Saturday, December 9, 2006

Thinking about how lucky I am...

I admit, every so often I get to feeling sorry for myself. I don't have enough money to cover my needs, or I miss some people who are no longer around...that sort of thing.

During the summer I went to an estate sale where I found, among other things, a vintage globe, for next to nothing. I bought it, not entirely sure why. It sits in my living room, as there are not many other places it will fit in my place. One day, feeling down, I happened to look up at the globe, and Africa was staring back at me. It doesn't take much to know that I am luckier than most people in Africa right now and at that moment, looking at the globe, I felt very foolish feeling any sorrow for myself. I am extremely fortunate next to most people on Earth.

In December I always like to think of a way to make a difference for someone less fortunate, and with my globe in mind, I am so happy to have discovered Women for Women International. I'm so impressed with their hands-on work to help women (and through women, all of society) in war-ravaged parts of the world. Please read my holiday message about this great organization and my reasons for wanting to help.

All through the month I will be offering a number of items in my eBay store and auctions with 100% of the final sale price going to Women for Women International. I would be so glad if you would come check out my offerings at denisebrain.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Thoughts on modeling

I started selling vintage clothing on eBay among a fabulously wide array of great sellers, all with great items, fine feedback and excellent auction listings. I knew at that time that I couldn't really compare in the depth of my business, the depth of my knowledge, or the depth of my inventory. Not a model in age, size, looks or experience, I decided to model some of the vintage clothing I was selling. I sometimes took 60 photos per one reasonable finished product in 2000. The main reason for trying this was to distinguish myself from other sellers. I wanted to advocate--in words and pictures--for my offerings.

A couple of early modeling efforts:

After awhile I started to be known for doing my own modeling and I am still the same non-model in terms of age, size and looks! Oh, actually I'm even older! However, I am gaining experience. When someone says to me that she knows someone who is "very cute and would make a great model" I feel skeptical until I see her "act" because to me it is all about acting a part. I do smile in real life, but nothing like the unrelenting joy I often portray in photos. This isn't real life after all, but a glorified fragment of a better, perhaps imagined past. I love old fashion magazines, with their intriguing photography and modeling, not to mention the clothing. I want to convey the flavor of the happy, healthy look you often find in vintage fashion spreads.

Once someone posted a message about me, that I "invite everyone else in for the fun, instead of trying to be cooler than [my] buyers." Nothing could make me happier than that statement, because I only want others to feel they could enjoy the clothing as much as I do!

A couple of recent photos:

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Concerning the fiber content of a fabric

The information we most want to know about a fabric is the fiber content; knowing this is to know a fabric's characteristics and advantages and disadvantages.

There are a number of tests, some along the lines of folklore (dampening and creasing a fabric to see how it behaves) and some more scientific (exposing a fabric to certain chemicals and examining it under a microscope), but by far the most accessible test is burning.

One web offering, Ditzy Prints Fiber Burn Chart is a great resource. You should know that burning fibers takes practice, and you must start with a little caution. You should burn over a sink or bucket so that if you get what seems like a fabric inferno you can ditch! Most necessary is a tweezers to hold the little fabric swatch, and a lighter. If you burn matches of any sort you will pick up the scent of burning paper or wood, throwing you off for discerning the burning fabric's odor.

If you are really serious about learning how a fiber burns, I recommend taking known fabric samples and examining how they smell and behave while burning, and look, feel and smell once burned.

Many fabrics are blends and will have characteristics of more than one fiber when burned. If you are lucky, the fibers are distinct in the fabric, so that you can separate the weft from the warp and discover the content of each fiber.

One giveaway is acetate, which is the only fiber that dissolves when dampened with acetone (i.e. nail polish remover).

To do a burn test, do your best to find as big a swatch as possible without damaging or conspicuous loss to a garment. Even a few threads are "readable" once you get good at this, but a piece of about 1" X 1/4" is a minimum necessity if you are just getting started. Hold one end of the fabric with the tweezers and expose the other end to the flame of a lighter. Notice if the fabric readily burns or takes some effort to light. Also, note if the fire burns out or continues until all the fabric is burned. Smell the burning fabric.

Then, once the fire is out, notice whether the remains are black or grey, and feel to decide if is harder (bead-like) or soft (ash-like). On the fiber burn chart all these elements will help you narrow the choices.

