top of page

Learn to Sew, Sewing Tutorials #3

Updated: Apr 28, 2020

All about Fabric!

This episode teaches you the basics you should know about fabric. You will learn the 3 different types of fabric "ingredients" and the 4 different ways fabrics are made. I also issue a challenge. Can you identify each of the fabric types on my fabric board?! Being able to identify the most common types of fabric is an incredibly useful skill. If you can correctly identify each fabric on my fabric board and send it to me in an email, I will send the first 3 people with correct answers a pair of sewing shears (Continental US only). I know it's difficult to tell the fabric types from a picture, but your best guess might be good enough! Send the answers in an email to:

Fabric Name: Batik

Fiber Type: Rayon, cotton, silk, hemp

Manufacture Type

Batik is a woven fabric. Unique because of the labor intensive printing process that is over 2,000 years old. It is made in a similar way that we dye Easter eggs. A layer of wax is placed down in a design to prevent dye seeping in the designed areas, then a layer of dye is added, then the wax is removed with boiling water and the design is finished or another color is added. True Batik’s are handmade and thus every single bolt of Batik will be somewhat unique so be sure to buy all you need the 1st time. Fabric Manufacturers make Imitation Batik with machines that print an ethnic design on fabric. True Batik’s have equally strong colors on both the right and wrong side of the fabric. Imitation batik has a very distinct right from wrong side.

Fabric Name: Velour

Fiber Type: usually cotton but also Synthetics like Polyester.

Manufacture Type: Velour is usually knit fabric (though sometimes a weave). The stretch makes it great for casual wear. It is often used in dance and theater. When the fabric is manufactured, extra yarns are looped over medal rods. If the loops were left it would leave a fabric like Berber. But once the loops are cut it leaves the soft nap of velour. You must be careful in cutting this fabric to insure all the fabric is cut with the nap in the same direction. You can test by running your hand up and down the fabric and observing the track it leaves.

Fabric Name: Calico

Fiber Type: 100% cotton or cotton poly blend.

Manufacture Type: Calico is named after its place of origin: Calicut India. It is a simple weave that is then printed by a roller printer on one side of the fabric. Traditionally it is printed with a repeating delicate flower pattern—but it can be printed with anything. Calico has a beautiful traditional-feminine look. In the United Kingdom Calico is an unprinted fabric much like Muslin but more coarse. I became very popular in the 1700s in an attempt to boost the sale of domestic fabrics, the English passed the Calico Act banning the import of Calico from India. The effort failed

Fabric Name: Chambray

Fiber Type: Cotton, Tencel

Manufacture Type: If denim is the cool and sturdy country cousin, Chambray is the sophisticated but delicate city cousin. Denim and Chambray are made of the same basic ingredients but woven differently. Chambray is a plain weave (flat surface on both side), while denim is a twill weave (diagonal ribs on one side). Both fabrics traditionally weave together blue yarns with white yarns, but can come in any colors. Chambray is easy to confuse with Oxford.

abric Name: Corduroy

Fiber Type: generally cotton or cotton blends

Manufacture Type: A woven fabric generally it is durable and sturdy. Characterized by vertical ribs. The width of the ribs (called wales) varies. Some ribs are so fine that from a distance they can’t be seen(as in these brown pants). These makes the fabric a Pincord Corduroy. Pincord has a velvety look from a distance. Whereas the large wales give off a stripe look even from a distance. The number of wales per square inch is listed on most corduroys. The higher the number the smaller the wales. Anything above a 16 in considered Pincord.

Fabric Name: Seersucker

Fiber Type: Cotton

Manufacture Type: This is a summer fabric. Usually sold in pastel colors in either stripes or checkers. It is worn by both men and women. It is woven in such a way that some of the threads are bunchy and some smooth. The translation of the French name seersucker is “milk & sugar” because some yarns are smooth like milk and others bumpy like sugar. To protect this texture ironing should be avoided.

Fabric Name: Jersey

Fiber Type: Jersey has been around since Medieval times. It is named for the little Island it first came from. Originally made of wool, now often cotton, synthetics and blends.

Manufacture Type: It is a simple light weight knit, most often the fabric of choice for T-shirts. It has a flat side and a piled side. It is quite stretchy which makes it drape well. It was mainly worn as underwear, until CoCo Chanel launched her career and introduced wool jersey as everyday wear. It can be challenging to sew because of its stretch quality. Double knit Jersey is essentially two layers of single Jersey knitted together. This makes for a little more sturdy fabric. Jersery is comfortable and casual.

