The thing that trips every sewist up once in a while is choosing the best fabric for sewing various clothes. It catches us all out. Even the more advanced stitcher can suffer from the “wrong-fabric-for-the task” syndrome.
There are so many pretty textiles on the market, it can be easy to pick a fabric based on what it looks like rather than what you can make with it. Which is great, but not all fabrics are suitable for making garments. Nothing ruins your sewing project more than using a fabric not up to the job.
So how do you know if your impulse purchase of gorgeous rayon challis, will be a good match for the prom dress you’re thinking of making? What are the key factors you need to watch for when choosing the best fabrics for sewing clothes?
In today’s article I’ll walk you though the things to look for when choosing the best fabric for sewing skirts, blouses, pants, and coats. So pull up a chair, grab your favorite beverage and let’s get in to it.
What Are the Different Fibers Used in Fabrics?
There is more than one type of fabric. Materials used in the textile industry are made up of fibers. These fibers can be plant based or man made. You probably know the terms natural and synthetic better.
Each different fiber has different properties making it more suitable for some projects, and a devastating disaster for others. Understanding fabric types is the first step to ensuring you get the best fabric for sewing various clothes.
So let’s take a look at the different types in detail.
A natural fiber can be plant or animal-based. Examples of plant-based fibers are cotton and linen. Animal-based fibers include wool and silk. All of these fibers have been used for making garments for generations.
Natural fibers are breathable and help you regulate your body temperature, keeping you cool in summer and warm in winter. They can be woven or knitted into different weights and thicknesses depending on the fabric being made. Take cotton for instance. This can come in a heavyweight denim weave, or the more lightweight chambray.
Unfortunately, natural fibers have a tendency to shrink and are prone to bug, mold and mildew damage.
Synthetic fibers are artificial or manmade. Derived from petroleum, they are essentially plastic. The most popular synthetic fibers for clothing are polyester and nylon.
Unlike natural fibers, synthetics can feel cold next to the skin and can make you feel clammy in hot weather. They are unable to moderate your body temperature which makes synthetics unsuitable for baby clothes.
Artificial fibers are more durable and longer lasting than their natural counterparts. Bug, moth and water resistant, they are impervious to mold and mildew. You’ll want to keep synthetic fibers away from heat though. Being plastic, they’ll melt.
A semi-synthetic fiber is one that is plant-based but has been treated with chemicals to make it soft enough to use in clothing. The mix of natural and chemical elements make the fiber a hybrid between the two categories.
Rayon is the best known semi-synthetic. Bamboo is another. Made from wood pulp, they are treated with chemicals to turn the pulp into a softer substance called viscose.
A semi-synthetic will give you a fabric containing the breathability of a natural fiber, combined with the moth resistance of a synthetic.
A fiber blend is where a natural and synthetic fiber have been combined to make a fabric possessing good points of both. Polycotton is a good example of a fiber blend. Many ready to wear garments are made out of polycotton because it is easy to work with and care for.
Fiber blends won’t shrink like a 100% natural fiber will. Nor will they be affected by mildew or moths. Although a blended synthetic will still suffer from heat damage, they don’t tend to melt. You’ll get a ripple effect instead.
What Are the Different Fabric Types?
OK, so we’ve looked at the terms used to describe the fiber content making up your fabric. There’s slightly more to choosing a fabric than what it is made from though. The next thing you need to consider is, how the fibers are attached together to form a material.
To make fabric fibers have to be knitted or woven together. Being knitted or woven will create textiles with very different characteristics. Not only can they look and feel different, but they will behave differently when sewn. Knowing whether your project needs a knit or woven fabric is crucial to project success.
On top of that, each knitted or woven material can contain more than one type of fiber. Sometimes, they will have special finishes making them specific to one task. Here’s a list of the main types of fabric and what they are used for.
A woven fabric is made on a loom. Comprising vertical and horizontal threads, woven fabrics include denim, chambray, linen and silk.
These fabrics are not naturally stretchy as the process of weaving tends to make them stiff. Woven fabrics are perfect for tailored garments or hard-wearing items like jeans.
As the name suggests, knit fabrics are knitted. Fibers like wool and cotton can be turned into knitted fabrics. Cotton jersey is a go-to stretchy fabric for t-shirts. You can even make knits with polyester. Fleece is probably the most well-known knitted polyester fabric.
Naturally stretchy, knit fabrics are great for casual tops, comfy dresses and sweaters. A knitted fabric isn’t ideal for use in a garment needing structure as it will be too floppy.
Adding Spandex, or Lycra, to a knitted polyester or nylon intensifies the stretch. It also increases the fabric’s chances of returning to its original size. Instead of the usual 2-way stretch of a knitted jersey, you can get 4-way stretch with fantastic recovery. Think activewear, sportswear and swimwear.
You can even make cotton stretch by adding spandex. Although the stretch created will be minimal, it does add extra comfort to a garment.
Leather and Suede
Technically, leather isn’t a fiber or a fabric. Its a hide. Made from the tanned skin of animals like cattle, sheep and pigs, leather is the outside layer while suede is fuzzy inside layer.
Both types of leather can be used in garment making. Although each one has different uses. Leather can be used for hardwearing items like motorcycle jackets. While suede has a more delicate feel and makes supersoft gloves.
Best Fabrics for Sewing Various Clothes
Now you know the fiber and fabric types, lets take a look at some fabric choices for different types of garments.
Best Fabrics for Sewing T-Shirts
T-shirts are comfy, casual and soft. To achieve the look and feel we all love about t-shirts, you should use a jersey knit fabric.
Not only is this fabric a super-soft double-brushed polyester, it also comes in the coolest print. Available in a galaxy blue with an all-over starry pattern, this fabric will create a stunning and unique t-shirt.
