Textiles for the SCA

Textiles for the SCA
A Primer for the Fiber Novice
  1.   Fibers –
    1.    The Big Three – most commonly used in period
      1.        Wool – animal fiber from a sheep.  Takes dye well and can processed into a huge range of fabrics in a huge range of colors.
      2.       Linen – a baste fiber, made from the stem of a plant.  Processing takes many steps before the fibers can be spun into threads then woven into a wide range of types of cloths.  The cloth can be fine and sheer or a heavy sail canvas.  Linen is very difficult to dye and colors tends to fade
      3.  Silk – Protein fiber produced by silkworms.  Fibers are very fine but very strong.  People in period were silk snobs, period silks were smooth and fine, NOT slubby and coarse like most modern silks.
    2.    Cotton
      1. Can be documented for certain periods BUT generally not for modern uses (i.e. ok for padding but not for socks)
      2. Would have been quite expensive and unusual anyway
      3.   Comes from a sub-tropical plant, another of the baste fibers
    3. Synthetics
      1. Acetate, Acrylic, Nylon, Polyester – To be avoided.  You are basically wearing a plastic bottle in one form or another
      2.   Rayon – a man-man cellulose fiber, commonly blended with linen.  Rayon linen blends will not be as sturdy as 100% linen and will not be as cool, but if it’s cheap and you are not worried about overheating it might be ok in a pinch
  2.   Fabrics
    1.     Wool
      1.     Gabardine – a tightly woven twill made from worsted wool.  Term was used in period to mean “dress”.  These wools are good as a general purpose cloth and come in a wide range of weights, most often suit weight making them a good option for gowns, doublets, and most anything else.  They will not usually shrunk or change surface texture in the wash due to the tightness of the weave.
      2.      Worsted - Archaically also known as stuff, is lightweight and has a coarse texture. The weave is usually twill or plain.  The wool is tightly spun and straightened, making the threads more dense and compact.  These come in a huge range of weights and textures.
      3.     Woolen - subjected to fabric finishing techniques designed to add a directional pile - in that the end consumer can 'stroke' the garment in a single direction (shoulder to cuff etc.), such as a casual jacket. This feels like the fibers are directionally arranged.  Fulled fabrics are a good example of woolens.
      4.  Flannel – very soft fabric that has been brushed on one or both sides to create a nap.  Finding wool flannel is a little tricky nowadays but not impossible.  It’s very good for hats, hoods, and light outwear and was used widely for warm petticoats up until such things went out of general use.
      5.       Tropical – The Holy Grail of wool.  Very lightweight, usually worsted wool that you can wear at Pennsic.  It hardly looks or feels like wool at all.  Sometimes it’s even sheer.  Typically tropical wools are a plain weave.  They breathe well, drape nicely, and make fantastic, long wearing tunics and gowns.
    2.      Cottons
      1.         Batiste – sheer, finely woven cotton.  Sometimes you will see a cotton poly blend.  The 100% cotton is ok for veils in a pinch but it will not drape quite right
      2.    Calico – Basic printed cotton that you see at your local fabric shop.  No period use for this.
      3.     Broad Cloth – basic dense weave cotton.  Usually it’s going to a blend so be careful which bolt you pick up and read the labels.  Ok for linings and such if it’s not polyester.
      4.     Denim – What your jeans are made out of!  A heavy, twill weave cotton.  Twill is period so you could easily a denim for something that needs to be nice and sturdy, just be careful it does not end up looking like jeans
      5.      Twill – this is really descriptive of the weave, not the fabric.  Be careful what it’s made out of.  Cottons will be better than polyester or a blend
      6.     Duck – a plain weave, heavy cotton canvas.  Great for bags, tents, and other things that need to be sturdy and somewhat water repellent.
    3.      Linen
      1.      A general note – linen comes in a lot of weights and colors.  To create an authentic look for yourself, try to stay away from very dark or very electric colors.  Layer different weights in your outfit, and try to avoid using really lightweight linens for outer layers (unless doing Roman)
      2.       Handkerchief – fine linen, usually slightly sheer.  Sometimes this will be listed as 3.5 oz.  Great for underthings and veils and fine embroidery.  Make sure you look for linen with strong fibers and fairly even threads (not too many slubs)
    4.      Silks
      1.   Dupioni - silk fabric that has natural slubs along the weave. These slubs are part of the characteristic of the silk fibers from cocoons of where two silk worms have spun one cocoon together. Too slubby for period clothing, try to find a shantung instead.
      2.   Noil/Raw Silk - Silk noil is a silk fabric that is woven from the scraps from the silk weaving process.  It is a very course fabric and would be considered extremely inferior in the Medieval era and does not resemble any period fabric I have seen.
      3.   Tafetta – a very tightly woven, crisp fabric, often shot, that is woven with one color threads for the warp and contrasting color threads for the weft giving the fabric an iridescent quality.  This was often used in period (especially later period) and can be found in the drapery departments of better fabric stores.
      4.     Shantung - It has bumps in it called slubs. These imperfections are part of the fabric and are not flaws. Dupioni is a shantung fabric, but not all shantungs are dupioni, get it?  Shantung is a bit smoother than dupioni but still a bit too course to be a spot on authentic period fabric. It is a good fabric to use none the less as it is generally easier to find than taffeta and less expensive.
      5.       Haboti – Also called china silk.  This is very finely woven silk. It comes in a variety of weights. It does not have any planned imperfections like slubs. It is a great veil fabric. It comes in different weighs measured in mm, that is mummy not millimeters. The higher the mm number the heavier the fabric. 8 mm you can see through, but is not transparent. Thumbs up for china silk.  Don't use it as the fashion layer though, it is just not sturdy enough, linings are good and veils too
  3.  Weave Structures

    1.       Plain Weave – the basic over-under structure
    2.   Twill – weft passes over and under several threads to create a diagonal pattern, in the example below (a 2 by 2 twill) the west passes under two warps then over two warps
    3.   Herringbone – a variation on the twill pattern that creates a herringbone pattern.  This was very commonly used in early period.
  4.  Where to Shop
    1.  http://www.fabric.com/
    2.  http://www.graylinelinen.com/
    3.  http://www.fashionfabricsclub.com
    4.  http://www.renaissancefabrics.net/
    5. http://www.burnleyandtrowbridge.com/

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