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Picking proper fabric: Fiber content (super sexy OOOOOO)

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Picking the right fabric can make or break a costume. And I don’t mean screen correct, but I mean quality, weave, texture, pattern, shine. You don’t have to spend a fortune on getting the most accurate fabric possible, but understanding what kinda of fabrics are best to use can take your costume game to a whole new level.

I’m not going to give you a crash course on textiles or how they are sewn. Getting into the specifics of burn tests and fiber content percentages isn’t something you need to know going into your costume planning. Instead I’ll go over a few important points for you to keep in mind, and a few examples of what fabric’s I’d choose for different costumes. Originally this was just going to be one post, but I get really excited about textiles and can ramble (such a nerd about this stuff). So this post is about fiber content, the next one will be about different weaves.

When I first started sewing fiber content was something I never, ever thought about. I never looked at the end of bolts because it didn’t really matter. And when I’m sewing stuff for normal wear, I don’t think about it a whole lot. I’m not a real snooty sewer who is silk charmeuse obsessed, I sew with what I like. But with costumes I’m really anal about what fiber contents I use.

Natural fibers
Natural fibers are my favorite! Mostly because it breathes. If you’ve ever been stuck in a walkway at Dragon*Con you’ll understand the importance of being in a costume that doesn’t retain every drop of sweat.

Cotton: From the humble cotton plant, this is the best fiber ever, in my opinion, It sews well, it presses well, and It also dyes really well. You can also find all kinds of different weaves and weights. But keep in mind, not all cotton is created equal. Some are thick and lovely, while others can wrinkle badly or too lightweight. Price range $-$$$

Wool: Sheered from our cute and cuddly animal friends! From Sheep to alpacas, this bad boy also breathes and dyes well. Downsides include dry-cleaning… and it’s wool which is known for being a bit on the warm side. $$-$$$$

Linen: Are you looking for the best fabric to make your Avatar: The Last Airbender cosplay out of? Use linen. Linen is a plant based fiber from flax. It has a lovely rustic texture, is easily washable, dyeable, and sews well. Downsides include wrinkling, but that kind of adds to the charm, I think. $$-$$$

Silk: Taken from the cute little silk worm’s cocoons. I’m gonna be straight up honest with you on this one, I hardly ever use real silk for cosplay costumes. I think it’s really price prohibitive and can be a pain to work with. It’ll show water drops if your iron leaks, you may or may not have to dry clean it, it can be really slippery depending on the weave, but it’s also really lovely. You can dye and paint silk in amazing ways and get absolutely beautiful color. It feels amazing, and there’s so many different weaves and textures to choose from. It’s also an investment $$$-$$$$

Other natural fibers I don’t use much but are available include Bamboo, soy, hemp. They are basically better cotton and hemp is like a stronger variation of linen. $$-$$$$

Leather: I think we are familiar with leather. It can be luxurious, slightly stretchy (and I mean slightly), easily manipulated, you can dye it, stain it, paint it. But buying leather is a different process since you are buying hides of animal skin, and it’s measured by the square inch. It’s also pricey, and you may or may not have a desire to use animal hides for personal reasons. $$$-$$$$ More information about leather hide measuring and purchasing can be found here.

The middle child, Rayon: I’m having a stupid love affair with Rayon right now. But it’s not technically a natural fiber since it’s man made, but it’s not a synthetic material because it’s made from plant cellulose. It can be stiffer or flowy. It feels wonderful, it can breathe, and it doesn’t have to be stupid expensive. Other terms you may see include viscose, modal and lyocell. $-$$$

Synthetics
Synthetics are great because they are less expensive than natural fibers. And there is basically 2 kinds: Polyester and Nylon The downside is, they aren’t as versatile when it comes to the ability to take dye and they don’t breathe like a natural fiber does. Well, except for one big caveat: super fancy sports manufactured fabrics. Think Under Armour shirts. Those guys are polyester and sometimes nylon mixed but science has made them wickable and breathable. When I need spandex, I look here first. If I can find the color I need with a moisture management spandex I will. And it will make all the difference in the world.