Fabric Name: Crepe

Fiber Type:. Silk, wool , cotton or Synthetics.

Manufacture Type: One of my favorite fabrics. Crepe is woven with highly twisted yarns giving the fabric a “crimpy” appearance and crisp texture. Crepes are a whole family of fabrics. Crepe De Chine is a lighter weight silk or synthetic crepe. Crepe Back Satin is also a beautiful fabric for formal wear that can be sewn from either side.

Fabric Name: Chiffon

Fiber Type:: Silk was the original fiber of choice for Chiffon, but now it is commonly made with Synthetics like Polyester and Rayon. Chiffon is often confused with Georgette which shares many of its characteristics.

Manufacture Type: Chiffon is a plain weave. It frays easily. It is soft, elegant, sheer, lightweight, and drapes beautifully. Generally in gowns it is the outside layer (and overlay) over the skirt of the gown. It can have static cling. It is challenging to sew.

Fabric Name: Organza

Fiber Type: Originally made only with silk. Now more often made from Synthetics like Polyester, Rayon, or Nylon. Organza is frequently mistaken for Organdy which looks, and behaves almost identical. The only difference is that Organdy is made from 100% cotton—and thus must be cared for differently. Organza is similar to Chiffon but it is more crisp and doesn't drape as well.

Manufacture Type: Organza is a plain weave. It frays easily and is difficult to hem. Organza is crisp and sheer (transparent). Because of its crisp, stiff nature it holds its shape, adds volume to a garment and does not drape.

Fabric Name: Tulle

Fiber Type: nylon, rayon, silk

Manufacture Type: Tulle is a type of netting. The yarns of tulle are wrapped around each other in a hexagonal shape, and they do not unwrap when cut. Tulle is named after the city in France where it was invented. Tulle is so useful because it is sheer, airy and does not fray. Tulle was worn by Queen Victoria in 1840 at her wedding which began tulle's long relationship with wedding attire. Tulle can be inexpensive or quite expensive depending totally on the fiber used in its manufacture. Silk tulle is expensive but drapes so beautifully.

Fabric Name: Poplin

Fiber Type: cotton, polyester, silk, wool etc.

Manufacture Type: Poplin is a terrific all-purpose fabric. It is similar to quilting cotton except that is can be made from many different fibers. It is a thin plain weave with a flat surface. It can be printed or solid colored. It is rigid but smooth and makes terrific pleats and irons nicely. It is frequently used in men’s shirts, pants, women’s dresses, jackets, upholstery, and tablecloths. Sometimes cotton poplin is woven with a small percentage of spandex to give the fabric stretch. Broadcloth is essentially the same as Poplin though may be slightly thicker.

Fabric Name: Velvet

Fiber Type: silk, cotton, linen, wool, mohair, polyester, rayon

Manufacture Type: Velvet is made by weaving two separate fabrics together with space between them. Then upon cutting them apart a pile (the soft fuzz on the fabric) is left on the face of each fabric. Crushed velvet is made by smashing the pile during manufacturing thus leaving a textured design on the surface. Velvet is generally considered a formal fabric. Stretch velvet is woven with spandex. Velveteen is 100% cotton velvet which does not drape as well and has less sheen, but great for home decor or children's clothes.

Fabric Name: Gabardine

Fiber Type: wool, cotton, synthetics, silk

Manufacture Type: This durable fabric was invented by Thomas Burberry of Burberry Fashion in the 1800's. Gabardine is a very tight Twill weave. The tightness repels water and the Twill design forms small diagonal ribs on the face of the fabric but is usually smooth on the back. Burberry Gabardine was essentially the North Face Brand of the 1800's. The wool fabric was worn by the following prominent explores: Ronald Amundsen, the first man to reach the South Pole. Ernest Shackleton, who led a 1914 expedition to cross Antarctica and George Mallory on expedition to Mount Everest . Gabardine is wrinkle resistant. The Twill lines require a with-nap layout when cutting.

Fabric Name: Terrycloth/French Terry

Fiber Type: cotton sometimes poly blends.

Manufacture Type: There are two main types of terry fabric, french terry and towel terry (or just Terry Cloth). Towel terry can be woven or knitted. Most robes and towels are woven. The yarn loops on this fabric makes it very water absorbent. The longer the yarn loops the more water absorbent the cloth is. French Terry is always knit . On the right side of the fabric it is flat sweatshirt look, on the back side is the fabric loops. French terry is very warm and soft and popular for sweatshirts and sweat pants.