Your senses also will help determine a fabric's fiber content without burning, given a chance to learn. With experience a silk, wool, rayon, polyester or acetate are discernible just by look and feel...but the details of their look and feel are so much harder to describe online.

I wish everyone who cared to learn about fabrics could have a mentor lead them. From what little I know, a knowledgeable person and a guided experience with fabrics makes a very complex project so much easier and memorable. If you have a chance, be taught first hand!

Monday, November 6, 2006

Thursday, November 2, 2006

My "first impression" concept for ID-ing fabrics

One summer I read the Fairchild's Dictionary of Textiles cover to cover (don't I know how to have fun?) and chose a collection of fabrics that seemed to come up in vintage clothing descriptions and in my observations. I whittled down the definitions to what I think is the basic for making an identification, then I arranged these by first impressions. This is really a very simple concept, looking for the best category, then scanning the list for the best possible choice. So, if your fabric is really light, but there isn't anything particularly pronounced about its look or texture, check FINE, LIGHT FABRICS. If it is ribbed, is it horizontally or vertically ribbed? Check the ribbed category that fits. This tactic for narrowing down the fabric type is inspired by bird identification, where the most pronounced feature is the starting point. In some cases, fabrics fall into more than one category; still I'd suggest grabbing what you think is its most notable aspect as a starting point. For instance, percale with an ombre pattern is more likely to be called--and be wanted--by its most obvious feature, the ombre pattern.

I have a long way to go, but I have positively identified examples of most of these fabrics, and I mean to grow the list and swatch samples. I hope that even the descriptions help others.

Illusion - Very fine, sheer net
Point d'esprit - Net with dots scattered all over
Tulle - Fine net with a hexagonal mesh.

Crepe de chine - Plain weave with fine crepe effect
Gauze - Thin, sheer open weave of plain or leno weave
Georgette - Sheer plain weave with a fine crepe surface
Handkerchief linen - Sheer linen
Mousseline - Broad classification of lightweight, sheer crisp fabrics
Organdy - Sheer, plain weave stiffened lawn
Organza - Transparent, crisp plain weave
Voile - Sheer plain weave with crisp, wiry hand

Batiste - Plain weave, with subtle lengthwise streaks
Cambric - Soft plain weave, slight luster
Challis - Soft plain weave, often printed w/ small florals
Charmeuse - Soft, drapey, smooth, semi-lustrous satin face, dull back
Crepe-back satin - Reversible satin weave, smooth & lustrous on one side, crepe on other
Gabardine - Twill weave w/ distinct rib
Lawn -Fine, plain weave, relatively sheer. Close construction
Percale - Plain weave, firm, balanced construction
Sateen - Cotton in satin weave
Surah - Silk or silky manufactured fabric in twill weave. Soft, lustrous

Buckram - Plain weave, coarse, open, heavily sized, used as a stiffener interfacing
Cavalry twill - Strong, rugged, pronounced double twill at 63° angle
Cheviot - Hairy nap wool or worsted, rough surface, fulled. Plain or twill weaves
Chino - Twilled mercerized cotton
Denim - Right-hand twill weave, colored warp, white filling (compare to drill)
Drill - Resembles denim, but left-hand twill
Duck - Plain weave, light canvas
Homespun - Plain weave, course, uneven yarns, similar to tweed
Hopsacking - Same as burlap. Basket weave, coarse, loosely woven
Lodencloth - Coarse wool coating fabric woven in the Tyrols w/ natural water repellancy
Melton - Plain weave, completely smooth, short nap, at least partly wool
Muslin - Firm, plain weave cotton; broad category from sheer to heavyweight
Serge - Most commonly twilled worsted suiting dyed navy blue
Whipcord - Twilled rugged fabric w/ wiry hand

Burn-out fabric - Made w/ 2 different yarns w/ pattern made by destroying one of the yarns in a printing process which uses chemicals instead of color.
Crushed velvet - Velvet processed to have irregular surface
Panne velvet - Flattened pile velvet
Plush - Surface longer than velvet, less closely woven
Velvet - Short cut warp pile fabric

Crepe - Wrinkled or grained surface effect
Embossed fabric - Raised design made by passing cloth through hot, engraved rollers
Matelassé - Puckered, quilted, waded effect
Plissé - Puckered stripes made by applying caustic soda
Seersucker - Puckered stripes made by weaving tension variations

