Oh, lamé how I love you and hate you.
This is one of those fabrics that’s absolutely super for cosplayers but can cause an awful lot of heartbreak, too. But before I get into that, let’s talk about what lamé is.
Lamé is a fabric that has been treated with a surface coating to make it look shiny – often a “liquid” metallic effect. The base fabric can be a woven fabric or it can be a knit.
It can range in weight from very light – sometimes called “tissue” lamé – and practically see-through, to almost medium-weight.
The base fabric is always some artificial fiber – usually polyester – as it can tolerate the manufacturing process.
This is the ultimate space-age fabric. In classic Star Trek, if you were a good-looking lady alien, you were generally wrapped up in lamé or lurex. Sometimes both. Oof.
It used to be you could only find lamé in two colors: gold and silver. But that’s no longer the case. To the delight of costumers everywhere, you can find it in a rainbow of solids, and even in patterns like multicolored leopard print. Holographic finishes are also a thing, which makes the fabric even MORE space age. If you’re doing any kind of sci-fi or anime cosplay, sooner or later, you’re going to use lamé.
The challenges in sewing it really depend on the base on which the metallic finish has been applied. If it’s a plain-weave base then you’ll have a slightly easier time of it. Use fabric weights or basting spray to keep your pattern paper in place while cutting it and make sure that when you’re pinning it together to sew that you keep your pins inside the seam allowance. This stuff does not forgive pin-holes.
Then there is the beast that is lamé with a knit base. It’s often called “mirror” lamé, because it’s so super-reflective, and it’s a really popular fabric because it has a very liquid hand and dense color saturation with the metallic finish. But it has a big built-in-problem. Namely, if you over stretch it, it’ll “run” like a pair of tights and permanently ruin the fabric.
Fortunately, there are workarounds. First of all, don’t use tricot lamé for a costume that needs to stretch and move a lot. That’s the easiest way to avoid laddering. Use it for garments that aren’t tightly fitted to the body – skirts and trousers and even short capes, but not long ones as they’d be too heavy.
Or you can flat-line the lamé with something that isn’t going to stretch. A light-weight cotton of a similar color to the base is the most obvious choice. The flat lining will stop the fabric from stretching and remove the risk of laddering.
There’s a fabric that’s specifically designed to move a lot and take the strain: metallic Spandex.
It’s an elastane fabric that has been coated with lots and lots of tiny metallic dots – so many that it looks like a solid surface. But when the fabric is stretched, it doesn’t fall apart like mirror lamé does. Spandex lamé fabric is made specifically for dance wear, so it can put up with a lot more abuse than mirror lamé. It’s heavier in weight than mirror lamé and, because it’s a stretch fabric, it can drape differently too.
I like mirror lamé a lot because it looks so fantastic. But it can fall apart with even moderate use and even pull itself apart under its own weight if – for instance – you create a long cape with it, especially if you don’t flat line it for strength. So be sure it’s what you want to use when you’re preparing for a project.
Heck, if you want to create a cloth of gold cape with serious heft, get some metallic spandex and then flat-line it with a medium-weight twill. The flat-lining will stop the cape from stretching under its own weight and make the spandex look even heavier than it is. It’ll look – dare I say it? Super.
Whatever the base fabric, pinholes in lamé will NOT come out, so pin very carefully, or use fabric clamps. You can find those in the notions section of a fabric store, but test them on a scrap, first, as they might mark the finish of your lamé so, again, you’ll have to be careful to only use them within your seam allowance.
You don’t want to iron any lamé. The finish is sensitive to high temperatures and once you melt or scorch this, there’s no fixing it. Some seamsters will press lamé with a press cloth, but I’m not that brave!
Nor can you throw this into your washing machine – the agitation would be really bad for the fabric in so many ways. If you have to wash a lamé garment, hand wash it in cold water and lay it flat to dry.
The easiest way to cut most lamés is to use a rotary cutter and a mat, with weights holding down your pattern paper. Depending on fabric, you might want to use fray-check on it to minimize ravelling, but test it on a scrap first and use just a little bit. You don’t want it oozing beyond your seam allowance. I’ve read of some costumers using a stencil cutter – a tool for cutting thin plastic – when cutting some lamés, which seals the edge of the fabric as it cuts – but I’ve never done that, myself and I can’t speak to its efficacy.
When sewing lamé, use all purpose thread and a needle specifically made for metallic fabrics or, if you can’t find those, use a needle labelled “denim” rather than “universal”. And get a lot of them. The metallic finish on lames will dull your needles in record time, so be ready to change them often. If you’re getting snarled or snapped threads, your needle is dull.
Because there’s a range of weights and finishes, lamé can range in price, too. At the bottom end, tissue lamé can be as cheap as $3 per yard. Mirror lamé runs from $9 – $12 a yard. Metallic spandex is $15 to $20 a yard.