All Viscose is Rayon But not all Rayon is Viscose. Does that sound coherent enough for you as an explanation as to why we call Rayon, Rayon at times, and Viscose some other times?
As a dressmaking material that everyone loves, Rayon is quite popular in the fashion world. All of us have a top or dress in Rayon which is very drapey, soft and nice to look at. But do we all know what is Rayon and How is it different from all the other textiles you get in a textile showroom? Read on to find out more.
What is Rayon ?
Rayon is a fabric made from regenerated cellulose fiber. The fact that Rayon is called Artificial Silk (faux silk for some) tells you a lot about Rayon. It is a fabric made with a semi-synthetic fiber made from cellulose that is very similar to silk – its drape, softness all similar to silk. After all, it was manufactured during the 1880s, as a cheap alternative to silk.
You may have referred to this fabric with other names like Viscose, Art Silk, Tencel, Cupro, Modal. Rayon is the generic name for this whole group of fabrics.
You get a little confused at classifying Rayon because it is neither a fully natural fabric like cotton nor a fully synthetic one like Nylon. It falls somewhere in between. You can call it a Man-made fabric.
Rayon is one of the oldest manufactured fibers, made from natural resources. By 1920s this fabric was fully acquired by Dupont company and people fell in love with this silk-look-alike versatile and inexpensive fabric.
Different Varieties of Rayon
Rayon is available in knit as well as woven. Tencel, (Lyocell) Cupro, Polynosic Rayon are different kinds of Rayon fabrics.
Cupro Rayon is a strong variety of Rayon with a slight sheen ; It is slinky and looks like silk. Bemberg is a trade name of this variety in the US which is popular as a lining material. The fabric with the real name cuprammonium is made through a process that uses copper and ammonium.
Lyocell is an eco-friendly machine washable rayon which goes under the trade name Tencel®. It is a fabric known for its hypoallergenic quality, softness, drape, resistance to growth of bacteria which create odors ( It absorbs excess sweat and quickly release it into the atmosphere without leaving smell) and most important of all its reputation as a sustainable fabric which is friendly to the environment unlike other rayon fabrics
Bamboo fabric is a type of rayon made from cellulose derived from bamboo wood pulp. Know more about bamboo fabric here
Modal is a very soft variety of Rayon – in fact, it is considered to be one of the softest fabrics. But at the same time, it is stronger than other rayon fabrics and more resistant to shrinkage. One pet peeve with rayon fabrics is that it damages in the machine wash -but with modal rayon, this problem is solved – the fibers have great wet strength.It will not be stretched out of shape in the tumble wash like other rayon garments
Rayon challis is perhaps the most used fabric in dressmaking. It is soft and very drapey.
Rayon crepe has a subtle texture which is very appealing. The woven Rayon is more preferred in dressmaking than Rayon knits.
Doubleknit Rayon Blend is a very comfortable Rayon knit fabric, which is also easy to maintain. Rayon-Lycra blend fabrics are also very much favoured in dressmaking. You can make unstructured clothes with these fabrics.
What is Rayon (Viscose)made of ?
Rayon fibers are derived from cellulose extracted from wood pulp from Bamboo, sugarcane, beech trees, pine trees etc but rayon is not considered a natural fiber, nor is it a synthetic fiber ; it is made from regenerated cellulosic fibers. Cellulose undergoes a lot of chemical processes to become what you know as rayon.
The cellulose is treated chemically at first and made into a liquid which is then made into cellulose filaments. Processes like the Viscose process, cellulose acetate process etc are used to make the cellulose. All things utterly beyond my comprehension but the resultant fabric is fantastic and makes beautiful garments, this I know.
In 1920, a patent was given to Dupont Chemicals for a process of creating this manufactured fiber which was inexpensive but at the same time had a lustrous sheen. This type of fabric was named rayon, referring to the rays of the sun. From that time to now, the quality of rayon has improved by leaps and bounds, and the fabric is now almost deserving of its name which means ‘reflecting the sun’s rays’. It is said to be the first major commercial synthetic fiber.
There are three main methods of making rayon fabric – one is the initial method of cuprammonium process. Then the one of making viscose rayon. And finally the method of making acetate rayon. You can read more on acetate fabric here.
Nowadays many fashion designers prefer to make their signature clothes in Rayon. The different Viscose Fabrics available for dressmaking are Viscose Georgette, Viscose Chiffon, Viscose Crepe, Viscose Gauze, Viscose Habotai, Viscose – Bemberg, Viscose Linen blend, Viscose Velvet, Viscose satin, Viscose Mesh, Viscose Taffeta, Viscose Twill.
What are the qualities of Rayon fabric?
