Fabric: Understanding your choices.

Today I would like to discuss fabric types.

Some brides have heard of how wonderful a particular fabric is or trendy and want their dress made of that. Many brides will leave the decision of fabrics up to their seamstress. While this is usually a good idea, because the seamstress will know how a fabric will behave in the cut (or dress style) you've chosen, you should be able to express how you want your dress to feel.

When I start discussing fabrics my brides tell me to use what I think is best, and it makes me feel bad. I know every bride has usually been dreaming about their dress since they were little girls, or at least since they met their finance. So they have a pretty good idea of how they want the dress to look, and feel. I want to help you get the dress you are dreaming of and not feel overwhelmed or, god forbid, stupid because of the terms used in this craft. It's like when your man wants to propose with a diamond ring. He'll try to learn a little about the subject of diamonds and settings ahead of time in order to get the ring he is picturing for his girl.  Otherwise he is walking into the jewelry shop and saying, "I want a diamond ring.", only to be overwhelmed when the shopkeeper asks what kind of setting, shape, quality, cut, clarity, and budget he wants.

First, what I want to do is answer some common misunderstandings on the topic.  In this article I will refer to common fabrics that many people are familiar with in order to draw a comparison with bridal fabrics.

The first is fibers. Fiber content (you've seen this on garment tags in your clothes) are what a fabric is made of.  There's cotton, silk, linen, polyester, acetate, hemp, rayon, nylon and the list goes on and on.  These fibers will dictate the way the garment will be cared for, whether you can just throw it in the washing machine or send it to the dry cleaners. Now you don't need to have a specific fiber picked out before requesting a gown, just the knowledge that most bridal fabrics come in silk, polyester and acetate.  Silk being the high end of quality and the most expensive gowns, polyester which ranges from high quality to cheap, and acetate which in my opinion should only be used in Halloween costumes. So for this conversation, it doesn't exist.

Then there is the weave: Satin, Taffeta, Crepe, Chiffon, Organza, Georgette, Shantung, Brocade, Velvet. These are the fabrics woven from the fibers.Take for instance cotton. It's a basic, common fiber with a wide range of textures and weights. The items made from cotton vary from Tshirts, jeans, luxurious sheets for your bed, bath towels, delicate christening gowns for babies and fine dress shirts for men's suits.
The weave will dictate the garments care in some cases. Like Velvet; regardless of what a Velvet is made of, dry cleaning is a must. Oh, and never press Velvet with an iron. The texture that makes Velvet so yummy requires it's careful handling.

And finally, there is weight, drape, and hand. The best way to describe the difference between two fabrics sometimes is it's weight. There's heavy, medium, light and very light. Depending on the fabric, it's quality or use is determined by it's weight. Flannels are graded by the ounce while bed sheets are by thread count. The higher the ounces or thread count the warmer the flannel and the softer the bed sheet.  Heavy satins are used in dresses that require structure, like a ball gown with its large skirt; while light satins in flowy or slinky gowns.

Drape refers to the way a fabric behaves when it is laid over a shape. The drape can be anywhere from stiff to flowy. The hand describes whether a fabric is crisp, wiry,  or soft. 

Chiffon, Organza, Georgette, and Net are your very light fabrics. As a side point, these four fabrics are the base for almost all laces. Chiffon and Georgette are flowy and transparent they have a very soft drape and hand. They are the fabrics commonly used in the gowns worn by ballroom dancers.  The difference between the two is that Georgette is slightly heavier and more opaque with a crepe texture. Organza and Net are very transparent and are considered to have a soft hand, but are a lot crisper that Chiffon and Georgette. Net and Organza is used in veils, tutus, and the skirts of ball gowns.  Net breaks down into Illusion, Tulle, Russian veiling, and Cancan net just to name a few.

After that the divisions break down into shine, or country of origin, sometimes whether or not it is woven by hand or by machine. With silks sometimes the names of the fabric are determined(in addition to weave) by what the type of silk worm it was. Mostly, at this point, it's all up to your taste and pocket book.

I hope this was helpful.