Butcher cloth - Linen like, strong, heavy, plain weave
Donegal tweed - Plain or twill weave medium to heavy wool with colored slubbing
Doupioni silk - Irregular, rough silk reeled from double cocoons
Pongee - Plain weave, light to medium-weight irregular silk, often natural ecru color
Shantung - Rough, plain weave silk, heavier than pongee

Bouclé - Woven or knit fabric using rough, curly, knotted, fancy yarn
Ratiné - Plain weave, loosely constructed fabric using curly, knotty fancy ratiné yarn

Bengaline - Plain weave, filling courser than warp, but more warp yarns used, covering picks
Broadcloth - Unbalanced plain weave, finer rib than poplin
Faille - Plain weave, like grosgrain only flatter rib
Grosgrain - Firm, closely woven plain weave ribbed fabric or ribbon
Ottoman - Plain weave, cords larger & rounder than faille or bengaline
Poplin - Subtle but noticeable rib warp plain weave fabric, more rib than broadcloath
Rep - Plain weave, close spaced narrow ribs, less than bengaline, more than poplin
Taffeta - Broad category of plain weave, fine, smooth, crisp fabrics, usually w/ fine cross rib

Bedford cord - Heavy, plain weave corded fabric
Corduroy - Pile ribbed
Pinwale corduroy - Finely ribbed
Piqué - Light bedford cord, or also in fancy patterns (i.e. bird..s eye)

Brushed fabric - Softened feel from wire brushing process
Chintz - Plain weave cotton or cotton blend w/ glaze treatment
Flannel - Light to medium weight plain or twill weave fabric, slightly napped
Moiré - ..Watered.. finishing process, usually applied to ribbed fabric
Polished cotton - Luster from satin weave, or smoothing roller finish
Suede cloth - Woven or knit fabric finished to resemble suede
Sueded silk - Soft nap finish silk

Calico - Plain weave cotton or blend with small, busy, printed pattern
Foulard - Lustrous twill w/ small printed design on plain ground
Toile de jouy - Floral or scenic designs, classic motifs finely detailed

Brocade - Rich, heavy jacquard-woven fabric w/ raised patterns emphasized by contrasting surfaces or colors (see jacquard, damask)
Chambray - Plain weave w/ colored warp, white filling
Damask - Similar to brocade, but flatter
Dobby weave - Specific, small, geometric figures in fabric woven w/ dobby loom
Gingham - Plain weave, even check plaid
Heather effect - Vari-colored effect from blended woolen yarns, often greens, browns
Houndstooth check - Twill woven in characteristic pattern
Jacquard - System of weaving capable of producing complex and large woven designs
Oatmeal weave - Uneven weave in small repeat which produces speckled surface
Ombré (woven or printed) - Gradual shading from light to dark, or hue to hue
Shadow stripe weave - Indistinct stripes produced by using different yarns, in a plain weave
Sharkskin - Most often blk & white in close plain weave worsteds
Ticking - Strong, durable, close woven in any basic weave, characteristic stripe

Batik - Wax-resist dying
Birds eye - Small indentations
Dotted swiss - Can be woven or flocked dots on plain weave
Eyelet - Edge-embroidered cut-outs or eyelets
Flock - Fuzzy pile decoration applied with adhesive, not woven
Honeycomb - A woven in waffle appearance
Ikat - Resist dying employing tying fabric
Waffle weave - Cotton in honeycomb weave

Double knit - Thicker knit, made in knitting machine with two sets of needles
Interlock - Thick, firm, double rib knit
Jersey - Single, plain knit
Tricot - Knit w/ pronounced crosswise ribs on back

Lamé - Fabric w/ flat, metallic yarns woven in

These descriptions do not cover the fiber (i.e. wool, rayon, silk, polyester). Next time: How to tell the fiber from which a fabric is made.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

A few fabric definitions

These few definitions (derived from Fairchild's Dictionary of Textiles) don't cover fabrics themselves, but seem to me to be important for understanding fabrics:

Brushed: A finish produced on knit or woven fabrics in a process in which brushes or other abrading or brushing elements are used to raise a nap.

