1. Choosing the right fabrics for your DIY projects
This DIY guide is for people who love to sew but don't know anything about different fabrics. The more you know about fabric, the easier it will be to sew! I have a lot of information on this page. If it's too much for you, just read #1 about different fabric weights and the first couple paragraphs of #2 about different types of fabric and fibers.
Before I get into different types of fabrics, I'm going to explain why you should pay attention to fabric WEIGHT. Thin fabrics will do better for tops and dresses. Heavy fabrics will do better for jackets, skirts, and pants. You can always break these rules, but if you want to make something that will last a long time, try to follow them! A lot of thin, lightweight fabrics can be used just fine for jackets and skirts, but for pants you will always be better off with the heavy stuff.
Sometimes fabrics will be labeled by the weight.
- Top-weight fabrics: shirts and dresses. Also called shirtings.
- Bottom-weight fabrics: jackets, skirts, and pants.
- Very light: Under one ounce per yard.
- Light: 2-3 oz. per yard.
- Medium: 5-7 oz. per yard.
- Heavy: more than 7 oz. per yard.
Light and very light are good for shirts. Medium and heavy are good for pants.
Fabric won't always be labeled with the weight when you go to a fabric store, so feel the fabric and judge for yourself.
Also: if you are going to make patches, make sure to buy heavy-weight fabric!
2. Types of Fibers and Fabrics
Many fabrics are a mixture of two or more different fibers. (for example, 50% cotton 50% polyester) Pay attention to the fiber content when you shop for fabrics, because it will affect how your clothes feel and behave. The following list is seperated into 3 categories: natural fibers, manufactured fibers, and protein fibers. Protein fibers are those like silk and wool that are obtained from an animal and are not vegan friendly. Manufactured fibers are usually made of chemicals. They will typically dry faster than natural fibers and can develop stubborn pilling.
Very cool, absorbent, and comfortable. Takes a long time to dry compared to other fibers. Will shrink when you wash it. Medium strength. Ages well. Used in many things, for example t-shirts, jeans, underwear, and upholstery. Combed cotton is softer and better quality than regular cotton.
Cool and absorbent, like cotton. Wrinkles badly, need a very hot iron to get rid of wrinkles. Shrinks in water, dry cleaning is recommended. Usually used in summer clothing and home decor.
Similar to cotton and linen, but fairly expensive.
Does not wrinkle. Does not absorb water well. Dries quickly, doesn't shrink in water. Not very comfortable when a tight fitting garment is 100% polyester. One of the cheapest fibers. Very strong. Also called terylene.
Similar to cotton: cool, absorbent, and comfortable. Wrinkles easily and has only fair strength. Also called viscose.
Strongest major fiber. Very stretchy. Not very absorbent, therefore not very comfortable.
Very cheap, not very strong. Dry-clean only. Feels silky and comfortable. Usually used in linings.
Very stretchy, will recover instantly to same size. Best used in small percentages to add comfort to a non-stretchy fabric. Also called lycra.
Doesn't wrinkle easily, good strength. Used as a cheaper, more washable substitute for wool and also in fake furs.
Stretchy and waterproof. Usually one side of fabric will be PVC/polyurethane, the other side (backing) will be another fiber like polyester. Doesn't breathe and is not very comfortable if used for an entire garment.
Comes from a silkworm. Comfortable, absorbent, wrinkles easily (especially when wet). Sometimes dry-clean only. Very thin.
Comes from a sheared sheep. Strong, warm, dry, doesn't wrinkle easily. Can be coarse and itchy, but high quality wool is soft. Dry-cleaning works best.
Comes from an angora goat. Softer and shinier than wool. Expensive.
Comes from animal hides. Strong and absorbent.
Best fabrics/fibers to use in DIY clothing:
- Cotton- comfortable, strong, easy to wash.
- Polyester Blends- cheaper, strong, doesn't wrinkle easily. But stay away from 100% polyester if the garment is tight fitting or covers most of the body, because it might get hot and uncomfortable.
- Anything with spandex- will add stretch to clothing so that you don't have to use elaborate construction. Just 1% will add stretch to any fabric.
Fabrics/fibers to stay away from:
- Acetate- not strong and dry-clean only.
