It sucks when high hopes for a fabric are dashed.
Finding good vendors from which to purchase the best materials for historically accurate–or even just historically inspired–garments is a kind of holy grail for costumers. Even if there are a lot of fabric stores in your local area, they may not carry fabrics that are appropriate to your chosen time period. If you’re searching for something with just the right weight, hand, drape, texture, sheerness or opacity, colors, weave, pattern, or print, often your best bet will be to go online and search. And then search some more. Aaaaand more. And hopefully, at some point in your search, you’ll come across a reasonable approximation of the kind of fabric that would have been used in your time period for the kind of garment you’re making.
I consider myself a connoisseur of online fabric shopping. About 90 percent of my fabric purchasing happens online, in fact. For both ‘real life’ clothes and historical clothes. And about 90 percent of the time, I’m happy with the online fabric purchase because the product was described accurately and the photograph showed the color accurately. But sometimes I’m not satisfied. And lately, that has been happening a lot more frequently with a certain vendor that at one point I considered very dependable.
I’ve come to think of this phenomenon as “Fabric.com Strikes Again.” Sometimes the problem is an order fulfillment error. I’ve experienced everything from the wrong fabric being picked and sent to me because it looked similar to what I’d ordered–to the yardage being shorted (once by as many as 2 yards). Sometimes it’s a case of the product not being as described. This happened most recently with the fabric I chose for the new Regency ballgown (described in my last post). It was described as a semi-sheer voile with a texture. Well, it arrived and lo and behold it’s not semi-sheer, and it’s not voile. *facepalm* I ordered three different colors of the stuff because it sounded so promising and the price was good. And it’s actually quite a nice fabric. It has a lovely slubbed texture with color variation that makes it look cross-woven (or maybe it actually is cross-woven). But it’s not voile. It’s more like lawn. So it won’t work for the project.
Luckily, Fabric.com does have a 30-day return policy on all merchandise. That’s the only redeeming circumstance here. I’ll still continue to shop with them, but for the past 2 years it’s been a little hit or miss. About half the time something is wrong with an order. But their selection and prices make it mostly worth the risk.
Anyway, I’m sending all that fabric back to them (except for a black windowpane-woven voile I also ordered, which is lovely! see how variable it can be?), and have ordered a replacement from the ever-dependable Burnley and Trowbridge. The sheer purple muslin from B&T looks perfect, and it’s priced well, and I have to ask myself WHY didn’t I just look at B&T first? (I know the answer: it’s because I like to browse fabric and sometimes something strikes my fancy and inspires a new project, which is what happened with the other fabric for my ballgown project.)
Historically focused vendors like Burnley and Trowbridge are such a valuable resource, and I’m so grateful they exist. They’re not hotspots on my radar, though, and they probably should be. Plus, purchasing from them supports a small business. I’m always happy to do that, especially when that business carries such high-quality goods that are historically appropriate.
Here are the online fabric shops I frequent when searching for historically appropriate fabrics:
Fabricmartfabrics.com (my top favorite! Good selection, interesting fabrics, good prices, excellent product descriptions. If you like, buy it when you see it, because stuff goes fast.)
Fabric.com (buy at your own risk, but the selection can’t be beat)
BurnleyandTrowbridge.com (a small selection, but oh so perfect for 18th and early 19th century garments)
GorgeousFabrics.com (you can find some gems here sometimes)
RenaissanceFabrics.net (I admit I’ve never purchased from them, but I’ve drooled over their offerings)
I also often buy fabric when I attend sewing expos or go into NYC to the garment district. It’s less usual to find something historically appropriate through these venues, but it’s not unheard of. In fact, I found some stunning Regency-appropriate fabrics at the Vogue Fabrics booth at an expo a couple years ago and have used one of them for a ballgown (soon to be blogged). And I’m still hoarding half the purchase I made at New York Elegant for a future gown; the other half of the purchase was used for my “Moonlight on Snow” Queen Louise gown.