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The Importance of a Good Lining

I rarely wear some of my favorite dresses. They fit & need no mending. I can even wear them most places, including work. Frosting Fortnight is helping me confront the reason I don’t often wear these dresses.

Pretty in Polka Dots Dress

The problem is I used cheap-as-sin polyester lining. These are summer dresses.

The Eames Sheath

Linings help form the foundation of the garment. Using a poly lining is like using as cheap of materials as possible so you can build your house larger than you could otherwise afford. You took the time & care to make the house just the way you want it, so it should last. On a smaller scale, the same can be said for your self-made garments. Too much time goes into planning, cutting out the pattern, stitching everything together, & getting a good fit. Using a cheap lining is like taking your hard work, smacking yourself in the face with it & tossing it all in the trash.

The Busty Bunnies Dress

Your clothing may not need to endure hurricanes or tornadoes, but it should stand up to occasional abuse (like old washing machines & children playing dress up). Cheap poly linings can fray before you even wear them the first time.

After a couple of washings the lining has started to fray near the zipper & come apart at the seams by the waist.

In the southwest it’s common to build houses out of adobe, a wonderful material that regulates temperature so your house doesn’t get too cold or too hot. In the southwest it’d be a bad idea to build a house that’s all windows & doesn’t have any blinds. Your air conditioner would have to run double time to keep up with all the sun rays being turned into microwaves as they passed through your glass walls. Likewise, poly linings make things too darn hot.

The slipperiness of the lining helps me get it on over my head- no zippers or buttons. But because the lining is made of polyester, it’s too hot to wear in the summer, which is the perfect time to wear a white dress.

Quality linings, like silk, can be too expensive (although on fabric.com you can often find silk on the cheap). And if all you have in your town is a chain fabric store, chances are you won’t be finding any silk remnants. In that case you may have no choice but to compromise.

I took the quick route on hemming the lining by just serging the raw edge. After washing the dress maybe three times the line of serging has started to pull away & the lining is fraying.

Rayon is a nice alternative. It’s cheaper than silk & breathes well. If you’re opposed to rayon because it’s a bit squiggly & harder to control than cotton, give it a shot anyway. Rayon really isn’t much harder to control than a cheap poly lining. Just take your time & use a big, clear space to lay everything out. Pattern weights, pins & a sharp rotary cutter are your friends.

After my very poor lining decisions earlier in the year, I decided that if I’m going to use synthetics, they have to be satin. Even cheap satins are more heavy-duty than those $1/yd bargain bin linings. They can hold up to more wear & tear without coming apart at the seams after just a few washings. Plus, they’re absolutely fantastic when it comes to polishing your glasses.

Mad Men Inspired Dress

Still, satin doesn’t breathe & even a winter dress lined in poly can be too hot. If you’re like me & you HAVE to make something when inspiration strikes, but the thought of trekking to the fabric store is too painful you might have to use whatever cheap synthetic you have on hand. In such cases, I like to line the bodice in cotton & only do the skirt in poly. We retain a lot of heat in our torsos, so that’s the area that needs the most breathability. If your skirt is nice & big (room for air circulation) a poly lining might not matter so much when it comes to heat retention. And if you have poor circulation in your legs, you might want that polyester there.

Quilting cotton lining the bodice & poly for the skirt has made for a breathable & comfortable dress. It’s also held up to numerous washings without any tears or visible weakening of the seams.

I’m still learning when it comes to linings. If you have any other suggestions on good, alternative fabrics, please let me know (do those breathable poly linings really work?). Also, in the knitting community silk is seen as something that retains heat. In sewing circles I’ve only heard it mentioned as something that is breathable & good for hot weather. Anyone know what the real skinny on silk is?

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26 thoughts on “The Importance of a Good Lining

  1. So long as the fabric is fairly opaque, everything is well constructed, seams and hems are finished in a way that won’t unravel when laundered, and it fits well, a dress *gasps* doesn’t actually need a lining. I know. I live in a place far too hot for any clothes, let alone ones that are lined. You do need very well-fitting skin-toned underclothes or you’ll have on display lumps and bumps you really don’t want to show.