Not all synthetics are stretchy like spandex, but they can be much cheaper than their natural alternatives. But there is a downside, if you aren’t careful you can melt it if ironing it too high, and sometimes it’s hard to get a good press.

And my favorite synthetic: Faux leather/pleather. It’s still pricey, but is no where near as pricey as real leather. It doesn’t have the same texture or share the same richness as real leather, but you can buy it by the bolt, and they make some really nice ones these days.

Tip sparkle rightA note on dying synthetics: They make dye for polyester. There is one called iDye by Jacquard (it will say “for Polyester”) and Rit just came out with a new formulation called Dyemore which I wanted to try, but nowhere local carries it right now. I recently tried iDye and, straight up, those colors are rich and intense (not what I was looking for at the time) and mixing colors can be a bit of a challenge, especially with their “mess free bags” which dissolve when water touches them. Not ideal for measuring it out 1 teaspoon at a time.

Nylon CAN take dye really well (and normally does) or it can be stupid stubborn and won’t take any. It’s a bit of a crap shoot.

Fiber blends
This is what happens when a natural fiber and a synthetic fiber fall in love. Who cares if their love isn’t natural? So they run away together and have a fabric baby that is part natural fiber/part synthetic. Like if a human and a robot had a baby and it was born Robocop. They are kinda freaks, but can also be REALLY AWESOME!

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Like stretch denim. Something most people have fallen in love with. It’s denim (cotton) with a little spandex to keep it stretchy. So it fits all your curves, is flexible to move in, and can allow you to take your jeans off on the 3rd wear without having to unbutton them.

Or blend poplin: 65% Polyester/ 35% cotton. Semi breathable, crisp, irons well, resists fading, and resists wrinkles! Its no wonder it’s used for uniforms.

When not making magical happy things that defy normal laws of fabric physics, they create cheap alternatives of more expensive types of fabric. For example: You know you need a wool texture for a coat, but wool is $20 a yard, a wool/poly blend can cost half that! But you are reducing the breathability a bit, so it might actually make you sweat more than normal wool would.

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So you’re ready to shop but aren’t sure where to find the fiber content? If you’re in a fabric store, check the end of the bolt. It’s mandated by law to have the fiber content listed. Online fabric stores will have it listed in the product description.

What’s your experience with fiber content? Is it something you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about? Are there fiber types you like to use? I’d love to hear about your experiences!

Until next time…

*banner photo credit http:[email protected]/15786685051

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Fabric stashes—a cautionary tale

The Benefits and Pitfalls of a Sewing Stockpile

When you first start sewing, the whole world of clothing… changes.

Shopping for clothes isn’t as fun anymore. Because you look at
something and go “Pshhh! I could make that.” And you could! It might
take some research and skill, but you could make that, and it would
fit better, you’d love it more, and it won’t cost as much!

(Side note: Most of those are lies. Sewing for yourself can get<
expensive quickly. Yes, you can save money, but only if you compare
yourself to designer or high end clothes. I stopped thinking about
sewing as saving money a long time ago, instead I think about it as
“I’d rather pay more for something that fits.” And sometimes I
don’t love it more. Sometimes I wear it once then donate it.)

Thoughts of a wardrobe or cute clothes in cat prints and chevrons
float across your mind’s eye. “YES! THIS IS EVERYTHING!” So you go to
the fabric store, and browse for the perfect fabric (which I guarantee
isn’t there). You might not find the perfect fabric for what you
wanted, but Novelty prints are 30% off, and that X-Wing print is
calling your name! You HAVE to buy it! You NEEEEEED IT! More than you
needed anything in the entire world (please picture 23 year old Laurel
at the fabric store stopping herself from a toddler size meltdown over
Star Wars fabric before realizing “I’m an adult, I can buy whatever I
want.”) Oh, and this star fabric will make a perfect skirt, and I
think I need dress pants for work…. and Simplicity patters are 5 for $10.
Before you know it, you’ve spent $250 on a bunch of fabric, notions, thread, and patterns. You get home, and are SUPER excited about everything you’re going to make RIGHT NOW! You’ve seen Project Runway, you know that a ballgown can be made in 8 hours,
and you’re just making a few dresses and skirts, you’ll get all this
done tonight if you don’t sleep!

