Tricky Trims: Buying Sewing Trims Online

I’ve lived in “craft deserts” almost all of my life: most of the areas I have lived in didn’t have the population to support art supply stores. To get fabric, I had to rely on what Walmart provides or drive 20-30 minutes to a Hobby Lobby or JoAnns. Now that I have moved to a larger city, getting craft supplies is less of a chore than before. There is a Walmart for fabric and a Hobby Lobby just down the road where I can get painting supplies easily. Fabric stores, however, are still a drive thanks to traffic and construction, but they have a much larger selection than any of the fabric stores I’ve ever been in! The only thing all these stores are missing is trim.

I am super picky about trims because they can make or break an outfit. Most modern trims are stiff, shiny, and plastic. Crunchy lace is my enemy! While polyester satin ribbon is abundant and there are good trim options if you persevere, if you desire something more specific, you will be hard-pressed to find it at most craft shops. In a world without the internet, I would be a very sad puppy indeed, but I am blessed with abundant internet access that allows me to browse thousands of trim options from around the globe! I’ve been looking at trims for my 1895 dinner dress for about a month now. It’s very pretty (and pink) as it is, but it’s rather plain for an 1890s dinner dress, so I know I want some fabulous black beaded trim to lend a little bit of sophisticated glitter:

Evening Cape, circa 1895
I really love the sequin trim on this cape! The 1890s were all about layering textures. This cape not only has sequin trim, but lace, ruffles, and mink fur!

Emile Pingat Evening Cape, circa 1895
Color inspiration! I found lots of capes with beautiful decorations. While the gowns underneath wouldn’t have been so heavily covered, they would have coordinated.

Jacques Doucet Ball Gown, circa 1897
More color inspiration!

American Evening Dress, circa 1893
This is my main inspiration dress. Though mine looks little like it, the textures and silhouette are quite close. This dress is much fancier than mine will be, but I love the dangling beads and curly appliques!

Buying trims online does have its downsides. For example, determining actual size is difficult online. Even with excellent photos and measurements, sometimes it’s hard to tell exactly how something really looks. Often, something will be bigger or smaller than expected, which can be quite annoying if you have a very specific look/placement in mind for things like jewelry or trims. I don’t want to buy trims that won’t work, so I created a way to try out internet trims before buying them!


So many options! Where to begin?

First, I find the trim’s measurements and draw a rectangle with the same dimensions on a piece of paper.


Then I try my best to copy the shape of the trim onto the paper and cut it out. I never worry about being perfectly exact, just that I get a close approximation. I have picked out about 15 possible trims so far and many of them are similar, so I like to label the design and write the price on it so I can keep track.



Close enough!

Then I can hold it up to my dress to see how it might look. In this case, the trim looked the right size onscreen and even in-hand, but it was just a little too wide for my lapels.


With some trims, you can tell as soon as you make the initial rectangle that it will be too big or small. Others may surprise you! The “Long Tassel” design below, for example, I thought would bee too big, yet it was much smaller than it appeared even though it was displayed on a mannequin in the shop’s photos for size comparison:


My paper cutting method is not perfect (paper is stiff whereas a beaded trim would drape) but it lets you approximate the look. It helped me greatly narrow down my trim options! In my original dress design, I wanted to put some black beaded appliques on either side of the waist to accentuate it, but when I pinned a few options in place, I found that it was hidden by the large sleeves and lapels, so the appliques didn’t really add too much to the outfit overall. I still like the idea, though…

4 thoughts on “Tricky Trims: Buying Sewing Trims Online

  1. I so sympathize on the “craft deserts” bit. Germany can be awful in that way, too. But I did see a few frill fringes/trim appropriate for 19th-century wear at a department store the other day. That was a first. ;)

  2. very clever idea!!
    when you do dark trim on the sides of your waist the waist looks smaller. optical trick. at stage costume workshops they do this – mostly just with paint – so that the opera diva looks leaner.

    1. That was my hope for this costume, too, but the sleeves are massive, so they hide any side trim which negates any “slimming” or decorative effects.

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