Reference Guide to Sewing Fabric

Dupioni Silk Fabric Iridescent Plum Cotton Lawn Border Stripe Green/White
Charmeuse Satin Paisley Yellow/Pink/Green Stretch Velvet Pink

Mention sewing fabric to a seamstress or quilter and you likely will strike a cord of excitement in them.

Most seasoned seamstresses have bins of fabric collected over time, just waiting to be made into something fabulous.

As you gain sewing experience, you will start to see fabric with a whole new perspective. You will see what the fabric can become as a sewing project.

You will see details in the fabrics as you touch and learn about how one fabric differs from another.

You will begin to recognize the different fibers, both man made and natural, what they are best suited for, and how to care for the fabrics individually.

There are two kinds of fibers, man made and natural. Natural fibrers are made from plants or animals and consist of cotton, Wool, silk, linens etc.

Man made fibers are produced chemically. Some commonly known man made fibers are polyester, nylon, acetate, and spandex.

Textile companies have learned over the years, to take the best properties of both natural and man made fibers and blend them. For instance the breath ability of cotton and flexibility of spandex or the easy care of polyester with the warmth of wool.

There are endless combination's of fiber blends available.

Chiffon Fabric

Denim Fabric

Novelty Fabric

Organic Sewing Fabric

Spandex Fabric

Wool Fabric

Where To Find Fabric

There are many places to buy sewing fabric. If you search for fabric stores in your area, you will find small boutique shops as well as the bigger fabric chain stores.

Fabric online is readily available. Here are a few of the online stores that carry a good selection of fabric.

Great deals from Fabric.com! Click here
Designer Fashion Fabrics for Sewing. Click Here To Shop and Order Fabric!
Amazon fabric by the yard link

What Are Fabric Properties

Fabric properties are the dynamics of fabrics broken down to make a little more sense. Here are some things to think about before you buy fabric for your project.

Style Suitability:

  • The first step is finding the section on the back of the patternThat gives sewing fabric suggestions. This is not a hard and fast rule to follow, but when you are first learning to sew; I would suggest sticking with the patterns' fabric suggestion

Color:

  • Everyone has a personal preference for color. There are some guidelines however, think of buying sewing fabric the same way you would see it on a ready-made garment.
  • You likely would not buy a busy ruffled blouse with a busy floral print. Especially if you have a large bust, or a brightly colour pair of pants with bright color top.
  • Think of your body type when choosing fabric colors and fabric patterns, for the same reasons you would not choose a style that was unflattering to your figure.
  • I often go online and search for my favourite clothing designers and see what they are creating for that season or just for ideas in general. What appeals to you and what inspiration you can find for color and style combinations.

Feel:

  • How a sewing fabric feels, also known as "hand" can have a large influence on your fabric choice.
  • How the fabric drapes and feels on your skin will help you decide what the better choice is for you.
  • Fabric has evolved due to fibre blends, but a pair of pants that are made with a stiff uncomfortable fabric, would not be a great choice.
  • Touch the fabric, drape it over your arm, could you wear this fabric on your skin for long period of time? Is it scratchy, etc.
  • Some people do not like the feel of silk. Some people do not like the feel of some wools, everyone is different and that is why there are many different varieties of fabrics available.

Care and Maintenance :

  • If you choose rayon, linen, cotton or silk, you may have to consider how often ironing will be necessary.
  • Choosing dry clean only fabrics will be costly and hand washables are time consuming. So consider all these characteristics as you would ready made garments.
  • Some man made fibres do not breath, so if you tend to be a person who is warm all the time, this could be a problem.
  • If you plan to wear your garment often, like a coat or suit consider a better quality fabric.
  • Something else to consider is lining. If you are buying a fabric made of a scratchy wool, consider lining the inside. This will help to make the fabric comfortable to wear.
  • Also, consider lining a sheer fabric, so you will not have to buy or make new under garments.
  • You can see that the romance of fabric also needs to be mixed with practicality.

Cost :

  • Fabrics, depending on the quality, can be reasonable or costly.
  • A more expensive fabric should not be over looked if you know you will be wearing the garment often.
  • Wear and tear on a garment will be less of a concern with a better quality fabric.
  • Keep in mind fabric can be bought on sale, so shop for fabric the same way you would for anything.
  • Look for bargains if need be, and some fabric stores offer memberships at a yearly cost. Memberships can give you great savings.
  • It is well worth it in most cases, to purchase a membership. You can save on notions, fabric, and patterns.
  • When you are learning to sew, consider fabrics that are easy to sew. Some examples would be poplin, cotton, broadcloth, shirting fabric, firm knits, wool and denim. If you choose fabrics easier to sew, you will be less likely to give up if you run into difficulty.
  • Difficult fabric examples would be, chiffon, velvet, leather, satin to name a few.
  • Small over all prints and narrow stripes will be easier to sew, as you will not need to match up patterns as plaids and larger patterns. These easy to sew fabrics are also less likely to unravel, so you will not need special seam finishes.