Fabric Name: Felt

Fiber Type: Acrylic, polyester, wool

Manufacture Type: Felt is a non-knit, non-woven fabric. It is made when sheets of individual fibers (think dryer lint) get tangled together by pressing and or heating. Once this is done the fibers adhere to one another and act as fabric. Felt is the oldest known fabric. Man was able to smash and heat fibers together before weaving or knitting. Legend tells of two men fleeing persecution filled their leather shoes with wool fibers—when they arrived at their distant destination

the sweat and pressure of walking on the wool fibers had created something like wool socks. Craft felt is not strong, but unlike other fabrics, felt will not fray, roll, or run when cut—which is why it is so ideal for crafts. The exception to this is wool felt. Wool felt often begins as a normal woven fabric but the fibers get tangled together (sometimes accidentally) when 100% wool fabric is heated (washed and dried). Wool felt is strong and thick and generally expensive. Felt has no grain or selvage. Felt can vary a lot in quality. The higher wool content the better quality. It is sold in sheets or yards. This is a Christmas tree sewn entirely from felt fabric that my twin sister, my students and I made for a charity auction.

Fabric Name: Linen

Fiber Type: Flax( Linen), or Synthetics and blends.

Manufacture Type: Linen fabric means both fabric made from the Flax plant, and also fabrics made with a similar look (the same way Kleenex means both the brand and the imitations). Linen is made with coarse weave (you can see irregularities in the weave). The true flax seed linen softens the more it’s used. Americans generally prefer to wear cotton, while Europeans prefer linen. Linen is known for how easily it wrinkles. Europeans often consider this wrinkled look stylish. If you can’t embrace the wrinkles, one way to disguise the wrinkles is to use linen fabric with a print. Linen is often blended into other fabrics, where its wrinkly nature is disguised, but its ability to breath easily and cool down its wearer can still benefit.

Fabric Name: Tweed

Fiber Type: wool, cotton, rayon and blends

Manufacture Type: Tweeds are an iconic look from British and Irish tradition. Tweeds are great at protecting against harsh climates and were the fabric of choice for British hunting parties. The name tweed came about by accident. Around 1830 a Wool manufacturer contacted a merchant about selling some of their "tweels"—or twill-woven fabrics. But the Merchant misread the letter and called them tweeds. The name stuck ever since. A tweed can be made in many different weaving designs, including, chevron, twill, herringbone, or plain weave. Although traditionally made from wool, tweed can be made of other fibers as well. Its clearest identifier is its slubs. Slubs are random imperfections in the yarns that give the fabric a thick hearty texture. The resulting fabric is both rough and often itchy, but quite warm.

Fabric Sample

Fabric Name: Satin/Sateen

Fiber Type: Silk, cotton, rayon, polyester

Manufacture Type Satin is luxurious fabric made with a satin weave. This weave leaves long floats of yarns across the face of the fabric that shine and cause one side of the fabric to be shiny and the other dull. The main difference between satin and sateen is what the fibers are made of. Some people only consider silk satin to be a true satin, though it can be made from rayon, nylon and polyester as well. Sateen is made from cotton and generally used for ever-day purposes like sheets. whereas satin is used frequently for formal wear. Silk satin breaths well, whereas synthetic satins do not. Because satin was originally only made from silk, it was a symbol of wealth and available to only the upper classes. Today, although affordable, it still maintains a high-end feel. One of the most beautifully draping and silky satins is charmeuse.

Fabric Name: Denim

Fiber Type: Cotton, cotton/poly blend, Tencel

Manufacture Type: Denim is a sturdy twill weave. Though denim can be made in any color, indigo denim is iconic. Indigo denim is woven with one set of warns dyed blue while the other are white. This is why your denim is mostly blue on the outside and white on the inside. The indigo dye doe not completely saturate the threads, therefore, the more denim is worn, the more the color fades. Adding spandex into the weave to create stretch denim--is quite popular. This maintains the sturdy nature of denim, and allows for more comfort and better fit. Don't confuse stretch denim, with jeggings. Jeggings are just knit leggings dyed and stitched to look like denim. They are not denim. Denim is woven.

Fabric Name: Neoprene/ scuba

Fiber Type: a mix of polyester/spandex

Manufacture Type: Neoprene is the trademarked name of the DuPont Company. The fabric is also commonly referred to as scuba fabric. It is a synthetic rubber made of polyester and spandex, in a knit. In the past is has been most well-known for use in wet suits. It is now common in fashion. It is thick and firm and so it accentuates folds and pleats, but it is also soft and has stretch. It is water resistant, weather resistant, and very insulating.

