Fabric- getting to know fabric- part 1- Light to Medium weight Fabric!
We’re almost through the basic theory that a new sewer needs to know. Just a couple more hubs then we’ll be able to dive into the fun projects and procedures.
This one is probably going to be the hardest lesson to write and to 'get'. In the actual classes I had boxes full of fabric swatches for my students to touch, feel and see. Online it's going to be a bit harder. I can give you a mile long list of fabric names but not much on that list will mean anything to you until you actually get to see and feel the fabrics.
You will have to spend some time and bum around at your local fabric shop. The bigger the shop the better, although at first it might feel intimidating but eventually once you get an oversight of the store you will feel more at ease there. Let's dive in.
To have some knowledge about the different fabrics is necessary when sewing. Here is an 'easy to sew' list and we’ll build onto this list as we go along.
It’s my opinion
that easy success for the beginning sewer creates a good base. With that in
mind I always suggest using easy to sew fabrics with small or no pattern.
However, that does not mean that a novice can not accomplish a well made first
project, lets say our of sheer or velvet. It just means that the novice will have to give some of those
fabrics some extra or special attention.The only problem I see with using hard to sew fabric is that it can be discouraging if something just doesn't work out a well as wanted. (As far as I'm concerned there are mainly two types of fabrics that are really hard to sew and a real pain in the watooooosy, those are velvets in all of their glory and a really fine chiffon that stretches out of shape, no matter what, the second you even get within touching range of it).
Most domestic sewing machines prefer a medium to medium lightweight fabric. The sewing machine factory automatically sets a sewing machine’s timing etc. to run perfect with that type of smooth, even weave fabric. Again that said, does not mean that the average sewing machine can’t sew heavier fabric such as a couple of layers of denim or a totally lightweight sheer or gauze. The machine will just need different settings and needles etc. which we’ll get to soon.
Fabric made from Natural Fibers!
Fabric made from natural fibers are created from animals coats, plants' seeds, leaves, stems and silkworm cocoons.
- Wool --- wool is a protein fiber, sheep, alpacas, llamas, goats, rabbits etc all grow fur that we humans have been working into clothing and such since the dawn of time
- Cotton --- cotton is a plant fiber that we (humans) have been collecting and transferring into cloth for thousands of years from the cotton plant’s seed pod
- Linen --- linen is a plant fiber a super durable fabric that is made from the stalk of the flax plant
- Jute, Hemp, Ramie, Bamboo... --- each of these are plant fibers similar to linen except that the usable fibers of each of these plants have to be processed a bit differently
- Silk --- silk is a protein fiber and is made from by unraveling the cocoon of the silkworm, probably the only domesticated insect or bug that has been giving humanity beauty for thousands of years
Fabrics from man-made fibers !
Just to name the main 'fabric families', most of these get other fancy names however are built from the following list:
- Acetate --- is made from cellulose (wood fibers), technically cellulose acetate.
- Acrylic --- well the actual name is acrylonitrile is made from natural gas and petroleum.
- Nylon --- is a polyamide made from petroleum.
- Polyester --- is a polymer produced from coal, air, water, and petroleum products.
- Rayon --- is a regenerated cellulose fiber which is almost pure
cellulose. (one of my favorites to sew)
Types of weave do not make the Types of fabric
The type of weave used to fabricate a material often get mistaken for the type of fabric. Lots of weave styles have lent a certain fabric their name... Let me explain, Gabardine, Twill, Damask, Brocade, Jaquard... before I lose you with all these names let me backtrack and talk about 'Satin' for instance, everyone knows what satin looks like, right? Most people associate it with the shiny material that a lot of formal gowns are made from. Well, satin is not really a fabric but actually it is a type of weave. (although it has become an acceptable name for the fabric. The satin-weave can be woven from silk, acetate, polyester, or even a blend of different fibers. Each of these fibers contribute to how heavy the satin is, how it drapes (hangs), what the satin feels like, what the satin looks like and so forth...
