January 25, 2016 by New Capel Street: Fabric Division
…a very good place to start!
Less fabric pun, more musical quote. And now that I’ve earwormed myself with songs from The Sound Of Feckin’ Music, let’s actually crack on. LARP season is coming (has already started if you play LT and do one-nighters) and that means we need things to wear in the field.
We discussed last year what we’d be starting with – a tunic, shirt and jacket/outer layer. And sure we might as well do it in that order – tunics are the perfect blank canvas to try different types of seams, trims, necklines, and if you get them a little too short or too long it doesn’t matter too much. Today, we’re just going to cover preparation. Next time, we’ll go over cutting your pattern and fabric.
First thing to do is pick your fabric. You’ll probably need in and around two metres – this gives enough room to make something with a relatively generous cut. The majority of the fabric I’ve made kit with came from the bargain bins in Hickey’s on Henry Street, and WM Trimmings on Capel Street. The remnants found there are sold packaged with a label showing the length and width of the fabric. For a tunic, you’ll want something with a little bit of drape (floppiness). Not stretchy or knit (think t-shirt fabric or anything similar) and not so stiff that when you pick up the folded piece, it doesn’t bend under its own weight. If you’re new to sewing, it’s good to pick a woven fabric where the grain can clearly be seen. What’s the grain? Well, most woven fabrics are made of a grid of threads locked in together. Get your average cheap tea-towel and pull it straight and you’ll see a good example. Anything labelled as being a dress fabric is probably good, as long as it’s not too thin. Upholstery fabrics can also be great, but they’re better for things like coats or structured garments where their stiffness is an advantage.
You’ll also likely see rolls of polycotton lawn. It’s probably the cheapest fabric you can get, and is great for lightweight things because it is thin and cheap. However, it’s not so great for tunics or coats, because it is thin and cheap. You can paint it easily for banners, it’s good for linings and practice pieces (aka toiles or muslins).
Why does this ‘grain’ thing matter? Because being able to identify the grain makes it easier to cut something that hangs properly. I’ll show you what I mean when we get to cutting out.
So, let’s assume you’ve found a piece you like, and it looks like it’s long enough, and feels nice against your hand. (Or feels okay against your hand, but you’ll have a layer under it so it doesn’t matter too much – I’m not the boss of you!) Now, if you’re into that sort of thing you can ask the staff for the washing instructions. Or, if you’re lazy like me and can’t be fucked drycleaning or hand-washing most things, you can lob the lot into the washing machine when you get home.
You’ll need to pre-wash your fabric anyway, whether by hand or machine, to make sure that if it’ll shrink it shrinks before you make that lovely well-fitting tunic. Easiest thing to do is just take the fabric out of the packaging or take the tape off, and chuck it in with a load of towels (just in case the dye runs and stains happen). Then air dry it and give it a good iron to get the wrinkles out.
Don’t forget when buying your fabric, you will also need thread. I like to either hold the fabric up beside the thread display until I find a perfect match, or use a light to medium grey. It blends well with most colours. Use a good quality thread – Gutermanns is one of the best. Cheap thread will snag in machine needles, and crud up your sewing machine.
Speaking of the sewing machine, assuming you use one. MAKE SURE YOU HAVE THE RIGHT NEEDLES. There are different types of needles to use with different types of fabric. Denim and leather are pretty self explanatory. Shirting is light-t0-medium fabric, gabardine would be medium-to-heavy, and ballpoint needles are for stretch fabrics and knits. If in doubt, ask the shop staff.
You’ll also need: Pins (straight sewing pins), a fabric scissors or a rotary cutter and cutting mat. Measuring tape is pretty damn useful too, and a small thread snipping scissors. Iron and ironing board, and a cup of tea.
Next month’s Academy of Kit-making post will cover how to make and cut your tunic pattern, and how to start putting the tunic together. Any questions, just leave ’em below!