It is not easy to buy fabrics without being able to touch it, feel the softness, drape and weight. It’s tricky to figure out if the gorgeous print you see on your computer screen is just the thing to make your favourite dress. Here is a quick guide to make it all a bit easier!
Before you buy fabric it’s essential you read the description – obvious? Well, you will be surprised to know how many people don’t! It can save you a lot of hassle if you find out all the essential info before you buy.
In this guide, I will explain what information to look for and what it means in terms of using the fabric plus some other very usefull stuff. Let’s get started!
Woven or Knit?
The way the fabric is made is the most important information. There are two main categories:
This types of fabrics are made by interlacing the threads, like a criss-cross. This type of fabrics are most likely non stretchy unless they contain elastic fibres like Lycra.
There are 3 main types of weave and each has its own unique characteristics:
Plain weave is most common – if you think ‘’cotton’’ you probably think of a plain weave fabric made of cotton fibres.
Satin weave – is less known but definitely more luxurious type. It features more complex arrangement of threads which make is softer, more floaty fabric with delicate shine.
Twill weave – if you have never heard of twill before have a look at your jeans – it’s the most common example of the twill weave fabric. You can easily recognise twill weave by diagonal thread pattern on the surface. Twill fabrics are usually more densely woven and a bit heavier hence is most commonly used for trousers, jackets and home décor projects. Here is a twill weave:
Image Source: www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/design/...
Knit fabrics are made by continuous yarns looped repeatedly to create tiny rows of braids. If you ever tried knitting you will know all about it, if not I’m sure you’ve seen a knitted hat before. The knit fabrics are made in similar way but the yarns are often looped more tightly creating smoother surface.
The main characteristic of knitted fabric is that it stretches. It’s also softer than woven fabrics hence more suitable for garments like tops, leggings dresses and anything else you can wear.
There is so many types of knit fabrics it’s really easy to get confused. Here is a few main, most common types:
Jersey – This name is most commonly associated with knitted fabrics and often used interchangeably or as a part name for various types of knitted fabrics (like French terry jersey, interlock jersey, sweatshirt jersey)
Most common type is a single jersey made with single row of braids. It’s often quite thin and when cut curls to the wrong side.
Here is an example:
Photo: Moustache Single Jersey
Interlock – is made with double layer of yarn braids which makes is thicker and easier to sew. It looks the same on the right and wrong side.
Ribbed Knit - commonly called ribbing is easy to recognise as it has distinguishable lines (‘ribs’). It’s very stretchy and perfect for cuffs, necklines and waistbands. It usually stretches in only two ways ( as opposite to 4 ways) so be careful to cut it along the stretch way.
Very often ribbed knits are narrower than other fabrics – our ribbings are about 80-96cm wide - and also don’t have salvage (raw edge) as they’re tubular knits
It’s also great as a main fabric for super stretchy vests, underwear and more. Here is how the ribbed knit looks like:
Photo: Black Ribbing
French terry is a medium weight type of knit with distinguishable loops (loose braids) on the wrong side and smooth right side. It makes this fabrics thicker and warmer than single jersey or interlock but often less stretchy. It’s often mistaken for terrycloth (towelling) but its nothing like it!
As it’s a bit thicker it’s very easy to sew but still soft and drapey. It’s one of my favourite fabrics as it’s super comfy and perfect for casual garments like tops, tunics, loungewear and hoodies. It’s also very versatile and can be used for cushions, blankets and even bags! Here is it’s loopy side:
Photo: Grey Heavy weight French Terry
Terry cloth – sometimes called terry towelling or simply towelling is just the fabric towels are made of. It’s often woven (I bet the towels in your bathroom don’t stretch) but can also be knitted having a good stretch. Thanks to the loops of threads it absorbs water very well. It’s perfect for projects like bibs, hooded kids towels, head towel wraps and even dog coats. Here is an example:
Sweatshirt - Usually thick and heavy jersey with brushed, fleece backing. It’s perfect for colder weather. Is doesn’t stretch very much and is more suited to casual loose fitting garments like hoodies, trousers, blankets and more.
When shopping for knitted fabrics it’s good to know how much they stretch as it will determined what types of garments can be made of them. It’s usually very much connected to the composition and the weight I’m going to take about below.
Stretch is usually indicated as a percentage. For example single jersey made with 100% cotton has a stretch of about 20% which means that 10cm of fabric will stretch to 12cm. This is not much so this type of fabrics are best suited to loose fitting garments.
