Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Hunting Elusive Fibers on eBay

In my continuing adventure with clothing out of the mainstream, I have had to hunt down a great deal of fiber and fabric. One would think this would be a fairly straight forward event but it is far more adventuresome than that. Although one might think this is a topic for just women, if you want to be more comfortable in your clothing and surroundings as a man, you too should read on. A good way to be miserable is to be in bad fiber most of the time. If you feel lousy, the cloth against your skin could be part of the problem. If you are a senior, you can make your constant stream of medically related discomforts less burdensome by wearing better fiber. As Jim's Mom's medical conditions mounted, we tried to get her to use different fabrics. However, she had become a big polyester lover in the 1970s and never gave it up. So her fabrics made her hotter in the summer and colder in the winter! We eventually got her to use some cashmere in the winter, which is wonderful for combating the cold, but we had little luck converting her to summer fabrics which were cooling.

Bamboo, above, is the hot new ecological fabric. It is a grass and it is renewable. Not only can you make clothes out of it, you can even make floors out of it, which look as good as your hardwoods. It makes splendidly comfortable sheets and towels too. Bamboo as a fabric feels as good and breathes as well as linen, cotton, silk and rayon.  It is easy to wash and dry in your machines.  It has some limitations. It is mostly available in knit form, not woven. Also, it is rarely in prints, just solids, unless you are willing to paint white bamboo yardage. Plus it is not cheap, not even on ebay. It costs as much as the higher end rayons and cottons. It is mostly obtainable online as yardage, a knit top, or a knit skirt or pants, all in solid colors. I use some bamboo but not a lot because of how limited the selection is, even online.

Cotton, above, is still a huge fabric for me. And it represents a huge amount of clothing both in stores and online. Its versatility is endless. It was given additional life when quilters discovered it en masse. As quilting mushroomed as a craft, cotton fabrics also gained the best textile designers who made increasingly gorgeous print fabrics to satisfy quilters. Thus, some of the biggest names in textile design are almost exclusively sold in cotton, such as Kaffe Fassett, Alexander Henry and Robert Kaufman. So too, this meant that cotton by designers rose steadily in price. Today the best you can do online in yardage with such a designer is about $10 a yard and in a real world store it will be more. Get cotton without such a name attached to it and it is a lot more affordable. Cotton ready to wear clothing is the most varied clothing available at retail. A very surprising fact is that the largest buyer of organic cotton in the world is none other than Walmart! Gone are the days when we identified Walmart with cheap polyesters.

I've been rediscovering silk, above. As yardage it can be very affordable on ebay with certain limitations. One big limitation is that the most affordable silk is sold in Asia so that if you buy directly in Asia it will be cheaper. But you want to buy a fair amount of it to make the shipping cost worthwhile. Also, most of them will require you to be at home to sign for it when it is delivered which is a pain. Plus it will take about a month to arrive unless you pay a much higher shipping rate which will wipe out any savings. My very best deals in silk are to find an American seller who is cleaning out her fabric stash and is selling off her silk at least three yards at a crack.  I have gotten some great silk buys that way, oftentimes for $10 a yard or less.

Another limitation is the type of silk. The most readily available silk yardages are shantung, dupioni, habitoai, and crepe. There is a lot of chiffon and taffeta but I eliminate them for sheerness and stiffness. All other forms of it are harder to find.  They are mostly available in solid colors.

Contrary to popular belief, if you buy silk yardage, you can wash it and dry it and then make it into something. Thereafter you can continue to wash and dry it. It changes the surface, making it more like sandwashed silk which I like better. It will shrink some on that first wash and dry but, after that, it is tough as nails. Wear the heck out of it for year after year. The solids in silk yardage tend to be more attractive than the prints. Often the best solution in silk yardage if you want a print is to paint or dye your own.

In ready to wear clothing, the situation with silk is quite different. It tends to be expensive, dry clean only and there is a tendency to line it with cheaper materials. These factors significantly detract from the ready to wear silk experience. If you have only worn dry cleanable silk and/or lined silk, you have been missing the true silk experience.

Rayon, above, is a surprisingly nice fabric. It is made from wood pulp or cellulose. It is thus considered a natural fabric. Rayon is a very comfortable fabric. It shrinks the most of any of these fibers so one always needs to buy more of it as fabric yardage or to buy it in a bigger size in ready to wear.  This is because, like silk, rayon is a lot better when you wash and dry it in your machines. Shrinkage is the main detraction of rayon. Next can be cost but this varies. As yardage it runs about the same as the cottons from the top designers. But it is less costly than silk and no more than the top cotton.

Rayon is often nice as a fabric blend. Rayon blended with any other fabric mentioned in this entry makes a delightful fabric and lessens the shrinkage problem. It drapes beautifully and feels great against the skin. Linen is also a great blend because it tends to reduce the wrinkle factor. Linen and rayon as a blend together can solve all of the other's problems, as shown in the above pink plaid.

I have increasingly started to mix all of the above fabrics together so that now one part of the garment is cotton, while another is silk and yet another is rayon. It works surprisingly well.

If you can't stand wrinkles in fabric, don't buy linen, above. I love linen but I also love the wrinkles in it because I only make it into loose flowing garments. Plus the more you wash and dry linen in the machines, the more the wrinkles tone down and flatten out. Well washed and worn linen hardly wrinkles at all. Again, dry cleaned linen is a very different and, to me, a very unpleasant experience. Linen is easier to find in solid colors. It is more expensive than cotton and rayon and either the same or a bit cheaper than silk. It is easily found as yardage and is also available in ready to wear although not quite as much as cotton. In hot climates, a lightweight linen will give the greatest relief from the heat.

All of the above also come in upholstery weight. They are more expensive in that weight plus more yardage is usually sold as a lot. Although clothing can be made out of such fabric, it would tend to be for outer wear such as coats and blazers. The above shows 7 yards of silk ikat which would make a lot of home furnishings, such as new cushions.

Finally, not all polyester is terrible. Some of it is ok for certain uses. I have found a type of it that has moisture wicking in it that makes a good windbreaker. I have a few tank tops made with the moisture wicking as well. I do still tend to avoid it, however, mainly from bad experiences in earlier decades.

If you have no sewing skills but want to have a garment or two made from fabric which is pleasurable, as stated above, then consider hiring a seamstress or tailor in your community to do it for you. Wash and dry the fabric yourself before taking it in to get the maximum benefit. We have a lot of immigrants from Russia in the Cleveland area and many of them have brought tremendous craftsman skills from there. One of them altered some garments for me and I was amazed at his workmanship. Supposedly these skills are being rekindled in the USA but plentiful ready to wear put a damper on developing these craft skills for decades.

1 comment:

  1. Very informative, and took the mystery out of all these fabrics!