"What Fabric Should I Use?"

A guide to buying fabric for 16th century costume

by Drea Leed

"What fabric should I use?" is a common question asked by people who haven't had much experience with historical costuming. While it would be wonderful if there existed somewhere a 16th century shop selling completely authentic fabrics, unfortunately most of us have to content ourselves with the local fabric store.

When recreating a gown or making something to wear to a renaissance faire, your choice of fabric can make your gown fabulous--or a flop. You can wear all of the correct underpinnings, use a wonderfully period pattern, and sew it so that it fits like a dream, but if you're using the wrong type of fabric or a blatantly non-period patterned brocade, it can greatly diminish your gown's "Wow" factor.

If you're a novice sewer or making a pattern you've never tried before, try making the pattern up in a cheaper fabric first, such as the $1.88/yd. patterned cotton found on the fabric store bargain racks. Commercially made patterns never quite fit, and some patterns' directions can be confusing. There's nothing worse than realizing you just wasted 8 yards of velvet on a gown that doesn't fit anything like it should. Whenever I set out to make a dress from a pattern, either my own pattern or someone else's, I always make at least the bodice out of a fabric like twill, poplin or cheap muslin, try it on, note what needs changing, alter the pattern accordingly, and then cut out the velvet or brocade (with much greater peace of mind, I might add). It does add time onto a project, but the perfectly-fitted end result is worth the effort.

How closely you follow the recommendations below depends on how authentic you want your dress to be. For attending renaissance fairs and SCA camping events, standards are much laxer than those for, say, paid re-enactors or someone entering a garment in a competiton.

Here are some fabrics suitable for the costume of the period:




Mystery Fabrics and Blends