In layman’s vocabulary, fabric weight refers to the sheerness or heaviness of a fabric and the density of its construction. From a textile expert’s point of view, it refers to the weight of a yard or meter of fabric. It is usually expressed in terms of ounces per square yard of fabric or grams per square meter (gsm)
In this article I will cover:
How is Fabric weight calculated?
GSM is the usual standard of measurement for fabric weight. Another is ounce per square yard. ie. Fabric weight is calculated as grams per square meter (g/m2 or gsm) or in ounces per square yard (oz/yd2). This shows the weight of the fabric for a square piece of fabric in a standard measurement. Fabric weight is also calculated as yield.
Fabric weight can be affected by the type of fiber used, fiber density, fabric weave, type of weaving loom used, tension during weaving etc.
Related post : What is GSM?.
Classification of Fabric weight
A fabric weight of 4 ounces or below is considered lightweight. A fabric weight of more than 4 to 5 is considered medium weight. Above 5 ounces is the standard of medium heavy fabrics.
A medium heavy fabric like the Gabardine fabric can have a fabric weight of 8 ounces/ or 220/g/m2. Fabric heavier than 10 ounces per linear yard, (1.60 yield) is considered heavyweight.
A textile fabric weight meter calculates the textile weight accurately. This is important in the industry as fabric weight can determine the cost of fabric, with all other things being equal. Heavier the fabric weight, the more expensive it usually is.
But there is no real co-relation of quality with fabric weight. A thick fabric need not be better than a thin fabric or vice versa.
Names of fabrics of different weights
According to the book Professional sewing techniques for Designers, fabrics can be divided into Sheer, lightweight, medium weight, medium heavyweight and very heavyweight.
Fine lace, Organza, Net, Voile, Handkerchief linen, Cambric, Lawn, cheesecloth, organdy, crepe de chine
Chiffon, Voile and other lightweight cotton like batiste, broadcloth, chambray, muslin, Lawn, Georgette, Silk satin, thin Rayon, thin Satin and silks, Taffeta, silk charmeuse, ripstop nylon, microfiber.
Lightweight denim, Linen, sweatshirt fabric, Silk dupioni, Wool crepe and other medium weight wool, Broadcloth, Cotton, Calico, Chino, Challis, Poplin, Rayon, Satin, Twill, Raw Silk
Medium heavy fabrics
Upholstery fabrics, Felt, Fleece, Tweed, Faux fur, Faux leather, Synthetic suede, Wool coating material, Brocade.
Denim, Heavy leather and suede, canvas, Cotton Duck, Coat Fabric, Drapery Fabric, Sail Cloth, Tapestry, Upholstery, and wool and some wool Blends. You can read about the best heavyweight fabrics here.
Why is fabric weight important?
A knowledge of Fabric weight is not just for the experts – it is for you and me who sew. Knowing your fabric weight is necessary to understand solutions to questions like how a fabric will behave, whether it will create a ruffle nicely, drape on the body prettily, whether two fabrics act well when joined together, etc.
It is one of the primary considerations when looking for the correct needle to sew, choosing the best interfacing to use, the density of stitches to use for machine embroidery. When deciding on the right hem finish for a garment, the fabric weight is significant to know how it will fall.
When designing clothes, if you know the fabric weight of the fabric you will be sewing your design, you can determine how the dress silhouette will look, how full your creation will look, and how much yardage you will need.
When designing t-shirts, designers know that they should adhere to the standard weight for a single jersey cotton t-shirt at 180 gsm. But when designing a sweatshirt for winter this fabric weight may not be sufficient.
If you are using a lightweight fabric, you will get less fullness than if you are using a medium-weight fabric. Some lightweight fabrics can appear sparse, so you will need more fabric to get the fullness you need.
Comparing brands/same fabric types – When buying fabric, if you have the different fabric weights of competitive brands, you can compare them. Buy fabric with the higher fabric weight if everything else is equal. You can also compare between same fabric types to see which is more suitable for your project.
Denser, more durable fabric – The higher the weight, the heavier and denser the material will be. The higher the weight of the fabric, the more durable the weave, and the more suitable it is for heavy-duty use and durability.
Good structure – Higher fabric weight also indicates more stability so if you want a garment with more structure, you should choose this.
Transparency – The fabric weight is also an indication of the opaqueness or sheerness of the fabric. Heavyweight fabric is more opaque, definitely. Lightweight fabrics can be fine to the point of being translucent.
Determining Stitch density in Machine embroidery – In machine embroidery fabric weight is very important when choosing the design and the sewing thread – the stitch density is primarily dependent on the fabric weight. Very fine lightweight fabrics will not take high intensity stitching – they will pucker and even tear.
Stitching according to fabric weight
The stitch length needs to be adjusted when sewing with fabrics of different weights. According to the book Reader’s Digest guide to sewing, “The heavier the fabric, the longer the stitch; the lighter the fabric, the shorter the stitch”.
The sewing machine needle needs to be correctly matched to prevent holes or skipped stitches, or puckering.
Usually, a sharp needle can sew most fabrics (of different weights). You will need to change the needle numbers – a 60/8 or 70/10 needle is usually suitable for thin, lightweight fabrics to avoid it getting snagged or getting holes, but you will need to use a 110/16 or a 120/20 needle or upwards for a heavy-weight fabric.
The best needle for sewing medium weight fabrics are 70/10 and 80/12 and 90/14.
The fabric weight can be influenced by adding appropriate interfacing.
Joining fabrics of different weights
In sewing, you will have to combine different types of fabrics – but it can be tricky if you are not careful. If you do not get it right, it can look weird with puckers, etc. It is always better to pair fabrics of the same fabric weight. When you combine a lightweight fabric with a heavyweight fabric with high density, the seam can look wrong.
The lightweight fabric may get pulled in too much, making the material insufficient – the solution is to cut it a little longer than the heavier fabric. You will have to ease it into the seam if there is extra.
How is fabric weight considered for Silk fabrics ?
The fabric weight is measured in Momme (mm) for silk fabrics. Momme refer to the weight in pounds of a piece of fabric if it were sized 45 inches wide by 100 yards in length (112 cm by 9140 cm). One Momme = 4.340 g/m². Bigger the momme weight, the heavier the silk.
Denier is the measurement unit of fibers. You can read more about Denier here
The quality of the fabric is not solely dependent on fabric weight. Fabric weave and the types of textile fibers used can make a difference to the quality of fabric other than fabric weight. E.g., a woven fabric made with a twill weave will be stronger and more durable than a fabric made with a satin weave.