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Jul 24, 2010

Is there a Fabric Expert in the house?

So.  Down to business.  What IS this floral print?

Yesterday I swung by my two favorite fabric dives -- I'm not even going to name them because why should I, you think they ever give me a discount? -- but, well, OK, H&M Fabrics at 248 West 35th St. and its larger sibling at 257 West 39th St.  No relation to Hennes & Mauritz.

I must say I LOVE these stores despite the fact that 1) there's NO air conditioning; 2) the sales people know nothing about fabric, which can sometimes work in your favor; 3) I nearly always witness heavy-handed flirting -- oh, not with me, but between the owner and anything with two X chromosomes and legs.  It's sort of fascinating really but jeez, give it up already.

I love the amount of stuff selling for $2 a yard and you never know what you'll find there.  With few exceptions, I've bought all my fabric in these stores.  You really have to like to bottom feed, as it were, to dig for the gold among the dross.  But there's a lot of gold.

I try to hit these stores weekly as you just never know what might turn up. I went yesterday with the intention of finding something to use for this Vintage Vogue reissue that reader James so generously sent me.

I usually try to avoid direct competition with Trena, who made this dress two years ago, but Miss Slapdash is so prolific it becomes futile after a while.

So I was looking for lightweight crepe, as recommended on the pattern envelope: poly, because no way was I going to pay for wool for that ingrate cousin of mine.  I needed a few other things too, including more of that white cotton fabric I made my banded collar shirt with -- I have to make one for Michael now.

First I hit the uptown H&M, where things are slightly better arranged, but...nothing.  There was a lot of poly chiffon (belch) but I didn't see any crepe that really called out to me.  So I swung down to the 35th Street store (closer to home too) and found this.

Now I knew it wasn't crepe exactly, but I thought it was unusual and the print looked kind of vintage-y.  I always have my antennae cocked for something that can work with a Thirties or Forties pattern; not so easy to find.  This was, of course, in the $2/yd area and I knew immediately I wanted it.

So I asked for three yards, right?  Well, there were five yards remaining on the bolt.  Would I take it all, the salesperson asked.

Readers, help me here.  If I want three yards, but agree to buy five yards, who exactly is doing whom the favor?  When I asked if I could just take three, this young lovely gave me the most confused, lost-puppy dog face, like she didn't speak English and I'd just bought a pack of gum with a twenty-dollar bill, and she didn't understand why I was asking for change.  OK, so she gave me five yards for $8; but I only wanted three yards for $6.  Whatever, right? 

OK, so I got the fabric home, five heavy yards-worth, and inspected it more closely.

A strange, slightly rough texture, a bit of a sheen.  Nice drape though. This was not your standard polyester. 

I did a burn test.

It lit and it stayed lit.  I blew it out; the smell was sweet.  The little bit of ash was sort of gray.

Certainly nothing hard or bead-like.  I referred to this chart.

Maybe a silk, rayon blend?

I ironed it and it took a crease extremely well.  I gathered it....

It gathered, but the gathers didn't drape softly like rayon would.  I held it up to the light...


Maybe ramie or linen in it?  Cotton, jute?  I have no idea.

Since the gathers aren't terribly soft, I don't think it's ideal for the Vogue vintage pattern up top.  I thought I might use this instead:

It's a vintage Hollywood pattern from 1942 that I bought back in the winter.  It has gathers, but it's not all about the gathers.  I really want to stick to a Thirties or Forties dress with this print; it just looks right to me.

Since I have five yards, I guess Cathy might have a matching turban too.  And maybe a bedspread.

So wise readers, I need your opinions.  What is this fabric?  Also, am I right not to use this for the Vogue pattern?

Today on the blog I encourage dissent and conflict among commenters; it's healthy.  Consider prefacing your differences of opinion (and I'm counting on some) with "WTF,"  "Are you kidding?" "WHAT are you talking about?"  or the ever-popular "Excuse me" -- meaning anything but.

Thanks, guys -- you're the best!