Fabric Name: Gauze

Fiber Type: usually cotton, or cotton-synthetic blend

Manufacture Type: Gauze is an airy, sheer, loosely woven fabric. It was named after the Palestinian city Gaza where it originated. Its light-weight nature makes it a great choice in hot and humid climates. In places without disposable diapers it is also used for diapers. It is still used for bandages. Double Gauze is 2 layers of gauze woven into one. Double Gauze is very popular for baby blankets. It is very soft, yet is also breathable so you can swaddle a baby in hot weather. Beware it stretches a lot when sewn.

Fabric Name: Brocade

Fiber Type: often silk, but can be cotton or rayon

Manufacture Type: This fabric has intricate designs woven on a Jacquard loom. Brocades are generally woven with multi-colored silk threads, often times combines with gold or silver metallic threads. Extra yarns are added to the weave creating the illusion that sections have been embossed into the fabric or embroidered on top of it. The back (wrong side) of a brocade is easy to differentiate from the front as the back side is usually a mess. It has long floats and yarns sometimes cut, sometimes just hanging. A luxurious, formal fabric.

Fabric Name: Damask

Fiber Type: cotton, linen, silk, rayon

Manufacture Type: Similar to brocade, damask is also made with ornate designs on a Jacquard loom. However, traditionally the designs are only made with 2 colors. Unlike brocades, damask can be used on either the right or wrong side--the front and back of the fabric are just photographic negatives of the other side. Damask is popular in home decor because the fabric tend to be quite sturdy. Even damask print wallpaper imitates the intricate repeating pattern of the fabric.

Fabric Name: Taffeta

Fiber Type: originally made from silk, but now available in synthetics like nylon of polyester.

Manufacture Type: Taffeta is a plain weave (simple over & under weave). It often has an iridescent quality that comes from the left to right yarns (weft yarns) being a different color from the top to bottom yarns (warp). Taffeta is crisp and holds its shape well which is why it is often used for ball gowns. It creases easily and makes an iconic rustle sound with movement during wearing.

Fabric Name: Pique

Fiber Type: cotton or cotton poly blend

Manufacture Type: Pique is a fabric with textured looking surface. The surface designs are often a waffle or honeycomb looking. This surface can be made in wither a knit or woven form but piques are the most commonly knits--they are the main fabric used in polo & golf shirts. Pique is light and breathable.

Fabric Name: Flannel

Fiber Type: Originally made only with wool. Now usually 100% cotton or cotton blend.

Manufacture Type: Flannel is a weave. After it is woven it is often printed or like on plaids and+ tweeds, the design is woven in with different colored yarns. The soft hand (touch) of the fabric comes from a combing like process which raises the ends fibers up to the surface giving it nap. This can be done to either just 1 side or to both sides of the fabric. This nap gives it both softness and added warmth. It is has become the classic uniform of lumberjacks everywhere, but also make great pajamas, sheets, coats and blankets.

Fabric Name: Fleece

Fiber Type: Fleece was created as an alternative to wool. It is made from 100% Polyester, the same type of material as found in 2 liter bottles.

Manufacture Type: Fleece is a knit. It has stretch and will not fray. It is extra wide, usually at least 58-62” wide. Polyester has a tendency to pill (the little fuzzy balls that appear on the surface of fabric and make a fabric look worn). You can get anti-pill fleece which is more expensive but is less likely to pill. This is probably wise for items that will get a lot of use. It will not shrink in the wash or dryer. It is soft and warm and breathable but doesn't absorb water, so it is uncomfortable to exercise in. Because it is a knit and won't fray, and is very soft, it is a good craft fabric.

Fabric Name: Muslin

Fiber Type: Cotton

Manufacture Type: Muslin was discovered by Europeans when they traveled to Mosul Iraq. Therefore they named the fabric after this city. It is a fine, plain weave, of usually unbleached cotton. It was very popular after its discovery for everything from dresses to shirts and curtains and sheets. Marie Antoinette was painted here wearing a Muslin gown and is referenced in literature like "Little Women" published in the 1880's. Because it is so inexpensive, today it is most often used as practice fabric. To make a

Muslin—is to make a practice version of a garment before cutting into your expensive fabric. Muslin is also often used to back or line quilts.