Single jersey containing elastane can stretch much more around 70-80%, more or less depending on how much elastane is inside.
The swimwear fabrics can stretch up to 600%
If you can’t check the thickness of the fabric you should pay attention to the information on its weight. It usually appears as gsm or g/m2 and it stands for grams per square metre. For beginners it’s quite difficult to imagine what fabric with 160g/m2 feels like so when you buy any fabric check its weight so with time you can gain more experience is assessing its feel based only on the gsm.
Generally the lower gsm the thinner the fabric. For example thin single jersey can be about 160-180g/m2 and French terry is about 240-260g/m2. Cotton poplin (dressmaking cotton) is about 110-120g/m2, quilting cotton 130-150g/m2 and heavyweight cotton (canvas or home décor cotton) can be up to 400g/m2.
The composition tells you what fibres are the fabrics made of. There is so many types of fibres but I’m going to mention just a few. We can divide them into two main categories: natural fibres and man-made fibres.
Natural fibres like cotton, bamboo, linen, silk, wool have they own unique properites but here is few things they have in common:
- Very little elasticity – no stretch
- Kind to skin, hypoallergenic
- Good water absorbency
- Shrink in washing
- Creases easily
- Breathable and soft
Man-made fibres are polyester, nylon or elastane
Polyester is a most common fibre you definitely come across. Have a look at the label of the clothes your wearing and I’m sure you will notice some polyester content.
Polyester is quite smooth and nice to touch. It’s also very durable and keeps shape very well and isn’t prone to creasing like natural fibres. It’s also easy to wash and doesn’t shrink like cotton.
Elastane is a stretchy fibre also known as Spandex in USA or Lycra (that’s a brand name of elastane manufactured by DuPont).
It’s quite lightweight and retains it’s shape so after a stretch it comes back to its shape.
It appears in fabrics as an addition to other fibres like cotton or polyester.
There are couple more fibres worth noticing- rayon and modal (type of rayon) with are semi-synthetic. These are made with cellulose pulp (trees). These are very soft and breathable fibres perfect for summer garments.
These 3 main characteristic – composition, weight and weave or knit can come in any combination creating a huge array of various fabrics. To make it a bit easier some fabrics of specific characteristics have commonly used names. Here is a few examples:
Single Jersey - usually lightweight, cotton based fabrics
Poplin- lightweight, plain woven cotton, polyester or blend
Denim – heavy weight cotton based fabric of twill weave
Chiffon – very lightweight polyester based vowen fabric
Scuba – heavyweight polyester stretch fabric
Lycra – as well as a brand name it's also common name for very stretchy knit polyester based fabric with around 15-18% lycra content.
Velour – stretchy heavyweight polyester based fabric with nap or pile – (fabric hair lol)
Other useful info:
Colours - It's really important to know the colours you see on screen may be different to the real colour of the fabric. This is due to different computers or mobiles showing colours in different ways. Some colours are also very difficult to catch on the photo so if the shade is very important, for example to match with other fabric, always ask for a sample.
Unit of Sale - A lot of customers are used to buying fabrics by the yard or metre but as a sewing world grew and evolved more and more people are needing smaller pieces for their entire sewing projects. For that reason many online shops are now selling in half metre or Fat Quarter increments. Before you buy make sure you find that information. Some sellers put it in description of the fabrics, some in the general INFO section or FAQ ( Frequently Asked Questions).
**Fat Qarter - it's half a metre of fabric cut in half so for example if the fabric full width is 160cm the fat quarter will measure 50x80cm (21" x 31.5"); 1"=2.5cm; Yard = 0.91m **
Shopping online gives you a better choice but unlike buying in store it comes with extra cost and extra wait. The cost of postage varies but think of it as paying for a service of having your order delivered to your door. It's good to know what to expect so always check how your fabric will be posted. Is it via courier or Royal Mail? How quickly can you expect your order to be dispatched? When can you expect it to be delivered?
Returns - Know your rights
As with every purchase online you have a right to change your mind within 14 days of receiving your purchase. This is called your ''statutory right'' ( you can read more about it here). That applies also to fabrics that were cut to order! It's good to get in touch with the merchant first to inform that you'd like to return the order and confirm the return address. Sending your return tracked or signed for mail is also a good idea as it will give you a peace of mind.
This is in no way an extensive guide but I hope you find it useful and it makes choosing the fabrics online just a bit easier!
Thanks for reading!