  1. From your description of the burn test, and the sheen of the material, Id take a gander at a polly/rayon blend.

  2. I think you should do the Hollywood pattern - definitely not enough drape for the Vogue (which is a fabulous pattern BTW).

    I know what you mean about the $2 fabrics. I hit Fabric Mart in Reading, PA, which has tons of stuff not on their web site and it's all $2 a yard. There was plenty of crap, but I scored some seriously nice pieces. Now I'm sitting here with 134 yards of new fabric and I'm having major what to cut dilemmas.

    One other thought - Cathy needs a matching bag and hat for the Hollywood dress. There goes some more of your fabric.

  3. I'd say no poly because none of the threads near the burn test look melted. If I remember correctly, silk stinks when burnt, like burnt hair or wool because of the animal proteins. Following the chart and your description, I end up at Cotton, ramie, rayon. I would think if woven loosely enough, you'd get sheerish fabric. Can't wait to see what others say!

  4. I love that you don't know the fabric. I feel so much better about myself--because I don't know either, even when I try--and I need to feel better about myself right now because I'm always reading your blog instead of working.

    But, on a more important note, that top pattern is fabo! It's the kind of thing I was planning to pick out for Cathy back when my brain was not consumed with non-fun, non-summer things and I had hoped to pick an outfit for Cathy myself. (Then, summer school and death came to town!) I think Cathy needs activity in her long, firm torso and the gathers and ruching are great.

    This is one of the dresses I had in my inspiration file. Not a good color for her, but I think the activity is good.

  5. It absolutely looks like linen to me, and because of the burn test and the sheen, I'd venture to say it has some rayon in it to. Various linen blends are so confounding, and because of the varying weights it'll behave really differently. Sometimes it drapes, others it won't. Sometimes it's heavy and scratchy like burlap. I think your lovely fabric will work well in that forties pattern (cause the gathers are just bust shaping) and with that floral element I would fancy using the variation with the bow.

    I would love to see a turban in this fabric too. Since Casey posted her adorable knitted one I've been sort of obsessed.

  6. Excuse me! WTF? I agree with the shop girl. She did you a favor. I took a class with Kenneth King and he says that 5 yards is always the perfect amount of fabric to buy, especially for a fabric you don't have a designated project for. Now you can make whatever you want (even a full circle skirt) and not worry about running out of fabric.

    Team shop girl!

  7. Excuse ME, Gertie, but that conflict was supposed to be among you all, not with ME!

    WTF. ;)

  8. I love it when our little family of sewers squabble. As for me, I don't know $h't about fabric so count me out..

  9. Have you washed it yet? There could be some sizing/finish on it and the fabric could totally change once it's washed out. I don't really have a guess on the fabric since I can't touch it.

  10. Yes, wash the fabric in cold water. It could go all limp. I'm thinking that the linen or linen blend is correct, but like Debbie, if I can't touch it I can't tell.

    One thing I do know. If there was jute in it you could smell to tell!

  11. I also think washing is a good idea. You might get a more drapey result, which you might end up liking.

  12. Hmmm...what does jute smell like? I think I'll wash it tomorrow.

  13. Isn't jute the same things as hemp, which of course means that if it was and the project doesn't turn out you could just roll it up and smoke it?

  14. My guess is that it is barkcloth. Rayon bark cloth?

  15. Yes, washing is always a good idea. I'm with Tory, rayon made to look like like barkcloth. Linen with a sheen is so extremely rare/expensive.

    I always buy the end of a roll, if I get a deal. But then, I don't have an ingrate cousin to dress...

  16. I call fabric like this mystery meat. It is fun to try to sort out what it is.

    Hmm, gray ash is definitive but no burnt paper or grass smell throws me (those are sure fire giveaways of cotton and linen/ramie). No burnt hair smell rules out wool, etc. The weave definitely has a hussein or linen look to it. No bead is weird if it is a synthetic like poly. I am not familiar with nylon and acetate ash so I have no idea what you got.

