Sewing 101: A Comprehensive Beginner's Guide to Apparel Fabrics
Natural Woven Fibres
Quilting Cotton - A medium weight cotton most commonly used for quilting (hence the name), home decor, and accessories. Quilting cottons are stiffer than apparel cottons and tend to hold their shape rather than drape. When being used for garment sewing they are best suited to more structured garments that don't require a lot of drape such as a-line skirts.
Cotton Lawn - Made with high thread count yarns cotton lawn is a very lightweight, smooth and silky apparel cotton ideal for light blouses, skirts, and dresses. Lawn is similar to voile and batiste/cambric, but with a bit more structure to it.
Cotton Voile - A very lightweight semi-sheer apparel cotton with nice drape. Similar to cotton lawn and batiste, but less crisp and more sheer. It is an excellent choice for light summer skirts and dresses, but may require lining.
Cotton Batiste - Similar to voile, cotton batiste is a very lightweight semi-sheer apparel cotton. It is lighter than voile and often used for linings.
Shirting - Shirting is a broad term used for a variety of fabrics ideal for, as the name suggest, shirts. These fabrics are often tightly woven with a high thread count, yarn dyed, and less sheer than other lightweight apparel cottons.
Cotton Poplin - A durable lightweight apparel cotton with a distinctive ribbed texture and tight weave.
Oxford Cloth - Heavier than poplin, oxford is a popular shirting fabric often made of cotton. It is durable, breathable and resistant to wrinkles.
Seersucker - A light cotton fabric with a distinctive puckered appearance. It traditionally features a railroad stripe pattern and is primarily used for spring and summer wear.
Chambray - A plain weave cotton fabric made with a dyed warp yarn and a white filling yarn. It looks similar to denim, but is woven differently and has a softer texture and lighter weight to it.
Cotton Sateen - Made using a satin weave structure with spun yarns, cotton sateen has a characteristic semi-glossy appearance and softness. It is easy to sew and drapes well.
Cotton Dobby - Cotton fabric produced on a dobby loom with a distinct texture and geometric design incorporated into the fabric.
Single Gauze - Also called muslin, gauze is a soft, translucent loose weave fabric with supple drape. It is often made of cotton, but can be made out of any number of natural or synthetic fibres.
Double Gauze - Double gauze is made up of two layers of gauze fabric permanently joined together using tiny basting stitches. The result is an airy yet durable and cozy fabric. It can be made up of cotton, linen, wool, or a combination thereof.
Triple Gauze - Similar to double gauze, triple gauze is made up of three layers of gauze fabric permanently joined together. The added layer of gauze makes it heavier and plusher than double gauze
Twill - Twill refers to a specific type of textile weave with a distinct diagonal pattern. Twill is a heavier cotton material with a sturdy structure and is most often used for pants. Denim is an example of a twill fabric.
Linen - Made from the flax plant linen is one of the oldest and most versatile fabrics. It is highly breathable and absorbent making it ideal for summer garments. Linen is notorious for wrinkling easily. Linen is often blended with other fabrics such as cotton, rayon, and polyester. Linen/cotton blends wrinkle dramatically less and are often softer than 100% linen, but maintain their crisp look. Linen/rayon blends have a much more fluid drape, softer feel, and subtle sheen.
Wool - A natural fibre made from the fleece of sheep. Wool comes in a variety of weights, from lightweight to heavyweight, and can be used for anything from outerwear, to pants and skirts, to dresses. It is warm in the winter and cool in the summer, and naturally wrinkle resistant. Wool can be a knit or a woven fabric and is often blended with other fibres.
Wool Coating - A general term for wool fabrics primarily used to make coats. Popular coating fabrics include Melton Wool, Boiled Wool, Boucle, and Tweed.
Melton Wool - A thick, tightly woven wool that has been fulled and brushed. A soft, but durable midweight to heavyweight coating wool.
Boiled Wool - Wool that has been knit and then boiled in hot water in order to shrink the fibres into a tighter felt-like mass. It has the suppleness of a knit with two-way stretch, but the shape retention of a woven fabric.
Boucle - A loosely woven heavyweight wool fabric made from boucle yarn with a characteristic nubby looped texture.
Tweed - A rough, textured wool woven in either a plain weave or herringbone weave. Usually woven in two or more colours to create a plaid or check pattern.
Flannel - Originally made from worsted wool, flannel can now be made from wool, cotton, or synthetic fibres. All flannel fabrics are napped or brushed to give them their distinctive softness.
Silk - A natural fibre produced from the mulberry silkworm. It is the strongest natural textile in the world.
Silk Noil - Silk noil is made from the short fibres leftover from the production of traditional silks. It has a nubby texture and has a thicker feel than traditional silk (similar to cotton), but has the same beautiful drape that silk is known for. Due to the shortness of the fibres it is less durable than traditional silk, but it is easier to care for (it can be machine washed) and sew with. It is also sometimes referred to as raw silk.
Crepe de Chine - Traditionally made from silk, crepe de chine is a super lightweight fabric with a distinctive crimped appearance and matte finish. Crepe fabrics can now be made from silk, wool, or synthetic fibres
Silk Charmeuse - A lightweight satin weave silk with glossy sheen on the front and a dull finish on the back.
