Fabric texture : An overview

“Mama, are you an artist?” asked my daughter. I think she looked at the art supplies I buy rather than the works of art I (do not) make. It is true that art and its elements like colour, texture etc preoccupies a lot of my thoughts. Anyone with a modicum of art in their minds would care about texture. Wikipedia says the texture is the perceived surface quality of a work of art. It is one of the seven formal artistic elements.

As someone who looks at fabric and marvel at the artistic elements in it on a daily basis, how can I overlook fabric texture ?


I love that soft slinky chiffon

The crispiness of organdy is so elegant

This crepe has a wonderful pebbly surface 

Satin is so smooth and silky 

These conversations are commonly heard when talking about fabric. They are all talking about the fabric texture.

These and many other such adjectives are used when you talk of a fabric surface – like sheer, furry, burnished, delicate, sparkling, shiny, bulky, nubby, shaggy, matt, sleek, cuddly, soft, glossy, crisp. Some are not so complimentary like rough, pilling, dull, fuzzy.

All these words refer to that particular textile’s texture. You can feel with your hand some of these textures like roughness, smoothness, hardness, or softness. Some are visual like shiny. Some are a combination of tactile and visual experiences like a pebbly surface. I can even hear texture – haven’t you heard the crinkly sound of a crisp fabric

Here is a related post on the best fabrics you get with wonderful fabric texture: 30 Best fabrics with texture.

fabrics with texture

So what is Fabric texture?

To put it simply, Fabric texture/textile texture is the surface quality and structure of the fabric. To get it even more simple the Textile texture is how the surface of a fabric looks and feels.

fabric texture

Why Fabric texture? Is it even important?

First and foremost, texture holds attention. Fashion is a visual medium and with inventive use of textures, the designers aim to hold and attract the attention of the consumer

Texture has a unifying effect. When used together in an ensemble a single texture can hold it together.

The emotional impact of texture is another major factor. Do you know that feelings are affected, even heightened with change in texture?

Along with other elements of design like line, form, space, and colour, texture is forever creating new emotional experiences. The softness of a baby blanket, the crisp feel of the disposable hospital bed sheet, the rustle of a newly tailored wedding gown are all things which we always remember because of the texture and its experience. Which is why decorators and designers are forever trying to come up with new textures.

Different types of fabric texture

There are specifically 3 main types of fabric texture

Original texture: This is the texture of a cloth that is structurally created at the time of the manufacturing process itself; different yarns interact to create a beautiful texture naturally. The textural effect varies with the types of textile fibers used in its making, yarn weight, stitch size, and yarn structure.

textile texture

Treated texture – This refers to the texture of a textile that is mainly dependant on the finishes applied on it for changing the appearance as well as increasing its functionality. Check out the post on the different types of fabric finishes ( 70+) applied to fabrics

fabric texture

Supplementary texture – This is Texture created by additionally attaching other materials on the surface of the textile after it is made; Eg embroidery done on fabric. 

fabric textures

How Fabric texture influences fashion designing 

It can change the perception of size and shape of the body

A fabric with shiny texture or smooth feel will cling to the body and reveal the body proportions as they are – if you want this effect definitely use shiny fabrics but if you do not want this, choose a slightly more textured fabric. 

It can make colour look different

A fabric with shiny texture will look a shade lighter than a fabric with rough texture of the same colour/shade. Rough texture dulls the colour and shiny surface reflects light. If you want to design a garment with a subdued effect, choose a rough textured or at least a smooth surfaced fabric rather than a shiny one

It can change the drape of the clothes

Rough heavy textured fabrics with a tight weave are stiff and will stand away from the body. Soft textured fabrics may be very drapey.

Ways to create your own fabric texture.

Check out the post on 50 + ways to change the fabric texture with different techniques.

fabric manipulation

In addition to this, there are some super simple ways to make a textured fabric with your sewing machine. No need of any fancy machine for this but just your straight stitching sewing machine and you can still make beautifully textured fabric.

1.Use Quilting stitches

Quilting stitches are a great way to bring texture to the fabric, with simple sewing machine stitches. Quilting is often used on garments as well as blankets for adding warmth as well as for the textural patterns.

