I admit it…most of our supplies are not acquired in the traditional methods. Usually, when people think of costumes or clothing, they think of fabric. Which leads them to the fabric store. I only go to the fabric store if I need specialty fabric, like glitter satin for fairies or fur for a wolf. If I need plain old black fabric for peasant pants or red fabric for pirates, I head to any close second hand store. I visit Goodwill or Savers at least twice a month to purchase patterns, lace and trim and fabric.
Keep in mind, this fabric is cleverly disguised. Sometimes it is a sheet. Sometimes a set of drapes. Sometimes it is a bedspread. But it is fabric and significantly less than what you would find at a fabric store (unless you happen to have a 50% off coupon).
There are disadvantages and bonuses to using sheets and drapes as fabric. Let’s cover the bonuses first:
- Extra wide fabric
- Matching or coordinates
- Specialty fabrics
Let’s cover price. For sheets, I pay anywhere between $3.99 and $9.99. The lower price is usually a twin size sheet, the upper range is a king size set with pillow cases. A twin size flat sheet is about 66″ x 96″. I try to buy only flat sheets in the twin size unless the sheet is black, brown, white, navy or red. Those are colors I try to grab no matter what the size of fabric because they are so versatile. I can use them to make everything from peasant pants to a Victorian skirt. A king size, which for a single sheet is usually about $7.99 and only $9.99 for the set, is 108″ x 102″.
That brings us to extra wide fabric. At the fabric store, there are usually two options: 45″ or 60″. Yes, some decorator fabrics are wider…have you seen their prices? Extra wide fabric results in more fabric per yard. For about the cost of a cheap poly/cotton 45″ wide yard of fabric, I can get 1 5/6 yard of 66″ wide fabric. Usually in 100% cotton or a decent poly/cotton mix. Personally, I try to stay with natural fibers as they tend to be easier to care for and cooler to wear.
That’s just the fabric in a single twin sheet. If I find a set of sheets, a duvet cover or a comforter, then there’s a bonus feature: coordinating fabric. This means I not only get the original length of fabric, but also a matching coordinating piece. Sometimes there is a bonus: trim or braiding. This is great for creating pants or skirts that match the tops. When creating a Victorian outfit, I can use one side of the duvet cover for the skirt and the other side for the jacket. I also have matching fabric for creating trims or contrasting cuffs and collars.
The second layer can also provide a ‘built-in’ lining. I found a curtain that had a 100% cotton lining. So, when I cut out the jacket, I also cut out the lining of the jacket. I paid a single price for both fabrics, which at the fabric store would be two individual cuts.
The outside of the jacket happened to be silk-because that’s what the curtain was made from. One hundred per cent silk on the outside; one hundred per cent cotton on the lining. Jackpot! It’s not often I can afford silk, but I purchased two Ikea curtains, 57″ x 98″ that were a lovely gold silk lined with white cotton. Silk is not the only pricey fabric I have found. I have a lovely rose embroidered sheer curtain with a green satin lining that would normally be out of my price range. It’s just waiting for a costume.
So what are the disadvantages? Mostly this method of acquiring fabric requires three things: planning, patience, and prep work. I ask my director for the plays we are going to do for the next two years. Well, I try. Plans change, directors delay…you know the drill. But when I can get a schedule at least a year out, it allows me to plan. For instance, I have about half of the fabric required for Mary Poppins and we are at least a year away from production.
That leads into the patience part. Gathering the fabric for Mary Poppins took at least six months. That’s six months of going to Goodwill/Savers at least once a month. And that’s only half of the fabric. I hope to secure the rest over the next six months.
That leads to prep work. Very rarely will I find a length of fabric that is perfect as is. It usually needs washing. If it is a drape or a duvet cover, seams need to be ripped out. Ironing helps the fabric lie flat during cutting, so I do a lot of ironing.
But in the end it pays off. It can decrease the required funds for a production by at least half, if not more. One Victorian dress that I made for “Orphan Train” was only $25 to make. I found the jacket and shirt pattern online. The shirt was cut from a white sheet. The jacket was the gold silk I mentioned early with the built in cotton lining. The skirt was a striped queen size sheet. We already had the hoop skirt. Add a $3 dollar pin and a pair of gloves: you have a costume.
So, start planning your shopping trips and visit your local secondhand stores.
Some more examples of tablecloths, curtains, and sheets…
Orphan Train costumes
Male costume: Purchased shirt, pants made from a linen drape.
Female costume: Pattern up-sized from a 3T used pattern purchased at Savers, along with a green plaid tablecloth and solid green curtain.
Peter Pan: The top was created from a linen tablecloth. The pants were made from a green cotton sheet. The belt and the leaves were also found at a secondhand store.