Choosing the Right Fabric

There are many types of fabrics commonly used for Irish Dance costumes.  These are a few of the most popular.

Satin
Satin is probably the most common fabric used currently, and also can be the easiest to work with.  Satin is the glossiest option, though you’ll find quite a bit of variety in the amount of shine between different types. Use a thicker “duchess satin” that has some structure, rather than a thin “satin charmeuse”, which is widgy and frustrating to work with.  Charmeuse can work as a skirt lining, but not for anything structural.

Dupioni Silk
Dupioni silk used to be very popular, and still is for some dressmakers.  It has a beautiful sheen, which is different from glossy satin, and is easy to use.  Some varieties are more textured than others, so pick according to what fits your design.  That being said, silk doesn’t always hold up as well over a long period of time, and tends to show scarring from alterations.

Gabardine
Gabardine is also a popular option, but it has more of a matte look.  Most gabardines are fairly sturdy, making it a great option for team costumes as well as solo dresses.  It doesn’t scar as easy as other dress fabrics, so it will last longer and look better after multiple alterations.  Gabardine doesn’t have as “fancy” of a look, which may be a pro or con depending on the dancer and the dress design.

Velvet
Velvet is another popular choice.  It has a great richness and depth of color under stage lights.  Velvet will give you the deepest stage black (I never use anything else for black).  That being said, velvet is going to be a bit trickier to work with.  Its bulk can quickly add up, so I’d look for a micro-velvet that is more lightweight.  Velvet can be found made from a variety of fibers.  In my experience, cotton velvet is easiest to work with, but polyester velvet has the best sheen.  Unfortunately, velvet does show alterations annoyingly well, as the pile gets crushed where seams have previously been.  Apply some heavy steam and ‘brush’ the fabric along the grain with a scrap of velvet to help smooth the pile and reduce the visual evidence of scarring.

Sheer Sleeves
The new trend towards slimmer and sheer sleeves brings new fabrics into the ID world.  Organza is sometimes used, though depending on the slimness of the sleeve, a gusset may need to be added so that arm movement isn’t impeded.  Organza is a delicate fabric that scars easily and won’t hold up well to heavy embroidery.
Many dressmakers are opting for stretchy fabrics such as laces or power nets.  These allow for more movement in a tight-fitting sleeve.  Every fabric will have a different amount of stretch, so do your research and leave extra seam allowance until you know the sleeve fits well.

Bodice Base (and Skirt Base)
It is important to pick a good base fabric for your dress.  This is a fabric that sits underneath the dress fabric to provide structure and stability.  Together, the two layers are treated as one as the dress is constructed.  For most thin fabrics like satin or silk, you’ll want something fairly sturdy like a light-weight twill.  For bulkier fabrics like velvet, you may be fine with a Kona cotton or similar.  Mid-weight non-fusible interfacings work great as a skirt base fabric, but I would not recommend them for the bodice.  Twill/thick cotton/etc also work in the skirt.

You may also enjoy my post on skirt stiffeners

Two satins (plus sequin appliqué). Notice that the gold satin has a slightly higher sheen than the white.
Cotton velvet (black) and dupioni silk (green). Note that this velvet has less gloss than the next two photos, which are polyester.
Polyester micro-velvet (black), polyester gabardine (red), and gold satin at bottom of sleeves.
Polyester velvet (blue) and satin (turquoise).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *