There is such a tremendous selection of fabrics available; the job of choosing fabric can be overwhelming. As you peruse the different fabrics, you may be drawn to the bright, splashy colors at first. Then, the subtle colors, interesting textures and weaves present you with more possibilities. It is essential to be informed about fabrics, so that your project is successful. But, it is still important for you to fall in love with the fabric!
We will begin by breaking down the types of fabric into categories, then sub-categories. You will want to know what the fabric is made of, how it will drape (flow), and what the care instructions are. One thing is for certain — it pays to invest in quality fabric, as you are going to put a lot of your energy into the project, and you want it to be a success.
TYPES OF FABRIC BY FIBER CONTENT
The fiber content of a fabric will determine the comfort of the garment when you wear it, and how you will need to care for the garment. Usually, in a store, the fabric content will be on the end of the cardboard form that the fabric is wrapped around. Be sure to ask the sales people, as sometimes the form is re-used and does not match the fabric. If purchasing fabric from a web site, the information should be displayed with the fabric. In case you find fabric that the fiber content is unknown, it can be tested by burning it. More about fabric testing later.
Natural Fiber Fabrics:
— Specialty Hair Fibers
Man-Made Fiber Fabrics:
— Acetate and Triacetate
Leathers and Suedes
NATURAL FIBER FABRICS
Natural fiber fabrics are made from materials that grow in nature. Fibers come from animal coats, silkworm cocoons, and plant seeds, leaves, and stems. Natural fiber fabrics are biodegradable and also can be recycled. In recycling, the fabric is shredded back to fibers, respun into a coarse yarn, and then rewoven or knitted. Wool is the most common recycled fabric, but cotton can be recycled and made into industrial wiping cloths, mattress filling, and carpet backing.
Cotton is known for its comfort, appearance, versatility, and performance. It is available in many fabric weights, colors, patterns, weaves, and prices. Cotton comes from the seedpod of the cotton plant. It is grown in warm climates that have plentiful rain. The cotton fibers are taken from the boll (seed pod) and vary in length. They can be as long as 2 ½» and as short as 3/8″. The long fibers are the more costly, and are harder to produce. Once the cotton is picked, it is separated by a process known as ginning (remember hearing about the cotton gin?) and the long fibers are made into thread. The short fibers are used to produce rayon. The quality is determined by: a) fiber fineness; b) color; c) foreign matter. To figure out the fiber length, peel a thread and untwist. Look for fibers longer than ½».
Enough history lesson, now on to what is so great about cotton. Cotton has many admirable characteristics and a few less-than-admirable characteristics:
— Comfortable year-round. In hot, humid weather, cotton will absorb perspiration and release it on the fabric surface, and the moisture will evaporate. In the cold weather, cotton will help retain body heat.
— Easy to clean: usually, cotton garments can be laundered, and even stand up to hot water, but cotton can also be dry cleaned, if the garment calls for dry cleaning. Some factors for determining if the fabric should be dry-cleaned are the dyes, finish, trims, and design of the garment. If you have a doubt, wash a small sample of the fabric first. Cotton garments should be cleaned frequently. The fibers soil easily.
— Shrinks: Oh, yes, cotton fabric shrinks. It is a must to pre-shrink cotton fabric before you begin the sewing project. You may want to wash the fabric more than once. Looser weaves shrink more; closer weaves shrink less. Cotton shrinks more when washed in hot water. Wash it in the same way as you will the completed garment.
— Wrinkles: cotton does wrinkle when washed. Many times the cotton fibers are blended with another fiber to achieve wrinkle free fabric. Cotton blended with polyester makes a wrinkle-free, easy care fabric. Although the cotton/poly blend fabric is easy care, it is not cool as cotton and also pills. Formaldehyde is sometimes added to cotton to create «easy care cotton».