With 96% polyester and 4% lycra, this fabric has a 4-way stretch for added comfort and ease. Although, I’ve picked this fabric for t-shirts, its also suitable for knit dresses and skirts too.
Or how about a form-fitting t-shirt made from a luxurious stretch velvet? A blend of 50% polyester and 10% spandex, this fabric can be used for dresses, pants and loungewear as well as t-shirts. Machine washable and dryable, this fabric is easy to care for and a joy to wear.
Best Fabrics for Sewing Dresses
For a flirty, flowing summer dress with fabulous drape, look no further than a rayon challis.
100% rayon in a ditzy floral print, this fabric is finely woven to create a lightweight and ultra soft material. Ideal for summer dresses, you can also use it for blouses and tunics.
Sold by the yard, this textile is 54” wide and cut to order. Embrace your inner romantic and create the summer dress of your dreams.
Linen is a great fabric for dresses with a more relaxed and comfy look. A medium-weight fabric with a crisp texture, linen is durable, breathable and incredibly comfortable in warm weather.
Best Fabrics for Sewing Skirts
Casual yet stylish, there’s nothing more easy to wear than a denim skirt. Denim can be a bit stiff though. If your looking for a denim skirt without the weight, opt for the lightness of chambray.
Made from a blend of 55% linen and 45% rayon, this chambray fabric is suitable for fuller skirts with drape. Combine the look and feel of denim with the style and comfort of this linen/rayon mix.
Available in a choice of colors, the fabric is 52” wide and cut to order by the yard. Machine washable on a cold setting, this material is suitable for skirts, dresses, tops and pants.
Ponte fabric has both structure and stretch. An ideal fabric for a stylish yet easy-to-wear garment. This fabric is ideal for pencil skirts as it gives you a tailored fit but with the relaxed stretch of a cozy knit material.
Best Fabrics for Sewing Pants
For a pair of relaxed-fit pants, or even a pair of leggings, the stretch and comfort of a ponte roma fabric is hard to beat.
This heavyweight ponte is suitable for casual pants, leggings, skirts and structured dresses. A mix of 25% rayon, 70% nylon and 5 % spandex, this fabric has it all. Stretchy and comfortable with an element of drape.
The double knit properties of this fabric give it an added firmness and stability making it suitable for projects needing good recovery.
For a more tailored look, a polycotton twill fabric will give structure and style. Suitable for office wear, or even a posh night out, this material is a 65% polyester/35% cotton mix making it both comfy and easy to care for.
Best fabrics for Coats and Jackets
The best fabric for a coat or jacket is a coating fabric like wool or a wool blend.
Nothing screams coats louder than a wool blend in camel. This fabric is 60% wool and 40% rayon combining warmth with drape and style.
Sold by the yard in a continual cut, this fabric is 58” wide. Making it ideal for jackets, pants and skirts, as well as coats.
If fun and bright prints are more your style, how about a polar fleece in a novelty print. Polar fleece is fun to wear and lightweight. Better still, it can keep you snug and warm in colder weather. Also available in solid colors, polar fleece can be used for jackets and coats.
Things to Remember
Woven or Knit Fabric Rule
If you are using a commerical pattern, there will be recommended fabrics listed on the back of the pattern envelope. These are the fabrics the designer has tested for that pattern and they are guaranteed to give the right effects.
You can deviate from the recommended fabrics slightly but, be careful if you do. Changing the fabric isn’t for the faint-hearted. Be prepared for fabric-fails ruining your project. If you’re still keen on a challenge, there is a woven-knit rule you need to be aware of.
A pattern designed for a woven fabric, like a structured blouse, can be made in a knit textile. It will come out slightly bigger but will look similar to the original design. Albeit, with a softer silouhette and less tailoring.
Don’t be tempted to make a pattern designed for a knit fabric out of a woven material. That’s going to end in tears. Knits don’t allow for ease or fastenings. You don’t need them as the fabric is stretchy. As wovens don’t have much stretch, the garment will either be too small and rigid, misshapen or just a complete disaster.
How to Choose the Best Fabric for Sewing Clothes
Think about the clothing type when looking for a fabric. If you’re making a swimsuit, you really don’t want to be using suede. Water and suede don’t play well together. You’d be better off using a nylon spandex blend.
Consider the time of year and climate your garment is being made for. A rayon dress is great in summer, but for winter or inclement weather, something warmer like flannel or wool, will save you from frostbite.
As fabric can be hardwearing like denim, or floaty like silk, you need to allow for the purpose of the clothing you are making. A sheer blouse isn’t going to work well with denim as it’s too heavy. Similarly, gardening pants made from silk won’t last long as the fabric is too delicate.
Fabrics to Avoid for Clothing
Fabric stores sell material for all kinds of uses. While they may be pretty, there are some textiles totally unsuitable for clothing.
Avoid any fabric designed for use in upholstery. Although it can be used for making bags, it’s going to be far too heavy to wear. Similarly, be careful when choosing outdoor fabrics. A lightweight waterproof fabric is great for a raincoat, but you don’t want to use a heavy canvas designed to be used as a tarp.
Weight brings us neatly on to the last point to watch out for. Fabric comes in different weights making it suitable for a variety of projects. You’ll hear words like suiting, coating, shirting, winterweight and summerweight.
All of these terms refer to the best use of the fabric. A suiting weight, as the name suggests is perfect for making suits, jackets and pants. Shirting is designed for shirts or tops.
For pants, skirts and dresses, you want a fabric capable of surviving being sat on, or being stretched around the knee area. Because of this, shirting is no good for pants. It doesn’t have the right kind of recovery.
Choosing the best fabric for sewing various clothing can be tricky. If you follow the hints and tips in this article, you should find fabric selection a lot easier.