Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Choosing Fabrics

The wrong fabric can really ruin a design in any size.  Even more so in 1/3 or less doll sizes.

Life is a learning process, and I've been learning that while I grew up with this, a lot of people don't know that much about the actual fabric that goes into fashion and clothing.

What doesn't work well:

Polyester fabric that feels like plastic.  The dreaded Bridal Satin; it's stiff, it hangs stiff and while it's shiny and inexpensive, you'd be better off with a polished cotton or a shiny knit than with Bridal Satin.  It also has a smell to it that does not go away for some reason.  And ironing it while sewing only makes it worse, as it gets more plastic and more stiff.  And I do iron when I sew, it's the only way to get a professional job.

Basically anything that says "Silky" is not silk. It's usually acetate or polyester.  Acetate is bad, because it frays like hell, rots in a few years, and if you so much as sneeze on it, it gets water stains.  Now there is a trick to getting rid of water stains: rinse the whole garment in water and let it dry.  But then it will 'stain' again, the next time someone drips on it.  As a lining fabric, it's no good because the seams fray no matter what you do to them.  If you've had a coat or jacket with the seams falling apart on the lining or a blown out pocket, that's acetate in action.

Anything thicker than summer weight suiting.  I've made this mistake myself with the dark green military coat for the 72 cm guy. While it works for a trench type over coat on a large doll, it would look and drape on the doll much much better in a lighter weight.

If you want a good rule of thumb, test sample, buy a swatch of Kona Cotton Broadcloth.  This is a high end, pricey (11$ a yard is CHEAP for Kona) cotton, densely woven.  Keep a five by five inch sample in your purse or wallet and when you're shopping for doll fabric, use that as a thickness comparison.  Anything slightly thicker will be okay, but thicker than that folded in half (2 layers) isn't going to work at all.

T-shirt fabric for socks.  100% cotton is a lovely thing, but unless it has at least 5% lycra in it, the socks will NOT stay up.  And if you make them tight to keep them up at first, they will simply stretch and lose body.

What does work:

Cotton: broad cloth, quilting cottons, voile, challis, cotton sateen, and the lighter weight twills, anything thin enough that would make a blouse (it's usually labeled 'blouse weight' online).

Cotton with less than 9% lycra in the same weights as above.  Cotton/lycra double knit fabric is PERFECT for socks and stockings.

Linen or Linen blend.  You want at least 50% linen if it's with wool, polyester or Rayon, and 25% with cotton.  Stick to the thin rule.

Wool and wool blend: Summer weight suiting.  And there are thin wool and wool blend shirting fabrics also.

Suede cloth, the thinner variety   Even 100% Polyester, they work like a good thick cotton.  And tailor beautifully.

Silk.  Most silks, depending on what your doll's outfit is, is good. Avoid the thick brocades because they'll fray like crazy and hang stiffly.  Use the Kona cotton swatch test for thinness.

Chiffon: Poly, or cotton or blended, even silk, it's about as thin as it gets.  You want tightly woven stuff, and it's only good for things like over skirts and over layers, you'll still need a matching color thin cotton or lining fabric under it.  Chiffon can rot, catch in dolls fingers and tear on things.  Netting, which seems to be all over dolls these days, is just as bad.  And a dust catcher if you have allergies! You want to at least rinse and hang dry your doll's net dresses and things often.

Micro-fibers.  This can be good or bad.  If it feels like your cotton swatch, and is tightly woven it's fine.  If it feels like plastic, forget it.  Micro-fiber is a tricky thing, some are crap, some are better than washed silk (sueded silk).  It can also look beautiful and be a major pain to hand sew, which interferes with getting a good finish on small details.  I'm working on a micro-fiber lining for a guy doll's over coat as this post is being 'composed' and it's like sewing through metal. Gorgeous stuff though.

Knit Fabric

Cotton lycra blend is not a knit just because it's a 'stretch fabric'.  Nor is 'crinkle cloth'.  A real stretch knit is something that is made like a sock.  There will be loops in the fabric  not straight lines like woven fabric.  It's that simple.

Knit fabrics can stretch one way or both ways, the later being the most stretchy.  One way knits are good for making doll pants, two way for doll t-shirts and slinky dresses.  Most knits now are 'locked' so that you can cut them and they won't unravel.  But just to be safe, look for the word "interlock", and don't take chances.

A nice one way stretch is neat for BJD pants, because no matter how off the sizing is, a pair will most of the time go on your doll if it's generic sized.  Keep that in mind when you shop ready to wear.  Email and ask if it's stretch fabric.

