Updated on by Sarina
There are so many types of fabrics available, it is very easy to feel lost in a textile showroom. Usually, it is the color and patterns that attract you first to a fabric. But that is only one element of the fabric.
The way the fabric will feel against your skin, how it will behave when sewing, how it will drape against your body – all these are as important to your fabric buying decision as its color and designs.
Type of Fabric
First thing is to know what is the type of fabric you have in mind – The textiles available are broadly categorized as natural textiles and synthetic textiles. The main Natural textiles are Cotton, Silk, Denim, Flannel, Hemp, Leather, Linen , Velvet, Wool; The synthetic textiles include Nylon, Polyester, Acetate, Acrylic, Polar Fleece, Rayon and Spandex
Fabrics which are generally classed as natural ( Cotton, Silk, Linen etc) and synthetic (Acrylic, Polyester, Nylon ) and a blend of both are all equally suitable for making clothes. But some fabrics are a little bit more preferred than others.
Woven fabric is best for making tailored clothes while knits are best for making form fitting clothes/active wear.
Check out the post on Textiles for more details on what are textiles, different types etc. as well as this post on the 20 questions to ask about a fabric’s quality. If you want to know the names of each different type of fabrics you can check out this post on Fabric names – a Glossary.
These fabrics can be further classified according to the way they are printed, embroidered, woven, dyed & stitched. You also have to consider the weight of the fabric.
If the weave is loosely woven you will have a see-through garment and also maybe a weak garment. You will have to consider buying lining for thin fabrics. Check out this post “what is lining” for details on the need for lining in clothes and the best fabrics for lining
If you are looking for thin fabrics check out this post – 10 best thin and lightweight fabrics for dressmaking.
If you want a thick and heavyweight fabric check out this post.
If you are looking to buy stretchable fabric have a look at the different types of stretchy fabrics here.
If you want some glitz and glamour you will want fabrics with some shine as mentioned in this post.
If you are looking for fabric with pile here are those.
And here is the post on the best waterproof or water resistant fabrics for your sewing
Sometimes you may wonder at the fabric you have and doubt its authenticity. There are some tests that professionals use to test the fabric to know its worth and truth. To know more about this check out this post on Fabric testing
Ensure that the color of the fabric is even, without any streaks or spots. You will have to open up and check carefully to see indications of uneven dyeing. There may be spots or color fading on areas especially on the crease line/ fold line. If you find light colors in some areas, unless it is a design, do not buy – this may indicate that color will fade with washing.
Try a simple test – One way you can test the color of the fabric you are about to buy is to take a small white kerchief or cotton, dampen it and then rub it somewhere on the fabric; If it is good quality the color will not transfer to the fabric/ cotton in your hand.
Suitability & Location
Then you have to know the suitability of the fabric to the garment you have in mind. You cannot make a bikini with wool. For exercising you need fabric that you will be comfortable as you sweat it out. Check out the fabrics best for exercising in.
The occasion and the geography of the place where you will be wearing the dress will play an important part in the choice of the fabric. You do not want a woolen garment for a trip to the desert. Or a chiffon dress for a vacation in the skiing resort. Natural textiles are more suitable for summer climate.
There is the matter of the weather of the place you will be wearing the fabric. You can melt in silk in warm climates especially if it is lined ( though that does not prevent me from buying silk). For example in my place where humidity is high with hot weather I would prefer to always be in loose lightweight cotton attire than anything else. As I also want UV protection from my garments when I go out I would choose a densely woven cotton fabric. Even the underwear be better in cotton ( No spandex bands anywhere near the skin ). Check out the best fabrics suitable for making summer clothes.
One more consideration when buying the fabric is the way it will shrink after washing. Most fabrics shrink but different fabrics shrink differently. A safe bet would be to buy at least 10% extra fabric. If you can buy preshrunk fabric this is the best. Preshrunk fabric will have labels which will say “Sanforized” “Mercerised” etc.
If you are looking for a fabric which will not stretch or lose shape you can look for the “anti-sag” label. If you are looking for a fabric which will not twist out of shape you can look for the “anti-twist” label.
Color of the fabric is an important consideration. Make sure that it suits your skin tone very well, not the celebrity you have seen it on. Different tones of the same color can look very different on the same person.
You should preferably shop for fabric in daylight than after sunset. Even if it is daylight in some shops it is difficult to see the true color of the fabric. The artificial lighting in the showrooms usually distorts the color. If you are matching the color like choosing lining for the main fabric or choosing fabric to add as trim this is especially important. The fabric showrooms will usually have a light well where you can see the fabric in sunlight (or a window with good light from outside).
Another tip I have read is to crush the fabric in your hands – not the whole, you take a side and bunch it up. The color may seem different now; not the first color you thought it was. Time for re-consideration, maybe!
You will not be able to return the fabric after it is cut from the bolt so do not even try to return it back after going home with it and realizing that it is an all together different color from what you saw inside.
Are you worried about “What color should I wear?” Checkout the posts on color combinations you can follow according to the color wheel when buying fabric as well the post on color trends and the factors affecting them for fashion.
When buying a very expensive fabric you should consider buying some mull cotton to make a muslin before cutting the costlier fabric, especially if you are making the pattern for the first time.
Most fabrics are about 44″ wide. When you go to buy fabric estimate how much you want first and then go to the shop. Checkout this post on to know the answer to this frequently heard question “How much fabric do I need”.
With a fat quarter, you will get a 18″ wide by 22″ long. This measure is used to make a variety of small projects. These are available in the shops I frequent as cut pieces – they are mostly prized low and some of them, when they are last off the bolt, prized very low. You will have to ask the salespersons for pieces like that. Some great bargains can be had this way.
In dress making, we buy fabric by the yard/meter. One yard is about .91 meters. In a quarter of a yard, you get a 9″ by 44″ strip of fabric, which is about 22 cms in length. It is always better to buy wider cloth. According to the width of fabrics they may be called single width and double width. Single width is usually upto 49 inches in width and double width upto 60″.
Suitability to specific garment.
Best fabrics to buy for sewing Pants – Choose fabrics which are not too hard or rigid or you wouldn’t be comfortable in them. Linen, Denim, flannel, For colder climates choose Wool (100% as well as wool blends) – wool tweeds, wool crepe; basically depends on what pants you are talking about – Tailored trouser, Unstructured Pant, Combined, Jeans. For tailored pants, you can choose wool or wool blends (with rayon) Corduroy is a comfortable to wear fabric to choose for pants
Best fabrics for sewing for kids – All cotton fabrics are good for kids. You can choose a cotton satin stretch or a cotton twill or cotton satin or lawn . Knit fabrics are also great for kids – you can go for wool knits. Interlock knits are dressmaking knits that have stretch across grain. Avoid synthetic textiles. Check out this post on the best fabric for clothes for babies and children for more detail on this topic
Best fabrics for sewing Skirts – Lightweight cotton is my favourite to sew skirts. Cotton lawn cloth in pretty prints are great. Silk jersey is a great fabric for sewing skirts, as is Ponte Roma knit fabric. You can buy printed silk and rayon in crepe, chiffon, georgette and charmeuse; Fine knits in rayon, microfiber, and silk. Also drapey rayons, soft wool, lycra blends and stretch velvets are all suitable to sew skirts.
Best fabric for sewing Jackets – Wool ( Wool crepe has a great drape and gives enough structure for jackets; wool tweeds are great as well), Linen & Flannel. Velvet ( Checkout the slouchy velvet blazer tutorial , by the way). Lightweight knits are good for free flowing jackets like this waterfall jacket pattern
Best fabric for making dresses
Raw silk, satin, taffeta, velvet, Lace, silk chiffon, Organza are all great for making dresses. But then it depends on the type of dress too. For a fitting body con type dress you can buy medium weight fabrics with some spandex/elastane added. For drapey dresses you can choose light weight fabrics. Jersey has a drapey fit like this. Crepe, challis and charmeuse are all drapey fabrics suited for this style.
