Frills & Fancy ezine
Which to Use? Natural vs. Artificial Fabrics
by Shellie Williams

When it comes to draping fabric nothing beats silk. Cotton, linen and wool are other natural fabrics preferred by many miniature doll makers. But when selecting fabrics for your crafting consider these characteristics of natural and man-made fabrics—each has a place in our doll world.

Cotton has remarkable capacities to absorb water. Remember this when using a wet solution for draping. Cotton fabric has very little elasticity. It may not have much “give” to get around hips and curves. Cotton weakens and deteriorates when exposed to long periods of sunlight. Pins can cause holes in cotton because they cut the fibers.

Linen has very poor elasticity; it wrinkles badly, perhaps best used when sharp creases are needed. It is one of the oldest fibers used by humankind and is very appropriate for ancient and medieval times.

Wool fibers are elastic. Wool is the ultimate tailoring fabric. It can be shaped with steam and is water-repellant and flame resistant. It is perfect for suits of all styles and periods and has been around since 4000 B.C.

Silk is the strongest of all natural fibers. A piece of silk filament is stronger than a steel filament of equal size! Silk will stretch as much as 20% of its length without breaking, but after a 2% stretch, it doesn’t spring back; so be careful about “fussing” with it too much when pulling and draping.

Rayon, the earliest synthetic fiber, was developed in 1886 and was known as “artificial silk” It’s best use is in chiffon, net and other sheer fabrics. Rayon is lightweight, soft, drapeble and is used in many fabrics today, sometimes in combination with natural fabrics. The natural fall of Rayon can be set with a light mist.

Nylon is both elastic and resilient, stretches and does not wrinkle. It dries very qu8ickly, it does not absorb water and thus may be more difficult to glue with a water-based glue. It also melts quickly so it could “disappear” when ironing.

Polyester was developed in the 40’s and was the “miracle fabric.”  The newest polyesters look and feel very much like silk, but it does not drape like silk.  Cotton and polyester blends often look exactly like cotton. Unless the fabric says it is 100% cotton or 100% silk, it is probably polyester or a blend. This can be either good or bad depending on what you want your dress to look.

How do you tell if the fabric sitting in front of you is natural or synthetic? Pull a few threads of it and light it with a match or lighter. Cotton and linen burn rapidly, glow and smell like burning paper with soft grey residue or ashes. Wool melts and burns and is self extinguishing, it smells like burned hair and its residue is black and brittle. Rayon ignites on contact and burns slowly with little or no ash. Polyester melts before contact with the flame and smells like a sweet chemical with a hard bead of residue. Nylon burns with difficulty, more like melting with burns and drips; it smells like celery and will have a hard bead residue. Silk draws away from the flame and is also self extinguishing.