I love to make historical costumes out of recycled materials. I think there are many reasons why it makes sense to not always buy expensive fabrics that might be a bit more historical. Not only are recycled materials environmentally friendly but also using them helps this hobby to become more accessible to everyone. Furthermore, using old curtains, bed sheets, and table linens helps to feed your creativity and some of the best costumes I’ve made are made out of recycled materials! But how to find good materials and what to look for when shopping for second-hand fabrics?
Almost every time I mention getting a big part of my fabrics from thrift stores, people tell me that they are never able to find anything. Yeah, there’s some luck involved of course but there are some tips that I can give to help you in finding good fabric.
Here is my newest video and you can read a summary below:
How to find recycled materials for historical costumes?
- Be always on the lookout
Make a habit of browsing through the thrift store curtains, bedlinens and tablecloths frequently. The selection is always changing and you can never know if there are those silk curtains waiting for you!
- Choose the shops wisely
The shops in wealthier areas may have better quality fabrics and other items and people are more likely to donate expensive items rather than spend their time trying to sell them online. Also, some thrift stores specialize in different product categories. However, the best bargains are often found in unexpected places!
- Learn to recognize the fabric types with your fingers
It may look like silk but if it feels cold and plasticky, it is probably polyester. On the other hand, some man-made fibers may be a great thing for a busy costumer that hates ironing!
- Make plans for the future
Have a some kind of idea (even a vague one) what kind of fabrics you might need in the future and grow a stash. There are some fabrics that work for multiple periods like white linen and cotton that are always handy to have for bloomers, chemises, aprons, veils and hundred other items!
- Check out the fabric before buying
Check out the fabric carefully for moth holes, mold, or other unpleasant things. It is also a good idea to wash the fabrics as soon as you bring them home.
My Regency Gown
This gown is based on the Regency gown pattern by Sense & Sensibility Patterns. I have made a gown with this pattern before, so I knew it fit me pretty well. However, I wanted to make some changes. I added gathers to the bodice by widening the front piece. I also added width to the back. The back width can be gathered with drawstrings.
The curtain that I used as the fabric had beautiful printed edges. Those inspired me to split the back open all the way to the hem as I have seen in some historical examples. As I have a full-length bodiced petticoat underneath, it doesn’t matter if the dress doesn’t have a back seam. The only drawback (no pun intended) is that one really needs a maid or any other pair of helping hands to put this one as one really can’t tie those silk ribbons in a bow behind one’s back!
I think that using recycled materials in historical costuming has its place. My approach toward projects varies. Sometimes I want to get as close to the historical examples as possible. On other times I want to have fun and explore historical silhouettes. Sometimes the materials that I find inspire me to create something interesting. This time I had know that I wanted to revisit the Regency era but the project got started only after I found this curtain at the thrift store. Furthermore, the print in the fabric had a big impact on the features (e.g. the back-opening) of the dress.
Even when using store-bought fabrics, we still can’t get exactly the same kind of fabrics that were available during the previous centuries. Our interpretation of the historical dress is always an interpretation. We can’t help the fact that the modern way of looking at things has an effect on how we select projects, combine fabrics and accessories. Besides, thriftiness used to be highly valued. Old sewing magazines I often browse have tons of ideas on how to turn old worn garments into something wearable again. You could ask yourself a question – is following the old attitudes towards recycling another way of bringing historical features into your outfit.
In any case, this is a hobby and fun one! Whatever materials you use, it’s your business only. I hope that, as a community, we historical costumers can embrace different approaches and still enjoy this wonderful hobby! Let’s encourage each other to sew, learn and be creative!