) In any event, I digress. On to some simple fabrics for beginners and some suggestions on which costumes to use them with.

• Cotton, cotton, and more cotton. There are many different weights, or thread counts, of cotton. Light weight, medium weight, heavy weight. It really depends on what you need done, but on the whole, the light or medium weights will do you fine. (It can also be called “quilter’s cotton”.)

Cotton is easy to use, doesn’t have a grain, generally doesn’t fray (or if it does, not badly), can be dyed (if necessary) and, best of all, is usually super cheap. It pleats really easily for skirts. It’s lightweight enough to give some flounce. If you interface it and line it in itself, it is nice and crisp. It is very, very versitile. It can be used for school uniforms, Sailor senshi costumes (oh yeah, I went there), summer lolita dresses (they come in cute prints!), simple yukata, simple dresses, pretty much anything and everything.

• Suitings. If cotton isn’t your thing, suitings may be a nice option. Just as the name implies, it’s a good fabric for suits. It’s a bit more expensive, a little thicker and heavier. Again, it works well for school unforms, for jackets (with the appropriate interfacing), and for anything that needs a more professional, clean look. Suitings are typically polyester. It does not take dye well, so hopefully you can find the exact shade you need. It does have a grain, generally, so you’ll want to watch out for that. However, if you don’t match grains, it won’t be the end of the world. Suitings is kind of hard to pleat, and it does fray a bit so overlocking is advised. However, once you are done, you’ll have a nice piece.

• Bottomweight. I like to think of this as cotton’s big, bad cousin. It’s a cotton/poly blend, and it’s pretty heavy. Pleating is a bear with this, but it is really great for hakama – or even traditional pants. (If doing something like a Bleach costume, I’d do the pants in black bottomweight, and the white underkimono from cotton.) You should be warned, if you make a costume out of this, it will be very warm.

• Bridal satin. Not to be confused with costume satin (aka baroque satin). This is a high-end dress fabric, and I would hesitate to include it in this section except, really, if you want to make a “nice dress”, this is what I’d recommend to a beginner who refuses to use cotton. I do want to stress that, while lovely, this fabric will tax most beginning seamstresses (and some intermediates), so just keep that in mind.

Bridal satin, as a general rule, is polyester and tend to have a slight sheen to it. (If it is super shiny, you’ve probably got costume/baroque satin – put that crap back!) It frays, a lot. Overlocking is a must. Unless there’s a pattern built in there isn’t a grain, so you are good there. You can pleat it easier than you can, say, suitings or bottomweight. However, you’ll need to press it a lot as well. It’s a medium weight fabric and very versatile. For you Sailor Moon fans, this is the fabric you want to use if you don’t like my cotton suggestion. It’s good for dresses, bows, formalwear and any sort of costume that needs a bit of flair.

I do want to throw out some fabrics to avoid for beginners.

♦ Baroque / costume satin. I know I’ve said it at least a half dozen times already, but I just want to touch on why. Costume satin frays like crazy. It can be pleated, but you have to starch it to death to hold the pleat when wearing – and even then, it’ll probably pop out within an hour. It wrinkles very, very badly, and even if you iron it before wearing, you’ll look like a wrinkled, frumpy mess in a few hours unless you are very lucky. It is just a very cheap, very obnoxious material. You can use it; I know I have. You just need to be very selective on how. (My original Bloody Dracul Vampiru cloak was done in baroque satin; the black cape, the purple cowel, and the glass panels.)

♦ Tissue lame / lame. I say avoid this fabric for the same reasons as baroque satin. This stuff frays even worse than baroque satin, if you can believe it. Ironing it requires using another fabric over the top to keep from scorching (or worse – melting) it. You absolutely must overlock it, but that’s just delaying the inevitable, to be honest.

♦ Anything stretchy. Sewing on stretchy material is not for newbies. It’s very fussy to sew with. You need special types of stitching when sewing on it to make sure when you go to wear the item in question you don’t pop a seam. It puckers and gathers if you don’t sew it correctly. Stretch materials are great – once you level up a bit and get some sewing under your belt.

While there are hundreds of fabrics to choose from, these are good ones to get you started. Trust me, trying to read and alter patterns and put together your first few costumes is a huge headache without adding in having fabric that is a bear to work on and super expensive to replace if you screw up.

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About Yunie

I am a cosplayer, a nerd, a geek. I am whatever you call me. However, I have a brain and tend to use it.
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3 Responses to Guest Post – Fabric 101

  1. Etaru says:

    All good tips! I’d also add that baroque or costume satins are not worth the cheap dollar/yard cost because they’re usually made of acetate, meaning they can only be dry cleaned. Why spend the big money to take a very cheap costume to the dry cleaners just because the fabric was inexpensive, but requires special cleaning? It’s nonsensical.

    • That’s actually a really good point – and something we should include in future fabric discussions. (Maybe a cleaning your costume 101 post? Because yeah. People need to make sure to do that.) Thanks, Lada! ❤

  2. tinydragon says:

    I’m not sure where you got the idea that cottons and costume satins don’t have any grain. They are woven fabrics. All wovens have a cross grain, and a straight grain. If cut improperly the result is an ill hanging and fitting garment.

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