On Monday I posed the question, Must polyester always have a bad name? My answer then, was no. Today I present the stuff that did make Ms. Poly Ester the household scourge of the 1960s and '70s.
My venerable collection of scratchy, polyester Dotted Swiss--in an array of enviable chalky colors such as Pepto Bismol pink, Creme de Mente green and Laffy Taffy banana yellow—is, hands down, the most hated material in my fabric stash.
The quick backstory here is that several years ago, Carla and I got a tip about an old house not far from us that was being gutted and sold after the owner moved into a nursing home. From what we can tell, the owner had either been a seamstress in her working life or just one heck of a fabric hoarder.
The ground floor of the house was filled with dozens of boxes of vintage fabric—home dec and apparel fabrics in every imaginable color and motif, faux fur—you name it. Carla and I sifted through the lot for an hour or so, freely grabbing anything that wasn't moldy and could be deemed “retro cool” or otherwise serve a useful purpose like linings or muslins. The polyester Dotted Swiss was assigned to the latter category for purposes of making muslins.
To its credit, the fabric holds a fold like a dream and replicates lightweight cotton fabric pretty well, so it does make good on its value in making test garments. These are small consolations, however, for its nauseating odor, especially when ironed, and aforementioned dispirited colors. The swiss dots are so tightly woven that the machine needle often slips off of them rather than piercing cleanly through. And speaking of ironing, you have to remember to keep your iron on low or else risk irreversible melting of the fibers. Nasty stuff, I tell you.
Fast forward a few years and I fear that I have yet to make a dent in this collection, despite the many, many muslins I have made from it. It does make me appreciate working with modern-day polyester, which has improved fantastically in the last 40+ years. The odor and melting issues have been resolved and polyester is often blended with other fibers to fight wrinkles and give fabric a softer hand. Check the label of the commercial clothes in your closet and you may be surprised how many garments have some polyester in them.
Still, when selecting fabrics to work with, I pause when I see poly in the fiber content. The negative stereotypes associated with polyester are hard for me to shake, but I am coming around slowly.
All this leaves me to wonder whether this fiber has risen from the ashes of polyester leisure suits in the minds and hearts of my fellow sewists. So tell me, dear readers, do you have a love or hate relationship with polyester or a feeling of indifference?