— Doesn’t build up static electricity
— Drapes well
There are many cotton fabrics, which range from lightweight sheers to heavy velvets. Some examples of cotton fabric are: batiste, broadcloth, calico, canvas, chintz, corduroy, denim, flannel, muslin, gauze, percale, pique, plisse, sateen, velour and velvet, to name a few. The list goes on and on. There is, of course, different qualities of cotton. The highest quality cottons are made from the longer fibers, such as Pima, Egyptian and Peruvian cottons. Look for fabrics that the fibers are closely woven. In general, better quality cotton fabrics are softer than the lesser quality cottons. The lesser quality cottons often have sizing added to make them seem to be firmer and heavier than they are. Once you wash it, the sizing will be gone, and you will be left with a fabric that will not wear well or last very long. Buy quality! To figure out if the fabric has heavy sizing, rub the fabric against itself. If it softens, or it gives off a powdery feel, that is heavy sizing. If you hold it up to the light, you may be able to see the sizing between the threads. Mercerized cotton is stronger and more lustrous, which it retains after many washings. Mercerizing permanently straightens the fibers, and makes it smooth.
South American and Thai Cottons:
— Firmly woven
— Produced in smaller widths than normal
— Shrink quite a bit
— Vegetable dyes can bleed — set with ¼ cup vinegar per gallon of water
— Small flaws in the fabric
DUCK: heavy, durable cotton that is tightly woven.
FLANNEL: comes in either a plain or twill weave; it has a slight nap (a soft, brushed look) on one or both sides. Since this fabric shrinks quite a bit, machine-wash and machine-dry, both hot. Use a with nap layout, double thickness. Use an 80/12 needle. Steam iron on cotton setting.
FLANNELETTE: soft, with a nap on one side.
GAUZE: sheer, lightly woven fabric. There is also silk gauze.
GINGHAM: checks, plaids, stripes, very lightweight.
LAWN: lightweight, plain woven, this fabric is soft, combed with a crisp finish.
MUSLIN: runs sheer to coarse; plain woven; comes in «natural» color or dyed.
BRUSHED COTTON: the fibers are teased apart to make the cloth fleecy, creating air pockets between the fibers, and feels warmer; is more flammable. Sometimes comes with flameproofing. It is strong, stronger when wet, stands up to hard washing, which makes it ideal for tablecloths, napkins, sheets, pillowcases. Resistant to heat, can be washed at high temperatures.
MATELASSE: raised woven designs, usually jacquard, with a puckered/quilted look.
MOIRE: a finish given to ribbed cotton or silk, achieved by passing the fabric between engraved rollers which press a watermark pattern into it.
ORGANDY: transparent with crisp finish.
PIMA: from Egyptian cotton; excellent quality.
PIQUE: cotton pique has a small embossed design, achieved by using two warps with different tension. It is very expensive to produce.
PLISSE: crinkled effect, produced on cotton by printing it with a stripe of chemical, which causes raised buckling by elongating fibers of the printed parts.
POLISHED: plain or satin weave; shiny due to chemical finish.
POPLIN: plain weave with a cross-wise rib.
SEERSUCKER: lightweight fabric crinkled into lengthwise strips of different colors. Traditionally woven with two types of warp, one under heavy tension, to give the variation in surface. These days, chemical methods are more often used to produce the crinkle. It does not need ironing after washing.
SWISS: sheer, fine fabric; plain or dotted with possible other designs.
TERRY CLOTH: looped pile, woven or knitted, and absorbent. French terry is looped on one side and sheared pile on other side.
VELVETEEN: short pile resembling velvet.
Hemp is produced from the cannabis Sativa plant. It is processed to separate the fibers, then woven into yarns and fabric. Italy produces the finest hemp fabric. It is linen-like in hand and appearance. It wrinkles easily.
Linen is made from the stalk of the flax plant; it is the strongest of the vegetable fibers, 2 to 3 times the strength of cotton. The linen fibers can range from 2″ to 36″ long. They are first spun into yarn, which is then woven into fabric. Linen comes in many weights, the lightest being handkerchief linen, the heaviest being linen suiting. Linen is desirable in hot, humid climates due to its high moisture absorbency, and the fact that it is quick drying. Linen gets smoother, softer, and finer the more it is washed. Its luster is due to the natural wax content, which also gives linen a smooth surface.
— Stays clean: linen sheds surface dirt and resists stains.
— Wrinkles: linen really wrinkles, even those that have been given a wrinkle-resistant treatment. A good tip: press fabric before preshrinking; it sets the formaldehyde, and helps keep wrinkling down. On the plus side, linen presses easily. Since it creases easily, it can be given a crease-resistant finish (tebilizing) or can be blended with poly.