Fabric Name: Shantung & Dupioni

Fiber Type: Silk

Manufacture Type: Both fabrics are woven from the silk with some of the natural slubs (the thicker yarns of the silk cocoon) randomly visible throughout the fabric. Shantung is more smooth and lightweight than dupioni. Dupioni is a bit more stiff . Both fabrics make beautiful formal gowns. A Polyester version available. Sandra Betzina said “Shantung is considered a midpoint between a drapable silk charmeuse and stiff Dupioni.”

Fabric Name: Eyelet

Fiber Type: all types

Manufacture Type: An Eyelet is a small hole punched in fabric. Eyelet fabrics are made by cutting out many small bits in a design. Then the remaining fabric is embroidered around the holes. Eyelet can be made nearly any colors and types of fabric—even faux leather. You can buy Eyelet lace as trim in addition to fabric.

Fabric Name Batiste

Fiber Type: cotton, linen or silk

Manufacture Type. Batiste is a soft but crisp, lightweight fabric. It is a plain weave. It is prone to wrinkling and shrinking. It is often transparent especially in light colors. Commonly used for babby blessing/Christening gowns, handkerchiefs, and night gowns. Also frequently the lining on high-quality clothing. Silk Batiste can be used for formal wear including wedding gowns.

Fabric Name Oxford cloth

Fiber Type: cotton or cotton synthetic blends.

Manufacture Type. Oxford is made from a basket weave, which is similar to a plain weave but with two yarns going over and under one or two yarns, instead of one over and under one. It gives the fabric a more obviously woven look. The basket weave also makes the fabric more breathable and more durable. Oxford is versatile and great for either causal or formal wear, though it is most well known for men's shirts.

Fabric Name: Lyocell/Tencel

Fiber Type: Lyocell is a fiber type

Manufacture Type: Lyocell is a form of Rayon—which is made by dissolving wood pulp. Tencel is the most common brand name of the fabrics made from Lyocell. Lyocell is soft, absorbent, strong when wet or dry. It is also resistant to wrinkles. Lyocell fabric can be machine washed on gentle cycle & iron with only warm iron. It drapes nicely. Frequently it has a bit of shine to its surface. Lyocell is very popular because it is considered one of the most environmentally friendly fabrics, however it tends to be more expensive than other fabrics. Because Lyoccell is a fiber type it can be made into many different fabrics, knits, weaves, formal, informal.

Fabric Name: Tricot

Fiber Type: nylon, polyester, cotton, rayon

Manufacture Type: Tricot is a specific type of knit in which vertical ribs are seen on the front of the fabric and horizontal ribs on the backside. This manufacturing type makes Tricot very resistant to runs. It is therefore popular for swimwear, sportswear, dance wear, underwear, and sleepwear. Tricot does not stretch as much in length as it does in width—which makes it perfect for bathing suits. It is also very soft.

Fabric Name: Chennille

Fiber Type: cotton acrylic, rayon, olefin

Manufacture Type: Chenille is the French word for fuzzy caterpillar--because the fabric has a very soft fuzzy feel. It is made when small furry yarns called “pile” are twisted into a long core yarn. Chenille can be a knit or a weave. Chenille tends to stretch and grow when worn. Chenille quilting, or

faux chenille quilting, is a technique where flannel or challis is made to look like chenille. It is done by sewing and cutting fabrics into strips with raw--unfinished edges. After washing the edges fray and become soft and ruffled—like Chenille fabric.

Fabric Name: Gingham

Fiber Type: cotton, cotton/ synthetic blends

Manufacture Type: Gingham is made by simply weaving colored yarn with white yarn. Because of this, a true gingham had no right and wrong side because the checkered pattern is woven not printed. Don't confuse a true gingham with a fabric that is printed on one side with a checkered pattern. Gingham is a great gender neutral fabric.

Fabric Name: Voile

Fiber Type: generally cotton but can be silk or cotton/silk blend

Manufacture Type:. Voile is the French word for veil—pronunciation depends on if you want to say it in French or an Americanized version of the word. Both are accepted. Voile is sheer like a veil. It is a weave similar to chiffon but a little more crisp. It holds color beautifully. Cotton Voile is now commonly used in quilts and sold in quilt shops. The sheer nature of the fabric makes it extra soft and ideal for a quilt. In quilts or clothing, once backed or lined you cannot tell the fabric is sheer. A versatile fabric. Depending on if it is silk or cotton it makes a fabulous quilt or wedding gown! Few other fabrics can do the same. It is also used internationally for mosquito protection.

48 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page