By | May 23, 2016
Linen nightgown with cambric trim, late 18th century. Source V&A Museum.

Linen nightgown with cambric trim, late 18th century. Source V&A Museum.

Part of the ‘Antique Fabrics‘ series, this fabric isn’t necessarily extinct, but it was more popular in the past than the present.

Cambric is a lightweight, densely-woven, plain-weave cloth. Originally made of linen, but later made of cotton as well. It’s name derives from Cambrai, France, where it was once made in significant quantities. Today, linen cambric is often sold as Irish cambric to differentiate it from cotton.

Sometimes cambric will be glazed (like chintz) or calendered (like moiré), but it is still called cambric in those cases.

Cambric fabric has been in use since the middle ages, for underclothes and shirts. While researching this post, I came across several listings for cambric saris, which makes sense as a leightweight fabric is what you want for a warm-weather garment.

Sometimes mistaken for batiste, although they are different fabrics. Cambric and nainsook are very close cousins – same fiber, same weaving technique – but they are given different finishes, which just goes to show how much a finish can affect a fabric.

If you’re looking for a good-enough match for historical costuming purposes, consider muslin or cotton broadcloth. Cotton cambric retails for $10 – $15/yd.

As it’s a cotton fabric, be sure to wash it and dry it at least once before cutting. It can go in the dryer, or be allowed to drip dry. Use a regular needle and universal thread. If the cambric is particularly fine, use a lighter needle.


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