Sunday, April 17, 2016

Sunday Spotlight: Rayon


Lets talk a little about rayon today shall we? I have recently become quite enamored with the look of forties dresses like the ones above in lovely flowy rayon and have bought some fun rayon prints at Joanns to sew up a few dresses of my own. I have used some rayon before, but I have only just begun to scratch the surface of the possibilities rayon can offer a vintage reproduction seamstress. What are the best practices for sewing with rayon? How do I wash it? Let's find out!

Goodness if only I could access these kinds of lovely prints!
 So rayon is an in between fabric in many ways, as it is neither fully a natural (like cotton) or a wholly man-made fiber (like polyester). Rayon is made of cellulose from wood pulp, and therefore comes from trees! Unlike cotton, linen, or silk, cellulose needs to be processed to become a fiber; a solution extruded from tiny tiny holes to create filaments of rayon fiber to be spun into threads. Now wouldn't it be easier if I just showed you how rayon was made? Well thankfully I found this adorable video from 1948 showing how both rayon and nylon were made back then!


I'm sure the process is similar today in many ways, just with much more advanced technology of course!

Since now we know how rayon is made, lets talk about where you can get your hands on some. I have come in contact with several rayon blends and even a few 100% rayon fabrics at Joanns. The rayons at Joanns are usually to be found in amongst their silky prints section hidden with the polyesters. They also have a nice rayon linen blend that you can find by the twills and bottomweights. I used this fabric in teal for my skirt I wore in last Thursday's outfit post! The other hot spot for rayons at Joanns seems to be in their red tag/discount fabric area oddly enough. Elsewhere there are two other fabric shopping options of note in the Denver area (I know some people have to make due with Joanns alone, so I feel very lucky in that sense!), Colorado Fabrics and Allyn's Bridal Fabrics. Colorado Fabrics doesn't seem to have a rayon section per se, but I have found a few great rayons there before and again their discount area sometimes has great surprises! Allyns Bridal Fabrics has much more than just bridal fabrics and they have quite a good selection of rayon dress fabrics but they are expensive. I invested in some good quality black rayon for a classic 40's dress there and it was $19 a yard, which I would say is at the top of my usual price range for fabric!

Of course you can also find rayons online, either at Mood fabrics or any other big online fabric retailer. Etsy can be a good place to pick up real vintage rayons if you are willing to pay a premium per yard for the real deal. It can be nice to look at vintage fabrics to get a better idea of the kinds of prints to look for when out shopping for fabrics today. Other resources like Pinterest can give you great examples of authentic 40's prints and catalog pages.


As for sewing with rayon, so far I have had only good experiences. I would recommend hand washing your fabric before you use it or running the fabric through the machine by itself on a cold gentle cycle. I plan on playing is safe and dry cleaning the clothes I make so I may impatiently skip the pre-wash. I could regret this later though!

 As for sewing with rayon, most often it has a lovely drape which does make it a bit more slippy to work with like a silk (but not as slippy, you know what I mean?). Rayon fabrics tend to fray easily at the cut edge so I recommend you use a seam binding or serge the edges of your pieces before or while you sew. Rayon seam binding (which doesn't have a cut edge and is woven specially thin for this purpose) is a lovely option for finishing these raw edges and making your new rayon project last longer. It's probably best to let the hems of your project hang overnight before you finish the hems in case they stretch a bit. All this being said, not all rayons are the same, and obviously some fabrics will be stronger if blended with a polyester or weaker if woven very fine. 

It is recommended that you hand wash rayon in cold water and iron it when still slightly damp. Rayon does have a tendency to shrink up a little bit after washing and is more fragile when it is wet. Steaming while ironing is the best way to try and ease some length back out of a garment if the hem has crept up after a wash. Again, I play it safe and just take my rayon and silk clothing to the dry cleaners. More money and time? Yes, but I'd rather that than accidentally ruin something!

Now Iv'e gone and made rayon sound so high maintenance! Opps. Still, rayon has such a lovely feel and and is wonderful to wear so it is totally worth the extra effort. Plus it is a super authentic textile for those of you who create vintage reproduction clothing like myself. I'm not a stickler for authenticity by any means, but it can be really nice to have created a dress that is essentially the same as vintage just without the 50+ years of wear and tear.

I have just started work on that basic 40's dress in black rayon I mentioned above (with that pricey rayon from Allyns) and really can't wait to wear it as I have a new hat to pair with it! All roads lead back to hats with me... I hope you all liked this textiles lesson! It ended up being a much longer post than I thought it would!

9 comments:

  1. I didn't realize Joanns had rayon at all! This is great news! I'm definitely stuck in a Joanns-only fabric desert, and ours is a particularly quilter-oriented Joanns.

    Also, I do have a 10 year old rayon dress (that was secondhand when I got it, even) which I have been merrily slinging into the washer and dryer for years, and it's still intact, but it has shrunk a bit, so I think if you have something you're not super protective of and you've aggressively prewashed the fabric, you should be fine to machine-wash.

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    1. I know right? I was wandering and fell for all of the few prints they had hidden in the polyester jungle. I just got some new rayon tops at H&M and after washing them (in cold water via the machine) I can tell they shrunk up at least an inch! I'm going to try and steam them back down as they were on the short side to begin with! I'm glad your dress has fared better!

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  2. Those dresses on the first picture look amazing! I very much like how the buttons are paired on the blue dress.

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  3. Terrific post! There are few fabrics that hold a candle to the iconic-ness of rayon when it comes to forties fashions. How exciting that you're going to be delving into creating more pieces with this (now) classic fabric. I can hardly wait to see them and wish you many happy days of sewing.

    ♥ Jessica

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    1. Thank you Jessica! I am so eager to work with more rayon, plus I have hats I am dying to wear with most of my planned dresses!

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  4. Some of those old rayon prints were super weren't they?! I like the brown bow print dress. Interested to see how your rayon sewing goes.

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    1. Now I have added "repro fabric line" to my list of career goals. I just want to do re-issues of all the awesome prints from the past!

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    2. Fabulous plan! I think there would be quite a market for the fabrics!

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