Fabric Studies | An Introduction

When it comes to my vintage knowledge, identifying fabrics has never been my strongest suit. With thousands of textiles existing in the world, and many of them only distinguished by the slightest of variations, the subject is a daunting one. As such, the material details in our product descriptions leave something to be desired. But that's about to change. 

I'm taking a stand today, pledging to bring my understanding of fabric and textiles up to par, if not above, and I've decided to take y'all along for the ride. This new series is intended to be a learning experience for me, focusing on the identification of fabrics and fibers as well as their history and sharing what I learn along the way. I'm quite new to all of this and would love it if y'all chimed in and shared your personal experiences and knowledge as I present my research.

Where to start? Fabric weight, fiber, use, decade popularity? Just the thought of organizing my research is reminding me why this has been on the back burner for so long. I'll begin with a brief history of the three most common types of vintage fabric I encounter, considering fiber generally and perhaps delving into the specifics of each in posts to come.

The variety of fabrics vintage sellers and collectors encounter depends on both the decade and the type of vintage they're invested in. Here at Dalena Vintage, cotton, silk and rayon are the most prominent fabrics in our collection.

Cotton - Cotton is a natural fiber that has been cultivated for at least 7,000 years. Since it's introduction in the United States by colonists in the 16th century, it has remained the most popular fabric used in the making of everyday garments.

Cotton exterior of an early 1940s day dress.

Cotton exterior of an early 1940s day dress.

Frayed inner seams of the same 1940s vintage dress.

Frayed inner seams of the same 1940s vintage dress.

Silk - Silk is another natural fiber, and is one of the oldest, having originated in China as early as 3500 BC. Initially reserved for Chinese royalty, it eventually spread throughout the country and beyond, both geographically and socially. Because of its texture and luster, the popularity of silk as a luxury fabric spread quickly, and demand outside of Asia led to the creation of the Silk Road. At the height of it's popularity, it was considered more precious than gold.

Silk exterior of an early 1950s Suzy Perette party dress.

Silk exterior of an early 1950s Suzy Perette party dress.

Pinked inner seam of the same 1950s Suzy Perette party dress.

Pinked inner seam of the same 1950s Suzy Perette party dress.

Rayon - Briefly known as "mother-in-law silk," rayon is a regenerated fiber manufactured from plant or plant-based materials. Because it's made using naturally occurring polymers, it's considered a semi-synthetic fiber. That said, it does posses many of the same comfort properties as natural fibers, however the drape and feel of rayon is more comparable to nylon.

Cream rayon exterior of a 1940s DuBarry wedding dress.

Cream rayon exterior of a 1940s DuBarry wedding dress.

Pinked inner seam of the same 1940s rayon dress.

Pinked inner seam of the same 1940s rayon dress.

Next time, I'll be delving into the wonderful world of cotton. Gotta start with the basics, right? What fabrics do you have a hard time identifying? Got any tips or tricks up you sleeves you'd like to share? Leave your comments and questions below!