Best fabrics for making lining inside clothes
Best fabric for making blouses/shirts –
Lightweight cotton fabric Cambric, Chintz, Twill, Faille, Seersucker, Poplin, lightweight woven broadcloth, batiste, linen, eyelet. I love chiffon blouses. Silky satin fabric is good for making airy tops
Check out the post on the 7 best fabrics for making shirts.
Making shawls and scarves need different considerations for the fabric – checkout this post on the fabrics for making scarves
Fabric Prints & Patterns
When buying patterned fabric (most of the patterned fabric comes with a width of 45 or 54 inch). There will be pattern repeat in these fabrics and this should be taken into consideration when cutting fabric as well as buying them – ie. if you want to match the patterns at the seams.
The motifs will be distributed in a planned fashion on the fabric. But you may notice irregularity sometimes – If the print is not placed on the fabric correctly, it cannot be matched or lined up when constructed without distorting the fabric and the hang of the garment.
One major factor you consider in choosing the fabric for your clothes is the quality of the fabric. It has to be a good quality fabric without any tears or imperfections in the dye, print, fibers etc
These include considerations like the fabric weave, thread count grain of the fabric, fabric weight etc.
You can learn more about thread count here. Fabric weave may also be of much importance to you – I would choose a waffle weave fabric for making kitchen towels than any other because of its absorbency. Check out the 20 different types of fabric weave here.
Grain of the fabric
This is a major consideration – ie if the most attractive fabric you have seen in the showroom does not have its grain right, just discard. The garment you make with it will never hang right. You can learn more about grain and grainline of fabric here.
The fabric weight is dependent on many factors like the weave, fiber type etc and is typically denoted by GSM. GSM can vary from 60 -700 ; 700 being the GSM of very high quality woolen fabric. A denim fabric has a GSM of 400 depending on the weave.
You can see the chart below classifying fabrics according to their fabric weight. But one thing you have to keep in mind that higher fabric weight does not denote higher fabric quality. It just is an indication as to the suitability of the fabric for a particular project. You cannot choose high fabric weight fabric denim for a floating lightweight shawl. But knowing the fabric weight is useful when comparing between same type of fabrics, but even this will somewhat depend on its application.
One major factor in the quality of dressmaking fabric is the finishes it has – the fabric finishes and treatment refers to the processes it undergoes to enhance its looks as well as quality. Check out the list of the 70+ different fabric finishes and treatments
In a nutshell, the most important criteria to look for in the fabric you buy are as follows.
Number of thread per inch of a fabric ( yarns-per-inch). Higher the threadcount higher the number of threads woven per inch, and higher the quality
Balance of weft yarn and warp yarn
In weaving of the cloth there will be a balance in the proportion of horizontal weft yarn and the vertical warp yarn. This is very important in any fabric. In high quality fabric this balance (either in numbers or in size) will always be maintained.
Processes used on fabric to improve appearance and performance
The fibers that are woven to make the fabric will either be as a single strand or they will be formed by combining two yarns (twisted). When two fibers are so twisted together, they result in a stronger, durable yarn which also resists pilling. A two ply yarn is superior to a single ply yarn
Related and similar post : What is Fabric
The best fabrics for dress making – more details
There are about a 100 different types of cotton fabric as you can see from this post on the different types of cotton and other properties of cotton fabric. This natural woven fabric is super comfortable and one of the best fabric to make clothes with. It is a breathable fabric and can make you feel cool even when the temperature is hot. This makes it a staple summer fabric. To top it all it is durable and easy to maintain.
The best thing about sewing with cotton is that it is easy. Compared to any other fabric, you can easily sew with it. Another advantage of getting cotton to sew your clothes is that it is inexpensive.
When you buy cotton for dressmaking ensure that you have the best by running your hands across the surface. If the surface feels smooth you can be assured that you have the best cotton. Inferior cotton will not feel smooth. Sometimes cotton will be too starched. When you rub it the starch will fly as powder. It is better not to buy this.
Some cotton fabric will be loosely woven so unless you see the cloth you will not be able to know the quality of the coth. Another problem with cotton is that it will shrink in the wash. So prewashing is not an option, it is a necessity. If you do not plan to prewash, consider choosing the next size in pattern when making dresses.
