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Cotton Organza fabric

Organdy dresses on Victoria magazine coverIt was a distinct turning point in my historical costuming. I thought I was doing pretty good – my costumes were fairly accurate in style, my undergarments were all present, and my fabric selections did not include polyester or nylon. I soaked up all I could on how to make my Victorian clothing better.

What I didn’t expect was my introduction to a “standard” cotton textile that would ROCK my sewing world.

My friends… meet the Costumer’s Dream Fabric: Organdy.

The Backstory:

My long-time friend, lana/Lily, and I were researching corded petticoats and how starching is so important for an accurate 19th C. look.

Somehow she had recently thought of/found/researched and generally came up on cotton organdy. It was then we ran ahead in our minds and discovered all the glorious uses of this “basic” fabric.

The History:

Organdy is a plain-weave textile generally woven from cotton. It is then treated up to three different ways for either a permanent or semi-permanent finish. This finish is what gives it its stiffness. It’s a similar treatment as starching, and my guess is that today’s organdies are chemical finished.

In my mind, organdy was this unknown fabric that was only used in “old-fashioned” clothing (love that description) and not available anymore. (Have you thought that when hearing the word organdy?)

I still have a Victoria magazine from many, many years ago showing a woman in an organdy dress running through a tall grassy field and a little girl at her side. Her dress was a pure white organdy.

How could you make dresses from organdy? It was somehow embedded in my mind that organdy was stiff. A dress drapes. Organdy doesn’t. Well, that’s before I found out it comes in varying finishes: stiff and soft. (There is a medium finish available but not as quickly found in the marketplace).

The Difference:

Just to clear things up – organDY is made from cotton. OrganZA is traditionally silk but generally in polyester or nylon nowadays. (Avoid this stuff if you don’t want to swear out a storm.)

But you know what makes this the Dream Fabric?

Organdy RufflesThe lightness of weight (HUGE feature).

The ability to hold other fabrics together (like a base under trim or unusual fabric shapes).

Holds its own shape (bias stretching is minimal).

Being made of cotton.

The no need for starch.

What You Can Make:

Being naturally stiff, use it for petticoats. 78% of them. Really. Especially the ruffles. You will ask yourself what took you so long to use this fabric.

Corded petticoats are beautiful and light-weight when made from organdy. (You don’t need a heavy fabric – the cords are weighty on their own and the stiff organdy will hold them in just fine.)

The thing about organdy is that it’s already starched so there’s a natural support built in. And it’s super lightweight to begin with (as if I haven’t mentioned it already). It’s a common modern misconception that you have to use a heavy fabric for petticoats. Why do that? Lightweight undergarments rock!

Use as an underlining for bodices. Collars & cuffs are natural uses. Belts too as an innerlining.

Try it as a base for manipulated fabrics and applied trims like flowers and ribbons. Both aprons on my 1876 Wedding Cake Dress and the 1873 Blackberry Cream Dress utilized organdy under the ruched fashion fabric to hold it in a defined shape.

Fast Sewing Tips:

It can be slippery under your machine and you’ve got to control it. When you’re sewing a seam, the two edges can slip. Try a long hand baste stitch if you’re fighting with the organdy.

Pins can slip out easily so pin accordingly.

It wrinkles. Press as you would any cotton with a hot iron and steam. You may notice as you press the organdy gets soft. Not to worry – it stiffens as it cools.

Press out all the creases before cutting your pieces. Use a rotary cutter and ruler for more precise cutting.

Use a smaller needle like 70/10 to avoid large holes.

Regular cotton/poly or poly thread works just fine.

Keep to the grainline as you would on any other woven fabric.

Where to Buy Online:

Alas, I haven’t had good luck with finding organdy at the chains like JoAnn’s and Hancock’s. The large superstores might carry it for apparel but most of what you’ll find is in the home dec department. It’ll be called “organdy” but be 100% polyester or nylon. AVOID these! You might also look in the interfacing section. (I know, weird, but it CAN be a great sew-in interfacing. Don’t confuse with crinoline.)

Pure Silks – THE #1 place online for cotton organdy in both soft and stiff finishes. They are also on eBay as Exclusive Silks. Shipped from India it can take up to two weeks to receive in the US so plan ahead and order 10 yards at a time.

Needle & Thread (as Wooded Hamlet) – I’ve ordered many yards from here and being in the US can get to me quick. You’ll have to call to order & have it shipped. Be sure to ask how stiff their stock is as it varies. I’ve received both finishes from here.

Farmhouse Fabrics – They have various organdies including COLORS. And if you want to go there, a quite expensive imported Swiss organdy – perfect for a little girl’s dress, not so much for a 10 yard-fabric bustle gown.

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