A Lesson in Textiles (with Clara Oswald)

Author’s Note: You know when you have an awesome idea, which evolves into another less awesome idea, which warps into a stupid idea, which then leaves you consciously doing something stupid but continuing to do it because it’s somehow fun? Welcome to this post.

My original intention with this was to actually teach people a few things about fabric. Then I realised that it would be hard to justify posting it on this blog if I didn’t made it Doctor Who related. Then I started writing it and it became this weird satire thing, but I was too proud of the weird satire I’d already written to stop. Anyway, I hope that at the very least you enjoy reading my “textile lesson” and perhaps even chuckle a little.

By the way, my reaction post for the series 8 finale is coming very, very, very soon. Sorry for the delay, but hang in there.


Unless you have no idea how half the things in our society actually work, you’ll know that clothing is made of fabric, and fabric is made of fibres, and the look and feel of a garment depends on the fabric, which depends on the fibres (as well as a bunch of other things that we won’t talk about now). That’s why when you take any sort of beginner fashion class there’s this assignment they’re guaranteed make you do – research the properties of different types of fibres and list them. Except it’s an arts course, so they make you do it creatively.

Anyone who’s ever done this knows that its incredibly boring and frustrating (why do you think I’m getting an IT degree?) Inspired by the rendition of this assignment I was forced to do in high school, I decided to…erm…”re-jig” my submission and share it – not just for those poor fashion students to try and plagiarise, but for the enjoyment of any Whovian who’s ever wondered what fashion students actually do all day what different fabrics are made of. In order to make things simpler I recruited Doctor Who‘s most fashionable teacher to give us some contextual examples, and most importantly prove that our fandom can teach you everything you’ll ever need to know about anything.

Please note that while this list contains the majority of common household fabrics, it’s not totally comprehensive. For more information on fabrics such as linen, acrylic and acetate, please consult page 507 of the TARDIS manual.

Ready for a brief lesson in fashion? Let’s begin…

Oswin’s Red Shirt Dress

oswinCotton is a funny one. It’s everywhere, but it’s also nowhere. Apart from the occasional poplin dress (including that one Clara is spotted in in almost every single promo photo but she hardly ever actually wears), one of our favourite companion’s only memorable cotton outfits is the infamous “Oswin Oswald” dress from Asylum of the Daleks. Almost ironically, this presumably makes it the most popular Clara cosplay fabric. Huh.

Properties: Trapped in a Dalek for an indefinite period of time? Throw on some cotton! It’s comfy, it’s practical, it breathes well and is easy to iron. It’s also extremely practical for a quick getaway – but be careful when fleeing from massive explosions, you may just find yourself on fire. It’s also the stuff they use to make jeans, something which Clara has (interestingly) never ever worn.

The Doctor says… “Come on you costume designers, did you seriously look at her character and think ‘wouldn’t it be funny if we literally red-shirted her?'”

Just About Everything Clara’s Ever Worn

The thing about polyester is that it’s an extremely versatile man-made fibre – so when you weave it in different ways it produces radically different results. For this reason, this category has been broken down into several sub-categories, just because “polyester” isn’t really a good word for describing anything.

Eye’m Watching You

eye'm watching you clara into the dalekIf there’s one thing I learned from selling fabric, it’s this: satin comes in the weirdest prints. I don’t know why, but if you print it on satin all of a sudden it’s acceptable. You name it and I’ve seen it – fish leaping out of a pond, a night sky with a nebula made of pineapples and grapes, yellow and purple spiders leaping out of a red spiderwebs…you get the idea.

In this category falls the “eye” print on Clara’s satin top in Into the Dalek. I don’t know why anyone would choose to print body parts on fabric, but if you’re like me and was a solid fan of A Series of Unfortunate Events as a child then this blouse no doubt scarred you for life.

Another example of satin can be found in the “mutually assured destruction” look from Cold War, although due to Clara wearing a Soviet Navy jacket over it for most of the time it doesn’t feature as prominently.

