Garment Fabrics 101. Garment Sewing. {Learn More, Sew More}

Most quilters buy exclusively quilting cottons for their quilts.  With garments, there is a huge variety of choices.  Similar to the overwhelming feeling of choosing interfacing, fabric choices for garments is a whole new world.  Thankfully, Rachael from imagine gnats is here to share some information about types of fabric commonly used for garment sewing.

Take it away, Rachael…

FABRICS 101 

learn-more-sew-more-all-about-garment-fabrics

when I started sewing about a decade ago, I made mostly accessories, bags, and toys. from there, I got interested in quilting but also dabbled a bit in children’s clothing. my children started growing and making clothes for them started getting a bit more complex, so I had to up my game.

getting started with garment sewing can feel a bit overwhelming. but arming yourself with a bit of information can you help you feel more confident about getting started!!

how fabric is made

much of how a fabric will behave depends on how it’s made. fabrics fall into three basic categories: woven, non-woven, or knit. garment patterns will specify what type of fabric you should use, and when you’re starting out I definitely recommend following those suggestions. learn the rules before you break them, that is.

knits

knit fabrics are constructed with threads that loop back and forth to create the fabric (think knitting), in either a weft or warp-knitted pattern.

in weft knits, the knitting pattern runs across the width of the fabric, whereas in warp knits, the pattern runs vertically with zig-zag stitches. either warp or weft knits are typically stretchy because of the construction, and many knits have a small percentage of spandex for greater stretch and recovery.

cotton blend jersey knit

some common types of knits are: jersey, interlock, ribbing, and ponte de roma. read more about the six basic types of knit fabric here, and click here to see how to measure stretch.

wovens

woven fabrics are made up of yarns that are woven with horizontal and vertical threads, or warp and weft (think weaving on a loom). woven fabrics are only stretchy if made with a stretchy fiber, or on the bias.

twill-and-plain-weave-diagrams-imagine-gnats

most woven fabrics are made from a simple woven pattern called a plain weave, such as chambray (more about chambray here), cotton lawn, voile, challis, flannel, batiste, oxford cloth, shirting, and quilting cotton.

twill-weave fabrics such as twill and denim are woven with the weft passing under two or more warp threads, which gives the fabric strength, as well as its distinctive diagonal ribbing.

specialty weaves are used to create fabrics with specific qualities. satin weave (used for satin and sateen) creates a fabric with great drape and sheen. leno weave is used primarily in gauze and double gauze (more about double gauze here) to create a durable but loosely woven fabric.

non-wovens

non-woven fabrics are bonded or felted. bonded fabrics are made with synthetic fibers, are typically inexpensive to produce, and are used in many industrial applications, though bonded garment fabrics are mostly used for linings. the felted fabric most often seen in garment sewing is wool, though acrylic fibers can also be felted.

types of fabric/substrates

although there are only three basic types of fabric construction, the types of fabric that can be made are endless. listed below are some of the most common types of garment fabrics as well as some basic information about each one. you can click on any of the images for more information about the projects and fabrics shown.

light-weight fabrics:

batiste – almost transparent fabric, typically made from cotton or cotton blends, and is often used for linings.

challis – smooth and slightly heavier than voile or lawn but still has great drape.

chiffon – very light and thin, typically made with synthetic fibers, translucent with great drape.

crepe de chine – woven with silk yarn, which gives the fabric a textured surface, and has great drape. great for flowy shirts and dresses, and can even be used as pants.

prp pity the fool 13

jersey knit – a weft-knit fabric with a smooth front and good stretch, great for comfortable and casual garments.

gramercy-renfrew-top-horiz

lawn – semi-sheer fabric made from tightly woven fiber (typically cotton) with a great drape.

shot cotton – constructed with warp and weft of different colors to create a depth of color, typically lighter weight than quilting cotton with better drape.

artisan-cottons-tumble-tee-dresses-5

silk – shimmery, delicate, and naturally strong fabric that drapes well.

tulle – very fine woven netting, used for veils, gowns, and tutus.

tutu tutorial

voile – very similar to cotton lawn, with a crisper hand, woven with fine, high-count yarn.

medium-weight fabrics:

chambray – traditionally woven with white weft and colored warp threads, available in a wide range of thicknesses. read more about chambray here.

chambray union

double gauze – specialty fabric made up of two layers of gauze woven together. very soft and cozy, with good drape. read more about double gauze here.

double gauze infinity scarf

double knit – warp-knit fabric made with two layers of looped fabric that are woven together. very comfy for garments and wears well.

flannel – very soft woven fabric that is typically brushed for extra softness and warmth.

hooded-flannel-scarf-with-pockets-horiz

linen – fabric made with linen fibers, very absorbent and feels cool in hot weather. tends to wrinkle easily, but has a great drape.

