Bespoke · Breeches · Fabrics

Building Breeches: A Comment on Fibre Content

My husband and I will probably go to our graves each believing the other is deeply wrong about the best fabrics for outdoor athletic activities in the hot, humid summers of the American Great Plains.  I’m a die-hard fan of natural fibres and generally gravitate to cotton.  I know it makes me look like a Rorschach print: do you see a butterfly? an angry cartoon face? or a sports bra?

Master Traveler LOVES teaching young people to ride!

Meh.  The horses don’t care what I look like and I think cotton is cooler and less smelly than synthetic fabrics.  I don’t have to look at me but I do have to smell me.

Moving on….

As you may recall from a previous post, I want breeches made of a fabric with good weight and body, good breathability, decent stretch (ideally in four directions), and good recovery.  I had hoped to find fabrics with the same fibre contents as the commercially produced TuffRider and On Course breeches I’ve been wearing: a four-way-stretch knit with roughly 92-95% cotton and the rest spandex.  It proved pretty impossible to find something like a cotton interlock with enough body and substance. (It also proved pretty impossible to find these exact breeches again when I tried to replace them — apparently the manufacturers no longer offer this type very much.)

I widened my search to ponte fabrics from online retailers because my first quick tour of JoAnn Fabrics didn’t turn up anything interesting.  I swatched six fabrics ranging across the board in terms of fibre content.

  • 60% rayon, 36% nylon, 4% spandex
  • 68% rayon, 25% polyester, 7% elastane
  • 57% polyester, 38% rayon, [5% spandex]
  • 75% polyester, 21% rayon, 4% spandex
  • 100% polyester
  • 50% cotton, 25% polyester, 20% nylon, 5% elastane

I had hung my hopes on the first two: technologically rayon might best be described as a semi-synthetic.  It’s made of cellulose pulp, so it has the material properties of a natural fibre (i.e., breathability) but that pulp is turned into fibre and fabric through a synthetic manufacturing process.  As a result, it’s usually an economical fabric with nice hand, flow, and drape.  It was originally invented and marketed as a silk substitute and I find it to be a good compromise: an inexpensive option that breathes really well and can also look and behave like a finer fabric.  Some people sneer at it but I like rayon for daily-wear garments.

I was especially excited to find these first two fabrics: it turns out that ponte knits with natural fibres are pretty difficult to find.  These have a lower percentage of rayon than I had originally wanted but much higher than most and probably enough that they’ll still breathe well.  I was very disappointed that these ended up being too flimsy to use. The rest didn’t really interest me to start with, because I hate synthetic fabrics in the summer, so I wasn’t too upset when they didn’t work out.

This is about the point that I went back to the drawing board entirely, read what I could about making breeches, and started re-thinking the fabric question from the ground up, as I discussed in my earlier post.  While I was doing that, though, I got lucky during a trip to JoAnn’s for something else entirely.  I stumbled upon a couple of remnant cuts of a nice, heavy ponte knit made of mostly rayon (65% Rayon 30% Nylon 5% Spandex). I snapped those up at the deep remnant discount thinking I could use them to muslin up the top third, or so, of a breeches pattern and I also found a bolt of the stuff in my favourite colour, royal blue, so I bought enough of that for a full pair!

That rayon ponte runs toward the higher end of price points at JoAnn’s, though.  Suggested retail price on this one is about $20/yd, though JoAnn’s always has a sale or a coupon so you won’t actually pay that much.  I also still wasn’t sure it would work. Ultimately, then, I decided to try a two-pronged approach: on the same trip, I purchased a stretch woven cotton sateen that runs about $13/yd in addition to the ponte.  I had coupons so I paid somewhat less than MSRP for each but I wanted to test the stretch woven for a couple of reasons.  First, I really like tailored garments and the idea of a nice, supportive, woven bottomweight that’s impeccably tailored and stretchy enough for the athleticism of eventing just plain appeals to me.  I’m also curious about the mechanics and engineering of it.  Are stretch wovens even suitable for this kind of project? What happens if you make the same pattern in both fabrics? Finally, I appreciate that, with the number of pairs of breeches I’d probably like to own, the $10-13/yd price range looks a lot better than the $20-ish one, at least for my daily-wear pairs.

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