At a meet-up last weekend, Kristin from K-Line very generously gave me a good-sized chunk of stretch bengaline - that most illusive and mysterious of fabrics! She bought it online from Style Arc, and I’ve been bugging her ever since to find out what the fabric is like IRL. Lucky me - now I know, and I get to sew with it! Thanks Kristin!!
Stretch bengaline is what Style Arc recommends for their pull-on trousers, like the Elle pants that I love to make. Rumour has it that bengaline is sometimes available stateside, but that the quality varies a lot. (For more on that, read this post from Anne, aka. the Clothing Engineer, who is the Style arc and bengaline guru.)
Since it’s such a hard-to-find fabric, I thought I’d do fabric review video! (Warning - I set the exposure to show the black fabric, so I’m ghostly overexposed for most of the film! ;)
I think bengaline is one of those fabrics you either appreciate or hate. It’s super-stretchy in one direction, and feels, well… like icky polyester. Kristin was obviously not a fan herself - I’ll let her explain why, in her own words from this blog post:
"I don’t like Bengaline - and I’m working with the "good" kind - the rayon blend (not the poly blend). I can only imagine how hideous the poly stuff must feel. There’s so much fucking stretch that I can pull the pants off without opening the zip. My highly modified (for me) Claudia pants pattern is suited to fabric having a max of 20 per cent stretch and probably 10 per cent stretch factor would be better.
The only things I can imagine wearing in Bengaline are panels in a dress (for stretch and contrast), a tailored jacket (that fits with the ease of a cardigan) or VERY close fitted pants. Seriously, you want at least 2 inches of true negative ease, maybe more. I’ll try my other yard with the Elle’s or “denim” leggings, but I don’t suppose I’m going to be a convert.
The fabric feels untenably fake. It’s a bit sheeny - equally on both sides, IMO, so I couldn’t figure which was which. I have no idea if the lighter colours are less or more sheeny but that would make a difference going forward. (I want matte finish.) Bengaline seems never to iron completely. I mean, it presses a nice seam, but it’s almost like you iron-in the wrinkles as you go. It didn’t take my fusible interfacing well so there’s a bit of weird overstretch bubbliness on the underside of the facing (not a deal breaker but ugly).”
That’s pretty clear, isn’t it? :P (BTW, on the off chance you don’t read her blog, you should, because it’s scathing and insightful and funny in equal proportions!)
So what IS good about bengaline? Well, the RTW pants I owned in the past were great because they never wrinkle, they don’t bag out through the day, and they last forever. Yes, they feel polyestery and require no-VPL underwear… but they’ll stretch to fit you through thick and thin, and they look professional**, are washable, and are comfy as hell.
**Caveat: In my line of work the average day included getting chalk dust on my tush, some kid smearing boogers or paint on me, and leading stretches in gym - so stretchy, easy-care pants are a good thing! On the other hand, if I worked in a really nice office and those weren’t considerations, this probably wouldn’t be the fabric for me.
Have you touched, sewn with, or worn stretch bengaline before? What did you think?
ps. I’ve started a new section for fabric review videos in the headbar just under my blog logo. Easier to keep everything in one place! :)
pps. Do you know what I mean when I say you’ll get a “snowpant sound” when you walk? Just realised maybe that’s a reference you’ll only understand if you’ve trudged to school in snowpants as a kid!