Fabric

There many types of fabric available. The primary distinction is often between Natural fabrics (such as cotton, linen, wool, silk, etc) and Synthetic fabrics (such as polyester, lycra, spandex, etc). Many fabrics are available in one material, but you can also get blends, such as cotton-poly (often 50% cotton, 50% polyester) or stretch denim (often 90% cotton, 10% lycra). When choosing a fabric, there are three main things to consider - price, look, and use.

Price is often an issue, and some fabrics just cost more than others. While it may seem a simple answer to just make everything out of cotton broadcloth, cotton is not the ideal fabric for every project, and you may still be able to get better fabrics for a reasonable price. Fabric stores often have sales, especially on out-of-season fabrics. Fabrics stores will almost always also have a remnant bin, where you can save a lot but have to take the pieces in the size that's available - usually half a yard to two yards of fabric. Thrift stores also are a good place to check, you may be able to get tablecloths or bed linnens in usuable fabric for only a few dollars.

When it comes to look, you have a lot of options, and often some flexibility in what materials you choose. You can often find a linen-cotton blend, or even 100% cotton that looks a lot like linen, for much cheaper than 100% linen fabric. Wool also often comes in blends which are cheaper than the pure stuff. Microsuede is a polyester fabric that is designed to look like suede leather. There are any number of fake furs available in different thicknesses. If you have a bit more money, brocades (heavy fabric with a pattern woven into it rather than printed) are generally found in the home decor section, as they are much more popular for couches than for frock coats these days. Buying a fancy trim is also a good way to spruce up an otherwise plain or cheap-looking costume. And, of course, there are a million different colors and patterns available. If you are making a period costume, think about what dyes and processes would have been available; generally avoiding printed patterns in both fabric and trim is a good idea, as well as avoiding neon colors. If you are costuming for modern, steampunk, or post-apocolyptic characters, then go nuts. If you want something that looks like leather, but don't want to use real leather, vinyl is an adequete substitute, but don't store it near anything that his been painted. Vinyl 'off-gasses' and the chemicals it release tend to break down most paints, except the stuff which is specifically made for vinyl (which can be gotten at most shoe stores or shoemakers shops, by the way). The other thing to remember about vinyl is it doesn't breathe. If your entire costume is vinyl, you will be very damp and uncomfortable by the end of the day.

The use to which you are going to put your fabric should also have a great deal of influence over what material you use. Do you need something to keep you warm? Wool, linen and silk are excellent choices, with wool making the best outer layer, silk making the best next-to-your-skin layer, and linen being moderately good wherever you put it. Do you need something durable, machine washable, and generally abusable? Linen is excellent, and cotton or cotton-poly blends are quite good, as a general rule. Making a body suit or fur suit? Make sure the fabric has enough stretch. Fabric labeled 'two way stretch' actually only stretches along one axis. You will almost certainly need four way stretch, which stretches both horizonally and vertically. Eight-way stretch fur is designed for skin tight fur suits and can be gotten online, but it is very pricy.

Leather

Leather is generally categorized in two ways - what animal it comes from, and what process is used to tan it. When purchasing leather, you will also need to select what weight (thickness) you want (1oz is about 1/64").

Chrome tan, or chemical tan, is a chemical process which results in soft leather. The leather is genereally colored as part of the tanning process, and should not be dyed after purchasing it. Chem-tan leather is available in top-grain (has one smooth surface), hair-on, or suede, and is generally suitable for clothing.

Vegtable tan leather is stiffer, and comes undyed, and can be dyed or painted after purchase. Veg-tan leather is suitable for carving, and is good for belts, straps, and armor.

Rawhide is leather that has been cured, but not tanned. It is semi-transparent, and rigid, but will become soft and stretchy when soaked. It is most commonly used for drum heads.

Cowhide is the most common, is a general-purpose leather, and is the only one generally available in all tanning types.

Deerhide is very thin, but strong, is mostly available in chem-tan only, and is somewhat stretchy especially when damp. It is excellent for lining leather projects, and wrapping sword hilts.

Pigskin, real or immitation gator skin and ostrich skin, buffallo hide, and other exotic leathers are often available, but cowhide and deerhide are the most suitable for most projects.

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