Monday, August 10, 2009

Fabric's the key

So much of good design has to do with fabric choice. The right fabric can make or break a garment. This is especially true in my line of work as a costume designer. Dance costumes have to move a certain way depending on the style or type of dance being performed. Some fabric choices help me portray a particular time period or character trait. Some fabrics are chosen because of their durability because some costumes have to hold up to a tremendous amount of wear for long periods of time. The following is a brief tutorial in fabric.

First, the natural fabrics: Cotton, wool, silk, linen, hemp, ramie and jute are all common natural fabrics. Cotton, wool and silk are probably the most common and are used in a huge variety of weaves. People often confuse the weave of a fabric for its fibers. For example, satin is not a type of fabric, but rather a type of weave. Sateen is cotton fabric with a satin weave, but satin can be made with cotton, silk, and a variety of synthetic, or...

Man-made/manufactured fabrics: (Did you like that segue?) Acetate, acrylic, lycra, nylon, polyester, spandex and rayon are all common man-made fabrics. They are all also commonly blended with the aforementioned natural fabrics. Cotton is blended with polyester to create a more durable fabric that wrinkles less (permanent press). Unfortunately, the cotton/poly blend is not nearly as soft and comfortable, hence the recent popularity of 100% cotton garments. Also, cotton/poly blends do not take dye nearly as well as 100% cotton. Spandex seems to be blended with all sorts of other fabrics these days- including cotton. Have you noticed how your jeans are so much more comfortable in the last few years? Check the tag- there's probably a small percentage of spandex or lycra blended with the denim.

But I digress... Obviously man-made fabrics are often much more affordable than natural, hence their popularity. Rayon and polyester both come in various weights and weaves and can closely resemble natural fabrics. Rayon is a common material used to make less-expensive velvet, normally a silk fabric. One of the drawbacks of synthetic fabrics is that they do not take dye very well. This has to do with the manufacturing process, but it's important to keep in mind. When purchasing cotton, you can dye it to suit your garment, but when purchasing a man-made fabric, what you see is often what you get.

I could go on for pages and pages about all the different types of natural and synthetic fabrics and their many variations, but I'll leave you for now- it can be overwhelming, but this little tutorial should be enough to get you started in your fabric education.

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