We also should discuss how a fabric is made, so that we’ll know what to look for when next at the fabric counter of Walmart or the local material shop.
There a three main fabric groups, and these are:
- woven–A basic sample, with the easiest, distinguishable “grain” would be a hemp or jute burlap. If you look at a section you will notice the up & down fibers are dissected by the over and under side to side fibres. Linen etc.
- knitted–This is easy, a sweater or take a close look at your t-shirt. You’ll notice the lines of the “chain”. Knits are also stretchy. Tricot
- non-grain–Easily explained, with the most common one being Felt.
Do you remember when you were at summer camp and your project was to make a place-mat by 'weaving' colored strips of paper over and under? In all it's simplicity that is really the basics of weaving. The way fabric is woven.
The strips of paper that were 'stationairy' that ran up and down your place-mat are called the warp and the colored strips that were doing the weaving from side to side are called the weft. (the way to remember the different name is your weaving 'weft to wight')
To explain fabric over the internet, the easiest way is going to be if I send you to go in front of your closet. Take a pen and paper along with you too...
Take out one piece of clothing at a time. Try to find 6-8 different types of fabric. It doesn't matter what they are. (NO do not worry, I will NOT make you cut swatches out of each) If the label is still in the garment read it and really look at the material. See and feel the texture... look at it closely, do you see the individual threads that make up the fabric? Or do you see a fine rows and loops of knitted fabric? A poly-fleece top will only show the fuzzies and not the actual 'construction' of the material.
Look at items like:
- a man's shirt --- most commonly made of a cotton and polyester blend (fabric is usually woven)
- a pair of non-stretch jeans --- made of +or-90% cotton with +or-10% lycra or spandex (woven in the gabardine or denim weave
- a wool suit jacket maybe tweed --- made from 100% wool or a blend of fibers (usually woven)
- a t-shirt --- made of a cotton or cotton blend (a single knit)
- a Hoody --- fleece made of a polyester (most likely a knit but you will only see the fuzzies)
- the brides maids dress you wore at cousin Gerdies wedding (made from a satin backed crepe - one side is matte and the is satiny shiny - the weave on the matte side looks as if the fibers are crinkly)
Just for fun make your self a list by using the labels, feel and look of each individually
Here is a list of some easy fabrics that any novice will find a cinch to sew with. All of these are in the light to medium weight category.
- Cotton sheeting…obviously
for sheeting, also great for bedroom curtains or valances, Pj’s etc (cotton a
- Cotton and Poly blend... men's shirts, blouses, quilting fabric, non-iron sheeting etc(also called permanent pressed... most commonly these come in a 50-50 or 35-65 ratio of cotton to polyesters)
- Cotton twill…work pants, notions such as twill tape etc (cotton and cotton & poly blends)
- Wool flannel…suit jackets, vests, etc (wool a natural fibre)
- Wool crepe…dresses, suits, etc (wool a natural Fibre)
- Chintz…drapes, light upholstery, cushion covers etc (cotton or cotton-poly blends)
- Linen…clothing, tablecloths & napkins, etc (natural fibre made from flax)
- Gabardine…pants, uniform jackets, etc (mostly 100% polyester)
- Poplin…chef jackets, summer clothing, etc (mostly in cotton &poly blends)
- Light weight denim (non-stretch 100% cotton)…fashion jeans, skirts, etc (the new types have stretch, mainly made from 90-95% cotton, +5-10% of of Lycra or spandex worked mostly into the side to side fibres)
Some of the fabrics are named after their style or pattern of weave or knit etc. For example Gabardine is a name of fabric but also tells that it had a diagonal ridge pattern weave, called either twill or gabardine weave. Or the double knit. A T-shirt’s usually is made of a single knit, a surely recognized sample of double knit would be the older fashioned crimpelene or jersey knits.
Oh no....! Not the dreaded 'H' word....
