How to Choose Which Fabrics to Use On-Stage

The right fabrics can set the scene, transport the audience to a different time and place, and add meaning to the story. For this reason, set and costume designers must choose the fabrics that they use on stage carefully. There are countless fabrics to choose from, which makes this job rather difficult. How can you decide which fabrics are best for your production? Follow these tips:

Remember the Lighting

The fabrics that look beautiful online may not look the same in person—especially when the spotlight is shining on them. Many stage and costume designers find this out the hard way after spending thousands of dollars on fabrics that don’t look appealing under the bright lights. Don’t make this mistake. If you find a fabric you like, order a sample before committing to it. See how the sample’s color, sheerness, and texture looks when placed under bright stage lights before deciding whether or not it will work for your production.

Research the Setting

Before shopping for fabrics, set and costume designers should thoroughly research the time and place where the play is set. You need to know as much as possible about what people of this time period wore, where they lived, how they decorated their homes, and what the world looked like at this time. If you don’t understand the characters’ lifestyle, there’s no way you will know how to choose the right fabrics for your production.

Consider the Transparency

Another factor to consider when selecting fabrics is the transparency of each material. Designers will need to use opaque fabrics to hide backstage activity or undesirable lighting since these materials lack transparency. You will also need an opaque fabric to serve as the drape that comes across the stage during intermission. This ensures the audience does not see the cast and crew racing around to prepare for next act.

Translucent fabrics are semi-transparent materials that allow some light to pass through them. Translucent fabrics are typically used to create a silhouette effect or provide backlighting on stage. If you accidentally choose an opaque fabric, you will not be able to create the desired illusion.

Remember that it is possible to layer translucent fabrics in order to adjust the amount of light that shines through. If a fabric is sheerer than expected, simply add a few layers of fabric to increase the thickness and block more light.

Think About the Way the Fabric Falls

A fabric cannot be used in your stage production if it does not fall the way you want it to—no matter how beautiful it may be. Because of this, it’s important to keep this factor in mind when narrowing down your options and choosing the right fabrics for your production. This is another reason why ordering fabric samples prior to purchasing materials is strongly recommended. Having samples gives you the opportunity to play with the materials and see how they drape over the body and props on set.

Avoid High Maintenance Fabrics

It’s best to learn about the proper way to care for each fabric before choosing materials for your production. You will need to know the best way to clean fabrics in case they are stained on set. If the cleaning process is too intensive, cross that fabric off of the list and move forward.

It’s also wise to find out whether or not a fabric is easily wrinkled. It’s hard for a set or costume designer to solely choose fabrics that do not wrinkle, however it is possible to avoid fabrics that are easily wrinkled and hard to steam. Avoiding these high maintenance fabrics will save you a lot of trouble and improve the overall look of your production.

Flame Retardant vs. Inherently Flame Retardant

Fabrics used as stage curtains must be flame retardant, but many set designers ado not know the difference between a flame retardant and inherently flame retardant fabric. The former is a fabric that is coated with a fire resistant chemical. Because the chemical is applied to the surface of the fabric, washing, dry cleaning, or repeatedly using the fabric could affect its fire resistance.

On the other hand, an inherently flame retardant fabric is one that has flame retardants built into its fibers. Since the flame retardants are part of the fabric’s structure, they will not come off when the curtain is washed, dry cleaned, or used repeatedly. Inherently flame retardant fabrics are usually more expensive, however they will remain resistant to fire for much longer than flame retardant fabrics.

Look For Cheaper Alternatives

Set and costume designers often fall in love with fabrics that are far too expensive to be used in their production. Instead of forgetting about these fabrics, designers should make an effort to find less expensive alternatives. For example, wool is a luxurious fabric that looks high-end and beautiful on stage, but it is fairly expensive. Fortunately, an inexpensive fabric such as polyester garbardine can be used to create the same look. Polyester garbardine may not look or feel like wool when it is closely examined, but it’s practically identical to it from a distance. The audience will never know the difference, so you can create the desired look without breaking the production’s budget.

Now, you should know how to choose the perfect fabrics to use in your next stage production. If you’re ready to purchase fabrics, contact Chicago Canvas & Supply for more information. We are your leading source for tarps, textiles, theatre fabrics, ropes, drop cloths, and more. We are more than happy to send free samples so you can make sure the fabrics will work for your production prior to purchasing them. To place a request for samples, contact us today by calling 1-866-389-2218 or emailing email@chicagocanvas.com.

Linen Gauze vs. Sharkstooth vs. Leno Filled Scrim

A scrim is a piece of fabric that is often used in the world of theatre as a screen or backdrop on set. Scrims are important to the design of the set since they can create the illusion of haziness, solid walls, and distance. To create the desired effects, it’s important to choose the right type of scrim. There are three main options to choose from: linen gauze, sharkstooth, and leno filled scrims. Here’s a look at the main differences between these three fabrics:

Texture

The most visible difference between these three types of scrim is the texture. sharkstooth scrim has a textured open weave, which means the fabric is woven in a way that creates small, rectangular openings. Leno filled scrim has a similar weave to sharkstooth scrim, however the rectangular openings found on sharkstooth scrim are filled in on leno filled scrim. Therefore, leno filled scrim is a textured closed weave, whereas sharkstooth is a textured open weave. The weave on linen gauze is very different. Linen gauze is a closely woven fabric with a fine and even texture.

