Before the 1930's any discussion
of fabrics was a great deal simpler than today. Fabric was manufactured from
totally natural fibers, and although variations in the weaving and knitting
process produced a great number of different fabrics, all fabrics had certain
properties that are associated with natural fibers. Wool was warm, yet it
'breathes' and was excellent for winter work clothes. Cotton was cool, usually
soft and required a lot of ironing. Linen was very durable, had a natural
luster, and required even more ironing. Silk was both warm and soft, draped
superbly- and had to be laundered with care.
During the past fifty years this situation has changed radically. There are now
dozens of synthetic fabrics, occurring in a marvelous array of mixtures and
blends, under a sea of names, some generic and some trademark. Each of the new
synthetic fabrics has a life of its own, and each reacts differently to heat,
water, dyes and sunlight. Each has a different HAND (the technical term for the
way a fabric feels) and each drapes in its own way. Today there are so many
fibers and fabrics each possessing its own qualities that garments must, by law,
carry a set of instructions for its care.
The new fabrics have had a tremendous effect on the garment industry and many
types of clothing are now readily available that a few years ago were not
possible to produce. For example skin-tight, knit pants, leotards, and swimwear,
as well as wool-like sweaters that can be machine washed.
Costume shops deal with the production of period garments a great deal of the
time. For strict historical accuracy, garments should be made from the same type
of fabric that was worn during a historical era. This means ideally that most
costumes should be manufactured from the four natural fibers. Unfortunately this
is often cost and time prohibitive. Synthetics are usually less costly to
produce and maintain and much easier to obtain. Because of this fact the costume
technician is always faced with the dilemma of trying to create a 'period' look
from modern fabrics. It is helpful for the costume technician, as well as the
home sewer to know at least the basics about how fabrics are produced, since
this gives us the key to how to use them effectively and maintain them after a
garment has been constructed.
FIBERS and FILAMENTS are the basis for all fabrics, natural and
synthetic. Fibers are made from cotton and flax plants, and the wool
from sheep, goats, and other other animals. These fibers range from one
to ten inches in length and must be twisted together to form yarns from
which the fabric can be produced. This twisting process is called
SPINNING. Silk and the synthetics are filaments. Long, continuous yarns
that need not be spun before fabric manufacture||
|WEAVING is the most common method of fabric
production. It is merely an interlacing of yarns accomplished on a loom.
Commercial and many home looms are intricate machines, but they all
operate on a fairly simple principle. Basically one set of yarns is held
taut on the loom running lengthwise of the fabric to be produced. These
lengthwise yarns are called WARP yarns. Another set of yarns is
interlaced at right angles to the warp yarns with a shuttle, these
crosswise yarns are called WEFT or WOOF Because the warp yarns must be
held tightly in place during the weaving process they are the strongest
of the two sets of yarns. For this reason the lengthwise grain of the
fabric is stronger, will wear better and drape differently than the
crosswise or weft threads. Garments are almost always placed with the
warp yarns running vertically down the garment.
The width of any piece of fabric is determined by the width of the loom
on which it is woven. Silks are generally woven at 36", cottons and
most synthetics at 45" and wools, knits, drapery and upholstery
fabrics at 54"-60". This is a generality, so it is always
advisable to measure the fabric before cutting.
|GRAIN on a piece of woven fabric refers to
how the yarns are running. The lengthwise grain follows the warp
threads. This lengthwise grain is much less likely to stretch or shrink.
The cross wise grain or weft threads will always shrink and stretch
more. It is for this reason, clothing generally runs on the lengthwise
grain. The diagonal direction of a piece of fabric is referred to as the
TRUE BIAS. The bias will have the most stretch and drape. Patterns for
garments are placed on the fabric in specific directions to achieve the
proper look of a garment by taking advantage of the different grains and
their characteristic properties.
||THREAD COUNT of a fabric refers to the
number of warp and weft threads per square inch. The higher the thread
count, the better quality of the fabric. The fabric won't shrink as
much, will wear much longer and does not ravel as easily. All these
things should be taken into consideration when planning the fabric for a
particular costume or garment.
There are a multitude of weaves
and patterns that can be done on a loom to create different weights, textures,
and designs in fabric. We will discuss four of the most common ones in use in
||PLAIN WEAVE is merely the process of
interlacing the warp and weft threads in an alternating pattern. This
weave gives the maximum number of interlacings, producing the strongest
fabrics at the cheapest cost. There is a minimum of surface texture
produced with a plain weave and so often printed designs are added after
the fabric is woven. If the plain weave fabric has no added design, it
has no right and wrong side, making either side usable. Plain weaves may
also be woven in stripes or checks. Plain weave fabrics can be any
weight and may incorporate the use of natural or synthetic fibers.
is a variation of the plain weave in which two or more of the weft yarns
are interlaced with a corresponding number of warp yarns. The resulting
fabric is loose and drapes well, but will not wear as well as the plain
||TWILL WEAVE uses the weft thread to 'float'
over more than one of the warp yarns but seldom more than four. On each
successive line of the weave, the design is moved one step to the right
or the left producing diagonal wales which may vary in prominence and
direction. Twill weaves produce very strong fabrics, but they tend to
lose color in the natural fibers and to 'shine' when pressed when they
are made of synthetics. All twill fabrics have a definite right and
wrong side and so care must be used in cutting and construction.
||SATIN WEAVE is created when either the warp
or weft yarns are passed over several yarns and then beneath a single
yarn. These long stretches of yarn are called 'floats'. The satin weave
produces fabric with a high sheen because the surface of the fabric is
not broken up by a series of interlacings. They are rich in color and
luster for the this reason. Satin weaves tend to wear badly since the
floating yarns are much more susceptible to breakage and tears. All
satin weaves have a right and wrong side.
have loops or tufts standing up from the base cloth. These loops are
formed from an additional set of warp or weft yarns which are raised by
short wires in the weaving process. The pile may be cut or left uncut, and
all pile fabrics have an up and down direction known as NAP.||
FELT is a
fabric, commonly used in costume shops that is neither woven or knitted.
The preparation of felt depends upon a unique property of wool called
felting. Wool fibers because they are so kinky and springy mat together in
the presence of heat, moisture, and pressure applied together. Felt cannot
be washed as the fibers will unbound, but it has no grain line as does
woven fabric and therefore will not ravel and can be cut in any direction.
are created in a number of ways, but most of them share the same
characteristics. They have a great deal of give and return back to the
original configuration of the fabric. Most knits are machine washable and
require no ironing.