Buy The Right Fabric For Every Sewing Project

by Debra on April 1, 2012

Buy the right fabric


Selecting Fabric for any sewing project  is not the simple, uncomplicated thing it used to be, for many fabrics are finished to masquerade as others, and synthetics require special/different care than natural fibers.

Fabrics are made from fibers from natural or synthetic (man-made) sources, spun into yarn, made into cloth in a variety of ways, and finished to give various effects and special qualities. The best known fibers and the ones you are most likely to use in your sewing projects are the following:

Cotton: a vegetable fiber that grows around the seed of the cotton plant.

Linen: a vegetable fiber, possibly the oldest known fiber, that is obtained from the stem of the flax plant.

Wool: an animal fiber obtained from the fleece of the sheep.

Silk: an animal fiber spun by the silkworm as it makes its cocoon.

Rayon: a synthetic fiber, manufactured by three different
processes, from wood pulp and chemicals.

Nylon: a synthetic manufactured from coal, air, water and other substances.

Plastic: a synthetic manufactured from cellulose, acid, and camphor.

Glass fiber: a synthetic made by heating glass tubes, which have been chemically treated, and pulling the resulting prod­uct into thread. You will be most likely to use this fiber for curtains, and possibly coat linings.

These fibers, after being cleaned and prepared, are spun into yarn, and then made into cloth. The following is a brief resume of the different ways of cloth making.

1. Weaving: This is the most common way of making cloth. There are several basic weaves and all the others are varia­tions. If you examine cloth closely, you will be able to tell the kind of weave used.

—Plain weave: crosswise threads go over one lengthwise thread and under the next, in alternating rows.

—Basket weave: a variation of plain weave, in that two (or more) crosswise threads go over two (or more) length­wise threads, and then under two (or more). Monk’s cloth is an example of this weave.

—Twill weave: crosswise threads go over two lengthwise threads and then under two. On the next row, the crosswise thread goes under one, over two, then under two; and on the next row, under two, over two. The resulting effect is a diag­onal one, as seen in cheviot and serge.

—Herringbone or chevron weave: a variation of the twill weave in that the diagonal goes down, then up, to give a characteristic chevron-like effect.

—Satin weave: the crosswise threads go over one length­wise thread and then under several others to give the shiny effect that you see in dress and lingerie satins.

—Crepe weave: plain weave done with highly twisted threads or combination of plain and satin weaves to give an all-over pebbly surface.

—Gauze weave: crosswise threads go through paired and twisted lengthwise thread to give an open mesh effect. Leno is another name given to this type of weave and its best known example is marquisette, used for curtains.

—Pile weave: Loops are made on the cloth in the weaving and these are cut, as in velvet, or left uncut, as in terry cloth.

—Figured weave: a combination of plain, twill and satin weaves, where patterns are woven into the cloth. The Jac-quard loom is used for this weave, as seen in damask and brocade.

—Double weave: done with two or more crosswise and two or more lengthwise threads to get reversible cloth with different color or design on each side.

—Lappet weave: plain or gauze weave in which a design is embroidered during the weaving process, as in dotted swiss

–Knitting: This is a method of making cloth by connecting and interlocking loops. It gives great elasticity, is non-crushable, is easily laundered, and, if done by machine, is in­expsive.

–Felting:  This is a very old process for making cloth. Wool is treated with heat, pressure and moisture until felt of desired thickness and firmness is produced. Fine felt hats are made from fur.

— Braiding: for certain flat or tubular fabrics.

–Twisting: as in lace making.

–Knotting: as in making nets.

Cloth is finished in a variety of ways, many of which are listed below:

—Bleaching to whiten.

—Dyeing for color.

—Printing for color and design.

—Embossing between rollers for a raised design.

—Napping with wires to pull up the short ends of the fibers for a fluffy, soft effect. The nap is then cut evenly.

—Sueding between emery-covered rollers.

—Glazing for a high sheen.

—Mercerizing to improve luster and add strength and elas­ticity. This is done by treating chemically with alkali.

—Sizing with starch to make fabric seem more firmly woven.

—Weighting with metallic salts, sugar, china clay, to give body and firmness to cloth.

—Calendering between heated rollers to give a glazed or watered surface.

—Beetling to bring out luster of linen by pounding with wooden hammers.

—Tarnish proofing.


—Waterproofing or finishing to be water repellent.



—Finishing for crush resistance.

—Finishing to prevent fading from the action of gas. —Coating with milium, a metal applied to reflect heat, thus conserving warmth.

Frequently, it is important to be able to distinguish be­tween different fibers.

Some simple identification tests are dis­cussed below.

1. If a sample of the fabric is burned, these are the results:

—Cotton flares up, burns quickly, smells like burned wood or paper, leaves a light, feathery ash.

—Linen burns like cotton.

—Rayon (viscose and cuprammonium) flares up, burns quickly, smells like burned paper, leaves almost no ash.

—Rayon (acetate) seems to melt and drip, the edges curl and pucker, smells like burned sugar with acrid odor.

—Wool burns slowly, smells like burning hair or feathers, stops burning if flame is removed, leaves crisp, beadlike ash.

Silk burns slowly with a smoldering flame, leaves a crisp, black ball, smells like burning wool, but less intense.