Properties: Shiny and dazzling, satin is the cheap way of making something look expensive; and it also allows crazy artists to have their prints commercialised. If only it wasn’t such a pain to actually sew…

The Doctor says… “Be careful what you say – Clara’s Count Olaf top is still in the TARDIS wardrobe.”

Mrs Robin Hood

tumblr_nb8h8usRuF1rsoxtao1_500Stop for a second and imagine a “medieval dress” – does velvet come to mind? It certainly did for Clara in Robot of Sherwood, who went to great lengths to dazzle her childhood hero with a shiny orange getup. Considering she clearly got it from the TARDIS wardrobe, I’m slowly beginning to wonder which former companion left it behind. But I think the real question is: how many leaves did she have to pick out of that hem after she flew away with the Doctor in his little blue box?

Properties: Technically speaking velvet is actually a weave, and can be made from a variety of fibres – but I’ll almost guarantee that the majority of velvet you’ve encountered is polyester. In short, it’s hot and sticky and a pain to iron (although in fairness the wrinkles normally sort themselves out), but it’s always required to look the part in a fairy tale.

The Doctor says… “The best velvet smoking jackets always (and somewhat appropriately) come from hospital lockers.”

“Something Awesome”

the rings of akhaten claraIf you want the Doctor to take you to see “something awesome” you better wear something awesome so you can blend in with all the awesomeness. And I have to admit, Clara’s fashion choice in The Rings of Akhaten was pretty awesome. Not the most awesome of all the awesome she’s worn, but awesome all the same.

Chiffon/Georgette/whatever stupid name they have for the latest sheer polyester is always the thing to wear when you could be landing anywhere in time and space with an idiot in a box. It’s arguably the only fabric that looks even better when you’re running, hence making it an automatic companion staple.

Properties: Sheer fabrics like this have a lot of great (and annoying) properties, but the best one is the silhouette they create. Props to the costume designer on this one, who actually bothered to read the entire script and realised that Clara would be spending a great deal of time standing in front of a massive sun.

the silhouettes of akhaten

Never has the back of someone been such a pretty sight.

The Doctor says… “Who looks at a fabric and thinks ‘wow, this could be a little more see-through’?”

The Parent/Teacher Skirt

gimmie a parent teacher knitIt’s every teacher’s favourite time of the year; the evening when they have to face grumpy parents and gently explain that they’re raising their children incorrectly. You better make sure you’re in a comfy knit skirt, because an hour of sitting will feel like forever – but on that note, make sure you still look good for your adorable Maths teacher boyfriend.

Properties: In The Caretaker, Clara once again proves that comfy can still be incredibly stylish, and (as always) look great with tights. Just don’t wear a polyester knit when you have an awful lot of running to do.

The Doctor says… “Comfortable? You do realise we’re talking about the woman who owns more than one jacket?! Let’s face facts – we all know she only wore that skirt to impress PE.”

The Round’ the TARDIS Dress

tumblr_msr3mmpaxV1sbws2bo1_500The second I sat down to watch Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS I fell in love with Clara’s dress. I quickly became determined to make a replica, and subsequently spent the entire episode trying to determine exactly what the fabric was made of. My initial instincts screamed rayon, but the gathered “puff” in the sleeves threw me off with their cotton-y appearance. After carefully examining the “swoosh” of the skirt, however, I am now convinced it’s rayon. The moral: listen to your instincts, and most importantly shut up and pay attention to the episode.

Properties: A number of years ago when I was studying fashion in high school, we were tasked with reasearching the properties of various fabrics, including their flammability level. I can still  remember the hours I spent trying to figure out the chances of rayon catching fire when you put it near a flame – and for some reason not one site on the internet could tell me. Finally, in 2013 all of my questions were answered in the place I least expected:

clara's rayon dress didn't catch fire
The back of the dress didn’t even turn black, people. RAYON IS AMAZING.