Calendered: A finish produced by passing fabric under pressure between cylinders. The number of cylinders varies, and the greater the heat and pressure, the greater the luster. The process produces a flat, glossy and smooth surface on the fabric.

Filling: The yarn that runs from selvage to selvage at right angles to the warp. Each yarn of the filling is called a pick (most common), shoot, shot, or shute.

Fulled: A finish produced on woolens or worsted in which the newly woven or knitted cloth is felted or compressed. The material is subject to moisture, heat, friction and pressure, causing it to shrink considerably in both directions, becoming compact and solid. In heavily fulled fabrics, both the weave and yarn are obscured entirely, giving the appearance of felt.

Napped: A finished produced on certain woolens, cottons, spun silks and spun rayons, consisting of raising a nap on the fabric. A napper machine has rapidly revolving cylinders covered with fine wire brushes which lift loosely twisted yarns from the fabric to form the nap.

Mercerized: Cotton yarn or fabric which has been treated by swelling in strong alkali. The material in the form of warp, skeins or piece goods is immersed in sodium hydroxide (caustic soda) solution. Later this is neutralized in acid. The process causes a permanent swelling of the fiber, increasing its luster, strength, and affinity for dyes.

Slub: A thick, unevenly twisted place in yarn. May be deliberately inserted in a fancy yarn or a flaw in yarn that is supposed to be of uniform diameter.

Wale: One of a series of ribs, cords, or raised portions usually in the fabric length.

Warp: A yarn that runs lengthwise in a woven fabric, parallel to the selvages. Warp ends interlace with the filling yarns (picks) in different patterns to form different weaves.

Next: My "first impression" method for determining a fabric.

Monday, October 9, 2006

Basic fabric weaves

Before I write any more let me say don't you dare think I know tons about fabrics! I feel like a student with a huge amount of studying yet to do! I'm looking forward to it!

I remember wondering not so long ago what a person meant by, say, "silk satin jacquard," or "wool crepe." Trying to figure out these definitions I started breaking down the categories into which each fabric falls. Leaving aside the fiber content (wool, poly, cotton, etc.) for the moment, I used an idea I got from bird identification books, of looking for the most noticeable feature and working out from there.

I came up with a list of "first impression" groupings of fabrics, and I'll get to that soon. First, these are the basic weaves, showing illustrations from Fabrics and How to Know Them by Grace Goldena Denny, 1928 edition. Keep in mind this is what the fabric looks like through a magnifying glass!:

And a knit is not a weave at all. This is its basic structure:

These are the basic weaves as more graphically illustrated in the Fairchild's Dictionary of Textiles:

Next time: Some fabric definitions

Monday, October 2, 2006

How I am getting to know fabrics, part 2

I learned quite a bit by tagging along with my mother in fabric stores as a child. (I absolutely loved fabrics with two distinct and usable sides, like crepe back satin!) Touching fabrics is something that we all just get without need for too many words.

Unfortunately, tagging around with an expert is unlikely to get you terribly far these days, unless you are lucky enough to be near a very fine fabric store, or if you are very lucky, a museum with a textile collection. The usual chain fabric stores are pretty slim on the variety of fabrics that were used for vintage clothing, or for better modern clothing.

A terrific resource then is a book of fabric swatches, and there is a series of three by Julie Parker: All About Silk: A Fabric Dictionary & Swatchbook (Fabric Reference Series, Volume 1), All About Cotton: A Fabric Dictionary & Swatchbook (Volume 2) and All About Wool: A Fabric Dictionary and Swatchbook (Volume 3). All, Rain City Publishing, Seattle, Washington, in multiple printings.

These three books have swatches of the most commonly found fabrics in pure silk, pure wool and pure cotton. There is also a lot of other information, written and printed in an easily digested, enjoyable way. Included is a rating of each fabric for sewing, fit, suggested styles, cost, wearability, suggested care and where to find. These books are pretty costly, about $25 to $35 each, either new or used, yet they are priceless resources for getting to know fabrics.

The only drawback that I can find is that these only take a very curious soul so far; if you want to know even more about fabrics, you will need to widen your net. What, for instance, of all the wonderful blends? What of synthetics and rayon?

