Fabrics are fascinating! There are so many types, so many colors, so many patterns! But just because they are fascinating doesn’t mean that they sometimes aren’t tricky. So, today let’s talk a little about fabrics and their properties which can be so helpful when you are picking out fabrics for different projects.
Let’s first start with the Natural Fibers.
Well, let’s define the word fiber first. A fiber are the long slender threads or filaments that are woven together to make up fabric. If you look closely at a piece of fabric you can see the fibers woven together to create the cloth.
Cotton is the most widely used textile fiber. It is also very commonly used in sewing and quilting. Although there are many types of cottons! The quality of the cotton is based upon the length of the fibers in the cloth. The longer, more lustrous the fibers are, the higher quality the cotton is. Cotton is a great material in sewing because it can be washed and dried. It is also a cooler cloth and is known for comfort. Lots of apparel sewing is done with cottons because of the wonderful prints that it comes in. It is a great fabric to work with if you are a beginning sewist! There are many types of cottons that have specific named from the process or weave of their construction. These include corduroy, gauze, denim, muslin, batiste, broadcloth, lawn, poplin, sateen, voile, canvas and many more.
Linen is actually made from the flax plant and is much stronger than cotton. It is usually more expensive than cotton but is a great fabric that is highly under-rated in my opinion! It does wrinkle easily but can be wonderful for apparel because it is also washable and cool, although some people like to dry clean it for the wrinkle factor. Linen can be used in shirts, pants, dresses, bags, lightweight jackets, curtains and many other things! It is an easy fabric to sew with.
Wool is made from the fleece of sheep and not from a plant. It is either classified as woolen (short wool fibers) or worsted (long wool fibers) depending on how it is made. Wool is usually a more expensive, warmer, heavier-weight fabric that holds draping and can be molded easily. Most garments made from wool are lined (as some people find wool itchy) but is a great material for suits, dresses, jackets, pants, and shirts. Some wool can be washed (depending on the manufacturing process) but most people expect to dry clean wool garments. It is easy to sew with because it is not a slippery fabric. Most of the time you want to buy “virgin wool” which is wool that has never been previously manufactured into a finished product. There are other wools that are blends that can include knit fibers or even other scrap fabric in them during the manufacturing process.
Silk is a fabric made from silkworms. It is strong and resilient and is known for its strength in clothing. It is a fabric that can be worn in summer or winter and is known as a high-quality fabric. It is commonly used in dresses and gowns but can make beautiful shirts, dresses or coats as well. Natural silk is washable. It is also known for its high price in the fabric world. A common weave for silk is in a satin, which is very shiny on the front and dull on the reverse side.
And now let’s talk about some about some man-made fabrics.
Polyester is a fiber-fabric that is known for being wrinkle-resistant as also known for its strength. For these two reasons, polyester is often woven into other fabrics to give them the same properties. Polyester also washes and dries easily. It does not “breathe” like natural fabrics but is still know for its comfort. It is often used in linings, dresses and may be offered in the form of knits, jerseys or cotton and silk-like fabrics.
Rayon is widely used in apparel fabrics for its drape and feel. It is a soft fabric and is considered one of the most natural of the man made fabrics as it is made from chemically processed wood pulp. It can imitate the feel and texture of silk, wool, cotton and linen. The fibers are also easily dyed in a wide range of colors, making it an ideal fabric for many prints. Rayon fabrics are soft, smooth, cool, comfortable, and highly absorbent, but they do not insulate body heat, making them ideal for use in hot and humid climates. It can take many forms but is commonly used in shirts, skirts, dresses, and many other clothing. It is a bit slippery to work with and I love to use a new, crisp needle when working with rayon.
Nylon and spandex are chemical fibers that have elastic characteristics. They are commonly used in swim suits, exercise wear, and dancewear. They can be tricky to work with as they tend to stretch in the sewing machine. Using a stretch stitch and a stretch needle can help with these problems. You can sew both of these types of fabrics with a coverstitch machine or on a home machine with a double needle.
Now let’s talk for a minute about knits (but we really could spend a whole day just talking about them). Knits are made differently than woven fabrics. They are “knit” in one continuous loop on the fabric. They provide stretch to fabrics and are often used in clothing and apparel. There are tons (tons!) of varieties of knit, but all are made by either a weft knit or a warp knit stitch.
I actually found an amazing article on how knits are made….so I am going to send you over to Threads magazine. It’s good stuff!
The thing I do want to go over today is two types of knits, interlock and jersey.
Jersey knit is also known as a single knit. The best way to tell that it is a single knit is that it has a definite right side and wrong side. Jersey knits are usually a lightweight knit and are commonly used in many clothing and apparel choices. Tee shirts, maxi skirts, childrenswear are all common places to find knit. Jersey knit tends to curl on the seams and can be sewn with a serger, coverstitch or regular sewing machine. It is common to use a stretch stitch and a double needle when sewing jersey on a regular sewing machine.
Interlock knit is also known as a double knit, which means that it is a knit that looks the same on both sides. It is a heavier-weight knit and does not curl up at the ends as much as jersey. It is also commonly used in childrenswear, sportswear and many clothing choices. One thing to realize about your knits is the direction of the stretch before cutting a pattern. Most patterns will tell you which way the stretch needs to go on the pattern.
Please realize that we have only scratched the surface on the topic of fabrics….we could go on all day about lame v. brocade, or charmeuse v. chiffon—which are all awesome fabrics…..but realize that you will learn more as you go. And a huge thanks to lowpricefabric.com for their use of images. You should go and check out all their apparel fabrics. There are a zillion!
Any fabric tips that I missed?