Resistance to Flames

You never know when disaster will strike on set, which is why it’s best to consider the flame resistancy of each scrim prior to choosing one for your theater set. Even though the two scrims feature similar weaves, sharkstooth scrim is fire retardant, whereas leno filled scrim is not. Linen gauze scrim is typically available in both fire retardant and non-fire retardant options. If you plan on using fire on set, it’s best to choose a scrim that will not light up in flames in the event of an accident.

Material

Linen gauze scrims are 100% cotton, whereas both sharkstooth and leno filled scrims are 95% cotton and 5% polyester. Cotton-polyester blends are typically more durable and resistant to normal wear and tear. Adding polyester to cotton also makes the cotton less likely to shrink or stretch. As a result, set designers may find that sharkstooth and leno filled scrims last longer and retain their original shape and color better than linen gauze scrims.

Cotton-polyester blends are also less likely to wrinkle than materials that are 100% cotton. If you use a linen gauze scrim repeatedly or leave it folded up in storage for too long, you may need to iron or steam it prior to hanging it on set.

However, polyester is a synthetic fabric and cotton is 100% natural and recyclable. If eco-friendliness is a priority, the linen gauze scrim is probably the best option for your set.

Transparency

Transparency is one of the most important factors to consider when choosing a scrim for the set of a play. Set designers must understand how the light shines through each type of scrim so they can choose one that will help them create a certain effect on stage.

Linen gauze does not have an open weave, so light does not pour out of openings on this fabric. However, it is a lightweight fabric that allows a significant amount of light to shine through. This fabric actually softens the light to create a beautiful glow on stage. Leno filled scrim is also capable of diffusing and softening the light since it does not have an open weave.

Sharkstooth scrim allows more light to shine through than leno filled and linen gauze scream because of its open weave. In fact, set designers often use sharkstooth scrim because its open weave makes it basically transparent, so it can be used to create disappearing effects that will impress the audience.

Price

Price is another factor that should be taken into consideration when deciding which scrim to purchase. The price of these fabrics varies depending on a number of factors, including the vendor, size of the fabric, and availability. Even the color of the fabric can affect the price. In general, linen gauze and sharkstooth are close in price, and leno filled scrim is priced slightly higher per yard of fabric.

Color

Set designers are usually interested in scrims in natural colors such as white, tan, black, and light shades of blue. Because these are the most sought after hues, the selection of scrims is typically limited to these colors. If you are interested in a scrim in another color, it’s best to talk to the vendor about creating a custom order. Both cotton and cotton-polyester blend fabrics can be dyed, so this may be the best option.

Hanging the Scrims On Set

You should also learn how each scrim is hung and used on set prior to deciding which one is right for your production. Linen gauze is a lightweight material that is not hard to handle or hang on your own.

However, some set designers run into trouble when hanging sharkstooth scrim if they’ve never used this fabric before. Because of its open weave and weight, sharkstooth scrim falls into somewhat of an hourglass shape when it is hung. To solve this problem, set designers must add the proper amount of support to both sides of the scrim. Supporting the sides will straighten the scrim and prevent the center from creating an hourglass shape. But, it’s difficult to add support to the sides if this area is visible to the audience. Therefore, inexperienced set designers may find it hard to work with sharkstooth scrim.

At this point, you should have all of the information you need to make this decision. If you’re interested in purchasing linen gauze, sharkstooth, or leno filled scrim, contact Chicago Canvas & Supply. We are your leading source for backdrops, textiles, theatre fabrics, tarps, drop cloths, and more. We are happy to send free material samples to our clients. To place a request for samples, contact us today by calling 1-866-389-2218 or emailing email@chicagocanvas.com.

Top Fabrics for Theater Production Budget

Don’t Forget These Line Items in This Year’s Theatre Budget!

Another new year, is here which means it’s time to take a close look at your theatre production budget. According to a National Arts Journalism Program study on theatre budgets, physical production costs can make up 10-20% of your production budget, depending on the size. We know that you want to equip yourself with the best materials for your productions, but also want to stay within your budget. Whether you’re a school, church, community organization or professional theatre, we’ve got some tips to help plan the fabric line items of your theater production budget. Let’s get started on making the most out of your budget!  Read more

What is a Cyclorama?

Here’s Everything you need to Know

Cycloramas are used in virtually every form of theater, television, media, broadcast media, and photography productions. If you want to create an illusion of a sky, open space, distance, or simply add special effects to your set, creating a cyclorama is key to achieving the illusion. Whether you are a veteran set designer or just starting in the industry knowing how cycloramas work can be extremely beneficial to your set design productions. Follow along on our blog post as we breakdown the basics of cycloramas.

Read more

Quick Tips on Tarp Repair & Maintenance

Increase the Lifespan of Your Tarp

Tarps have varied life spans depending on their material type. Poly tarps, for example, are viewed as disposable and can be purchased in most places for just a few bucks. On the other hand, industrial, heavy-duty tarps require some investment and are made to last.  With proper tarp repair and maintenance, they can last up to several years.

Read more