Then your best friend calls and asks if you want to go out to
dinner, so you leave the bag untouched on your floor for another day.
You forget about it. Maybe you even add a few more.

Yeah, pretty much something like this.

Then one day while playing video games you go, “Huh. Didn’t I buy some
Star Wars fabric?” You realize you’ve accumulated this huge
backlog of projects, some of which you don’t even want to make
anymore. Did you really buy “Peace and Love” flannel? *face palm*

Stashes are the most wonderful thing in the world to accumulate, then the worst thing to have.

Well not the worst, but it can get a bit daunting, and most of it
isn’t needed. (Well, that’s not true either… I’m a bit of a stash
addict, still in denial) there are certain things you want to have on
hand at all times.  If I had a Sewing and Crafting fairy when I first
started, the first thing she’d say is “Don’t buy something unless you
have a project for it.” But that’s no fun.

When I go to fabric shopping now, I bring a list of what I’m looking for, the
yardage I need, notions, what to get if on sale, etc. I also find I am
more likely to plan projects now because space is limited, and I’m
more focused on what I make and do.

Tip sparkle leftCosplay tip: If you have several projects planned out for sometime in the future, keep a list of fabrics and notions you need on hand at all times because when you want blue pleather Murphy’s Law says you won’t be able just the right one. You never know when you might find just what you need.

So without any more rambling on and on…here is what I stash away for a rainy day:

Basically try to keep on hand any notion you will completely forget to buy

  • Elastics
    varying sizes and colors and types
  • Buttons
    A lot of time I buy buttons specifically for projects but I also capitalize of good deals, like those bags of assorted shirt buttons and throw them all in my button bucket.
  • Various other closures
    sew on, snaps, hook and eyes, grommets
  • Velcro
    I usually but 1 inch wide in white and black. You can dye
    white velcro really easily to match projects. See more about dying
    here. You can cut it thinner if you want. I personally like this snag
    free the best.
  • Zippers
    I like to have a variety of zippers in various colors, lengths, and types. Invisible being my favorite, but both kinds are handy, and I always opt for longer vs shorter because shortening zippers is easy
  • Interfacing
    Various kinds, fusible, sew-in, black, white, woven, non-woven) and recently I’ve started using fusible interfacing on a roll for small area like neck bands, button plackets, or inserting zippers. You can get bias cut (sometimes called wigan) or on-grain straight cut
  • Muslin
    I buy this by the bolt, but just having a few yards on hand can be a life saver
  • Sewing machine needles
    In various sizes and for various tasks (stretch, microtex heavyweight, twin, topstitching, etc.)
  • Thread
    I always keep white, black, and light grey. I like to buy these in big spools so I have lots on hand)
  • Fabric basics in basic colors
    White cotton jersey, spandex, lining fabric, broadcloth and voile or batiste, a few satins, denim and twills to name a few. Whatever you sew with the most, have some basic colors on hand
  • Fun miscellaneous trims
    Stretch lace, normal lace, bias binding, piping, rick rack, ribbon, etc for when your project just needs a little something special
  • Dye (optional)
    You may have figured by now I do I decent amount of dying, so I have a large tupperware stored away with different dyes in a variety of colors
  • Any materials needed for niche items (optional)
    For example, I love sewing corsets so I like to keep steel boning, grommet, coutil, and laces on hand so I don’t have to wait for an order to come in. Some items are hard to get, or you get a better price for buying in a larger quantity so it’s nice to have a little stockpile for last minute projects.

I never feel guilty about having a bunch of this stuff stocked away. The fun prints and stuff? Those are things I try to buy on an “as-need” (and as I mentioned above, sometimes you NEEEEED things for no rational reason) basis.

How big is your stash? Do you find it valuable? What kind of things do
you stash away?

header photo credit: Buzzfarmers via flickr (creative commons license)