Friday, August 25, 2017

Sourcing 101: "Where did you get that fabric?"

EDITED AUGUST 2017
I decided to go back and update this post with new sources, both because it's in dire need and because the August 25 prompt for Costume Blog Writing Month (aka CoBloWriMo) is "Favorite Resource."  Well, clearly my favorite resource is the internet, and it brings me many things including documentation, inspiration, and supplies!

When it comes to buying fabric, there are two schools of thought. One is that you must see the wares in person before buying. This is great if you have brick-and-mortar locations at which to shop, or are willing to travel. Me? I'm an introvert. If I had it my way, I'd never leave the house again and all my meals, fabric, and other needs would be delivered to me by a sprite who would leave things outside the door and knock, and then leave so I didn't have to talk to him/her/it when I picked up my delivery. That's why I do the bulk of my fabric shopping online. My packages are delivered by the UPS man, not a sprite, but he does knock and then leave so I'll allow it. (He also doesn't bring me my meals, but that's another issue altogether.)

Ordering online doesn't always work out perfectly. Sometimes you don't get what you wanted, but I'm fortunate enough to be able to afford to make mistakes like that. Frankly, I know enough people who sew that I can usually unload any unfortunate buys pretty quickly, whether it means listing things on etsy or randomly shoving 8 yards of wool at my unsuspecting friends. Because ordering fabric sight unseen is something of a craps shoot, your mileage may vary. My creative process involves me buying yardage and then assigning it to a project after I have the goods in hand. It's a bit harder if you pick a project and then have to hunt for The Perfect Fabric, but that's not to say it can't be done.

Anyway, the point is that when people ask me, "where did you get that fabric," probably 75% of the time the answer is "online." Which is not helpful for people who want to find something similar. So here's a list of my favorite online vendors, with notes on what I have ordered and liked from them.

Burnley and Trowbridge
    Caters to the "historically discriminating" consumer (museums, reenactors, etc.) Rotating fabric selection, so again, if you find something you want, snap it up. I also have friends that swear by their shoes, and they carry various other reenacting and sewing essentials if you're so inclined.

Wm. Booth, Draper
    By reenactors, for reenactors. He carries the NYC police uniform wool so coveted for great menswear and uniforms, and a rotating stock of other types and colors of wools, silks, hemps, linens, and cottons. For me, as a woman/civilian, the selection is somewhat hit or miss. Last season, they didn't have anything that caught my eye. This season, I want 8 yards of everything. Go figure! They also carry notions, tools, and patterns that are worth a look.

Exclusive Silks
    When I think "silk taffeta," this is the ideal I have in mind. The lengths I've ordered have all been a great midweight taffeta, with a good, crisp hand but not stiff. I've found the colors on their website tend to run a bit lighter than the actual fabric, but I've always been happy with the quality of the taffeta, if not the color. I also get all my cotton organdy here. Their "hard finish" is SUPER stiff--like, screen door stand-up-on-its-own stiff. I like the soft finish for caps, though; crisp enough to avoid droopiness, but not so rigid that it has a personality of its own.
Silk Baron
    Good source for various types of silk, from taffeta to matka or noil, in lots of colors.Does offer swatches.
Farmhouse Fabrics
    I shop here when I have some extra pennies saved up. Heirloom quality fabrics...but with prices to match. I've gotten gorgeous swiss muslin here on sale, though, for about half the normal retail price, and they do fractional yardages, too, if you're doing a small project. Their cotton velveteen is beautiful, and this is also where I got the soutache braid for Mike's smoking cap and the trim on my asymmetrical wool 1860s dress. In short, they carry somewhat-obscure high-quality fabrics and supplies, but be ready to pay.
Fabrics-store.com
    99% of my linen purchases come from this site. They do free swatching, have several different weights, and tons of colors. All of my 18th and early 18th century underthings are made from 3.5oz softened white Fabrics-store linen, and all my linen 18th century petticoats are made of the 5.3oz in various colors. Relatively inexpensive as linens go, and with the free swatching you can't go wrong.

Fabric Guru
    This place sells ends of rolls and odd lots of decorator fabrics. Most of their stuff is just that--home decor. However, they do have a section for silks, and I was lucky enough to find the printed silk for my "Fancy" dress here. Also, all the curtains in my house are made from various fun prints I found at Fabric Guru. Low shipping, good prices, and you never know what you're going to find.

Dharma Trading
Thank you, Maggie, for the reminder/recommendation!
    Lots of natural fiber fabrics of various types and weights--specifically, Maggie and I have used their 56" combed cotton lawn with great success. It's a lovely fine semi-sheer with a soft hand and beautiful drape.  I've also used their Pimatex for 1860s undergarments, since Southern Belle cotton has been rarer than hen's teeth lately.  They also sell a variety of dyes, if you're in the mood for something other than white.
Shobha Imports
    The best price I've found on 100% cotton net, great for ballgown tuckers, bonnet bavolets, etc. I bought 10 yards of the stuff and am still working my way through it.