- Leather- very difficult to sew on a regular sewing machine.
3. Fabric Constructions
Three main types of fabric constructions:
- Knit- yarns are interlooped in various ways. Usually stretches.
- Woven- yarns are weaved into a pattern. Stretches only if made from a stretchy fiber, or if cut on the bias.
- Nonwoven- fabrics not produced by conventional methods of knitting or weaving.
For example: cotton band t-shirts are knits. Jeans are wovens. Top-weight fabrics can be knit or woven, while bottom-weight fabrics are usually woven.
Common terms used for fabric construction:
Orange means knit, pink means woven, red means nonwoven.
Many of these terms signify a certain type of construction as well as a certain fabric finish or pattern. I listed most of the basic types of fabrics you can find at a fabric store.
- Double Knit- two faced, which means the back and front look exactly the same. stretches a lot, good for t-shirts.
- Interlock- similar to double knit. will fray at the edges.
- Jersey- stretchy with a smooth face. will curl at the edges when stretched. many uses.
- Rib Knit- very stretchy, has vertical parallel ridges running. used for tank tops, neck trim of t-shirts, and sweatshirt cuffs.
- Tricot- thin, made with fine yarns. good for lingerie and underwear.
- Broadcloth- tightly woven. used for skirts, blouses, dresses, and summer clothing.
- Brocade- elaborate designs woven in. wide range of prices, usually used for formal clothing.
- Canvas- heavyweight material. not good for clothes but you can use it to make patches.
- Chiffon- sheer, fine, and limp, and has a slightly bumpy look. used for blouses, evening dresses and scarves.
- Chino- lustrous twill weave. used for army uniforms and many other garments.
- Corduroy- has pile (like velvet). make sure to cut all pattern pieces in the same direction, as light will reflect differently depending on which way the pile goes. many uses (excluding shirts).
- Crepe- lightweight with a crinkled or puckered surface. used for dresses and formalwear.
- Denim- same as twill. weave has diagonal, parallel ridges. many uses.
- Flannel- medium-weight with a soft, fuzzy surface. many uses, for example shirts and pajamas.
- Fleece- can be knit or woven. made from wool. can be cheap or expensive, quality usually depends on price. good for jackets and warm clothing.
- Gingham- printed or dyed with a striped or checked pattern. variety of weights and uses.
- Muslin- inexpensive medium weight fabric, used for fitting garments before real fabric is used. (a "mock-up")
- Poplin- lustrous with a corded surface. many uses.
- Satin- has a glossy surface, made in many different weights and varieties. used in dresses, linings, formalwear, jackets, and more.
- Sateen- satin that is made out of cotton.
- Seersucker- medium to heavy weight with crinkles in the weave. many uses.
- Taffeta- smooth, shiny, and stiff. used for formalwear.
- Terry- has a looped pile. very absorbent, has many uses.
- Tulle- thin, stiff, and fine. used for formalwear.
- Tweed- medium to heavy weight twill fabric. many uses, mostly suits and coats. lighter weights used for dresses.
- Twill- has diagonal parallel ridges. if you don't know what this means, look at any pair of jeans. usually a bottom-weight fabric.
- Velour- woven (but sometimes knitted) fabric with uneven pile, which creates light and shaded areas. woven used for formalwear, knit velour has many uses.
- Velvet- woven with a thick pile. for best color/shade results, cut with pile running up. cheaper velvet deteriorates after a few wearings. used mostly for formalwear.
- Velveteen- like velvet, but with shorter pile.
- Felt- many fibers fused together. poor quality unless it is wool felt.
- Interfacing- stiff fabric used to support and add weight to garments. can be woven or knit.
- Lace- usually made by machine. can be used for decoration on almost any garment. also can be woven or knit.
4. In Conclusion...
This page has a lot of information. Don't try to remember it all next time you go fabric shopping. Just pay attention to what kinds of fabric you are buying and how they behave while you sew, wear, and wash them. Looking at the labels in your store bought clothing can also help you learn about different fabrics.
- Textile Science by Kathryn Hatch (my college textbook)
I spent a long time on this fabric guide, so please don't steal my information and put it on your site! If you want to reproduce it somewhere else on the web please email me first at firstname.lastname@example.org.