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Lose pounds with the right fabric

Choosing the right fabrics for your clothes can take pounds off your silhouette

I was reading an old copy of Threads magazine today and found an interesting article.

Threads is a sewing magazine, of course, so it's all about choosing the right fabric to sew with. But the same decisions can also be made in ready to wear: the upshot is, if you pick the right kind of fabric, with a heavy drape, your clothing can take pounds off you. 

I'm sure we're all aware that darker colours are more slimming - it is, after all, one of the reasons that 76 per cent of the average British female's wardrobe is in black. But the handle of the fabric also makes a difference - fabrics with good drape hang closer to the body, skimming your curves and moulding gently to your silhouette rather than standing away from it and making you look larger. The exact same garment in lightweight beige linen and in black satin-backed crepe looks dramatically different. 

So what gives a fabric good drape? This is something sewists deal with regularly, but you can copy these ideas in your ready to wear too. 

Weight: heavier fabrics tend to drape better. This needn't mean, with summer coming up, that you need to bundle up in woollens again. I've bought a few linen dresses recently on Ebay and found dramatically differing weights in each. Those made from Irish linen are usually the best, and Per Una has proved very solid - their linens are heavy and drape nicely. Their habit of adding godets at the hem also helps, as this weighs the fabric down a bit (see Garment design, below). 

Weave: knit fabrics such as jersey drape better than woven ones - 'slinky' knit drapes best of all. Twill fabrics also drape well, as does anything tightly woven such as wool worsted, wool sateen and wool serge. Crepe fabrics are the best-draping wovens and work in any fibre, including silk, wool, polyester and rayon. 

Stretch: the addition of between 2 and 5 per cent Lycra also helps a fabric to drape better.  Above 5 per cent and you're more into controlwear.

Bias: when fabric is turned to the bias, it automatically becomes stretchier - somewhere between 10 and 25 per cent, so cutting on the bias results in a similar look to stretch fabrics. 

Garment design: garments that are fitted at the top but full at the bottom carry most of their weight near the bottom and this makes for better drape. Examples include flared trousers with a flat waistband, A-line skirts, especially 6- or 8-gore, circle skirts and skirts with godets at the hem.

How to detect good drape

* Hold the garment up to your body and look for long lines of vertical folds. 

* Shake the garment and listen for a muffled snap. 

* Scrunch the garment up and try to get the whole width of it in one hand. 

Add drape to your existing ready to wear. 

If you've got a garment that's a bit floaty or sticks out when you wear it, you can add weight to it with fine metal chain (a gold chain is traditionally stitched into the hem of every Chanel jacket to create better drape), buttons, beads or other detailing.

In fine garments such as wedding dresses and evening gowns, silk-covered lead weights similar to those found in curtains are often used to ensure correct drape, especially on trains or cowl necklines. A small weight of this kind also works very well in the inner hems of trousers to ensure they fall neatly over the foot.

I routinely use large buttons or metal-link chain to weight garments made in lightweight cottons and make them hang better - it also stops a full but lightweight skirt from blowing over your head when the wind gets up. 

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