Natural fibres v polyester

Stack of four folded fabrics: two polyester, two cotton
Top to bottom: polyester crepe de chine, polyester coating, cotton denim and striped cotton jersey

The #sewtallandcreative2017 challenge has taken me out of my comfort zone. Instead of my usual circuit of jersey, cotton, wool and wool coatings, I’m sewing with lightweight silk and crepe instead. To prepare, I’m making a toile in polyester crepe de chine… and discovering that this particlar fabric might be my nemesis.

If I’m honest, I’m not sure I’ve ever had a good sewing experience with woven polyester. I’ve made trousers in imitation cotton drill, half a pair of shorts in polyester crepe, two children’s coats in polyester coating and battled with some polycotton shirting to run up a toile.

The trousers feel scratchy, the shorts were too slippery, the coating wore out my hands and my shears , and the polycotton shirting came out looking a bit like a supermarket school uniform.

The lovely Gillian, over at Crafting a Rainbow, has written a very useful – and persuasive – post in praise of polyester knit fabric, so I thought I’d put the case against woven polyester fabrics.

Let’s get the main reasons we choose polyester out of the way first, shall we?

It’s cheap

It’s cheap for a reason: polyester is a polymer, meaning that the key raw ingredient is crude oil rather than a plant or animal fibre. Oil is undervalued because no one’s currently paying to clean up the damage that digging it up and using it does to the environment. Climate change, and the potential damage to sea life are two of the most disturbing side effects of our love affair with fossil fuels and man-made fibres. If these externalities were priced in, would polyester still be cheap?

It doesn’t crease

If you’re the sort of person who really, really loathes ironing (hello to my Mum and Dad if you’re reading this) then that’s fine. But if it won’t crease then it won’t press. You can’t mould it like wool, or crease it crisply like cotton or linen – and that’s going to cause problems when you’re turning up a hem, shaping a dart or pretty much any other task you’d expect to do when making a woven garment.

But it doesn’t breathe

I’m always amazed by wool. Wool is breathable, waterproof and warm. British sheep live outdoors on wet and windy hillsides, and yet they manage to stay warm and dry – and then their wool can be sheared and made into clothes for me. How is that even possible?

[Someone, somewhere is making a killing on wool, but it’s not the farmers. Wool fabric and yarn are anything up to £50 per kilo, but British farmers receive as little as 30p per kilo, meaning they may even make a loss on shearing their sheep.]

Polyester, on the other hand, can turn a short walk to the shops on a warm day into a clammy, sweaty mess. The static cling on skirts especially is horrendous. Plus it squeaks when I sew it. (Or is that just me?)

There are some great uses for polyester though…

Where polyester and other artificial fibres do win out is in outerwear and sportswear, especially when they’re blended with natural fibres like cotton or bamboo. I can’t imagine my workout gear without spandex, or my waterproof jacket without nylon.

After my experience this week with a polyester crepe de chine that clings so badly it won’t drape, I think I’ve sworn off polyester for a while.

How do you feel about polyester? Do you love all the quirky prints and the low prices, or would you rather sew with linen, cotton and wool?

 

 

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Another School Days Jacket – now officially a tried and tested pattern

 

This week I completed my third Oliver + S School Days Jacket (kids will keep growing, won’t they?). I’ve written a fair amount about this pattern before when I made versions one and two, so I’ll stick to what’s new this time.

  1. I added reflective piping to the yoke and hood seams. The little beastie is pretty fast on his feet these days and I thought this might be a useful safety feature if it lasts him into next winter.
  2. Instead of a quilting cotton for the lining, this time I copied some of the RTW children’s jackets I’ve seen and used single jersey.
  3. I switched to an acetate lining fabric for the sleeves, again copying some of the RTW jackets and hoodies I’ve seen for toddlers.
  4. I added an inch to the length between the armscye and the waist – not that toddlers exactly have a waist –  as he’s very tall for his age.
  5. Learning from experience, I used a coordinating fabric for the patch pocket linings, rather than a contrasting fabric. So if the lining does peek out at the sides, it’s not so obvious.

