Lining and Interlining

By | May 7, 2016
Crepe de chine intended for lining a garment. Source:

Crepe de chine intended for lining a garment. Source:

There are times when lining a garment is a right pain. I must admit, I’m guilty of skipping it when I think I could get away with or – or I just plain ran out of time during construction. But linings serve an important purpose. Linings make a garment more comfortable to wear – no scratchy cut edges of seam allowances rubbing at you. Linings extend the life of a garment – by reducing wear and tear on vulnerable cut edges. They can help add structure to a garment.

Linings even make a garment easier to put on and take off – I have a snugly-fitted jacket that would require contortionism or a helper to put on if it wasn’t for the slippery lining within. Then there’s the time I skipped lining a skirt that had been flat lined with flannel (don’t judge, it was what I had on hand) and the damn thing would NOT STOP “grabbing” on to my legs as I walked around because flannel is a napped fabric and of course it’s going to be grabby. As a result, the skirt was wrapped around my legs when I moved – very ugly – and I had to unfurl it like a wet umbrella every time someone wanted a picture. It was pretty annoying and easily fixed by going back and adding a lining.

And linings make a garment look great. It’s all well and good to have a beautifully built Tenth Doctor coat, but if that thing flaps open during a photo and spectators see a mess of raw seams and suchlike, it’s going to be a real let down. Besides, the Tenth Doctor’s coat is very clearly lined in a rather natty shade of blue.

So, sooner or later, you’re going to have to line something.

Acetate taffeta intended as lining.

Acetate taffeta intended as lining.

Typically, lining fabric is a lightweight woven, and have a pretty smooth finish. You’re not looking to add a ton of weight or bulk to the garment – unless the purpose of the lining is to add insulation, such as in a winter coat (see image below). A too-bulky lining in something like a fitted jacket could make the jacket too small to wear.

If you go to the fabric store and look at their linings section, you’re going to see a lot of polyester. Why? Because it’s cheap, it’s lightweight and it’s slippery. Makes sense, right? Linings can also be made in silk, lightweight cotton and even rayon.

Not all linings are made alike, though. Suspiciously cheap lining fabric should be regarded as just that: suspicious. Unroll the bolt a bit and hold it up to the light. It’ll probably be semi-transparent, and that’s okay – but does the light come through evenly, or can you see “bands” where the fabric weave is thicker, then thinner? If so, put it down and look for something else. Your costume deserves better.

What other fabrics are good for lining? It depends on what function your lining is to serve. Some costumers swear by using silk for a lining, but it can be expensive and if you’re going to wear the garment next to bare skin, sweat isn’t going to do the silk any favors. Sweat can break silk down over time – ask anyone who collects vintage clothing about “silk rot”.

Some costumers of my acquaintance swear by lightweight cotton – such as lawn and voile –  and rayon or linen for lining their clothes, and relegate polyester linings to heavier outerwear, like coats. Cotton, rayon and linen feel nicer against the skin, and they breathe far more than any polyester will, but it’s a more expensive option than polyester.

Crepe de chine is a popular compromise choice. It’s polyester, but it’s a heavier weight and better quality than the $1/yard poly lining you’re going to find in the bargain bin at the fabric store.

Indeed, let’s talk about the price of lining your garment.

Buying lining can feel like adding insult to injury. You’ve already put down OW per yard for the fashion fabric, and now you’re being asked to put down six or seven dollars per yard – or more – for a good lining? OUCH! But flip that around the other way. You’ve invested in good quality fabric for your costume – at least, I hope you have. Are you going to let it down by putting dollar-per-yard polyester into it? Should you?

If I’m not cheaping out at the last minute – and, yes, I’m guilty of that – I generally pick a rayon or higher-quality polyester lining for my costumes. That’s generally what fits my budget and my personal preferences, but your situation might be wildly different. Shop around, fondle those fabrics and explore all the options.

Coat with visible (presumably flannel) lining, 1953. Source: Deutsches Bundesarchiv via Wikimedia Commons.

Coat with visible (presumably flannel) lining, 1953. Source: Deutsches Bundesarchiv via Wikimedia Commons.

Another factor to consider when picking a lining fabric is how difficult it will be to cut. Why? Because cutting lining has driven strong seamsters to drink, that’s why. If it’s lightweight AND it’s slippery, it’s going to migrate all over the place three times after you lay in out on your cutting surface before you even reach for the scissors.

