Summer 2015: Fabrics for Dressmaking
Thank you for all your enthusiasm for a post about dressmaking fabrics in the comments to my last post. A few people asked me to go into as much detail as possible as, like me, you buy your fabrics online, where it's often difficult to get a proper sense of weight, drape and opacity, so with only the smallest encouragement needed, what follows is a quite ridiculously geeky analysis of the merits of each fabric! Enjoy.
I should preface this post by saying that I'm obsessive about drape because I believe that this is the key to making flattering clothes that make me feel happy when I wear them, rather than like a miserable dumpling, which is what a poorly chosen piece of cloth can do to me. So these are the things that will run through my mental checklist when I'm considering a fabric now: Will it hold the shape if the garment is more structured? Will it skim, rather than cling to, the more lumpy areas if it's a more flowing fabric? Will it stand proud like a pelmet lampshade between my widest points of bust and bottom, rather than following the curve into the small of my back?
I also consider opacity too, as there are varying levels of translucency, the acceptability of which depends upon the garment and also the wearer's willingness to be revealed! So here, my questions are: Will this show my tummy button (arg! Transparency is never a quality that I'm enamoured with in a fabric)? Will this show my bra? Will this show my silhouette even when there's no sun? Will this show my silhouette when there is sun? Will I feel well-covered on a day when I'm feeling like I'd rather not have even the merest hint of the contours of my stomach visible? Could I use this for a pattern that features pleats or gathering to make it less revealing? Could I interline this fabric with something of a similar weight and drape to make it more modest?
While it's not really possible for a fabric to have an intrinsic 'poor drape', it's possible for it to drape poorly for your intended style of clothing, so I'll try to share as much information as I can about what styles I think each fabric may suit.
Please remember that these are my own, very subjective, thoughts and that others may have different opinions as to suitability, so it may be worth reading around before purchasing anything. If you've used any of these fabrics yourself, please do leave comments with your own thoughts or even links to what you've made. I think we all like seeing as many sample garments as possible before committing to buy. Let's begin.
These two prints are both from Cotton & Steel's new range of rayon fabrics, going under the collection name of Frock. They are utterly dreamy and tick all the right boxes on so many levels: they have the most incredible, flowing drape; they feel like cotton sateen, but without the sometimes nasty sheen and slipperiness; they come in wearable prints that won't make you look like you're wearing a quilt; and they are opaque enough to avoid a sunlit body silhouette and will gracefully skim over any lumps and bumps.
When you hold it up and move it, Frock rayon undulates and billows in the most wonderful way: there is life in this fabric.
I have always been a big fan of Heather Bailey's designs and she's recently produced a line of rayon fabrics (and a few voiles too) for FreeSpririt, entitled Momentum. This is a shirt that I made in one of the rayon prints, below (I'll do a full post on the actual shirt at a later date). It's a really glorious fabric - I have craved a material that will produce a button placket that flops casually, rather than standing to attention like a regimental soldier and this shirt demonstrates that rayon has this ability. It shares all the qualities of the Cotton & Steel rayon, although the Freespirit designs look to have been printed on a white rayon base cloth, which means that if the neckline drapes open, or if a sleeve is rolled up (as you can just on the edge of this photo), then it can mean that you get a bit of this white reverse side showing. I personally don't have a massive problem with this and I'd happily buy more prints from the range, but it's something to be aware of when thinking about what pattern you'd use it with. I bought the last 95cm that Clothkits had, thinking they were the only UK stockist, but I've since seen that Fancy Moon also stock many of the prints from the collection. In the US, you can find them at Hawthorne Threads.
I imagine that this blue Swiss Dot may well be easier to wear because it's a darker fabric, however, I'd still consider interlining it (given my sudden desire for my clothing to double as a nun's habit), which worked well on this top, pictured below - you can see from the sleeve, which I didn't line, how thin the fabric was when used alone. However, it's really important to find a lining fabric that has a very similar composition and weight if you don't want to completely alter the drape of your main fabric. I used the thinnest, softest cotton I could find to interline this top - I bought it from The Cloth House, although I have no idea if they still stock it now.
