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‘Fabric Snobbery’ Category

  1. A Burning Desire: conducting a flame test on fabrics

    January 2, 2014 by rosie

    After a ridiculous hiatus (involving moving house and all the associated trauma), I’ve finally set up the sewing room. It was the last room in the house to be sorted. This is mainly because we’ve downsized and now my fabric stash and associated sewing paraphernalia is more overwhelming than ever before, and finding a way to make it all fit proved challenging.

    Moving house did remind me just how much sewing stuff I have – whether it be fabric or patterns. It makes me feel a little guilty – I really should stop buying both, as I already have years’ worth to keep me going, and so much of it has been left untouched for so long.

    I’ve promised my husband that I’ll try really hard to reduce my fabric stash this year. And I’ve promised myself that this year, there will be more sewing action than in 2013.

    One of the first things I did once we’d settled into our new house was something I’ve been hankering to do for a while, but wasn’t exactly sure how to go about it. I did a burn test on various pieces of “mystery” fabrics.  It was like those science experiments we did back in high school – I felt I should have donned a lab coat and plastic goggles, and written out my ‘hypothesis’, ‘method’ and ‘conclusion’ in my notebooks.

    Instead, I convinced my husband to help me out, and we set fire to various strips of  ‘unsub’ fabric – mainly pieces I had thrifted or inherited over the years –  on a baking tray over the kitchen table to see if we could determine the fibre content. I used this website as my reference point.

    I must say, I was pleasantly surprised by how much the process revealed about the fibres. While there are obvious limitations to the exercise – such as not being able to identify the exact make-up of blends, or the precise type of fibre – it soon became evident which of the fabrics were made of natural fibres and which weren’t.  There are several clues – the way the fabric burns (or melts, if it’s some disgusting plastic chemical), they way it smells, and the residue/ashes the fabric leaves behind.

    Let’s just say that, as a result of the burn test, many pieces of fabric were swiftly thrown out or donated to the local charity – after inhaling the sickening chemical smell and watching the samples drip and melt into a congealed blob, there was no way I wanted to be wearing any of those pieces! Sadly, there was one great 1960’s piece I’d been given that I’d been holding onto for years because of the colours – even though I had my suspicions, I was secretly hoping it would prove to be all natural, but a burn test quickly revealed that this was certainly not the case.

    There were a few pleasant surprises too, and, ultimately, I managed to whittle down my fabric stash just a little bit more!

    If you have a mystery piece in your stash, I highly recommend the flame test as a quick way of determining the basic properties of the fabric. A word of waring – just make sure you do this in a well ventilated area – the aromas of burning synthetic are strong, unpleasant, toxic and tend to linger.




  2. Performance Anxiety – when that outfit just shouldn’t be on stage

    March 21, 2013 by rosie

    Some things just shouldn't be witnessed!

    Some things just shouldn’t be witnessed!

    Something happened to me recently just after my last post:  it was just such a timely reminder and such a reinforcement of my ‘top five rules‘, that I just have to write about it.

    At the risk of sounding like a constant whinger, and turning my blog into an outlet for all my gripes, I would like to briefly touch upon the subject of performance outfits.  I attend (and occasionally partake in) numerous concerts and performances, and more and more often, I find myself disappointed and distracted by what performers choose to wear.

    While I realise that the outfits should be, and are, secondary to the music, or whatever other talent the performer is sharing with the audience, I find it impossible to completely separate what I am visually experiencing from what I am hearing. And yes, I suppose I could shut my eyes, but often I want to see the facial expressions, the instrumental technique, the interaction between performers etc. And, if they have chosen a horrendous outfit, for me, it’s like watching a disaster unfurl; like a car crash. It is upsetting to see, but at the same time, I can’t take my eyes off it.

    The level of  enjoyment gained from my latest two concert-going experiences was severely reduced by the soloists’ choice of attire. In performance number one, the soloist (a fantastic singer) decided to wear something that looked like it had been purchased from Supre back in the late 90’s. And for those of you who don’t know exactly what I mean here, Supre = STRETCH fabric. Of the worst kind.

    This lady had a very attractive face, even for a woman in her 50’s, but that fact that she was wearing a  super-stretchy, faded black dress that showed up every bulge and curve, with a split that was far too high, and with fabric that was entirely see-through when under the spotlight, and with  cleavage that was far too low and revealed half her bra, completely cheapened her entire look. The fact that she decided to wear knee high boots under her dress (when her fellow male soloists where in full tails getup) deleted any last vestige of class that remained. No matter how hard I tried to focus on her singing, I just couldn’t wrench myself away from the horror of this ghastly (clothing) ensemble.

    Her fellow lady soloist wasn’t much better. While her dress, thankfully, was slightly more opaque, saving the audience from knowing EXACTLY what lay beneath, she had committed the irredeemable sin of wearing a bra which wasn’t low enough for the cut of the dress in the back.  So for the entire first half when she wore this outfit, her underwar featured.  Again, not a classy look.