Here it comes… homework… yup homework... next time you're in town stop in at the fabric store find and get familiar with some of the materials we discussed here. Read the labels on the side of the bolts to see what the content of the fabric is... Take the list you made in your closet and try to find similar fabrics at the store. This will give you a bit of a feel for what a good fabric might be for what type of usage.
Some fabric sold at Walmart and discount stores will have an 'Unknown fiber content' sticker on some of their on-sale bolts. These cheap discount tables are a fun place to dig around and play the guessing game.
TIPS: If you buy any of these 'unknown fiber content' fabric from these cheap discount tables make sure you buy extra and you have to wash them before going to the trouble of sewing with them. I bought a few meters off one of these tables a not very long ago because of an absolutely perfectly perfect colour match and lucky for me I bought a couple of extra meters because it shrank almost 30%.
For my Buddy Timorous!
these types of machines come in all different sizes on the round... socks, gloves, t-shirts, hats, pantyhose, leggings etc all need different circumferenced machines
- What to look for when buying that First Sewing Machi...
For you sewing-newbies here are some of the details on a sewing machine that you need to know about right away. As we progress well learn more of the individual functions and their uses. For you...
- Sew Those Seams---Easy How to Sew Tutorials!
I'm proud to admit that I'm a stitch-a-holic. I was bitten by the highly contagious sewing bug many, many years ago. There is no cure, no remedy and temporary relief can only be found at the nearest fabric...
- Tips For How To Shorten Jeans! Easy step by step met...
The problem most have with getting jeans shortened is that they don't look the same anymore once the original hem has been cut. Here I'll give you the basic and easy way. The problem most have with getting...
- Sewing Scissors/Shears - Scissors Basics for Every S...
The first 'mini-lesson' when I start a new set of 'Learn how to sew' classes revolves around scissors. I have had students show up with the $2.95 household scissors that are on special at Walmart... you know...
- Truly Hand-made Quilts
Over the years I've dabbled in most types of art-forms from watercolor painting to pottery to silver-smithing. I'm the kind who has a project on the go for all occasions. While watching TV downstairs I'm just...
- Crazy Quilting: not really crazy
Crazy is maybe the right way to describe me - in more aspects than just quilting. I have the
- Thread: a guide to sewing thread! for hand and machi...
Have you ever stood in front of the six thread racks at your local Fabricland and wondered what the difference was? Now-a-day there is more to it then just trying to match the thread...
- Sewing Kit--- Have to have-s!
To prepare a good sewing kit we have to jump a bit ahead of the game. The procedure of sewing includes a multiple of tasks that all need their own equipment. For sizing we need measuring tools. ...
Great sewing hubs by other hubbers
- How to Make a Cloak or Cape
Whether for a costume or just keeping warm, a cape or cloak can be great. Learn how to sew your own, or try the no-sew cape method!
- Featherweight Sewing Machines
- Treadle Sewing Machines:Sew Simple
Knowing how to use a treadle sewing machine is on it's way to becoming a lost art. Many people think that the treadle, or manually powered, sewing machine is a thing of the past but that is not true.
- Learn to Sew
I frequently bump into people that tell me they sure wish they knew how to sew. Gone are the days where school's required women to take sewing classes. And a lot of men never got a chance at all. So what do...
- How To Sew Prefold Diapers
Cloth diapers can be made from a wide range of materials: twill, jersey, birdseye, flannel, and terry cloth. Cotton and hemp are the most commonly used fibers, though traditionally linen was also used...
More by this Author
A few years ago one of my students asked "How important can it really be to know what needle to use in the sewing machine? Aren't they all basically the same?" I had a hard time convincing him that using the...
... taking in or letting out a pair of dress pants is not hard and will take no more then 30-40 minutes.
A friends daughter whose wedding I sewed and organized a few years ago came over last night with her 'Hubby'... saying that the deal on the house they had bid on had been accepted. The young couple was in seventh...