Silk Chiffon - A featherweight sheer silk fabric with a matte crepe finish.
Dupioni Silk - A crisp silk fabric with a distinctive slub texture and iridescent sheen. It is most commonly used in bridal and formal wear.
Semi-Synthetic Woven Fibres
Rayon - A general term for a manufactured fabric made from natural sources, usually wood pulp, regenerated as cellulose. Originally developed to imitate the look and feel of silk, rayon is now used to imitate the feel of many natural fibres including linen, wool, and cotton. Rayon is available in a variety of weaves including challis, sateen, and twill, and is often blended with other materials such as linen, cotton, silk, and wool.
Viscose - Viscose is often used interchangeably with rayon and is characterized by its silk-like feel and beautiful drape.
Lyocell - A type of rayon produced using organic chemicals in a closed loop system (the chemicals are recycled and used again and again). A soft, breathable lightweight fabric it is similar to traditional rayon in feel and drape.
Tencel - An eco-friendly trademarked version of Lyocell.
Cupro - Also known as artificial silk, cupro breathes like cotton, but looks and feels like silk. It is made by treating cotton cellulose with cuprammonium salt.
Modal - Another type of rayon, modal is made from cellulose produced by beech trees modal is often blended with cotton and spandex to make a super soft, absorbent and breathable knit fabric.
Ribbing - Most often used for cuffs, collars, and waistbands, ribbing is super stretchy and has distinctive ribs that run up and down the fabric.
Jersey - One of the most common knit fabrics, jersey can be made from cotton, wool, synthetic fibres or a combination thereof. Jersey can vary in weight from very lightweight to heavy, but most jerseys are usually on the lighter side. It is a soft and fluid fabric with excellent drape and works well for a large variety of garments.
French Terry - A medium weight knit fabric that is smooth on the front and looped on the back. It is heavier than jersey, but lighter than sweatshirt fleece and is commonly used for sweatshirts and loungewear.
Sweatshirt Fleece - Smooth on one side and fuzzy on the other side, sweatshirt fleece is also commonly used (as the name suggests) for sweatshirts, but is heavier and warmer knit than french terry.
Sweater Knits - Knit fabrics for sweater making. Originally made from wool, sweater knits are now available in cotton and synthetic fibres as well.
Merino Wool - A natural fibre grown by Merino sheep. Merino Wool is softer and thinner than traditional wool and often used to make wool jersey fabrics, but can also be found as a woven fabric. It has the added benefit of being machine washable.
Double Knit Fabric - A general term for knit fabrics that are created using a double weave construction. Double knit fabrics are firmer and more stable than other knits, but do not have as much stretch. Double knit fabrics include Ponte di Roma, Interlock Jersey, and Scuba.
Ponte di Roma - A double knit fabric usually made of polyester, rayon, and spandex. It is generally a medium weight fabric and comparable to french terry in weight, stretch, and stability. It's perfect for more fitted, and structured garments.
Interlock Jersey - Interlock is a variation of a rib knit and is thicker and more stable than single knit jersey. Both sides are smooth.
Scuba - A double knit fabric made of polyester and either lycra or spandex. It has similar feel to neoprene, but is thinner and has more drape and flexibility. It has good stretch and good recovery. A medium weight fabric, it comes in a variety of thicknesses and is often used for lingerie, and dresses.
Other Fabric Terms To Know
GSM - GSM stands for grams per square metre and is used to measure the weight of a fabric.
Drape - Refers to the fluidity or rigidity of a fabric. A fabric with lots of drape will be flowy like silk while a fabric with low drape will hang stiffly and retain its shape like denim. While related, weight and drape are not the same thing. A lightweight fabric will not necessarily have lots of drape and vice versa.
Selvedge - The finished edge of the fabric that runs parallel to the grain and keeps the fabric from unravelling.
Deadstock - Leftover surplus fabric from textile mills and garment factories.
Warp - Refers to the threads on a woven fabric that run parallel to the selvedge.
Weft - Refers to the threads on a woven fabric that run perpendicular to the selvedge.
Grain - The direction of the warp and weft threads of a woven fabric
Straight Grain - The straight grain runs parallel to the selvedge and warp threads. Most patterns are cut on the straight grain. The straight grain generally has less stretch than the cross grain.
Cross Grain - The crossgrain runs parallel to the weft threads and perpendicular to the selvedge. Occasionally a pattern can be cut on the cross grain to take advantage of a stripe pattern or border print.
Bias Grain - The bias grain is at 45 degree angle to the warp and weft threads. Woven fabric is more elastic and fluid on the bias grain and it is used when more drape or flexibility is needed. Armhole and neckline bindings are cut on the bias.
Yarn Dyed - The yarns have been dyed before being woven into the fabric usually resulting in a double sided fabric.
Ikat - A dyeing technique where the threads are resist dyed before weaving.
Batik - A wax resist dyeing technique originating from Indonesia that involves drawing dots and lines with the resist.
Slub - Thicker raised threads on a fabric's surface. These slight knots and knobbles on the fabric are not mistakes; they are either natural characteristics of the yarn or created intentionally to give a natural textured look to the fabric.