On to Atelier Brunette. Atelier Brunette have the most incredible range of dressmaking prints. These French prints are small-scaled, subtle, chic and I want to wear practically every single one of them. When it comes to designs, in my eyes, they blow everything else out of the water. Alice stocks a fine selection of them, here. The compromise comes in the drape. I've made a couple of tops in Atelier Brunette's Cotton Cambric over the last few years and unfortunately I've always mismatched my pattern to the fabric and ended up with something fundamentally unflattering (one of which was a version of the white dobby top, above, in the cotton cambric pictured below). These fabrics, in my nit-picky opinion, aren't quite right for patterns that require any drapiness. I could share photos with you of them doing that aforementioned thing where, in profile, they stand proud like a pelmet lampshade between my widest points of bust and bottom, rather than following the curve into the small of my back, but I'm too appalled by them to put them on the internet for fear of them ending up on Pinterest outside of the context of 'I know this is hideous'. I really believe the cotton cambric fabrics need a pattern that is quite structured. Colette's Laurel blouse (this is the pattern used for the navy blouse above) would be perfect, as it has darts at the front and back and a really neat, fitted shape.
However, Guthrie & Ghani recently sent me a sample of Atelier Brunette's viscose and it couldn't be more different in terms of drape. This is the finest, silkiest, deliciously drapey little sample of perfection that you see below. I would love a top made from this. It is very, very thin though. So I'm imagining it may be best worn either with a fine black camisole beneath it or lined with something incredibly thin, as I've done with the navy spotty top earlier in the post. Photos don't really do justice to how lovely the viscose fabrics are. Be careful when shopping for them - some AB prints appear in a few different substrates, so double-check that you're buying the one you're intending to. Both Guthrie and Ghani and Backstitch have several viscose prints in stock.
Next, this rather unassuming-looking indigo denim chambray from Robert Kaufman's Chambray Union Collection (for those who aren't familiar with it, this collection is based mostly around blue chambray fabrics in a wide variety of weights, so each fabric is slightly different, but they seem to share a general awesomeness). I don't know how to photograph this adequately to convey quite how wonderful it is, but when I first felt it, I thought it may be the loveliest fabric that I'd ever touched. It's ridiculously soft and silky in a way that belies its utilitarian appearance and is the most perfect denim colour. Hold it up to the light and it doesn't have the dense opacity you'd expect it to though - perfect for completely non-revealing unlined tops, but I'm yet to decide whether I'd go for an unlined skirt. If you think that I'm paranoid about the skirt issue, you may like to revisit this post.
Next, Robert Kaufman's Cotton Chambray Dots in Royal. This fabric is much less drapey than many in the Chambray Union collection and although it's very soft, it has a structure that makes it totally unsuitable for drapey tops. It would be far better for light, bottom-weight items. I'm imagining that it would be perfect for something like an Emery dress where the bodice is more structured and the skirt can take a bit of body, or equally, a Laurel dress, which has a fitted shape without any flounce. I am bitterly regretting my choice of colour here, as while I would have worn the Indigo, when it arrived I realised that the Royal colour that I'd chosen is totally out of my colour comfort zone as it's very bright! The top part of the photo shows the right side of the fabric, the more subtle side is the reverse side (I guess I could use the reverse, but I'm less keen on the sheen on this side). If anyone who has a more diverse range of colours that they like to wear would like two metres of this, it cost £33 new and I'll happily part with it for £25 in the UK including postage. It's been pre-washed and smells deliciously of fabric softener!
I know I talked about this in my last post, but I don't want to leave it out of this round-up as it's incredibly lovely: Indigo Dot, another fine part of the Robert Kaufman Chambray Union collection.
Indigo Dot is wonderfully soft. It's perfect for shirts, blouses or tank tops and I'd consider making a really gathered skirt from it, or a lined straight skirt. It's a floppy fabric, so if you're looking for something with a stiffness that will hold its shape, this isn't it.
Finally, I know that some of my readers, for ethical and/or health reasons prefer to shop organic for their fabrics, so I thought I'd also tell you about some fantastic fabric that I bought a few years ago. It's an organic navy cotton sateen fabric that is just pure loveliness without any of the high-sheen slipperiness that cheap sateen can have. It's almost completely matte, in fact.
Finally, just as I was about to post this, I received a serendipitous subscriber's email from Hawthorne Threads sharing news of a rayon chambray addition to Robert Kaufman's House of Denim collection.
It really does feel like the world is suddenly just exploding with amazing dressmaking fabrics. After sharing all this glorious fabric temptation, I feel compelled to also share with you the thought that I try to keep in my own head in the face of all this. It will not run out. And if this is what's appeared in just the last few months, that must mean that even more good things are bound to be on their way! Sometimes though, after so many years of struggling to find beautiful dressmaking fabrics, it's hard to keep this at the forefront of my thoughts!