Whether you buy your wedding gown off the rack, or have it made to measure, you will need to know what type of fabric will best suit your dress style, and your figure. Lisa Merton from Culture Shock Bridal and Eveningwear explains what to look for in bridal fabrics, and where to go to find them!
Your wedding gown is probably the most precious (and expensive) dress you will ever own, so it is important to make the right decisions when it comes to choosing your fabrics. There are so many things to consider – the look, quality, weight, weave, colour, texture, drape, care and wearability. The most important rule to remember is that you get what you pay for … generally speaking, the more expensive the fabric, the better quality it will be, and the longer it will last.
Beaded and embroidered fabrics can vary dramatically in quality, and come in many combinations and styles. The best quality beaded and embroidered eveningwear fabrics are done on a silk base, such as silk georgette, although these days many polyester and viscose fabrics are used as well. Always ask what quality the base fabric is when you are shopping around. To check the quality of the workmanship, look at the back of the beaded or embroidered fabric and make sure the holding threads are secure and not too long. If the threads are loose you will end up with beads or stitches falling off and possibly catching on jewellery .. not a good thing! .
The best quality beads are glass or crystal, and they are much easier and safer to dry clean, as they do not melt or tarnish. Plastic sequins or beads can easily melt with heat and certain chemicals used in dry cleaning … always get your dry cleaner to test the beads first if you are not sure of their content. Swarovski crystals, beads and pearls are very high in quality, and come in a great range of sizes and colours … good couturiers use Swarovski for all their beading needs.The amount of beading or embroidery on the fabric will greatly affect the price, as will the country of origin.
Beaded fabrics can cost between $60 – $500 per metre, depending on the amount of work and the quality of the base fabric. Beaded fabrics are tricky to work with, so a dressmaker or couturier will charge more to cover the extra care and time taken handling the delicate fabric. Often the dressmaker will have to unpick beads around seams, hems and panel-lines, which is time consuming and very fiddly.
Laces are another example of fabric that can vary dramatically in quality and price. The best laces produced today are French, Italian and Swiss, but there are some fantastic laces coming out of Asia too. French “Chantilly Lace” is usually regarded as the finest, most delicate and highly sought-after, and can cost anywhere between $150 – $700 per metre, depending on the detailing. It is usually a floral pattern and can often have several shades or colours within the design, plus a scalloped border on one or both edges (selveges). There are cheaper copies of this style of lace, but they are never as light or dainty as the original.
Chantilly lace looks great when it is lined with a slightly darker or lighter contrast colour, which emphasises the detail and colour of the lace. Laces are often beaded as well, which greatly enhances the detail of the lace pattern and adds weight and depth. “Guipure Lace” is another popular lace for brides, and was very widely used in the 1950’s and 60’s for bodices and sleeves of wedding gowns. It is woven from cotton, is heavier and slightly chunky texture, usually white and floral and is very pure, clean and innocent looking.
Guipure lace has a lot more coverage than other laces, so it is great for sleeves and bodices when you don’t want too much skin to show. Border or graduated designs on netting are popular these days, especially on a tulle base (where the design is embroidered onto the tulle to give the appearance of lace). Although strictly speaking this fabric is not really a lace, it has the look, weight and feel of lace, but can be less expensive. A graduated pattern is when the design is heavily embroidered on one side of the fabric, then it gradually fades to a scattered and spaced-out design on the other side. This kind of fabric works well in empire-line dresses, where you can feature the heavily embroidered design near your feet, then have it fade away towards waistline, then again use the heavy design around the bodice.
A lot of laces are quite narrow in width (usually around 90 cm wide only) so empire lines and other designed panel-lines work well when a join in the lace is required. Other laces to look out for are knitted “Stretch Lace”, which is quite cheap, and handy for tight-fitting dresses, bodices and sleeves, and “Raschel Lace”, which is also reasonably priced, usually nylon or viscose, but can look good when combined in layers with other fabrics.
“Metallic Lace” with silver, gold or bronze metallic thread can look fantastic, but always feel the back of the lace to make sure it’s not too harsh and scratchy, as the metallic threads can cause irritation to sensitive skin.
Satin is probably THE most widely used fabric in bridal gowns, due to its glossy, glamorous look and feel. Satin actually comes in many different forms, and the word satin refers to the weave of the cloth. The fibre used within that weave can be silk, polyester, viscose, nylon, or a mixture of fibres. There are also different types of satin weave, such as chameuse satin, duchess satin, crepe satin and double-sided satin.
Therefore, some of the various different types of satin are:
- Silk Duchess Satin
- Polyester Duchess Satin
- Viscose/ Silk Duchess Satin
- Silk Chameuse Satin
- Polyester Chameuse Satin
- Polyester Crepe Satin and so on…
Duchess Satin, also known as Princess Satin, Delustred Satin and Bridal Satin, is a heavy weight satin with one side shiny and smooth. It can come in either 110cm width or 140-150cm width. The best quality is silk, of course, and it comes mainly in pastel colours, with various shades of white, ivory and cream, and has a lovely pearly sheen. Duchess Satin works best in formal, structured gowns with petticoats worn underneath, especially A-Line silhouettes. It can be lined with a stiffening fabric or interfacing (such as Shapewell) to help hold the shape of the garment, as well as wearing a hoop underneath. Duchess Satin is not suitable for slinky, bias-cut gowns as it is too stiff. Beading and embroidery works very well on this fabric as it has the weight and weave to support it.