Extra Care Fabrics

Pile Fabric :


Velvet, velveteen, velour and corduroy sewing fabrics require special handling, when cutting out your project.

green velvet fabric
 green velvet fabric
  • Known as pile, these sewing fabrics look different in color depending on which direction the fabric is laid out or when you brush your hand over the fabric; you will get different highs and lows of the fabric color.
  • When you cut out your project, look for "with nap" layout directions, on the pattern instructions’ sheet.
  • The instructions in the pattern envelope, will indicate whether you need to lay out your pattern pieces in the same direction.

One Direct Design:


Some sewing fabrics have designs going in one direction.

For instance, flowers with a stem and leaf printed in the same direction on the fabric or the fabric shown, where all the bananas are going in the same direction, will also need to be cut out "with nap" layout.

flannel fabric
decor fabric
  • If you don't pay attention to this, you will end up with one part of your garment with pattern flowing upward and one section of your garment with pattern flowing downward.
  • So do pay close attention to all the tops of your pattern pieces going in the same direction as the fabric pattern.
  • Another example of one-way design would be border prints. You may wish to make a skirt with a border print.
  • Your pattern would be cut across the grain instead of the usual lengthwise grain. Buy extra fabric in this case.


Plaids and Stripes :

With plaids and stripes, you will need to purchase extra fabric.

The pattern instructions should tell you if that style is suitable for plaids or stripes and gives the required amount of fabric in that case.

striped dress
  • You can see that this dress was cut out to make sure the stripes were laying in an specific direction.
  • On the top of the dress, the stripes are lined up to be opposite of each side.
  • The middle section of the dress is cut specifically going across the body and the skirt is cut on the bias. All these pieces were cut out specifically to have this affect.
plaid coat
  • The plaid coat in the photo at left, is specifically laid out so the plaid pattern is lined up to match across the front of the coat.

Sheer Sewing Fabric :

Pay close attention to how the seam is finished when sewing with sheer fabric.

Fabrics included in this category would be chiffon, organza, batiste, sheer silks. French seams are my favorite choice of seam finishing. The French seam provides a clean professional finish.

This organza jacket in the photo, is made of organza and the seams are finished in french seam.

This organza jacket in the photo, is made of organza and the seams are finished in french seam.

organza fabric
  • The three girls in the photo are my daughters. I made all their dresses for a wedding in Mexico.
  • My two younger daughters are wearing batiste dresses with embroidery and sequins.
  • The white dresses were lined with a cotton sewing fabric, and sewn with batiste fabric because batiste can be see through. The dresses were very lightweight and perfect for the hot climate.
  • My older daughter is wearing a chiffon dress. It has a shimmer to it and of course was lined.
  • Chiffon can be a little bit difficult to work with, but as you can see, well worth the effort.I recommend not to be in a hurry or have time constraints when you use chiffon.

All of their dresses were from sheer fabrics and the french seam was used to sew them.


bridesmaid dresses
  • If you notice in this photo the hems of these dresses, were finished with a rolled hem sewn with my serger.
  • It is a great way to add design details very simply.
  rolled hem
  informal beach wedding dress
  • This chiffon dress, I made for my self for the same wedding.
  • The torso of this dress is chiffon as well. It is embroidered by the manufacturer and of course the rest of the dress was made from solid chiffon.
  • Again this dress was fully lined so I was able to serge the seams instead of finishing in a french seam. The inside of this dress is completely free of visible raw seams.
  • Here is another example of how a sheer sewing fabric is used.
  • An alternative to a French seam finish would be to finish the edges of a scarf in a 1/4" double folded seam. This chiffon scarf can also be finished with a rolled hem from your serger.

Knits and Stretch Fabrics :

These fabrics need to be sewn with polyester thread and special seams.

  • In stress seams, such as shoulders and crotch in addition, armholes, it is best to stabilize the seam with twill tape.
  • Knit sewing fabrics are best sewn with sergers and cover stitch machines.
  • If you don't have these machines, then a zig zag stitch works well.


The sewing patterns you see here, are just some examples of what is available. Check out my page on patterns for sewing, for more information.

Also you can click any of these patterns for more information.

Cottons

Satins/Silks

Stretch Knits

Velvet /Fleece