It seems like every historical costumer’s journey to a closet full of pretty things to wear always includes a trip… or two… or three… to the local fabric store. We inevitably find ourselves on the quick run to grab thread, hook & eyes or even ribbon.
But for so many of us (and yes, I do include myself here) that local store is about all we have to choose from. Short of dishing out oodles of cash or credit to online vendors who hock their gorgeous wares, tempting us to give in to luscious silks and English laces, we “settle” for what we can get our hands on fast – literally.
So is it still worth taking the time to shop at these nationwide chain stores?
I think it is.
(All the project photos shown here were made primarily from chain store materials.)
Despite their shortcomings for historical costuming supplies, the Big Box stores like JoAnn Fabrics, Hancock Fabrics, Beverly’s, Michael’s and Hobby Lobby do have their place in the larger scheme of sewing. For strategic shopping tips go here to get a bonus article.
The desire to create period clothing shouldn’t be limited to the size of our wallets. So what if you have a budget of $500 for a new silk bustle dress. That’s awesome if you do! Then we will expect great things from your skills.
But if you’re like most of us who simply want to create historical fashion for the sake of expressing our personality and skills, to play dress up, and bring the beauty of the fashionable past into our lives, our $50 budget should not be a boulder in the road. If you only have so much to spend, you’ll definitely be looking at lower-cost materials.
This is where the chain stores come in.
Even if you’re shopping in the cotton calico section, a well-chosen solid or print fabric can go quite far in pulling off a believable Regency or Victorian costume.
If you don’t have the money, you’ll need to spend the time researching print patterns of the era – before going to the store – ’cause I know, when you get into that vibrant calico aisle all those colors just call to you. If you’re lacking in textile knowledge of say, the 1830s, you might fall in love with a print that’s just too modern. By selecting that one it will immediately set your project into the “costume-y” category – not something you probably want.
So before you go make that JoAnn’s run or stop at Hancock’s on the way home, have in mind the time period you’re re-creating. This will help ENORMOUSLY in making your costume look like clothing.
But choosing a decent fabric isn’t all that goes into a credible costume. Sure, we all know the button and trim selections are greatly lacking at JoAnn’s and Hancock’s – meaning they scream modern craft projects. But if you spend a little extra time shopping, treasures can be found that will work just fine on your 1880s day dress.
Avoid really plastic looking buttons. However, there are some great buttons made from plastic with the perfect Victorian painted or etched design. Some do a really good job at imitating glass too. Metal works well (as long as it isn’t too modern or whimsical) as does mother-of-pearl & shell buttons. You can definitely find those in chain stores.
And who says you can’t find good trims?
AT ALL TIMES avoid those cheap, large cardboard spools of 19 cent nasty nylon laces. They usually come pre-gathered and are just awful! I think more than anything, these cheapen the look of whatever you are making – dress, hat or blouse.
And the sad thing is, I see them used on EVERYTHING that some retailers sell as “Victorian.” UGH! No, no, no! Just because JoAnn’s and Michael’s sell them doesn’t mean they are proper to use. Just please don’t use them. Especially if you want to make a costume that is as close to historical as you can get it.
You want to hang out with the long, white oval spools for the nicer lace. Of course the higher price is usually the higher quality , but you’ll still have to look. I’ve used many cotton and even cotton/poly or 100% poly trims that pull a period look quite well. (And the best thing with the cotton ones is that they dye well. Use tea or coffee for an “aged” look.)
If you’re making pleated ribbon trims, look at the wired edge spools and simply remove the wires. I’ve found Michael’s has a nice selection of ribbon I’ve used on lots of costumes.
I know sometimes the boring goods you see at the chain stores are, well… boring. They might also seem generic, like you’ll look like everyone else in your group. No such thing. Combine the elements of fit and good sewing techniques and even the cheap, run-0f-the-mill materials will turn into something worth showing off.
Have you made any successful Regency, Romantic Era, Civil War or Victorian costumes with materials mainly from chain stores? How did they turn out? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below!