Chameuse Satin and Crepe Satin are both soft, lightweight and very flowy and drapey, and work perfectly with bias-cut gowns. “Bias cut” indicates the grainline or angle on which a pattern piece is cut, and true bias is a 45 degree angle from the selvege or edge of the fabric. Bias-cut garments are great for tall girls with slim figures, but not so good for girls with bigger curves, as it emphasizes hips and larger busts. Chameuse satin is also used as lining in some gowns. Silk Chameuse comes in a vivid range of colours, both pastels and brights, and looks great layered or combined with other fabrics such as beaded fabric or lace. Chameuse is very glossy, with a high sheen. Crepe satin is not quite as shiny, but performs similar. A “Sandwashed” finish can be applied to both of these qualities, which gives a softer, suede feel to the satin and removes some of the high gloss (which can be more flattering on larger figures).
Double-Sided Satin in silk is a truly luxurious fabric, works wonderfully cut on the bias, and feels great to wear as the satin finish (smooth & shiny) is on both the inside and outside of the garment – a real treat!
It is generally heavier than chameuse, but not as heavy as duchess satin, and feels soft, drapey and quite shiny.
Faille fabric again refers to the weave of the cloth, and is recognized by the fine rows of horizontal lines woven into the cloth. Silk Faille is a stunning fabric to work with, as it is drapey, soft and smooth but is not at all shiny. The sheen of the silk gives a lovely glow to the fabric, and its matt finish and slightly heavier weight is great for larger sizes. Silk Faille can have the “Sandwashed” finish, which gives it an even softer suede feel.
Dupion Silk, also known as Shantung Silk, is a very popular bridal and evening wear fabric because of its texture, weight and colour range. Dupion has a slightly stiff feel, but is not too heavy, and is easily identified by the occasional “slubs” or lumpy horizontal lines within the weave. It is possible to cut dupion on the bias, but this is quite rare. Dupion silk is most often used in fuller skirts with petticoats or hoops underneath, and holds its shape well. Stiffening or interlining also works well underneath A-Line skirts and bigger gowns. Dupion is great for fitted bodices, and holds beading and embroidery very well. It is very reasonably priced, around the $20- $25 per metre mark, and therefore is widely available in a huge range of colours, both solid shades and shot shades. “Shot” colours look especially good in this fabric- “shot” means two different coloured threads are used in the weaving process, so that a pink thread is going in one direction, and a blue thread going the opposite direction, creating a purple colour once blended together. Dupion silk can also be crushed or handwashed to soften and remove stiffness, plus create a subtle textured crinkle effect, which is a great new way to use this classic fabric.
Raw Silk, often mistakedly confused with Dupion silk, is rarely used here in Australia, and quite difficult to find. It is a lot heavier than Dupion silk, with a much thicker texture and many more “slubs” than dupion. It is best used for suits and jackets (such as Mother of the Bride) and structured dresses or skirts. It is quite bulky and doesn’t drape well, and usually has only a limited colour range. Not really suitable for wedding gowns.
Thai Silk is a super fine, high quality silk similar in weight and feel to Dupion but much smoother and crisper, and with no “slubs”. It is more expensive than Dupion, and the colour range is not usually as wide, but the quality is superior and the sheen and vivedness of colours quite spectacular. Thai silk is best suited to structured gowns and big, full ballroom skirts, as well as A-Line skirts and fitted bodices. “Shot” colours work splendidly. Fine Thai silk can be around the $50-$70 per metre pricetag.
Georgette and Chiffon are both lightweight and very sheer fabrics which are very popular in layered gowns as an overlay, and also for wraps, sleeves and sheer inserts of gowns. The best quality georgette and chiffon is silk, naturally, although good quality polyester and viscose versions are available. Silk georgette and chiffon hold bright colours much better, drape very well and feel much softer on the skin than the man-made options. Bias-cut georgette and chiffon work very well, either with several layers of the same fabric, or with a satin chameuse (also bias-cut) lining underneath. To take full advantage of the sheerness of the Georgette or Chiffon, layering of different colours can achieve great effects when introducing complimentary or contrasting hues.
Organza is another very sheer fabric, but instead of being soft and drapey (like georgette or chiffon) it is stiff. Organza comes in silk, polyester, nylon, and other man-made fibres. Silk organza is often used for wraps and overlays in wedding gowns, as well as sleeves and sheer panels such as backs and neckline insets. Because it is stiff, it can handle beading and embroidery quite well. Organza does tend to crush because of its light weight and stiffness, but if used correctly it can look fabulous! Permanently crushed organza is increasingly popular for a more alternative look. Organza with a shiny satin finish (called satin organza) is a glossier version, still a little stiff but softer in appearance and touch than regular organza.
Brocade is a fabric that has a pattern or motif woven into the cloth, often using different colours to highlight the design. Floral brocades, swirl or paisley patterns, and geometric designs are most popular. Brocades are traditionally fairly heavy in weight, stiff to touch and best suited to structured gowns, suits and jackets. Lightweight brocades or jacquard designs in softer, drapier fabrics are also available. Cultural emblems or symbols such as the Chinese Dragon are also used in brocades to represent a country, provence or historical background.
If you plan to keep your wedding gown as an heirloom, and pass it on to your family, it is very important to have the dress made, laundered and stored in the best possible way. As a general rule, silk, wool, linen and other natural fibres preserve very well if kept in an airtight box and packaged in acid-free tissue paper which will not stain the fabric. The garments should be cleaned professionally before being packed away. The box should be sealed with plastic to prevent moths and other insects from gaining access.
I hope this information is helpful and explains some of the mystery surrounding bridal fabrics and textile terminology. If you have any queries, don’t hesitate to contact me for advice … happy shopping!
by Lisa Merton