— Shrinks: here is another natural fiber fabric that shrinks. It is essential to preshrink linen before you start to cut. Buy extra fabric, as you will lose some due to shrinkage.
— Frays: linen fabrics really do tend to fray. Before you pre-wash, it would be a good idea to serge the raw edges. As you make your garment, it would also be good to serge the seams and any other raw edges.
— Doesn’t drape; instead it is crisp.
— Easily dyed, and color doesn’t fade.
— Absorbs moisture more quickly than any other fabric — it is great for toweling and tablecloths.
Looking for quality:
— Feel: the better quality linen fabrics are smooth and supple. Look at the finish — is there a lot of sizing on the fabric? Not a good sign!
— Fibers: good quality linens have finer yarns. Check out the number of threads per inch — remember that as with bed sheets, the higher the number of threads per square inch, the better the quality. The threads should be woven straight and even.
DAMASK: a jacquard weave, reversible pattern of satin or plain weave.
VENISE: a very fine damask of floral patterns, used for table linen.
Ramie is a hairy, soft fiber that has many of the same qualities as linen: it is comfortable and wrinkles easily. Frequently, ramie is blended with other fibers, both natural and man-made. Ramie can be washed or dry-cleaned; use the same rules as for linen to determine which cleaning method is best for your garment. Use the linen guidelines for sewing help. Ramie has a natural white color, has a high luster, is highly absorbent, and quick to dry.
Silk, know as the «Queen of Textiles», is a luxurious and sensuous cloth that comes from the cocoon of the silkworm. There are two basic types of silkworms: commercial, or cultivated; and wild. The cultivated silkworm is fed mulberry leaves, and these silkworms produce the finest fibers. Wild silkworms may eat many different leaves, oak being one of them.
Sericulture is the word for the cultivation of silkworms to produce silk. Silkworms are fragile creatures that must be correctly fed and kept meticulously clean. They are highly sensitive to noise and odors. They mate for several hours, and produce about 300 pinhead size eggs. From the incubation period, which is about 30 days, the little eggs hatch. They are fed numerous times each day, a diet of mulberry leaves. This industry keeps many people employed, taking care of the mulberry trees, picking and chopping the leaves, and feeding the silkworms. After 30 days, the silkworm is approximately 3 ½» long. It looks for a place and begins making a cocoon. It moves its head in a figure-eight pattern, secreting a semi-liquid, and surrounds itself with a cocoon. The semi-liquid, which is two strands of silk and sericin, a gummy substance that the silkworm extrudes, comes out at a rate of about 1 foot per minute. Some days later, the cocoon is subjected to either steam or boiling water to separate the silkworm from the cocoon. This keeps the silkworm from maturing and breaking the cocoon. The silk fiber is one long strand. The cocoons are soaked in hot water to soften, and then a reeling process winds the filaments. When two silkworms share a cocoon, the result is a double strand. This is known as Doupioni. The fibers will give a thick and thin appearance. A single filament is too thin to use alone, so many are combined to make a thicker, more useable yarn. The filaments of two to twenty cocoons are reeled together to make strands of raw silk. Care is taken to keep the strands uniform in size. The reeler is constantly adding filaments to maintain the size of the strands, and to make the strand longer. A skilled weaver, weaving a complicated weave, may get only a few inches a day. To weave a simple, plain weave, a skilled weaved can produce nine to ten yards of silk in a day. Silk hand weaving is both a traditional folk craft and a delicate art. Silk that is hand-woven has a lustrous sheen and slightly uneven texture that distinguishes it from the sleek machine-woven silks.
Wild silkworms live on oak leaves, and some other leaves. The Tussah worm is larger than the cultivated kind, and can mature to 6 inches long. Since the food is coarser, the worm produces a coarser filament, which is a tan or golden color. The majority of Tussah silk comes from China, but some is produced in India. Ethe India tussah is woven from larger needles and is not as refined, nor does it drape as well as China silk. It pills in areas of wear. Examples of tussah silks are: shantung, raw silk, and pongee. They are durable, and have a coarse, ribbed surface. Although tussah silk washes well, it shrinks. Eri silk is found only in India. The cocoons are small and very light colored. The cocoons are gathered after the moth emerges, which classifies the fibers as «peace silk». Peace silk (also called vegetarian silk) is when the moth is allowed to emerge from the cocoon, and then completes its life cycle (mates, lays eggs, and dies).