Cotton voile & cotton lawn are the best fabrics for making baby clothes and nightwear.Nowadays many are going for organic cotton because of the way cotton is made. Printed medium weight cotton is the most popular for making dresses. You will have to buy lining as well for these cottons because most are thin.
One disadvantage of cotton fabric is that it wrinkles easily, unless specific finishes are added to it.
Silk is a beautiful fabric with a luxurious feel to it. It is smooth and has a lustre which is very attractive. Silk is great for dress making. There are many types of silk available.Checkout this post on 50 different types of silk
So many different types of silk it is mind-boggling – khadi silk, cotton silk, Tusser silk, crepe silk, polyester silk, silk dupioni.
When buying silk you may find silk with very high thread count – they are very durable and are the best and the softest. The problem with low thread count silks is that they are more delicate and they pull apart at the seams. You will have to keep silk fabric away from heat and moisture.
Most popular of silk fabrics for dressmaking are medium weight (blouse weight) silk, silk dupioni and silk charmeuse. It is always best to buy silk that can be washed at home.
Linen looks like a richer cousin of the cotton fabric – at least all the good qualities of cotton are present in linen plus the added elegance – cool, crisp and durable.
But remember that linen wrinkles a lot. It also doesn’t drape on the body like some of the other fabrics do. It is a somewhat stiff crispy fabric . Ensure that the linen you are buying is not too crisp that it scratches the skin.
Good quality linen will be soft. Choose the best quality linen and you cannot go wrong .The dress you make with it will be neat and classy.
Have you seen those fine shirts made in linen – they do not have those raised bumps visible in the fabric I get for dressmaking at the store I shop . But the fact that those slubs are there ( as they are called ) doesnot make the linen bad quality. They are a part of the construction of the fabric
You can buy linen when you want to make pants, formal blouses and shirts, vests. Linen with lycra combines desirable qualities of both fibers
To remove the wrinkles in linen, dampen it and iron.
If you find that the price of linen is too good to be true, it probably is. Linen can come blended with other fibers like cotton and they are cheaper.
Check out the post on Linen for more details on the fabric.
Satin, with its luxurious feel, is usually the fabric of choice when making occasion wear. Kids’ dresses and wedding wear in satin is a most common sight.
You get different weights of satin fabric. A thicker weight satin can be used to make structured garments.
It is a little difficult to sew with satin. The seams mostly look wonky, the machine tends to eat the fabric and the needle pucker the surface. But the beauty of the fabric conquers all these problems. Right Interfacing at the right places can help a lot
Checkout this post on sewing with Satin.
Polyester has its own disadvantages but if you buy high quality polyester this fabric will give you many qualities that only synthetic fabrics possess. – great drape, ease of maintenance, adequate stretch.It is also somewhat resistant to mildew and moth, the bane of other clothes
Actually what endears me about this fabric is the way it is so easy to wash and care for polyester. If you want to make pleats with it the fabric will retain those pleats if you iron them with adequate heat – polyester makes real sharp pleats.But normally it does not easily wrinkle.
Low quality polyester develops cut threads on the surface after a few washes, and they look horrible, believe me.
Checkout this post on Polyester for more details.
Knit is a construction – and the fabrics made with this method has a great deal of stretch. There are people who only sew with knit. They adore knit for its stretch and comfortable fit and drape.
But you have to be careful whether it will remain soft against the body. When buying knit what you look for is the gauge of the fabric – this is determined by counting stitches across vertical rows (wales). The higher the gauge, the finer the fabric. The lower the gauge, the coarser the fabric.
The cotton knit fabric blends the quality of comfortableness of cotton with the stretch of knit. Interlock knit (t shirt knit) is a favourite dressmaking knit fabric. It is reversible as it looks same on both sides. Jersey is an even better fabric as it is more lightweight and fuller than Interlock knit. Ponte Roma knit is another lovely knit fabric though it does not stretch as much as Interlock or Jersey. Ribbed knit is good for making cuffs, waistbands and necks.
