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Fabric Friday!

Discussion in 'PUBLIC Workshops - specialty vintage topics' started by denisebrain, Jul 16, 2021.

  1. denisebrain

    denisebrain VFG President Staff Member

    Because experience with fabric really ranges among vintage fashion enthusiasts, I've decided to post about one every week. Welcome to Fabric Friday!

    First let me tell you a little about my own history with fabric:

    One summer, I read the Fairchild’s Dictionary of Textiles cover to cover (don't I know how to have fun?) and chose a collection of fabrics that seemed to come up in vintage clothing descriptions and in my observations. I didn’t, and don’t, consider myself an expert on the subject, but I love learning about fabrics.

    I really have to know fabric better all the time. I sell vintage clothing, and my buyers and I want to know what an item is made from. To know this is to tell someone whether she will be allergic, how to wash or clean the item, predict how it will take dye. It is to know how fine it is, how long it will last, how the color will hold up. It helps make certain the age of the item. It gives a better sense of how it will feel when worn. Buying clothing online is hard enough, and knowing all you can about the item is just smart.

    The year after I read the Fairchild’s I was a board member of the Vintage Fashion Guild, and I proposed the idea of the VFG website having a fabric resource. Everyone thought this was a good idea, so I got started on it. You gotta watch what you promise, because I worked five years putting just the start of the Fabric Resource together! Fabrics are complicated. As one article in an issue of the great American Fabrics magazine begins:

    The history of textiles is the history of the world...politically, socially, economically.​

    So much of human history has been interwoven with fabrics—any one fabric can take you back to ancient civilizations, or even prehistoric times. This makes many of them difficult to quickly summarize. I noted one of the fabrics in the Fairchild’s that was particularly mind-boggling for me, frisé.
    You can see there are divergent histories here, along with terms that may not be familiar (they certainly weren’t all familiar to me). There are comments about usage, origins of the name, related fabrics. Not all fabrics have this much complexity in their definitions, but some have more.

    I’m not trying to scare anyone off. On the contrary, I hope that knowing about fabric is interesting and inspiring to you as much as it is to me. I know there are fabric experts among VFG members (our @claireshaeffer is a leading authority, and Anne @vintagebaubles calls herself the "fabric junkie") and guests. If I get something wrong or am missing an interesting detail, please share what you know! And I love questions!

    Starting with some basics

    Before 1960, clothing rarely had any fabric content and care labeling. The Textile Products Identification Act of 1960 mandated fabric content labeling in garments. This information was usually printed on a hang tag that was removed before wearing the clothing. Our familiar sewn-in care tags were required starting in 1972. This was a huge step in making clothing easier to maintain. Now, we take these tags for granted, but our forebears had to know enough to make good washing and other care decisions themselves.

    The fiber is from what the fabric is made, while the fabric is the finished product. Fibers can be natural: mainly cotton, wool, silk, and linen; or manufactured: mainly rayon, acetate, acrylic, nylon, and polyester.

    The fibers can be woven or knit into fabric. The most common weaves are plain, satin and twill.

    Screen Shot 2021-07-16 at 11.27.24 AM.png

    The anatomy of the basic weaves: plain, satin, and twill, along with knit​

    Except in the case of linen, which is the name used for both a fiber and a fabric, all other fabrics have a two-part name: One part is the fiber or fiber blend, the other is the fabric type. If you see a fabric listed as silk taffeta, you are being told that the fiber is silk, and the fabric type is taffeta. Likewise, a rayon jersey is a jersey knit fabric made of rayon fiber.

    Next week: Some more basics
  2. Vinclothes

    Vinclothes Alumni +

    Thank you, thank you, Maggie.
    I will be so happy if we can even get across the basic concept (except for linen, as you noted) that fabric names have two parts. Satin, tweed or taffeta is just not enough. You spelled out very well why it is important to know more.

    Fabric is made of something. That something is what we call fiber. How that something is put together to make finished fabric is weave. Sounds simple, but it's not. I, too, am a fabric junkie and I learn all the time.

    Linn knows a great deal about fabric, too.

    I hope you can include ideas for how people can learn about fabrics.

  3. Distantdetails

    Distantdetails Administrator Staff Member

    Can't wait to learn more! Thank you, Maggie.
    denisebrain likes this.
  4. Linn

    Linn VFG Board Member Staff Member VFG Past President

    This is great Maggie! I don't consider myself an expert on fabrics. I consider you an expert! My knowledge comes from my many years working in the field of interior design and seven years teaching "Introduction to Interior Design" at the University of Hawaii (and a few years at Chaminade U. at the same time). I taught just the basics about fiber and fabrics....

    The only thing I would add - and you'll probably cover it next week is that many fabrics are made from more than one fiber - like Union Cloth* etc., etc. etc.

    *What is "Union Cloth" - Definition & Explanation. A plain weave fabric made from two or more different fibers. Most often a cotton warp and a linen fill.

    Thank you for this great new feature!
  5. Vintage Runway

    Vintage Runway VFG Board Member

    Great post! I really look forward to learning more from you. Thank you!
    denisebrain likes this.
  6. Rue_de_la_Paix

    Rue_de_la_Paix VFG Member

    Great idea Maggie! One thing I might differ with you on is your saying that linen is the exception to the rule. Linen is a thread, not technically a fiber in itself, as it does not become linen until woven from flax fibers from the flax plant. Flax is the fiber, linen is the fabric made from flax, so this might confuse some people. The linen threads are woven into a range of fabrics such as linen damask, plain weave linen, handkerchief linen, loose weave linen, and linen sheeting. Then there are sub types of these linens such as cambric, toweling, huckabuck, suiting, etc. So I am not seeing how linen is an exception to the rule?

    I know people use the terms linen and flax as the same, (I often do) but maybe there should be a clarification on that? Or not?

    Like some of us here, I am also a life long fiber freak who is obsessed with knowing as much as I can about fabrics. My mom taught me a great deal on fabrics when I was young, and I worked for an upholsterer who upon his retirement gave me his entire library on textile books, fabric magazines, and trade publications as well as his 70 year old stash of vintage fabrics (with ID tags!). He taught me so much that helped me more than anything in my life long collecting of vintage textiles and fashion. :) Thanks, Mr. B.

    Looking forward to the new Forum!
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2021
  7. Midge

    Midge Super Moderator Staff Member

  8. poppysvintageclothing

    poppysvintageclothing VFG Board Member Staff Member VFG Past President

  9. The Vintage Merchant

    The Vintage Merchant Administrator Staff Member

    thank you, Maggie!! you never cease to amaze me!! looking forward to this important new project you've begun!
    denisebrain likes this.
  10. Midge

    Midge Super Moderator Staff Member

  11. Distantdetails

    Distantdetails Administrator Staff Member

    Thank you, Karin, for all you do to keep the shop fresh and adding new products all the time!!!
    bow down wave
    The Vintage Merchant and Midge like this.
  12. poppysvintageclothing

    poppysvintageclothing VFG Board Member Staff Member VFG Past President

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