    The second half of the concert, where a costume change occurred, offered some relief. Singer number one came out in a less tacky outfit, which offered far better scaffolding for optimal bodily containment. However, the chunky knee high boots remained. Here’s my advice. Chunky knee-high boots NEVER look good underneath a ballgown. It might seem that ‘no one will notice’, but we do! We DO! Shoes are noticeable!!  Particularly if they look completely ridiculous and don’t match the rest of your wardrobe!

    Again, the other soloist appeared in the second half in what I’m pretty sure was her wedding dress. This I can accept (actually it’s quite clever, really, if you can get multiple wears out of your wedding gown). However – and this is just one of several examples where I have seen this – it also looked as though the dress had been crumpled up in the back of the cupboard for several years.  Again, here’s my advice – if you are on stage, in the spotlight, please take the time to make sure that your gown, or suit, is crease-free. There is nothing worse than being in the audience and knowing that the soloist hasn’t even bothered to make an effort to look their best. And it’s distracting.

    Another concert I attended recently also featured several soloists. The two women were both wonderful singers in their own right. But their choice of attire bothered me for the entirety of the concert. For one thing, it was obvious that they hand’t discussed their wardrobe choices with each other prior to performance (if they did, then this is even more disturbing). They couldn’t have been more at the end of polar extremes if they tried. One looked like she was trying to channel a sexy, evil serpentine stepmother at a mirrorball disco; the other looked like she belonged in a 17th century Italian portrait of the madonna. Unfortunately, neither of the singers were representing characters, and, equally unfortunate, the extremeties of their ‘look’ caused the other to appear even more ridiculous. As  the piece being performed did  have an historic religious context and theme, the Virgin Mary look (however distinctly 1990’s in its vibe) was probably slightly more appropriate than the other soloist’s choice of attire. I think, if one is performing something that has a sacred/religious context, then it’s probably best to steer away from super-sexy, giltzy outfits.

    Similarly, other soloists have appeared on stage looking fabulous in knock-out frocks, until the embarassing and awkward moment when both they, and the audience, realise that this fabulous-ness came at the cost of functionality. If your dress is so tight and fitted that you struggle to walk in it, this is going to be emphasised a hundred-fold when you make the trek from the wings to centre stage in spotlight. If your strapless dress doesn’t seem to stay put during your performance, your audience may be on the edge of their seats for the entire concert, and not becuase they are enraptured by your outstanding performance. If your shoes are so ridiculously high that you are forced to teeter and totter in a completely stilted fashion, you will end up looking ridiculous.

    However, it’s not just soloists. I am repeatedly disappointed by attire of tutti musicians in ensembles and orchestras. Inevitably, it’s the women that let the team down. The gentlemen usually have the safeguard of having to wear tails, white bow tie etc – they don’t have to think about what to wear.  But very rarely do the ladies match the level of formality and ‘specialness’ of the occasion that the gents’ tails – and the concert hall –  invoke.  I don’t mean that the women need to be in full-blown ball gowns (and I personally feel that strapless items should be avoided at all costs – particularly if you are frantically bowing a string instrument), but I do think that ladies performing in daggy stretch t-shirt fabric tops, and synthetic supre-like quality pants is offensive to the audience.  I’ve seen skivvies on stage that look they’ve been purchased from target; faded black t-shirts; layered outfits that resemble something you’d wear to the grocery store; crumpled up garments that you just know have been sitting in a muso’s emergency “blacks stash” in their instrument case or locker. Few of these are becoming in general, let alone under stage lights.

    Musicians’ hairstyles also annoy me  too. You’re sitting on stage, amongst gentlemen in tails, and it looks like you haven’t done your hair since you shoved it in a ponytail for that run this morning. I just don’t think its good enough. And while garments on stage do need to be functional  to a degree – you need to be able to move in them, play your instrument etc – part of their function is also to present each musician at their best, and to lend the sense of occasion,  beauty, elegance and pizazz to the whole concert experience. You are not just lost in the sea of musicians – you are important, you are noticed and you impact the overall image and integrity of the company you represent.

    So, after all that, here are my top five fashion tips for performers:

    1. If it’s even vaguely see-through in normal conditions, it will be see-through on stage.
    If you’re worried that it’s too tight or clingy, it probably is. (Maybe it’s time to invest in that petticoat?)

    2. If you are appearing with other soloists, take the time to coordinate outfits to some extent.

    3. Whatever you’re wearing, make sure it’s pressed and presentable.

    4. Whilst I acknowledge it’s more effort, chances are if it doesn’t need to be dry-cleaned, it’s probably not suitable for wearing on stage.
    Tasteful use of sequins and beading can be excused, but tread carefully!

    5. Dress for the occasion – if your male counterparts are in tails, make the effort to be in sync with the visual aethetic.

    And in case you missed them earlier, my five general shopping tips also apply.

  3. The 5 Shopping Rules of a Fabric Snob

    February 28, 2013 by rosie

    let's go shoppingA particularly busy time at work means that I haven’t had the chance to fire up the sewing machine very much lately. I have made one dress, (a relatively boring modern one). Photos of that are to come, once my betrothed has stopped commandeering the camera.

