Monday, October 31, 2011

Miss Kristin - Finding Fabrics

One of the things holding me back as a new reenactor is good, quality sources for good, quality fabrics and notions. I've found this to be the biggest reason why I've hesitated to start another gown project, and to committing to a gown for our garden party in August. Besides this event, I have two other gowns that I need to make; one I have the gown fabric for (a really lovely yellow taffeta), and the other I have nothing--no fabric, no inspiration. Why? Because I have no idea where to get:

  1. good linen lining (so many questions: what weight? what company?)
  2. really good quality taffeta
  3. and really good silk thread.
I think this is an extremely common problem; newbies don't know where to buy, so they end up going to the "same ol' same ol'" or end up using materials that may be readily available at brick and mortar stores but are not authentic or accurate, not real silk/linen/wool/cotton (hello, people, you are hanging around open fires, artificial fibers can melt into and burn your skin! A 911 phone call can really put a damper on the weekend, not to mention your life), and are of generally poor quality.

For example, I wanted to make a drawstring work bag out of linen to carry around my sewing things with me when at events, and use it as a practice piece before I made one out of silk. I went into my local fabric store that begins with a J and bought 2/3 of a yard of linen at $14.99/yd. At that price, it better be good linen--it was utter crap. I purchased Irish linen from Burnley and Trowbridge for $12/yd to make a petticoat out of and it is lovely stuff. So guess what? I totally wasted my money and have not made the work bag; I borrowed one from Mrs. Winthrop instead (thank you! again!). Even the heavier linen that came with the pocket embroidery kit I purchased was better quality!

So, I'm putting forth a plea, for newbies everywhere, asking our more experienced reenactors amongst us to tell us where to go! Where should be buy our fabrics from? Who has great linen for linings? Where can I buy a good amount of yardage of taffeta that is maybe not Scalamandre but is still quality (though for this project, I will invest in something as amazing as Scalamandre)? Where can I buy good silk thread that I can handsew with?

If vital information such as this doesn't get shared, we can all expect the newbies to never get out of their newbie-ness because of a lack of education. A poor foundation (and let's face it, the materials you use for garments are the foundation!) will cause a house to fall. So share! Open up and tell us so we can get better! The hobby needs you to!

Back to my fabric quest -

--Miss Kristin


  1. Kristin - Great fabrics are like hen's teeth. Modern fabrics, for the most part, just aren't the same as the period ones, so there are many compromises that need to be made. But my advise is always the same -- buy the very best you can afford. Better you have one fantastic gown rather than a closet full of junk.
    --Ms. S

  2. Very true, Mrs. S.! While I refuse to compromise on quality (because I *would* much rather one awesome gown than several "meh" ones), I'm having trouble finding it where I can afford it. I would love to have a stash of Ulster linen, but their minimum order is enormous; though if I could find a few people to go in on it with me, I would jump. Any suggestions would be much appreciated, even if it's from our "usual" suspects like B&T or Booth. I just need the confirmation that I'm
    making the correct choice!

  3. Kristin - Good linen is always a challenge as I mentioned in one of my posts about shifts. Since most of the linen made now is for the home dec trade, it's hard to find a sturdy, tight woven linen.
    Whenever I go to antique shops and estate sales, I always check out the fabric, every now and then you find a vintage piece. If you find a vintage linen sheet that is not too old, it can work for the lining of a gown. Try to avoid the really heavy ones, they are generally "metis" a linen and cotton blend.

  4. Thank you! Looks like my weekends will now be filled with antiquing (not that I mind, of course). I ordered the fabric sample set from Burnley and Trowbridge and I plan on finding something suitable form that pile; I'd really like to get started on my yellow silk gown before jumping into the formal one (of course, still have to find silk for *that* one, too!), and using them both as practices for our party!