    I would definitely have to do a wash test and see what it looks like but in any case it looks like you found a treasure.

  17. I think (but this is from memory!) silk, cotton, linen and viscose form ash - and silk is self-extinguishing. If it is a blend then you get mixed behaviour, making it harder to tell. I have seen silks with that texture but with a matte finish. It could be a viscose/ramie or linen blend, ramie is cheaper.
    Check the threads - are they even width (man-made, probably viscose) or uneven (linen-like).
    Also, if you gather the fabric the other way across the texture lines, it will probably drape better. So maybe the second pattern is best to use, but I love the first design!

  18. WTF? Jute is NOT the same as hemp. Jute is produced from plants in the genus Corchorus, family Tiliaceae.

    It falls into the bast fibre category (fibre collected from bast or skin of the plant) along with kenaf, industrial hemp, flax (linen), ramie, etc.

    Jute fibre is often called hessian; jute fabrics are also called hessian cloth and jute sacks are called gunny bags in some European countries. The fabric made from jute is popularly known as burlap in North America.

    Thanks wiki. It's not difficult folks! xxx

  19. This fabric looks similar to that of a skirt I bought several years ago, with the chain-stitch large-pattern embroidery. Your background fabric looks stiffer and coarser than mine, but maybe it does just need to be washed to drape better. Anyway, I pulled the skirt out and the fabric is 62% polyester, 34% rayon and 4% spandex. On testing there is some small amount of stretch. Maybe that helps a little.

  20. Ill reiterate :)

    1) You paid $2 for the fabric, Im assuming is 60" wide. Having scoured my own LA fabric district many a time, I know how HARD it is to find non polly blends for that price. Its impossible.

    2) That sheen suggests the fabric is petroleum based, which is pretty much a byproduct of being polyester.

    3) Polly can pretty much be manufactured to mimic any type of natural fiber out a degree, which might explain the blend.

    4) The pattern on the fabric is printed on, not woven in, correct? That often infers a knock off of a higher end textile. Which brings us back to polyester.

    5) The burn test and the drape can be a byproduct of the amount of blend the fabric contains. The look of that burn test suggests rayon, but you said it smelled 'sweet" which is a byproduct of polyester.

    6) You should ANWAYS wash your yardage before working with it.
    Shrinkage is evil.

  21. OK, jute isn't hemp but I still like Jonathan's answer. ;-)

  22. Debbie, I hope your children aren't reading this (if they are, that would be even more troubling! LOL)

    Shelley, how do you explain the burn test if it's poly? There was no beading.

    I actually do think it's kind of knock-off-y as you suggest, since the name printed on the selvage is "Channel Fabrics." C.h.a.n.n.e.l!

  23. Depending on the amount of polly, Ive had blends that dont bead when burned.

    Its a polly blend of something. I think thats about as accurate as it gonna get.

  24. Wow, thanks for the shout out! Must get back to my sewing room and continue my evil domination. I would like to claim dibs on every pattern ever made.

  25. I have that pattern too! It's just been on my to-do-list forever because I got tired of fitting purchased patterns and I haven't found the right fabric yet.
    About the fabric: I agree that close-up it looks a bit like linen, but that would smell a bit like burnt wood. I think it is definately some sort of blend and NewVintageLady has a good point: in small percentages, polyesther doesn't cause beading in a burn test. Linen/rayon/polyesther would be my best bet.

  26. Figuring out what fibers mystery fabric is can be so much fun; I used to disturb everyone when I'd grab a box of matches and march outside, fabric in hand, declaring I was going to go "burn my fabric!". rofl. Haven't done that in awhile though; mostly because I haven't bought any mystery fabrics (boo hoo), and also because I'm not sure my neighbors would appreciate me burning things on the porch. haha. Love this fabric--I can't wait to see it made up in that dress pattern! :D Oh, and I have instructions in a 40s sewing book on how to make a turban--if you'd like I'd be happy to scan and email it to you!

    ♥ Casey
    blog |


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