Walk into a fabric shop and as a beginner sewist you do one of two things; you walk in and walk straight out again or leave with an armful of fabric not entirely sure what you’ve bought or for what project you can use it for. To avoid any expensive mistakes, I started sewing with fabric I had been donated or repurposed. As I got a few projects under my belt I felt confident in my construction and I braved buying fabric, but with so much choice out there I want to share my tips on how to choose fabric. There are hundreds of categories of fabric and different ways to define materials, but I want to keep it simple so take this as a place to start, rather than a comprehensive guide. There are three main things to consider when choosing fabric for your project; construction, content and weight.
Contrstuction refers to how the fabric is produced, there are two main types, woven or knit. When thinking about the contruction of your fabric ask yourself, do you want your fabric to be stretchy? Or non-stretchy? This will help you determine if you want a knit (stretchy) or woven (non-stretchy) . A woven fabric is produced on a loom with two threads, weft and warp threads woven together, threads are interlocked together like that found on basket weave. Any fabric that has been woven together will retain its shape, doesn’t have any stretch and in general is much easier to sew with as it is less likely to move under your machine. So a woven fabric is a great place to start. Examples of woven fabrics; cotton shirting, denim, silk, linen.
Knits are made with one thread, as the name suggests the yarn is knitted together on a machine, think of your favourite knitted jumper and how the yarns are woven up and down to allow movement. Knit fabrics follow the contours of your body and are stretchy so they are great for activewear or any garment you want a close fit, whilst being comfortable. Generally becasuse knit fabrics have more movement they can be a bit trickier to sew with, but once you get used to how the fabric behaves the stretchy properties of knit fabrics create very comfortable garments. Examples of knit fabrics; sweatshirting, lycra, wool jersey.
Once you’ve decided on the construction of your fabric, next you need to decide on the content of your fabric, liken this to the ingredients you select when you make a cake, what fibres do you want going into your fabric. Do you want your fabric to be natural? Synthetic? A blend? Or semi-synthetic? The list of possibilities here are endless, but it’s good to consider what your preferences are dependent on what you like to wear and your ethics.
Generally natural fibres are biodegradable and moisture wicking, breathable, durable, heat responsive and naturally repellent to mould and dirt. There is also the option to choose organic and sustainably produced natural fibres, which are made without pestercides or harmful chemicals. Synthetic fabrics mimic many of the same properties of natural fibres but are man-made and can offer unique properties, for instance wrinkle resistance. Semi-synthetic fibres are when a naturally occuring material, for instance tree bark, is manufactured to produce a new fibre, eg, rayon. Your fabric content could be made up of one of hundreds of types of fibres or blends, once you’ve narrowed down your prefernces you’ll soon begin to understand how each fabric behaves.
Lastly, you’ll need to determine the weight of your fabric, dependent on the project you have in mind. You might want a heavyweight denim for jeans, or a light weight knitted cotton jersey for a sports top. The weight of a fabric can determine how warm it keeps you, for example a heavy coat vs lightweight coat. Weight of fabric can also determine how it behaves, if it’s drapey or non-drapey, for instance silk is both lightweight and drapey, which makes it suitable for a dress with a lot of movement. Drape is also determined by the weave of your fabric, for instance a twill weave is stiff, so does not have drape if made in a heavyweight fabric whereas a crepe is drapey.
I hope this post is a starting point on what to look for when choosing fabric. There is nothing like going into a shop and picking up fabrics and comparing them. But honestly I prefer fabric shopping online, I find it more efficient than trawling through stores, so understanding terminology has helped make sure I get suitable fabric for my project. I’ve got a post lined up on working with natural materials so keep your eyes peeled for that. In the meantime, happy making.
Claire & co.