I often see many articles or blog posts telling costumers that they MUST use natural fibre fabrics. Well OK that’s really nice BUT….not necessarily true.
I love using silk and thanks to a wonderful husband who works extreme hours to earn us a good living I am able to afford to buy silk whenever I need it, however this was not always the case and I am still very reticent to always use silk because it is expensive.
I often find exquisite colours and patterns that are entirely suitable for my main interest area in costuming, the Italian Renaissance, but they are often polyester blends, so do I buy them and use them? Yes I do and I always will. Why? Because let’s face it, no fabric produced today is 100% historically accurate anyway, even the silks, wools and cotton are different as genetic changes in the animals and plants that produce the products have changed the fibres, and the way they are spun and woven are different to earlier practices. But what about the ever-so-hated man made fabrics like rayon and poly blends? Why do I use them? Well basically I am really not precious about my garb, I love to make things that are inspired by the portraits I see, and I will try my best to make them in almost period techniques, well hey I do use my sewing machine because of my shonky hands, but hand finishing is done as much as possible. Many fabrics in my stash are polyester, and they will become gowns or other garb at some stage. I won’t try to say to anyone, hey that’s silk! When it obviously isn’t, and I am well aware of the fire risks involved, and will make sure I stay well away from naked flames when wearing such fabrics.
Another reason I will use them is because they are substantially cheaper than the natural fibres. My costuming is a learning process. Each piece is a lesson to me personally, and I will tweak and change the process for each piece as I learn. If i am trying a whole new pattern, I am more likely to try it out on my inexpensive polyester or blend fabrics than reaching straight for my silks. I don’t make what many call “muslins”, making a piece out of calico or similar just to test the pattern out. I make walking trials i.e. I will complete the piece and wear it a few times to events just to see how it goes and wears, if I am not happy with it I will either alter it or sell it off and start working on another piece with the lesson I have learned from it. I would find it to be very wasteful to use the expensive fabrics when I am not confident I am going to get the piece right and use it many times. I have done this is the past and now find it sad that I wasted such pretty fabrics, many of these pieces are in my “to be fixed” pile.
On a note about linen and wool. I am contact sensitive to both these fibres. If I wear them directly touching my skin I soon develop a lovely red rash of hives and start itching. Thankfully I can tolerate cotton/linen blend and cotton, so my underpinnings are made from these fabrics. I don’t use a lot of linen but do have a couple of gowns that are linen, and I am just careful not to put it where it can touch my skin too much. Also this is a good thing because the cotton/linen bland and cotton fabrics are generally substantially cheaper than the linen, however I have had many comments regarding my chemises not being linen by the more purist costumers, but once I explain about my allergy most seem content with that reasoning. Wool I can only use as top most garments such as cloaks, so I have few woolen items, and I tend to overheat easily and these few items rarely get used anyhow.
So my advice to anyone out there who may read this. If you are a starting out costumer, or someone just sewing for enjoyment, use what you can afford and what you like, if anyone approaches you to criticize your choices, ask them about their early garb. Was it all pure fibres? Was it all perfectly tailored? Or even better still ignore the negativity and ENJOY your costuming! Have fun with it! Not historically accurate? Oh well, does it really need to be? If so, then well you’ll have to go down that wicked windy path of deciding on which expensive fabric to use, and whether or not to machine sew. But if you are just having fun wearing pretty garb, and enjoying yourself. then LET ALL THE FABRICS FREE no matter what their content might be.