Log in

Log in

Article Index


If you're trying for a historical look, research very specifically the colors, fibers, patterns, and weights of the fabrics that were in use then.

A heavy synthetic upholstery fabric cannot reproduce the look of a fine silk brocade. While it's possible that 16th-century English folk could have had access to bright teal silk, would they have worn it? And paisley was only fashionable in certain times and places and on certain types of garments.

The wrong fabric choice impacts the look, of course, but more than that, it can make a costume bulky and uncomfortable.

Movement and drape are also an issue. For example, an Elizabethan gown needs a fabric with body rather than something limp and 'drapey', but an 1810 evening gown must be gossamer and fluid.

Melanie Schuessler




antique embroidery scissorsMelanie raises two issues here. Clearly, if you’re going for historical accuracy you can’t just use any old fabric. It takes time and research to get it right (but never fear, you can guarantee that someone, somewhere, has already done that research for you.) Even if no-one who sees your costume knows the exact ins and outs of 1790s cotton prints, the right one will just look right, feel right, and give you extra confidence when wearing your gown – which gives you the “wow” factor you need.

But even if you couldn’t care less about historical accuracy, you still need to consider what makes an appropriate fabric. The book or pattern envelope you’re using will give you some ideas, but further than that, consider how the costume moves. Does it need to be voluminous like Queen Victoria’s skirts, or does it need to be fluid, aqueous, like the gown of a Grecian goddess or 1930’s screen siren? Look for fabric in a bricks and mortar store, where you can get your grubby paws on it and play with it, wrap it around you, hold it, drape it, get to know it. Does it feel right for this project? Later on, when you’re familiar with fabric names and the qualities of each type of fibre, you’ll be ready to play the lottery of buying online.


Thanks for witing this guide! I started sewing about a month ago and my work started looking a lot better after I read this article and started taking my time with each little detail and planning ahead.

Carelessness and rush are the surest way to ruin a project!

I would not put foil over my wooden pressing tools. They are made of soft woods that I can pin to (I use thin silk pins and replace them regularly like my machine needles). Do not use woods with too much resin in them or they will mark and cause odors, which may not be obvious immediately but perhaps when exposed to sun. The foil will make condensation on the fabric which can be undesirable on expensive sensitive fabrics. Wood is suppose to absorb water without problem. When in doubt, use test scrap fabric. I use my pressing tools bare with pristine white silks without problem. I will agree that great fit and construction is greatly marred by poor pressing (which newbies may refer erroneously to ironing). I'm all for sharing and encouraging someone's evolution in costuming. My two cents.tongue
mistakes (and being human)
My advice with forty years of mistakes under my belt is to pick out the mistake and then walk away from the pieces. Only then could I ruminate about a solution (and sometimes there isn't one - that is an answer too - back to drawing table and reexamining the goal). If I left a mistake I found it was almost impossible to come back with a fresh mind, the situation only dredged up the bad time previous. Think of it this way, you are already annoyed, so pick it apart, then go have a cup of tea and come back mind and body relaxed. Go ahead and try it both ways, and see what fits you. But just don't stop creating.

1000 Characters left

Go to top