quilting cotton – cotton fabric designed for – surprise! – quilting, very easy to sew with and suitable for more structured garments.

arizona rolypoly 1

heavy-weight fabrics:

bark cloth – originally a non-woven fabric made from tree bark, but is now typically made from densely woven textured cotton. similar to canvas, but with more drape.

canvas – heavy-duty plain weave fabric, often used in bags or accessories but suitable for structured garments where not much drape is required.

corduroy – woven fabric with a distinct ribbed pattern in varying widths (or wale).

denim – strong fabric made with twill weave, may include spandex for stretch. traditionally made in indigo, but now available in a wide variety of colors.

cut from the same cloth 2

ponte de roma – stong and stable fabric, typically made with synthetic fibers or blend, and resists wrinkles.

sweatshirt fleece – thick weft-knit fabric with smooth right side and brushed fleece on the wrong side. often has less stretch than other knit fabrics.

bimaa-at-pumpkin-patch-4

tweed – durable fabric made from unfinished wool.

choosing the right fabric

the best thing you can do when choosing a fabric for your garment is to think about what qualities you want your garment to have. look at the fabric recommendations for the garment you’ve chosen, and then look for fabrics within that category which have the qualities you hope for in your garment.

of course, some garment projects require a very specific type of fabric. for example, swimsuits. here is a case where you absolutely need to make sure that the fabric you’re using is meant for that purpose.

tankini8

when you’re starting out, choose from fabrics that are beginner-friendly. while I think that everyone can tackle a beginner-level garment, I also think there’s no good in making it a frustrating experience because you’ve chosen a difficult or unruly fabric. fabrics that are great for a first garment include wovens like quilting cotton, shot cotton, flannel, or chambray and knits like interlock or ponte de roma. these fabrics mostly fall into the medium-weight category, which is perfect for beginner garments.

for the sake of sanity, look for a fabric that isn’t slippery when starting out. sometimes it’s hard to tell this when you look at fabrics online… if you have questions about this or how a fabric drapes, it can be helpful to do a google search for that particular fabric or substrate to see what other people have made with it. in fact, this can be helpful when choosing a pattern as well. there are so many great resources online!

I hope that this information helps you get started with garment sewing.  stop by imagine gnats to find creative inspiration {mostly} daily and fabrics for your garment sewing needs.

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GIVEAWAY!  For a chance to win a $25 gift certificate to Imagine Gnats, post a comment about what fabrics you would buy with the gift certificate.  And if you are excited about buying fabrics now, all knit fabrics are 20% off until 11:59pm est on 3/6/15.

Comments 38

  1. Pingback: let's sew with knits: beginner knit sewing patterns - imagine gnats

  2. Hi. Thanks for all of the helpful info on fabric types. I’m a seasoned sewist and you still a few new terms for me! I love working with linen, wool, cotton and other natural fibers, so I’d be on the lookout for some good deals there. Thanks for the chance to win. 🙂

  3. Great article! And thanks for the giveaway. I would buy some of your ponte knit or some double gauze (my new obsession!!!).

  4. I’d get some solid double gauze to make some basic tops. Most of the shirts I’ve made so far are printed, so solids would be a nice addition to the wardrobe. Or, I’d get some of that crazy octopus lawn and make some scarves.

  5. Thanks for the fantastic reference for different types of fabric! I’ve been looking for something like this forever! I’d love to try out some of your knits with your gift certificate… I’m just getting brave enough with my sewing to move into for difficult fabrics than cotton!

  6. I would certainly buy some knits. I am currently going to buy some now, the sweatshirt fleece material to make the meridian cardigan for the first time. I am excited, and if I tackle this pattern I would love to buy more knit and go to town on making a few meridian cardigans. I want to take it one at a time and be confident then tackle making a t-shirt maybe. 🙂 Thanks for such an awesome giveaway!

  7. I’d definitely pick up some double gauze. I’d like to try it and haven’t seen it in shops locally. Thanks for the great breakdown of fabrics!

  8. Great post! My mom seems to just “know” these things, and I am always confused when I go to sew a garment. I love quilting cottons, although I see a fuchsia canvas that is calling my name!

  9. Great post!! I have been eyeing your knits and working up the courage to sew some double gauze! (well not courage- just deciding if I should make a blouse for me or a lap quilt or something for the girls. HAHA).

  10. I need to just go for it and buy some knit fabric and give it a try! This gift certificate would help with that 😉 Thanks for the great explanations above!

  11. I would get some knit fabrics. Loving the Ponte de Roma and jersey knits. I’ve got the Marianne dress pattern that I want to sew up!

  12. Pingback: Jaime Jennings. Fancy Tiger Crafts. Podcast - Crafty Planner

  13. Pingback: Fabric 101 - Sewtorial

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