Preparing the Fabric

Here are a few hints and tips that I've picked up along the way. Sometimes I find the steps I take before cutting a bit of a pain, but every time I miss one, without fail, something will happen to make me regret not having taken it!


Always pre-wash your fabric whether it is for the garment, interlining or lining. Don't be afraid to wash fabric that is labelled 'dry-clean only' , but test first: cut two squares (15cm x 15cm or 6" x 6"), overcast all edges and throw one in the washer on the hottest cycle you can manage, then in the dryer on hot. After it's washed and dry compare the two and check for shrinkage and to see how the wash/dry has affected the pile/surface of the fabric. Don't worry if it has shrunk - you want this! Better now than after you have laboured hours and hours on a gorgeous court gown only to accidentally throw it in a hot wash and have it shrink on you!

In the case of woollens the result may be less than desirable as some wools will full with agitation and hot water - in that case you may want to wash further test squares on a medium hot/warm setting and a cool dryer.

To be doubly sure that all possible shrinkage and dye bleeding occurs before you cut do a double or triple wash/dry. If at all in doubt, for instance in the case of expensive silks or brocades, buy enough to make the two test squares before making the complete purchase.

Always pre-wash and pre-shrink your trim too. You would be surprised at how much difference trim that has shrunk in the wash after it has been sewn onto the garment can make to its appearance. Do not machine wash though. Try a sample first, then immerse the trim into a basin of hot water and detergent. Agitate a little and let soak for half an hour or so, then rinse twice in hot water, (more if there is any dye bleeding) then once in cold. I do not recommend throwing the trim in the dryer though.

Dry the trim as flat as you can manage - laying it in rows on a folded towel works in most cases, but be sure it is an old towel in case there is any dye still bleeding - in this case you may want to give it a few more hot washes until the bleeding stops - you don't want your garment to bleed on your chemise, and even sweat is enough to get it bleeding. In the case of a trim sample that has reacted badly to a test immersion in hot water, you can also pre-shrink by using a steam iron - cover it with a cloth if necessary.

Always be honest with yourself about the state of your freshly dried fabric. After your fabric comes out of the dryer, or off the washing line, you might find it is pretty much wrinkle-free and easy to lay and fold for cutting. But if not iron it - even a light pressing will be a marvellous help when it comes to the next step.
Always, and I mean always, when folding your fabric for cutting, pin it right sides together along the selvedges every 15cm or so, having first checked the folded edge - make sure it sits flat, showing no signs of twisting.
Always, when cutting a napped fabric, piled like velvet, or patterned like brocades, find the 'right way up' and mark it in some fashion. I prefer to use the pins used to pin the selvedges together by having the head of the pin point "up". This way they perform a double function, and pinning metres and metres of fabric won't seem quite so much of a chore! When you cut straight skirt panels don't forget to mark the top of each piece before unpinning at the selvedges. Note: this is a modern practice, in period they didn't always care to lay all pieces with the nap, so you can ignore this step if you choose and be perfectly period.
Always, when trying out a new style/cut of bodice, cut a mock-up from your interlining fabric (if using, or old sheets, scrap fabric etc if not, anything so long as it is colourfast and preferably pre-shrunk) and do a test-fit before cutting your fabric. It is also sometimes a good idea to do this if you tend to gain and lose weight often. When a perfect fit is found, separate the pieces and make permanent pattern pieces from whatever takes your fancy - I prefer thick brown wrapping paper which is available quite cheaply. This is also a good thing to do if you are using commercial patterns. You may want to do this for each style you make, and label them clearly (For instance 'Palma Vecchio style dress, 1520s, Bodice Front) you can then re-use the mock-up as interlining pieces in your garment.
Always, if pinning and draping the pattern on yourself, use a mirror and take your time. It's helpful to have a body double, or at least a friend to help, but it can be done without. So far every pattern that I've altered or drafted myself and draped by myself has worked out well. You do need time, no distractions, and patience.
If you are a novice sewer who is not used to what pattern pieces are supposed to look like, or starting on a new project with many unfamiliar pieces, it may be helpful to leave the labelled pattern piece pinned to the fabric pieces until you are ready to sew.
It is sometimes also helpful if you print out/copy your instructions and check things off the list as you go. Not only does this help to remind you where you are if you should be interrupted, but it also gives you a sense of achieving goals.
Whenever you are faced with an unfamiliar task/garment it helps to go through each step in your head several times before attempting it. I sometimes do this at night before bed as I find it helps me to remember.
When in doubt ask - a friend, colleague, the pattern company, the web author, family member, fellow sewer - anyone who may be able to help you with a problem is fair game.
Don't say to yourself "this is too hard - I can't do this!". It takes time and patience to learn anything unfamiliar, but before you know it you'll be sewing like a pro!
Don't rush - leave yourself plenty of time. That is the foundation on which the building blocks to success depend.


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2001 - 2010 Anabella Wake (Known in the SCA as Bella Lucia da Verona) I hold copyright on all information on these pages, and on all images of clothing/costume that I have made. You are allowed to make one facsimile copy for your own use provided that this notice is included on each page. Please ask permission to copy, disseminate and/or distribute my work - I would like to know when and how you are finding this information of use.