Rayon and Bamboo knits are soft and drapy, and not good for pants, more for tights.  (Warning: you'll fall in love with this stuff, it's usually softer and warmer to the touch than silk!)


You can substitute cotton shirting for tiny dolls, or a denim look print cotton quilting fabric for denim.  Only the bigger dolls can take anything thicker than chambray, the 'shirt denim'.  So look around for 'chambray' and then if it's too thin, compare the lighter weight denims to your cotton swatch.  Remember belt loops on tiny pants can be quite thick and annoying even if it's a thin fabric.  (This happens with suede cloth, too)  You can get a lot of jean fashion detail into a good chambray.

Fake Fur (Faux Fur), Velvet, Cotton Velvet and Pleather

Fake fur can be stiff and nasty, or nice and flexible.  Chose it for thin 'pile' and flexibility.  Most companies online will send you a sample swatch for a dollar USD.  I'm glad I checked, because the sample wasn't what the online pictures were giving the impression of being.  Nice stuff, but not what the picture made me think and hope it was, so always get a sample.

If you work a piece of fake fur around in your hands, you'll know what it's like.  If its any stiffer than the denim in a pair of well worn jeans, it won't work that great.  Trim maybe, but not for a fur coat or lining a hood and things like that.  This applies to all the above, except Pleather.

I can sew the thinner fake leathers, PVC and vinyl now. ^_^V  MJTrends is my supplier, if they have it, I can get it.  Their shipping is usually 15$ and up, though.  

Testing fabric for how it will look on a doll:

You know how small your doll is.  If you don't want to take it with you to the fabric store, use your hand as a basis.  Drape the fabric over your hand, play with it and make a few folds in it like a pleated skirt would look.  All of us have spent a lot of time looking at dolls online.  I think most BJD enthusiasts would be able to get a good idea of what looks good if they fold and pleat the fabric and look it over compared to what size doll they have.

Watch out for: 

Prints and stripes that are too huge for your doll.  You'll know them when you see them.  If it looks big on your hand, it's huge on your doll.


Fabric bolt ends with no labels.  Most fabric is not less than 45 inches wide and can go up to 60 or 106 inches wide.  Plus people move bolts around and a bolt can be on the wrong table. Without a label on the bolt, the clerk can cut your fabric and you'll never know the price if they don't tell you.  They know what fabric it is, ask them before you tell them how much you want!

Ask the price per yard, and content of the fabric before you tell them how much you want and they can't just arbitrarily cut it then tell you you have to buy it.  Some stores still refuse to put it back and MAKE YOU PAY.  I had this happen once and it wasn't pretty, they pretty much shamed me into buying something that was wrapped on the wrong bolt with the wrong price, and perhaps I should have called the police.

Clerks who don't know what they are doing.  Sure they just work there, and some fabric stores deliberately hire non-sewers.  They don't want people working there who know how to sew for some silly reason.  If the clerk can't answer your questions, ask for someone who can.

You want a fabric, it's perfect, you love it and you really want it.  There is only x amount of a yard left and you want 1/3.  The clerk refuses to cut it and insists you buy the whole 34 inches, (2 short of a yard) because it's company policy.  Demand a discount if you don't want to go without or pay more.  Remnants are always discounted, just because it's on the bolt still just means someone hasn't folded it up and put it in the remnants where you'd get it for 1 to 3$ for heaven's sake.

Buying Fabric Online

Only do business with a store that has a return guarantee   After all, you don't know what you're getting until it actually comes in the mail.  If someone on the other end cut the wrong color, the wrong piece, the wrong amount, you want to be able to return it or get a refund.

Read the descriptions carefully and only buy prints and stripes if the swatch image has a little ruler or a button or coin by it, so you can see for yourself how bit the print is or how wide the stripes are.

For Commission Customers:

Any fabric you send me to work with will be washed.  This not only removes excess dye, and manufacturing chemicals and dust and dirt from sitting in a store and being handled by people as well as dropped on the floors, etc,  but pre-shrinks the fabric (even silk and wool) so that you can wash the garment without it shrinking any further.  Be aware that silk is processed by boiling it in water.  And sheep stand out in the rain all the time.  Most fabric will shrink by a few inches so I allow for enough when I give measurements to cover that.

If you have ANY questions, email me.  ^_^  Send me a photo of the fabric in question and the bolt end label if you can get it to photo clear or write it in the email.  I answer with in 24 hours most days.

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