I really like the lining in a knit – you get the stretch you need from the fabric rather than from putting a pleat in the centre back, so I adjusted the pattern piece to remove this. Keeping a slippery fabric for the sleeves makes it easier to get the jacket on and off over a bulky jumper. I’d worried about joining a knit to a woven but my walking foot coped OK.

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He requested the same outer fabric as last time, so it’s another charcoal polyester coating from Croft Mill. Cheaper than wool, but harder to press into shape. I used the same Thinsulate interlining as last time, from Pennine Outdoor, but I fancy trying something a bit thinner and less fluffy next time – any recommendations?

The lining is a bicycle print organic cotton jersey from Fabric Godmother (which looks now to be sold out). Love the print, love that it’s organic, but it’s a real shame that it’s printed slightly off-grain. I splashed out and bought three metres with the idea of making the rest into pyjamas for him, but pattern matching is going to be a problem.It also pilled slightly when I pre-washed it, which is disappointing at £18 a metre.

The sleeve lining is a bog-standard acetate in cream which came from my Grannie’s stash. It’s a huge piece and has a label still attached saying ’50p’. Bargain!

The toggle buttons are from Weaver Dee. Not real leather, unfortunately, (I can’t find real leather ones or leather laces anywhere round here) but they were inexpensive compared to others I’ve seen and they come with pre-made holes so you don’t need a leather needle.

I made size 3T, which is the largest size in this bundle of the pattern. So if he wants another one next year I’ll have to invest in the larger size version of the pattern – well worth it, I reckon. I’m adding this to my list of TNT (tried and tested) patterns.

Yes, you can buy cheaper duffle coats in chainstores, but I’ve really enjoyed crafting something unique and personal. Would you make this, or would you rather buy a ready-made one?

Thurlow 2: the return of the toile

I made trousers – and they fit! Sort of.

This is my second toile (muslin) for the Sewaholic Thurlow trousers pattern, following on from the shorts I made a month or two back. For this version, I added 1.5″ to the crotch depth, meaning that the waistband now lies higher up and there’s less pulling in the front crotch area. So far, so good.

Given the difficulty I have finding RTW trousers that look vaguely passable, I wasn’t expecting this to be a one-step process. Sure enough, a new problem has now emerged.

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If you look closely, I think you can see me shuddering as this picture was taken!

I’ve now got diagonal wrinkles going upwards from the back crotch to the hip area. And according to my copy of Fitting & Pattern Alteration, this is a sure sign that the back crotch length needs increasing. I’m going to try doing this using the instructions Sunni has posted from Pants for Real People which should add a little extra width at the thigh as well.

On the whole, I think these are a wearable toile – they definitely fit better than some of the RTW trousers I’ve worn in the past. The front view is good, and I’m pleased with some of the details. OK, the back welts aren’t immaculate…

I chose the outer fabric at Birmingham Rag Market. It was sold as cotton drill at £4/m but it’s definitely polyester! So it doesn’t press very well making it tricky to get the welts tidy and the side seams flat. On the upside it’ll wash well and won’t fade, I guess, but I wouldn’t use it again. Somehow it manages to drape both too much and not enough at the same time.

For version three, I’ve got some charcoal grey wool mix suiting from The Fancy Silk Store (also in Birmingham) so that should be a bit better behaved and nicer to wear, too.

Overall, I really like this pattern but there’s one point that’s bothering me. I can’t get the left waistband piece to line up with the fly extension piece when I put waistband on – it’s been 1-2 inches short both times. A browse around the blogosphere shows I’m not the only one with this issue. So I might contact Sewaholic and see if Tasia and friends can work out whether we’re all making the same mistake or if there’s a flaw in the pattern pieces.*

*Update: I worked this out on version three. I’d been taking too small a seam allowance on both sides of the fly extension piece. On version three, I made sure I took the full 5/8″ when I finished the seam allowance and it fits much better. Although I’m still not totally convinced all the notches line up..!