I started my own swatch library, index cards on which I sewed swatches of fabrics when I was absolutely sure I had an example. The collection is pretty large by now. A great find was a 1950 swatch book of Fabrics For Fall (McGreevey, Werring & Howell Co.), 70 pages of good-sized pieces of fabric in a fine array of prints, weaves and fibers, all named. If you can find this sort of book at an antique shop, yard sale, or equivalent, I highly recommend you grab it!

Next time: Fabric basics.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

How I am getting to know fabrics, part 1

There are so many things to know about fabric, and so many ways to know it, the least of which is by resources online. I say that with no disrespect to all the truly helpful online fabric resources making an effort to share information about distinguishing fabrics.

It's just that fabric is about half appearance and half feel, and even the look is different in person than when on screen.

Before I get too far: I really have to know fabric better all the time. I sell vintage clothing, and my buyers and I want to know what a thing is made from. To know this is to tell someone whether she will be allergic, how to wash or clean the item, predict dye-ability. It is to know how fine it is, how long it will last, how the color will hold up. It helps make certain the vintage. It gives a better sense of how it will feel when worn. Buying clothing online is hard enough, and knowing all you can about the item is just smart.

Let me start with one colossal resource in the form of a heavy-duty dictionary, Fairchild's Dictionary of Textiles 7th Edition, Phyllis G. Tortora, editor, Robert S. Merkel, consulting editor, Fairchild Publications New York, 1996.

This thick volume, which runs about $47.00 new and not much less used (there are previous editions, which I've not seen, for less than half used) is a necessary compendium. There is so much more to each textile defined than expected, and often I get stuck reading and reading. Today it was muslin, and here is the whole definition to give you an idea of the depth of this book:

"A large group of firm, plain weave cotton and cotton blend fabrics in a wide range of qualities and weights from lightweight sheers to heavyweight sheetings. May be given a great variety of finishes. Muslins are used for many purposes, such as underwear, aprons, linings, shirtings, dress fabrics, sheets, pillow cases, furniture coverings. Muslin is one of the oldest staple cotton cloths and was first made in Mosul, Mesopotamia (now Iraq), where it derived its name. According to Marco Polo, at the end of the 13th century, fabrics made of gold and silver thread in Mosul were called mosolin. During the Middle Ages, applied to heavy, coarse cotton fabrics made in Mosul. India then began to produce a variety of fine cotton muslins, often printed with gold and silver leaf. For a long period, muslins were imported by European countries, especially France, from India. They first were made in Europe in Paisley, Scotland, about 1700. SEE SILK MUSLIN."

The Fairchild's is a fabulous resource for history, usage, type of weave and fiber, commercial treatments, and also business and trade names. Maybe you can guess the problem: If you don't know what muslin is by look and feel, how will this help? The Fairchild's has photos here and there, but they are small, and many fabrics are pretty similar in appearance when seen in a small black and white photo. Fortunately for someone like me, there are ways to supplement this type of resource.

Next time: Swatch books, your own or commercially-made.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Thinking about today

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
-Martin Luther King Jr.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

I love my vintage clothing sources

My favorite answer to that perennial vintage clothing question about where I find the clothes I have to offer is: Real women. I love to know the people I buy from, any stories they might have about their clothing and about their lives. They often get huge smiles hearing that their clothing is going to be appreciated again, and are eager to talk.

Here is one such woman. Jacquelyn lives in the San Francisco area where she has been more or less all her life, still with her one and only true love. Her most glamorous clothing dates from the 40s, when she was young and had to dress well, as the hostess of an officer's club. However, she never stopped being a show-stopper, as her clothing attests.

Here is Jacquelyn with her mother Ailene, out shopping in the early 40s, as shot by a San Francisco paper:

The woman's panache was and is incredible, and I believe it is in her temperament. Here are some (just some!) of her magnificent clothes. I felt very lucky to squeeze into just a few of her garments. She's about 5' 2" and has always been très petite. The only thing size XL is her smile!

Saturday, July 29, 2006

My odd collection

The first time I laid eyes on a crazily-bright half slip my heart did a somersault!

I think I love these because they came at a time when fashion was evolving. Particularly the late 60s ones seem to struggle to be relevant at a time when the previously mandatory slip was about to become uncool and outmoded. They are also fun, funny and undisclosed...a secret party!

I never go looking for these half slips, they just sort of fall in my path, like lucky pennies.