Knit patterns are sewn differently from other fabrics which do not stretch as much. It is a difficult fabric to sew and requires a special needle (ball point needle) to sew with your sewing machine
Main dressmaking knits are Cotton / Modal Knits
3×3 Rib Knit
Doubleknit Rayon Blend
Mesh Knits & Power Mesh
Mesh Knits (triple mesh)
Rayon / Lycra Jersey
Silk Mesh Knits
Know more about the different types of knit fabrics here.
There are two types of wool – the finer softer wool used to make garments and then the coarse one used to make blankets and rugs. When buying wool for sewing Look out for soft fine wool fabric but you will have to pay through your nose probably. The softness of the finest wool is worth the prize.
The fabric is bought usually for its warmth giving properties and you may need a thicker fabric for the purpose you have in mind
Rayon is a favorite for dressmaking because it is super light and very flowy; the wonderful way it drapes on the body is the reason why many of the clothes you see on stores are made in this fabric.
It is not the easiest fabric to sew with but the way it looks on you will compensate for the pain. It is a great fabric to make Dresses, blouses, soft jackets, skirts, draped garments, soft pants, shorts, pajamas.
Rayon challis is the most popular choice when buying rayon- it is smooth and drapes excellently. You can sew beautiful dresses with this fabric. Look out for modal rayon which is very smooth and tencel, which is also very soft and the best quality of all – no wrinkling. Normal Rayon fabric wrinkles a lot. Viscose Javanaise is another great rayon fabric for dressmaking
But it is difficult to maintain rayon and does not last long. It also shrinks.
Checkout the post on Rayon for more details.
When fabric fibers are blended it results in a fabric which is far more superior than the original ( like plant budding). Blends carry forward most of the advantages of their parents and some more.
Most of the Blended fabrics are favourites in dress making; Like the Bizzy Lizzy cloth which is a blend of cotton and polyester ( 50-50 I suppose) – it has all the good qualities of cotton and polyester and very affordable.
Good quality Polycotton is a favourite of mine to make casual pants ; polyester blends make good lounge pants ; linen and cotton blends are the best for making dresses; Lycra blends are the best for making leggings because of the soft stretch it has along with the qualities of the natural fabric fibers it also has. They are figure flattering and at the same time comfortable. Look out for a fabric with about 5% stretch synthetic material blends and you will be comfortable
Viscose and polyester are also blended with natural fabrics for improving their care properties
Another blend which is a favourite is a 70-30 blend of polyester and cotton – 2 by 2 ; 2 by 1.This is the material of choice for sari blouses.
Lace has an ethereal completely feminine look to it which makes it the ideal fabric for women’s garments. Most of the lace needs lining as the open weave f the fabric makes it sheer but with the right lining it can be sewn to make beautiful dresses.
Velvet, chiffon, and leather are other beautiful fabrics you can make great garments with. Then there are special fabrics like beaded, sequined fabric, metallic fabric ; even fabric with a rubberized feel to it.
Poplin is one good fabric to buy but I have difficulty getting hold of a great quality poplin which doesnot pill after a few washes, which is why this fabric is not on the list. But most of the readymade shirts are made in high quality poplin. I buy poplin mostly as a lining fabric rather than the main fabric for dressmaking.
You cannot categorically classify fabrics as ‘suitable’ or ‘non suitable’ for dressmaking. Each fabric has its own qualities. Knowing some of the properties and the advantages of choosing them sure helps in making the process of sewing a lot easier
Acrylic, Spandex and Ramie are other favourites for dressmaking. Ramie looks a lot like Linen. You will find this fabric blended with polyester, cotton, linen, and acrylic. Acrylic and Acetate are a very common fabrics you will find in ready to wear clothes. Acrylic is very prone to pilling so you will find that after some wear and a wash you have come to dislike it. Acetate is usually a dry clean only fabric, though it is inexpensive.
The right type of fabric can make a lot of difference in the way the final garment looks, so take your time selecting the best fabric you can afford
More reading on this topic : Fabric Sewing Guide – Claire Shaeffer
- Free dressmaking patterns (DIY)
- Sewing Guide with tips and techniques
- Sewing Machine Guide
- Fashion Styles
- Fabric embellishing