    However, often when I am stressed, or down, or bored, or happy, or motivated, or tired or frustrated, I think about fabric and clothes. I suppose it’s obvious really, but because I make quite a lot of outfits, I just become more aware of them in general. I notice what people wear, and I notice how they fit (or not). My sewing has also informed the way I shop for clothes, and I have recently come to suspect that my personal ‘shopping rules’ that have consequently arisen may be not be considered normal by my peers.

    The following ‘rules’ have formed over time, but the more I sew, the more they inform my non-sewing part of my wardrobe:

    1. Wear natural fibres*

    This would be my number one rule. I have quite a few reasons for this; some rational, some probably more psychological.  I can see that many would argue this rule, and that’s OK. But for me, it’s something that  I really try to stick to. Every time I deviate from it, I regret it. Firstly, natural fibres just look and feel better. They wear better. They BREATHE! The idea of wearing plastic (polyester, nylon, synthetic fibres etc) just disturbs me.

    *There are a few obvious exceptions to this rule: Underwear, swimwear, and sportswear. The latter doesn’t really have much relevance to my wardrobe requirements.

    It’s amazing how restrictive this rule is when you start shopping.  I view this, most of the time, as a positive. Most retail clothes feature very little nature fibre content. It’s quite a saving and a turn-off.  It makes me realise how much of a ridiculous markup there is on these clothes. Or they are just cheap, crappy, poor quality plastic imports. The GFC also seems to have brought with it a significant reduction in the natural fibre content of even premium brands, for both men and women. I would prefer to buy fewer items of better quality. They will last longer, look better and feel better. It only becomes frustrating when you are desperately searching for something specific and NOTHING in any of the stores is made from natural fibres. That’s where being able to sew is useful!

    One further thing on this very important rule. If you wear natural fibres, you are more likely to cope with extreme weather. One of my biggest gripes is when ladies, in winter, complain of being cold, and they are dressed in nothing but acrylic/nylon/polyester. Usually without sensible layering. There’s a reason why sheep exist! Wear wool! And embrace woolen/cotton spencers and singlets!

    Similarly, wearing polyester in the middle of summer is crazy. And gross. Even if it’s some cute and floaty fake chiffon garment, your body would cope far better if you wore, say, cotton, or linen or silk.

    2. Avoid stretch fabrics where possible.*

    Harsh I know, but again, there are exceptions. This is mainly a subset of rule number 1; ie – don’t wear stretch fabrics made from fake fibres. They are the epitome of eww, unless you are playing sport. I don’t know why girls insist on stretching stretch fabric to its maximum stretch – it’s just not cool, I’m sure it’s not sexy (a quick poll of some of my male friends confirmed this) and 99% of the time,  it’s generally not flattering.

    Knits from natural fibres such as wools, cottons etc are ok. A lovely wool jersey dress in winter is cosy, and it breathes.

    *Again, the underwear and sportswear exception applies! I also occasionally stretch the rule to allow garments such as fitted but not-too-tight trousers to be, say, 97% natural fibre with 3% stretch.

    3. If  it doesn’t fit properly, don’t buy it.

    I was amazed last year to discover that a lot of people buy their clothes off the rack without trying them on first. How is this possible? Fit is so important! It might be a fantastic garment on the hanger, but if it doesn’t suit your body shape, or it doesn’t sit properly on you, then, no matter how great the item in question, it’s going to make you, and it, look bad.  My number one gripe – ladies squeezing into skirts/dresses that are obviously too tight across the hips/thigh area. The skirt bunches and wrinkles up; if there is a split in the back, it warps; the seams are stretched and the whole thing just looks terrible. Even if it looks great from the waist up, if it’s not right elsewhere, it’s still going to be wrong. I could go on about all the ill-fitting clothes I see being worn every day. Half the time, I don’t think people even realise! It fascinates me, yet also drives me silently crazy (well, less silently now!).

    4. Iron your clothes.

    Annoying I know, and this can probably be viewed as a number one reason why people don’t stick to rule no. 1. But, it’s so completely worth it. There is NOTHING  like beautiful crisp cotton. Rumpled and crumpled clothes never look good. This goes for guys too – so-called “iron-free” clothes, aside from violating rule number one, just look cheap and make you look lazy. When you sew, you spend so much time pressing and ironing during the whole construction process, that it becomes second nature. And if you’ve spent all that time and care and effort making a garment, you want to display and wear it to its best advantage, so ironing just becomes standard.

    5. Wherever possible, wear a slip or petticoat.

    Without getting too Nanna, there is a reason why these exist. If the garment isn’t lined (and let’s face it, store-bought items usually aren’t), then wear a slip (petticoat) underneath. They stop things being see-through (another gripe!), they make everything hang and fall better, they are great for stopping stockings sticking to dresses and causing them to creep up, and they help smooth out any unwanted lines etc. It’s totally worth it.

    So there you go; my top 5 personal rules for all items of clothing – whether store-bought or handmade! I admit that sometimes I deviate from these rules, but every time I do, it comes back to bite me.