By Lady Miklos Magdolna (Kathleen Dehring).
Unlike other historical organizations, the SCA does not have a specific defined time period, rules for historical garments, or the need to approve a participant’s tent, clothing, and accessories to allow entry to an event.
With that said, there are two major schools of thought concerning attendees and the amount of accuracy (“periodness”) any one should be. Those are:
- We are a historical organization and every inch of your clothing and camp should be accurate, or
- Whatever makes you feel good.
There is a third option which is, I think, a better one: Give people support and allow them a learning curve to explore and discover the culture and era they wish to emulate.
In that vein, this is an overview on achieving a “period” look without ordering expensive garments from a company or spending your whole paycheck on fabric.
- Realistically ask yourself what you can spend. Make that your budget and stick to it. What good is there in having costly duponi silk when your electricity is turned off because you didn’t pay your bill?
- Be very realistic about your garment-making abilities. If you can hardly operate a sewing machine, then starting with an Elizabethan gown pattern will just be an exercise in futility and frustration. The SCA has many people who can give advice or even lessons in sewing. Better yet, the Society has many people who will sew you a garment in trade or barter. One of the most popular places to make these trades is on Facebook in the group “SCA Medieval Barter Town.”
If you can sew fairly well and have access to a sewing machine, then the most simple of garments can be made in a weekend and look wonderful. The T tunic dates from the earliest to middle parts of our time period, covering several different centuries and countries. Generally, the tunic was constructed of linen or wool fabric (sometimes silk) with embellishments such as embroidery, narrow works, or beadwork, and contrasting fabrics at the neck, wrists, and hem. Linen generally varies in cost from $10 a yard to $25, and wool likewise.
So, how can an affordable garment be made?
- Measure yourself accurately and honestly. The goal is to get enough fabric but not have yards left over.
- Pre-wash and dry your fabrics before cutting it. It is important that all shrinkage happen before the pieces are sewn together. This will also alert you if the dye color runs. If working with 100% wool DO NOT wash on hot or use a hot dryer, as a yard can shrink down to a fat quarter of fabric.
- When using a pattern, place the pieces on the fabric as close together as possible while allowing for seam allowances. Keep an eye on the layout so that you do not cut some fabrics on the bias or “stretchy” part of the fabric, particularly with wool.
- Double-check your pattern placement, especially if the fabric is patterned, so that the design lines up (if you desire it), then boldly cut.
- Sewing process and seam binding. (This is another article.)
Where do you get fabric?
The obvious answer is the fabric store (Jo-Anns, etc.). Fortunately, they often have coupons, doorbuster sales, and the beloved clearance section. The prices for wool tend to get better in the summer, while linen (considered a summer fabric) tends to go on sale in the winter. Other venues for purchasing fabric are online stores (such as Fabrics-store.com for linen, Fabric.com for wool, Carolinacalicoes.com for linen and linen blends, and Thaisilks.com for silk), resellers like Ebay or Etsy, or, for the truly adventurous, the thrift store can have those materials at a fraction of the cost.
Thrifting involves creativity. There can be bolts of donated fabric, or you may uncover 100% linen curtains and wool blankets. The drawback to employing this method is that there is no guarantee you will find something. Also, the materials may not be the color or amount needed for your project. In another class, bleaching, dying, and pattern stamping will be addressed so you can make more fabrics usable.
Another place to find fabrics is at some Walmarts (although not all sell fabric anymore), and the prices are generally very inexpensive. The issues with this store are the lack of accurate cutting, fabric content labels, and knowledgeable staff who can answer questions. Sometimes you can get a bargain, but more times than not it’s yards of frustration.
Tip: Always look at the fabric content marked normally on the end of the bolt. Remember that the higher the man-made fibers, the less the garment will breathe. This can elevate body temperature and make the wearer extremely uncomfortable.
How do you identify the type of fabric when there is no fiber content label?
When you are at home, you can do a burn test. However, doing that is out of the question when you’re still in the store or thrift shop! The best you can do there is feel the fabric and determine if it feels like a natural fabric. If possible, pull one thread loose and try to break it. Unnatural/synthetic fibers tend to snap while cottons, linens, and wools tend to stretch or pull apart.
A cellulose fiber, it takes longer to ignite. It is easily extinguished by blowing on it. Other properties are similar to hemp and jute.
A manufactured cellulose fiber. It burns without flame or melting and may flare up. Unless there is a fabric finish, it doesn’t leave any bead. After the flame is removed, it may glow a bit longer than cotton. It smells like burning paper and leaves soft, gray ash. It’s smoke is a little hazardous.
A protein fiber that burns slowly and curls away from the flame. It leaves a dark bead that can be easily crushed. It is self-extinguishing and leaves ash that is a dark, gritty, fine powder. It smells like burned hair or charred meat. It gives out little or no smoke and the fume is not hazardous.
A protein fiber that burns slowly. It sizzles and curls away from flame and may curl back into a fingernail. It leaves beads that are brittle, dark, and easily crushed. It is self-extinguishing and leaves a harsh ash from crushed bead. It emits a strong odor of burning hair or feathers, as well as dark smoke and moderate fume.
Protein fibers that burn quickly and can flare even after flame is removed. The bead is hard, brittle, and can’t be crushed. It melts into a very hot bead and drips very dangerously. No ash is left by it and the smell is like hot vinegar or burning pepper. It gives out black smoke and the fume is hazardous.
Manufactured fabrics made from petroleum. Due to their fabric finish, they quickly burn and shrink to flame. The beads are hard, grayish, and uncrushable. After flame, they burn slowly and melt. They are self-extinguishing but drip dangerously. Their odor is like celery and they leave no ash but the fume is very hazardous.
A polymer produced from coal, air, water, and petroleum products. It burns quickly and shrinks away from flame, but may also flare up. It leaves hard, dark, and round beads. After the flame, it burns slowly and is not always self-extinguishing. It has a slightly sweet chemical odor. It leaves no ash but the black smoke and fume are hazardous.
Acrylic, Modacrylic, Polyacrylic
Manufactured fabrics from natural gas and petroleum, they flare up at match-touch, shrink from flame, burn rapidly with hot sputtering flame, and drip dangerously. Beads are hard, dark, and with irregular shapes. They continue melting after flame is removed and are self-extinguishing. When burning, they give out a strong acrid, fishy odor. Although no ash is left, their black smoke and fume are hazardous.