Here’s what you do if you’ve got to cut a slippery lining – and this applies to any slippery fabric, by the way. Get yourself a can of basting spray – you can find it in the quilting section of a fabric store, and then acquire a rotary cutter and a large cutting mat. In fact, consider this an opportunity to justify investing in a rotary cutter and a mat. They’re great.

Basting spray is a temporary, repositionable adhesive for fabric and it’s a real life-saver when cutting slippery fabrics, or when a high level of precision is cutting is essential – which is why you’ll find it in in the quilting section.

Before you try what I describe below, test the basting spray on a swatch of your lining. It shouldn’t react badly and it should evaporate leaving no trace, but there are exceptions to every rule.

Use the basting spray to hold your fabric to your cutting mat and – here’s a key detail – spray just a bit of it on the *right* side of your fabric (inside the fold) to hold the lining to itself when you fold it double for cutting purposes. Don’t worry if you can’t quite lay your fabric down perfectly smooth the first time. The adhesive is repositionable, so you can peel the fabric up and lay it down again several times before the glue evaporates and you lose your stickum.

Don’t put the can away yet! You also want to stick your pattern paper pieces to your lining fabric. Then you can use your rotary cutter to cut the pieces with the minimum of slipping and distortion. And you don’t have to worry about visible pinholes in your fabric, either.

I have been asked, at this moment, to make a special point of warning newbie costumers away from using polyester satin, satin charmeuse and, in fact, ANY satin for lining a garment. Yes, it’s slippery and light and can look nice. But polyester satin about as breathable as a plastic bag. If you want to use a satin, look for something woven with a fiber that breathes better than cheap-o polyester.

I once used stretch charmeuse as a lining in a garment where it was going to be partially visible, because the color was so perfect. Don’t do that. It had all the headaches of a knit AND a slippery fabric. And the damn stuff snagged as soon as you looked at it cross-eyed. But I digress.

Interlining and Flat-Lining

Interlining is a method for building up a garment’s shape and structure via adding extra layers of fabric with certain desirable properties. It’s also used to add warmth to winter coat, but for cosplay purposes, interlining is going to be all about the structure.


The innards of a bespoke jacket, interlinings, pocket linings and all.

The most obvious example of when to use interlining is a good suit jacket. A well-made men’s suit jacket will have several layers of interlining in some areas, made from hair canvas, cotton, even felt. It’s not just some pinstripe wool and a lining backing it up.

Of course, this means that interlining a garment adds time and cost to its construction but it also extends the wearable life of your outfit and, if you want to look like a well-dressed gent or a spit-and-polish military officer, you’re going to have to do it. It’s an investment that pays off.

If you want to learn more about how and when to interline a jacket, research men’s tailoring, as that’s the easiest way to find a lot of information. The resources page suggests some good books on the subject.

Flat lining, also called “under lining” by some seamsters is a technique to add body to your surface fabric. After cutting your fashion fabric, you cut the same pattern piece in another fabric, attach it to the wrong side of your fashion fabric – sew inside the seam allowance! – and then you handle the result as a single piece, moving forward.

It’s a neat little trick that many a cosplayer has used to make insubstantial fabric look much more impressive. I’ve used it in several projects.



Meanwhile, the big purple coat you see was made from cotton velveteen, which was a lovely fabric, but really lightweight. When I first put it together, the thing looked like a dressing gown – floppy and soft and not at all like what I wanted. So I took it apart, flat-lined the pieces with a medium-weight twill and sewed it back together again. It also made the costume substantially warmer to wear, but I accepted that as part of the price of getting the look I wanted. And then I lined it because I wanted something smooth between me and said twill :).

Flat-lining won’t work for every fabric. For instance, anything that’s sheer, your flat-lining is going to show through – either in color or in texture.

That said, flat-lining doesn’t always have to involve heavier fabrics. You can add body to lighter fabrics by using silk organza. Organza is very stiff and crisp, but it’s also very light. You might think “It’s so light, what’ difference will it make?” but it can make a very big difference. Get some scraps and test it for yourself.

Tangent: Dharma Trading often has reasonably-priced silk organza, btw.

Whether you’re using linings, interlinings or flat-linings, be sure to wash and pre-shrink your fabrics before cutting them. Also subject a sample of your lining to whatever cleaning techniques you intend to use on your finished costume. The last thing you need is for your lining to bleed dye all over your costume.


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