— Comfortable, warm in winter, cool in summer
— Resists wrinkling
— Can be drapeable; or stiff
— Absorbs moisture, dries quickly
— Does not soil easily
— Damaged by perspiration and body oils
— Silk fibers don’t shrink, but silk fabric does
— Dry-clean mainly, although good results have been achieved from washing (gently). Washing tightens up the weave.
DYEING: silk takes color rather easily, and is dyed either before or after it is woven. Dyeing before is «skein dyed», dyeing after is «piece dyed».
WEIGHTS: silk weight is expressed in momme (m/m). The heavier the fabric, the higher the m/m number.
Thai silk is produced primarily on the Korat Plateau in the northeast region of Thailand. The silk varies in color from very light green to light gold. The threads are washed, bleached, and then soaked in vats of hot dyes. Then they are washed again, stretched, and dyed. Then the threads are wound onto spools. Thai silk is both hand and machine woven. The Thai hand-weavers, usually rural Thai women, believe the silk they weave carries an imprint of the spirit and character of the weaver. Thai silk is shiny and lustrous, and usually is soft. The texture is often coarse, the threads uneven.
Smooth Thai silk has a shiny, satiny finish, which is good for clothing and interior decoration items.
Rough Thai silk is relatively coarse and thick, but still soft. It is good for interior decorations — curtains and casual clothing. It is sometimes called «nubby».
Two-Tone Thai Silk uses two colors when weaving the cloth — one for warp (vertical thread) and one for weft (horizontal thread). The fabric color appears to change depending on the angle of viewing, giving it an almost iridescent effect.
Striped Thai Silk is a weaving method. By alternating smooth and rough silk threads in the weaving, a pattern emerges in the fabric, although it is all the same color.
MUDMEEE (IKAT) THAI SILK
This silk is hand-woven in the Northeast area of Thailand, in an area called Isannn, which is on the Khovat plateau. The intricate designs are passed down from generation to generation. Using various colors in the weft creates the designs. Usually, the silk fabric is half solid or two-tone, and half mudmee pattern. There are many other types of patterned and woven silks from Thailand, each area having a different named pattern.
WASHING/DRY-CLEANING: Opinions vary about cleaning silk. Some experts say that dry-cleaning is best to keep the fabric in good condition. Other experts say you can hand wash in lukewarm water and the mildest soap. Add 1 TBS of white vinegar to the final rinse. Do not wring out! Instead, roll it in a towel. Dry in the shade. Either iron on the wrong side while it is still damp; or if fabric is dry, use a damp press cloth on the right side. Another suggestion for washing is to use a good shampoo, not alkaline, no wax or petroleum products.
COMPARING THAI SILK TO OTHER REGIONAL SILKS
Chinese Silk — is smooth and satiny with a plain weave. China silk is hand-woven from hand-reeled silk fibers. It is lustrous, lightweight, and delicate, can snag if not handled with care.
Indian Silk — soft, more crinkly, and richer colors
Habutai Silk — if from Japan, it is fine, soft, and closely woven. It is generally plain woven, but can be twill faced. Habutai silk is woven raw, and degummed after it becomes fabric. It is loosely woven, lustrous, smooth, with a good hand. It is made in light, medium and heavy weights. It resembles taffeta, but is softer
REAL SILK VS. MAN-MADE IMITATION SILK (POLYESTER)
1- Price: real silk is much more costly
2- Hand-woven and natural fibers have small flaws and bumps; polyester is machine-made and has no flaws
3- Luster: real silk uses two colors, warp and weft, and produces a luster, the color changing depending on the angle of light; polyester is all the same color regardless of the angle.
4- Burning: silk leaves fine ash, and smells like burning hair. When you take away the flame, the silk stops burning. Polyester burning makes black smoke and continues to burn when the flame is removed.
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