—Nylon smells like burning sealing wax, melts as it burns, leaves a light brown, round hard bead.

If a thread is broken, the different fibers react differently.
—Cotton: the ends curl up, look dull and fuzzy.
—Linen: the thread snaps and the ends are hard and uneven.

—Rayon: the thread breaks easily and ends look like bun­dles of wires.

—Wool: the thread pulls apart and ends are kinky and springy.

—Silk: ends are smooth, straight, and lustrous.

—Nylon: ends are fuzzy.

2.   Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between cotton and linen.

If oil is dropped on samples of cotton and linen cloth, the linen will develop a translucent spot, easily seen when held up  to the  light,  while  the  cotton will remain opaque. Another distinguishing test for these two fibers is to see how fast they absorb a drop of water.

Cotton holds the drop for a moment, then the water spreads slowly and unevenly. The water is immediately absorbed very evenly in the linen sample. Two samples of equal weight, when dropped into a dish of water, will show a difference, because linen absorbs so rapidly that it will sink to the bottom almost immediately.

3. Alkali will destroy animal fibers, so vegetable and animal fibers can be differentiated by treating a sample with ammonia, washing soda, lye, or Clorox. If the cloth has both kinds of fibers, the animal fiber will disintegrate and the vegetable part will be left.

In buying and handling material, there are certain terms used which the consumer should know. Some of the more common ones are listed below:

Selvage refers to the self-finished edge that will not ravel.

Warp refers to the lengthwise threads in the cloth. The warp threads are always parallel to the selvage. The warp threads are often the strongest threads in the fabric.

Filling threads are the crosswise threads that are woven over and under the warp. They run from selvage to selvage. They are also called the weft, the pick, the woof.

Thread count refers to the number of warp and filling threads in one square inch of the fabric. It is an indication of quality, but not necessarily of strength.

Yarn-dyed means that the yarns were dyed before they were made into cloth.

Piece-dyed means that the cloth was dyed after it was woven.

Seconds or irregulars refer to fabric or garments with slight defects. Often these are oil spots, broken selvages, slight mis-weaves that do not affect wear.

Carding is preparing fibers for spinning into yarn by sep¬arating and straightening them with brushes.

Combing is a cleaning and straightening process that makes fibers smoother and more lustrous than just carding.

Ply refers to the number of threads twisted together to make yarn for making cloth. Two-ply means two threads; three-ply has three threads.

Wale is a rib or ridge as seen in corduroy or pique.

Tensile strength refers to the amount of strain the fabric can stand without tearing.

Abrasion resistance refers to the amount of friction the fabric can stand without fraying or tearing.

Slippage resistance refers to resistance to slipping at the seams during wear, caused by slipping of warp threads across weft.

Spun rayon is rayon woven from very short yarns.

Butcher linen is spun rayon, not linen at all.

Worsted is hard and durable woolen fabric, made with highly twisted fibers, laid completely parallel to each other.

Virgin wool is pure wool as it comes from the sheep.

Pulled wool is wool removed with chemicals from the body of dead sheep.

Reprocessed wool is wool that has been woven into ma¬terial once before but has never been worn.

Re-used wool or reworked wool is made from old garments that have been worn.

In buying fabric, examine samples as carefully as possible. Study labels, and where you do not see a label, ask for one anyway. Sometimes it has fallen off the bolt.

Crush the cloth in your hand, hold it up to the light, grasp it gently with both hands and pull it to test slippage. Look for evidence of shrinkage control on labels.

“Pre-shrunk” or “shrinkproof” on a label may mean nothing at all. The “Sanforized” label guarantees shrinkage of not more than 1%, an amount that will not affect the fit of the garment.

A label should give a maximum shrinkage guarantee. In general, loosely woven materials shrink more than firmly woven ones.

Colorfastness is very important to the fabric shopper. The term “colorfast” alone is better than no guarantee at all, but it is more reassuring if it says colorfast to sunlight, or to washing, or to perspiration. Dyes guaranteed not to fade un¬der one condition may under others. If there is no informa¬tion available, try out a sample by washing, boiling, and ex¬posing to strong sunlight. Be sure to buy washable notions for washable garments. Vat dyes are best for cottons.

Two-ply and three-ply yarns are stronger than singles, and give evidence of better quality. So do combed yarns. For durability, avoid novelty weaves and stick to plain or twill weaving.

Yarn-dyed fabrics hold color better than piece-dyed ones. Look for balanced thread count, one with same or almost the same number of yarns in each direction; for ex¬ample, an 80 square percale. This means 80 warp and 80 filling threads in one square inch. With silks, look for label “pure silk,” or “pure dye silk.”

If you buy a washable fabric that has not been pre-shrunk, shrink it yourself by placing the folded material in cool or lukewarm water for several hours. Dry it and press. Allow an extra 1/4 yard for shrinkage when buying.

For a wool fabric that has not been sponged, to pre-shrink it, allow an extra 1/8 of a yard, and roll it in a wet sheet. Allow it to stay over¬night, then hang it carefully and allow it to dry. Press if necessary.

 Wow… that’s a ton of information. You might want to bookmark or “pin”  this page for future reference….

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