Things to Consider When Buying Fabric For SCA Projects in Iowa

We don’t have a lot of choices when it comes to where we buy our fabric in Iowa.  A couple different stores and online or we are driving quite a ways.  When we do buy fabric, there are a few basic things to keep in mind. 

-None of these are requirements – But we know from experience that some people might appreciate some hints to avoid buyer’s remorse after the fact. 

Fiber Content – Or what is it made out of.  Generally you want to avoid synthetics and go for natural fibers.  Avoid acrylic, nylon, polyester and try to go towards Cotton, linen, wool and silk.  But the wool and silk will be harder to find and more expensive.  

People working on late period clothing (1500’s-1600’s) may have to use polyesters to get the brocades they need.

Most members start with cotton and migrate through linen blends (linen/rayon), linens and after years of playing have some items in silk and wool if they are appropriate for their styles.

Weight – You can have the same material woven in different ways.  For instance you can have cotton and it could be a super lightweight and not very durable muslin, or you could have the cotton woven into a very thick, heavy, durable fabric like duck.  Most wool fabrics sold these days are either in heavy ‘coat’ weights or light ‘suiting’ weights.  

This affects how it drapes or hangs on the person.  Many times people will make something and compare it to a medieval image and there will just be something off.  Often it is the weight of the fabric.

Period Effect/Look – many times we must make concessions, so our members who like later period clothing (1500’s-1600’s) have to buy polyester or poly blends to get the right kinds of woven in patterns. The alternative would be buying very expensive imported fabrics.

Colors/Patterns – there are actually many colors open to the medieval people.  Natural dyes produced a wide range of colors.  But don’t be afraid to start out with plain unpatterned fabrics.  

How Much to Buy – It is best to know how much fabric you are going to need before you go to the store.  Many people starting out will make a mock-up out of old sheets or scrap/junk fabric to test the pattern and then figure out how much they need. Write it down.

Cost – the cost of fabric varies a lot, from the $1/yard scrap bin to the $100/meter imported high end fabric.  When I go shopping I go knowing what I can find it for online and then go to the store – but a lot of that depends on – – – 

The Coupon Game – So that fabric is $12.99/yard (2019 linen/rayon JoAnnes prices).  The dress takes 5 yards, so $64.95. 

Oh look.  A 50% off coupon – so $6.50/yard, same dress $32.50

Oh look. A 50% off coupon, but the fine print says only for non-sale price items.  They have the fabric on sale for 10% off.  Same dress is $58.46.

Oh look.  40% off coupon, 20% off total purchase.  Same dress is $25.98

That is almost a $40 swing in price that I have seen in the last year.  They won’t necessarily tell you about the coupons or how to save the most money.  They certainly won’t tell you about upcoming sales, but that’s the coupon game for you  

Stores – We just don’t have many stores to choose from in Iowa.  Some of us may drive to SR Harris in Minneapolis, but that is a heck of a drive, and there are not guarantees they have what you want either.

Jo Annes, Well, they make their money from people who don’t sew.  95% of the fabric in their store is useless to reenactors.  Quilting fabric does is little good and most of the rest is plastic fabric.  They have some linen blends and linen, but their prices for these are usually not good at all. 

Hobby Lobby – I don’t ever buy anything from that store.  I personally feel their fabric selection is useless to reenactors and their prices are not good. 

Walmart – some of the cheap fabrics, clearance fabrics or cottons do work for draping patterns and once in a great while they have something that is ok.  Beyond that, they are useful when you need some thread. 

The local quilting shop – these can be found across Iowa in many communities.  As we have stated, the quilting cotton they carry is not good for making garments out of, it tends to rip out very quickly.  The prices reflect a different kind of hobby from historical reenactment.  I’ve tried but I have never seen anything I would recommend to new SCA members in these stores.

So again, there are some vendors at events and there are some good vendors online.  It really does help to ask your local members what they think.