    Otherwise, if you really must line it but it will be worn in hot weather, a light cotton voile or batiste is nice. Silk and rayon linings will “breath” ok, but any lining is adding an extra layer which adds more warmth to the garment.

    And yes, silk IS hot! However the kind of fabric it is woven/knitted up as can affect how hot it feels. A satin eave feels hotter than a light crisp silk, for eg. My favourite form of silk in my climate (humid tropics) something mixed with cotton or linen. Much more hard-wearing and easier to take care of, but still has that luxurious feel of silk.

    • Thanks for the tips on silk. I have made multiple dresses without linings, but find I much prefer those that are lined. I love dresses because they’re fast & easy. I can grab one & not have to think about what underwear I put on. Also, things don’t wrinkle nearly as much when they’re lined. Plus, I ride public transit frequently & it’s nice knowing I have another layer between me & some questionable seats. Here up north the extra warmth that a lining brings means I can usually wear my dress for longer when it gets cold 🙂

  2. Hmmm…in my experience (about 50 years of sewing!) cheaper rayon linings are the ones that disintegrate quickly. They don’t like to be laundered. Poly lining is more slippery but somewhat more durable. Doesn’t breathe as well as rayon. The washable good quality rayon (ambiance) is wonderful but hard to find. Silk is even more pricey but fabulous! My advice? A silk slip to go under many dresses.

    • Thanks! I forgot rayon hates water. I’m wondering though if the problem with cheap poly linings is that they just don’t make them like they used to. The latest ones I’ve used have started going bad (fraying & coming apart) almost immediately, even though the fashion fabric on these pieces is still in perfect condition.

  3. Pingback: Day of the Dead Clothes (And Skeletons From My Closet) « 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World

  4. Totally agree — cheap poly lining is the worst! I’ve taken to lining my dresses with old solid-colored sheets, but sometimes that’s too much for light summer dresses. In that case, I go with pre-washed cotton muslin and that works pretty well. I should give rayon a try, though, just so that it’s more slippery!

  5. I’m with you on the importance of a good lining. I have a general rule of thumb, the best rayon lining you can find for quality summer clothing. I used Ambience, even though it is expensive, it is worth it. For winter suits, I don’t mind using polyester satin linings (usually found in the bridal department). They look pretty, add a bit of structure, come in a variety of colors and wear like iron.
    Thanks for a graet post!.

    • I’ve heard of Ambiance, but have been scared off by the price. I’m trying to get around that though & have been telling myself it’s better to make one really well constructed garment that will last as opposed to two cheap ones that will fall apart.

      Have you used kasha satin? I recently heard about it & want to give it a whirl. It’s backed with flannel so it’s supposed to be extra warm.

  6. Thanks for a very timely post. I was asked to make a skirt a few weeks ago – the lady supplied the fabric – super expensive hand printed pure linen and cheap as chips poly lining. I did ask if she’d prefer a cotton voile lining but to no avail 😦 I nearly cried as I sewed that lining into place…

    I live in sub-tropical Australia so anything synthetic is a hopelessly awful. I’ve lined linen skirts with cotton voile and that seems to work fine. Sure its not as slinky as synthetics but it helps to hold the skirt shape and drape. Batiste is probably what you call it.

    I’ve also heard about silk for hot weather. I only have 1 pure silk dress and it is comfy but when the humidity hits even that gets a bit sticky – mind you when its 80% humidity more fabrics and clothing is sticky and icky….

  7. Building a garment is a lot like building a healthy body. What goes inside can make or break a garment, just like our bodies.

  8. An even more fun alternative to linings (and a way to rescue you old dresses), make a slip! That used to be the standard before dresses were lined. I had so much fun making my vintage pattern silk slip! And it feel luscious!! Of course you can buy a slip as well, but they are hard to find outside a thrift or vintage shop these days.
    Silk makes a fantastic lining as well. Breathable, strong, and beautiful, can’t go wrong with that!

  9. What do you mean by satin? As i understand it can be made from natural stuff also.

    I use viscose lining(ok, I check this is the same as rayon%))) and think that for some some dress I can use some cotton batiste.

  10. Lovely post – all your dresses are so pretty! I use a silk / cotton mix lining (I get mine from ebay but I think it’s more widely available in the US). It’s not too expensive and is lovely to wear.

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