Sometimes I think I’m the only person on the planet who remembers wearing (and sewing with) crimplene. Yes, that’s how you spell crimplene. Trademarked in the 1950’s (long before I started wearing the stuff), this was a fabric that really came into its own in the late 1960’s, remained a mainstay of fashion and sewing for a few years, then disappeared into the mists of sewing history.
According to most online sources, crimplene was the trade name of both the yarn and the fabric made from it. Polyester in origin, this was a go-to fabric for all kinds of projects and will go down in my own fashion sewing history as the first knit I ever sewed with. It occasionally appeared as a woven fabric, but most of it was a textured double knit that we used for shift dresses, pant suits (yes, matching tunic tops and pants which, BTW might make a great come-back for the over-50 set with the right silhouette in my view), men’s leisure suits (please god no more leisure-suit come-backs), and even shirtwaists. I loved it.
Crimplene had all the characteristics that we were looking for at the time:
- It was forgiving (unlike many of the woven fabrics of the day).
- It was totally unwrinkleable (likely not a real word, but you know what I mean).
- It was machine washable, dryable and unshrinkable (which accounts for why I never learned to prepare fabric before sewing since crimplene needed no prep).
- It came in every colour and texture you could imagine (and couldn’t fade even if you left it in the sun for years).
- It was indestructible (and crimplene clothing is probably still stacked in our land-fills to this day).
- And it never frayed (so those of us on the fast fashion sewing track which we have finally recovered from never had to finish a seam allowance *shudder*).
So, when I returned to sewing in the twenty-first century I wanted to learn the techniques for modern knits, of course. I decided to enroll in another Craftsy course (actually it was the first one I ever stumbled upon) on sewing with knits, took out the walking foot that came with my new digital sewing machine and figured out how to install it on the machine. I have to admit I had never seen such a contraption before – never even heard of it. But once I learned how to use that sucker, I cannot live without it.
As I made my way through the course, I found myself two lots of knit fabric whose weight I really liked and proceeded to make some modern knit tops. What I noticed, although it didn’t really strike me at the time I bought the fabric, was the extent to which it resembled – you guessed it – crimplene. Fashioned from cotton blends in this century, both lengths of fabric I chose were eerily like the crimplene I had known and loved in the last century.
See that texture? (Front on left; back on right) Not crimplene, but twenty-first century cotton knit!
Sometimes I wonder if our sewing DNA is a kind of blueprint for what we’ll evolve to as we age – but perhaps like a fine wine, we do get better with age. I’d like to think I’m a bit more discerning and that this discernment has evolved along with the increasing size of my pocket book that was thin, indeed, back in my undergrad years at university.
Anyway, as I examine closely the fabric of the cross-over top I made during that Craftsy course, I can see definite remnants of my former penchant for crimplene. Now I’m longing to have a length of that old stuff to see if it really is as terrible and unbreathable as I think it was.
This new century has taught me that knits should probably not be indestructible, nor should they be designed only for fast sewing. They should take beautiful seam finishes, and should feel divine when worn. Feeling and looking divine: that’s what I’m after!
[If you need more about crimplene, here is a great post on a Sixties Style Blog that you’ll just love – and lots of photos! A Brief History of Crimplene http://stylesixties.blogspot.ca/2013/04/a-brief-history-of-crimplene.html]
6 thoughts on “Sewing with knits: Moving into the 21st century”
I sewed with crimplene in the ’70s too. I don’t think I much liked it even then. I suspect the contemporary fabric, ponte di roma, is no different than crimplene. I dislike it intensely 🙂 Now that I’ve returned to sewing after decades away, I’m trying to sort out how to use the immense variety of knit fabrics out there — some two-way stretch, some four-way, some with spandex/elastane, some without. The variety boggles the mind.
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You are so right about the variety of knit fabrics! I’m trying to learn as much about them as possible because I love to wear knits. That crimplene never did do anyone real justice! Thanks for weighing in.
I’ve been thinking about crimplene since I read your post yesterday, and eventually there’s been quite a few horrid pieces if clothing coming to mind. I can’t remember ever having something in crimplene, but I remember my best friend going to a seamstress to be fitted. Crimplene flare trousers and vest. So 7o’s it’s hard to believe. I thought it was an amazing outfit, and I was slightly jealous of her. I never went to a seamstress! Because my mum was an amazing one, but I never saw that then. And she flat out refused to make me anything in crimplene. No synthetics, as far as possible. No wonder I prefer natural fibers too…
Yes, there is nothing like a decade of synthetics to send us screaming to silk, linen, cotton & wool! Thanks for sharing your memories!
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