First, let me start with the bad
- Rayon fades progressively.
- It shrinks progressively.
- The fibers are weaker than cotton or silk, especially when wet.
- It wrinkles fast.
- You cannot use very hot temperature on it.
- It changes shape /dimension with abrasion and washings.
- Colour of the fabric may bleed or run.
- It is susceptible to mildew.
- You may need to dryclean it to maintain its original look. Washing with over abrasion may even lose its softness and draping quality
- It does not breathe as much as other natural fabrics and you may sweat a lot in it.
- It is slightly inflammable ( more so than natural fibers)
- It does not have natural elasticity and do not stretch to accommodate wearing ease
- It develops rough textures after some use.
Look at the seams of a new rayon dress I bought. Agreed it is not top-quality rayon clothing – still, I bought it with love. I cannot imagine this one lasting many wash cycles. The seams are already fraying.
Do not be fazed by all these demerits. Ryon has its share of merits as well. There are top quality varieties of Rayon that does not have any fault and is a dream fabric for a sewist.
- Viscose Rayon is soft, absorbent and non-static
- It is lustrous and has a beautiful sheen and looks vibrant
- You can dye it very easily.
- You can bleach it as well (with care) or provide a number of finishes.
- It is a relatively inexpensive fabric.
- It drapes beautifully and is one of the most preferred wedding dress materials
- It is heavier than silk.
- It blends well with other fibers.When Rayon is blended with other fibers like polyester, wool, linen, Georgette it takes on many of the qualities of those fibers
- Rayon can be made stretchy by blending it with Lycra and this blend is lightweight
- It is breathable
- Some rayon can be as fine as any fabric and see through.
So many things to love. Some of my most loved dresses and night dresses are made of Rayon. They are very soft to touch and comfortable to wear.
Let us see how this fabric sews up.
How to sew with Rayon ?
I love Rayon – that is, to see it and wear it. It drapes beautifully on the body. But on my home sewing machine it is a disaster of frustrations and hair pulling etc, at times. Missed stitches, difficulty in interfacing all are causes for this.
Making loose flowy clothes are preferable to tailored structured clothes when sewing with Rayon
NEEDLE – Start with a new needle every time you start a new project in rayon. ie if you want smooth stitching. Use a 11/75 or 12/80 sharp needle.
Rayon fibers do not have natural stretch ( which is a good quality as well as not so much) and hence high movement areas like elbows knees and seams stretch and damage the fibers there. So you may need to give more ease and seam allowance there.
INTERFACING : I always interface rayon with rayon itself, whenever possible. If any other fusible interfacing is applied the rayon behaves badly, becoming stiff where the interfacing is applied, where as, the rest of the fabric looks loose and drapey. So using the same fabric as interfacing works as a solution. If you do not have enough to use as interfacing you can use thin knit fabric (thin knit tricot) or silk organza, cotton batiste or cotton organdy.
You may want to add some interfacing tape to hems with rayon so that they stay flat.
Shrinkage of fibers is a problem with Rayon, so leave more seam allowance than you normally would. Buy more fabric than you think you need. Give allowance for shrinkage when cutting especially if you are not prewashing the fabric. There will be progressive shrinkage with washing so take that into account. Or be determined to drywash forever which will retain the shape and size of the garment.
How to wash Rayon ?
Rayon fibers are weakened by wetting. Please avoid hard rubbing and squeezing during the washing clothes made of rayon
Rayon is often marked Dryclean only. Read more on fabric care labels here
To handwash rayon, you may need to set the colors by adding a spoon of salt to the water for washing. Do not rub the rayon or agitate it too much. Abrasion will remove the finishes on rayon and when wet rayon fibers are extra weak and they may break or distort.
You should expect some alteration in the shape of the rayon garment in the wash and you will not be so much disappointed.
Pre-washing Rayon is advised before sewing with it. You can also steam press rayon to shrink it to an extent ( instead of pre-washing) but this is advised only for garments you will give to dryclean later. If you are going to hand wash the garment later, it is better to prewash the fabric as described above. More on prewashing fabric here.
Ironing Rayon Clothes
Using the steam press in your iron settings is an effective way to iron rayon. As Rayon does not tolerate high temperatures, so ironing with a low heat setting is advised.
You can use spray starch to make it look slightly stiff but remember that the flowy drapey quality will be compromised. More tips on ironing clothes here.
Buy good quality Rayon without compromising on cost and you will not regret buying Rayon (Viscose as it is called in some places) – the beautiful dresses you can make with it will make it worth the price.
- Free dressmaking patterns (DIY)
- Sewing Guide with tips and techniques
- Sewing Machine Guide
- Fabric embellishing