Basically, quilting involves layering fabric pieces ( three layers of top piece, wadding in between and the backing) and stitching them together.  Finally, the edges are finished with a border. The quilting stitches are made to stitch these layers together and result in a raised pattern on the fabric surface. This raised sections can be highly puffed with a 3 D effect if the wadding is very thick.

The best fabric for the face of the quilting sandwich is a fabric with some sheen like silk or satin; never use a fabric which is sheer. You can use cotton and linen as well.

How are the quilting stitches worked?

Basting the fabric layers with the basting stitches is the first step after you have made the sandwich of fabric layers. Then you have to draw the designs on the material. You will have to take into consideration the dimensions of the design and the fabric you have etc. It is entirely possible to randomly quilt something on the fabric but if you work out the design before you mark on the fabric you will get a well laid out design which stays within the margin of the fabric in all symmetry, without any distortion

Traditional quilting motifs are feather, rope, wine-glass, scale etc. If you have a template of the design motif this is great. Keep it on the center and start marking to the edges. You should make a sample and stitch this before working on the final piece. Then you will be able to get the stitch length and tension right for completing the quilting stitches smoothly

2. Shrink and stitch

This method uses fabric layers – the top layer will be prewashed but the bottom layer will consist of a fresh ( not washed) fabrics.

cloth and fabric texture

Keep face fabric on top of the not washed fabric and Stitch straight lines or wavy line very close to each other. You can make these stitching lines in a grid pattern or in parallel lines or in circles. When you wash the stitched fabric the bottom layer will shrink resulting in a beautiful texture

Start stitching from the same edge every time so that the puckers do not look twisted

3 Stitch and slash method

This involves the age-old technique of Layer and stitch – this is a great texturing method and you can do this easily with simple stitching lines with your sewing machine.

Keep two fabric pieces which are of contrasting colours one on top of the other – right sides up. Make stitching lines in a diagonal direction or an oblong shape. Cut up the top layer very carefully between the stitching lines.

For more details check out the post on Stitch and slash method. It is also called faux chenille method as it recreates the chenille fabric. To create a chenille fabric like texture you will have to use a fabric that frays a lot.

4 Fabric scrap fabric

This creates a completely new fabric and I  am in love with this technique, and all you need are some fabric scraps leftover from sewing projects and a piece of interfacing.

fabric texture

Choose a colour scheme – I have taken pink and off-white. Gather all the scraps you have in various shades of these colours.

fabric texture

Arrange the scraps of fabric on a paper kept on your ironing table.

Take a piece of thick interfacing fabric piece. Lay your interfacing piece sticky side down on the fabric scraps. Use hot iron to press the interfacing to the scraps till all of them adhere to the sticky side. Take it up and see if there are vacant spaces – keep more fabric scrap pieces there. Adhere more if there are even small vacant spaces.

Keep on an open toe embroidery foot on your sewing machine. Make free motion embroidery stitches all over the fabric scraps to fix the scraps. Use metallic thread for a beautiful look.Learn more about free motion embroidery here

5 Machine embroidery stitches

fabric and cloth texture

Use the regular embroidery stitches in your sewing machine to make simple textural effects. This is a no-brainer, all right but when you do this with a variety of threads it takes on a different look.You can look at this post on the 20 basic sewing machine stitches you can use here.

Nothing brings texture as much as metallic thread. Check out the post on the different metallic thread you can use for this embroidery. Put the metallic thread of your choice into the topstitching thread slot but use regular thread on the bobbin. Don’t forget to change your needle to a larger eye needle so that your thread won’t break while using the metallic threads.

6. Couching stitches

You can do couching stitches to adhere any thick twine or thread on the fabric surface, which is great for texture. Keep twine on the face of the fabric and make zigzag stitches across the twine with the thread, in the shape you want.

Another method is to keep the twine sandwiched between fabric layers and then stitch along the sides. This gives a 3 D projection which also looks like piping. You can make any kind of representations with a texture on fabric with creative use of couching. Learn more about how to do couching stitches here

7 Using Hand embroidery stitches

You can create wonderful texture on fabric using simple hand embroidery. How to make a textured fabric with hand embroidery stitches – 10 easy background textured hand embroidery stitches.

background stithes

Comments 1

  1. I absolutely love this site!!!
    This is a dream come true for me. I love the short yet informative applications. Thank you also for the Fabric Glossary!

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