Fashion Fabrics Club
    Oh, FFC. I have a love/hate relationship with this place. On the one hand, their customer service is seriously sketchy. On the other, they do sometimes carry random obscure great finds. Like the figured silk taffeta with metallic pattern. Or tropical wool in colors other than "boring." Or wool gauze. Order if you can't find something comparable anywhere else and cross your fingers. Overall my luck has been good.

Fabric.com
    This is the flipside from FFC. Great customer service. Sometimes their stuff ain't so great. On the other hand, their prices are pretty good, and they do swatches so you're less likely to get burned. Of course, the one time I got something I didn't like, I didn't bother to order a swatch because the sale I wanted to take advantage of was ending soon. But, if you do end up with a dud, again, great customer service, so you can return.

Heritage Trading
    Beautiful block printed and ikat cottons. Some of their shawls have potential, too. If you see something you like, buy it now because it may disappear, and in the *cough* number of years I've been watching their store, I haven't often seen repeats of merchandise. Once they've sold out of something, it's gone.

    Williamsburg has their very own line of reproduction fabric prints for the 18th or early 19th century, which you can buy directly from their site at the link above.


    Mostly they are known for their patterns, but they do also carry specialty fabrics that have been highly vetted and hand picked to be correct for the 18th century.

Renaissance Fabrics

    Beautiful fabrics, ribbons, and trims.  They'll send you swatches if you ask nicely!

Fabric Mart Fabrics

    Revolving stock of silks, wools, cottons, and linens.  Not filtered through a historical lens, so be careful with prints and patterns.  But, they run frequent and very good sales, so it's worth keeping an eye on their site!

18 comments:

  1. I would add Dharma Trading to the list. I've used their Combed Cotton Lawn 56" for my chemises. It's really soft and fine and perfect for when you want undergarments that won't be too thick or hot under your gowns. They have lots of other natural fiber fabrics and are great to deal with.
    http://www.dharmatrading.com/html/eng/2935094-AA.shtml

    I'll also add that the cotton voile from Exclusive Silks worked perfectly for my Chemise Gown.

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  2. I *knew* I was forgetting some! Thanks, Maggie; I added Dharma, and I totally agree about the lawn. I made my very first 1790s roundgown out of it, and that dress has since been used to make clothes for Erinn's baby girl because the fabric is so lovely and soft, it seemed a shame to waste it on a dress I can't fit into anymore. :)

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  3. Excellent list! Thank you for the reminder about the organdy from Exclusive Silks! I was just about to order some and I couldn't remember which was the "screen door" stuff!

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  4. I think I'm going to sign up for that sprite delivery service if you ever find it...

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  5. Thank you! Several on those stores are new to me. :)

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  6. Excellent list! Thanks for putting it together. I'll definitely be trying some of your recs!

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  7. Thank you very much for sharing! It's always good to know a lot of sources. Do you know Dutch Quilts already? http://www.dutchquilts.net/EN_index_.html
    It's a lovely shop in msterdam, but they also have a webshop.

    Sabine

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  8. Oh! That Dutch Quilts site is lovely! I'm very tempted by some of those chintzes...

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  9. Wow. Great post. Trying to find a great cotton twill to make caps. Thx Ian

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  10. Baseball caps. I'm finding not all twills are the same. I'm also trying to figure out the best ways tomsoften twill and learn why some twills are softer than others, as far as cotton goes. Is it quality of the twill, procedures for softening, combos of both?
    -Ian

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    1. A lot depends on manufacturer. Some of them weave lovely thick twills, some of them have stuff that's so thin it barely counts. Some of them put stiffening agents or sizing in their fabrics, some leave them au naturale for a softer finish. That's one of the more frustrating things about drygoods; sometimes it's hard to find a consistent product. I found some beautiful cotton sateen at my local fabric store last year, but now they don't carry it anymore and I was forced to pay the same amount at JoAnn Fabrics for an inferior product.

      With twills, I've often had good luck with fabrics called "drill," or "bull drill" or "bull denim." Brushed twills are also nice, with a more velvety texture--those are often sold as bottomweight garment fabric.

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  11. Excuse the typos. Ipad typing here.
    -Ian

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  12. Wow. This is good info. I had no idea this stuff could be so complex. Thanks!

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  13. I wish the fabric industry wasn't so opaque. This is going to take a lot of work to find the perfect fabric. The adventure begins...

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  14. Wow - cool news and maybe a tip for your readers. I researched fabric warehouses in the US and came across Fabric Depot in Portland. I emailed them and they offered to send me free samples of all their cotton twill. Kind of blew me away.
    Thx
    Ian

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  15. Thanks, Katie!!! Most of the these places I had no idea existed. I am not an introvert (I thought I was for many years, but realized that I'm just shy, which is easily gotten over...) but I don't always have the ability to go where I want to, and online is SO FANTASTIC when it comes to fabric. Liking all the posts! Thanks for posting. Your sense of humor tickles mine, and I like when people are interested in details and practical things. :D Of course, I suppose my affection for historical dress isn't necessarily practical...so I should say the practical side of ornamental is absorbing.

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