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Fabric Quality: Good vs. Great

Some interesting comments on the last post … much appreciated!

One of the things that affects what we consider good vs. great fabric is simply whether or not we’ve experienced “great”.   That’s becoming very rare these days, as the first frontier for savings in garment manufacture is fabric quality.    Most of what we see at the mall isn’t even “good” – it’s somewhere between adequate and terrible.

How do you find “great” fabric?   Well, if you have access to a top-tier fabric store (unfortunately unlikely unless you live in a major metro area) you can trot off to the aisles and see what $30/yd fabric (or $50 or $100) looks and feels like.   That’s how I know the difference!   I had been shopping online (good fabric) or at my local fabric chains (adequate fabric) and then I hit Mood.     I got an education that day… I hadn’t seen great fabrics in decades.   Do I know all tricks to picking a good fabric?  Yes, I do – I learned them at my mother’s knee, back when fabric stores sold something other than quilting cotton and fun fleece.  But I hadn’t seen “great” in so long that I’d forgotten what a pleasure it was to simply be in its presence.  (I get a little misty in a good fabric store).  One of the measures of a great fabric is it’s hand-feel.  How to explain that online?   You’ll know it when you feel it… likewise, the subtleties of color from highest-quality yarns are easily seen by the naked eye – but can I show them on a computer screen?  No.

The commenter who mentioned breed of sheep was entirely correct.   Goats, camels, the other camelids (aka alpaca, vicuna) all produce fiber of varying quality.   I have a cashmere (goat) sweater from my father that’s older than I am.  It laughs quietly at the thinner, cheaper cashmere sweaters that cycle in and out of my sweater drawer – it’s three times as thick, softer, still has good stretch-return, and the color is deeper.   I’ll probably end up giving it to one of my kids – well, at least I will if it continues to get worn as seldom as a thick wool sweater in SoCal does… :p

As for rayon- yes, some rayons are quite good.   They’re soft, they drape well.  I hear great things about bamboo rayon (which is not generally sold as rayon, although that’s what it is – the cellulose is derived from bamboo).   I am skeptical about rayon lasting as well as silk or cotton, and am likewise skeptical that they can stand up to the new silk/cotton blends that I’m seeing more and more often of late.   Durability is one of the hallmarks of quality, and in my experience, rayon eventually becomes brittle with age.   I will happily give an excellent rayon a place in the “good” fabric rolls, but it will need to prove itself to make it to “great”.  (You’ve noted by now that it’s hard work to get to “good” around here).

The point of finding great fabric is not merely that if you can acquire it, it will serve you well for years.   It might be completely out of your price-point – it would be out of mine if I didn’t sew, and even so, I’ve only invested in just enough Harris tweed for a *vest*.   The point is that you then raise your standards and see what fabric can be.   Our standards have been dropped over the decades to a place where we shrug at poly-cotton knit that you can see through and accept polyester blouses of a quality that feel like sandpaper.  Ignorance is NOT bliss.

I hope this helped – or at least made you think.

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