The Doctor says… “I still don’t know what happens when you put rayon near a flame.”

The Tights

the time of claras tightsUpon embarking on this research, I realised something: Clara has never worn nylon Lycra. It somewhat makes sense, but considering the array of costumes she’s been spotted in I still find it a surprise. Maybe the TARDIS showed her some photos of Peri and she was put off the fabric for life.

She’s not really keen on lace either, so in order to cover the “nylon” category I had to turn to the thing she’s seen wearing just about every week – tights. Really, it’s hard to imagine Clara without imagining tights. Nylon? Check.

Properties: It doesn’t breathe, kinda plastic-y, it melts at the drop of a hat and is otherwise associated with Barbie’s hair. Actually, I can totally see why Clara doesn’t wear Lycra.

The Doctor says… “Only the human race would wear the same fabric they use to make parachutes.”

You’ve Been Lied To

clara's silk dress the crimson horroSo I was watching a TV production that’s supposedly set in pre-WWI times, when suddenly something occurred to me: back in those days, they didn’t have synthetic fabric.

Image search “Downton Abbey.” Take a look at what the girls are wearing. Wait for your mind to blow.

Time for a history lesson – because I’m obviously I’m a history genius. Before massive resource shortages in the 20th century caused the commercialisation of synthetic fabrics, the poor sods basically had the choice between cotton, linen, wool, silk, animal hides or potato sacks. If it shone it was silk, and silk was for the rich. Although cheaper today, silk is still for the rich, but polyester kind of messed everything up.

In short, I find it unlikely that Clara has ever actually worn silk. That’s right, folks – those costume designers have lied to you again and again. That “velveteen and silk satin dress” our favourite companion wore in The Crimson Horror? That ain’t no silk, hun. That’s all polyester, made to look like the superior fabric. And they thought we wouldn’t notice…tsk, tsk.

Properties: It’s natural, and that’s about it. It’s a pain to wash (“dry clean only”) and a pain to sew, and everyone will mistake it for polyester anyway.

The Doctor says… “You know, Susan, Ian, Barbara and I once traveled the silk road with Marco Polo…”

This Girl is on Fire

the name of the doctor claras sheepSo I was looking for a screencap of Clara’s outfit in the episode The Name of the Doctor when something totally hit me – the Doctor’s timeline is depicted as “fire”. At the end of the story Clara jumps into the Doctor’s timeline (which has been messed up by the Great Intellegence, of course), falls though ‘fire’ and fixes the timeline, before landing on the cold, hard ground after her story is ‘done’. You know where I’m going with this, right? No? Basically, Clara jumped into the fire in her wool dress and extinguished it.

English teachers will try to convince you it’s deliberate, but I’m calling unintentional symbolism. Or maybe the English teachers thoughout my life messed up my brain so much I see intention in obvious coincidence. Yeah, that’s it.

Properties: It’s kind of ironic that the fibre associated with warmth also has the ability to put out a fire – both literally and metaphorically.

The Doctor says… “You know, I was there when they sheered the first sheep”

“I’m the Boss”

5411299_origNeed to prove you’re in charge? No worries, just follow in Clara’s footsteps in Nightmare in Silver by throwing on a leather jacket and – viola! – the nanny becomes the boss*. Of course, having the Doctor officially leave you charge while he deals with some err…emotional issues definitely helps the situation, but every good authority figure owns a leather jacket – am I right?!

*Disclaimer: May also result in the Doctor only visiting you on Wednesday.

Properties: The boss jacket officially makes you more bossy. And no matter what anyone tells you, it’s also the only remotely stylish raincoat you will ever encounter.

Amy Pond says… “Is that a leather bikini?!” (okay, it’s not a bikini…oh for crying out loud, see here)

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Posted in New Series Tele-Stories, Other Post Types, Other Reference Materials, Story Media

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