Waterproof fabrics and Water resistant fabrics are not your regular sewing fabrics. But for their purpose, there is no substitute.
If you are in the mind for making cloth nappies and diaper wraps, raincoats, changing pads, outdoor furniture covers, shower curtains, is there a choice but to look for material that would not let water go through it.
Other uses for these fabrics include making mattress/pillow protectors, kites, cloth sanitary pads, outdoor bunting, lunch bags, snack pouches, tote bags, tablecloths, picnic cloth, baby bibs, changing baby bags, windbreaker jackets, ponchos etc.
Water Proof/ Water resistant materials.
PUL stands for Polyurethane Laminate.
PUL is a polyester fabric with a plastic backing coated with a thin waterproof /water resistant coating. The best thing about PUL fabrics is that it is completely waterproof, very durable, breathable with a slight cross grain stretch and you can easily wear it next to the skin, because the fabric side is soft, flexible and comfortable.
You get PUL fabric in thicknesses of 1 millimeter and 2 millimeters of the plastic coating. The fabric can be knit or woven, 100% cotton or a blend of polyester and cotton.
Polyester PUL is thinner and softer than the cotton PUL. The best thing about the PUL fabric is that you can wash it any number of times without damage.
TPU stands for Thermoplastic polyurethane; it is a better alternative to PUL fabric and used interchangeably with PUL in making waterproof products like cloth diapers – more softer, flexible and environmentally friendlier (questionably) than PUL. And the functions are the same. The disadvantage is that it may be less durable than PUL.
Read this post for More on the differences between PUL & TPU.
2. Waxed cotton
Waxed canvas is a densely woven cotton fabric (Canvas) coated with paraffin-based wax; it has a rugged weathered attractive appearance due to the creases and folds of wax on its surface. Canvas itself maybe water resistant to a degree depending on its weave density but the coating on it adds water proofness. It is many times more expensive than ordinary canvas.
3. Nylon and Polyester
These materials are not really waterproof on their own. They can be said to be water resistant because of their tight weave.
But with a special coating, these fabrics are used for making the most waterproof of all things – rain umbrellas. A layer of polyurethane is used to cover the interior of the fabric.These fabrics are less breathable than laminated fabric and not as strong.
Ripstop nylon fabric
This is a sturdy lightweight wind-resistant fabric made of nylon fibres – after it is given a waterproof coating it is unstoppable as a rough and tough fabric. In WWII it was used to make parachutes! Today with waterproof, water resistant, tear-free qualities it is used for making tents, garden furniture coverings, waterproof clothing, backpacks, kites, and workwear. You can make jackets, ponchos etc with ripstop nylon.
The fabric has a grid design in its weave. More on Nylon here.
Ripstop polyester is a similar tough fabric used in a similar way made of polyester fibers. It is made into outdoor blankets.
Nylon taffeta with a special coating is definitely waterproof – This is the material used frequently to make rain umbrellas, patio umbrellas etc. It has a smooth weave and a sheen on its surface
Umbrella fabric is a lightweight, tightly woven water repellent nylon fabric. You can get a variety of dyed and printed umbrella fabrics.
PVC coated Polyester
PVC-coated polyester is a waterproof 100% polyester fabric with poly-vinyl chloride coating on the back. It is slightly stiff but has a smooth finish on the inside.
Terylene is a densely woven polyester fabric used to make sails , sunshades, canopies, awnings etc because of its water proof quality.
Polyester microfiber fabric with a special waterproof coating is available – this is 100% waterproof. It has a supple suede finish on the outside and is used for making garments like jackets.
4. Laminated cotton /poplin
Laminated fabrics are an alternative to PUL material as it is of the same concept. A thin waterproof coating is given to fabric. It is not as effective as PUL, though. But it is more environment friendly as the fabric side is a natural fabric.
Laminated fabric is used to make weather protective clothing like raincoats, windcheaters, ski wear, protective jackets, hats; this fabric keeps the wearer dry and comfortable under all weather conditions.
Lamination is added by bonding the water-resistant layer to the back of the fabric. The drape of the fabric becomes less flexible when adding the lamination. This gives a structure and a crisp hand to the thin cloth.
Laminated cotton is a wonderful fabric suitable for making many things because it is breathable and flexible. It has a laminate layer of about 1-millimeter thickness on the fabric.
Laminated poplin is a favourite of many international brands to make protective clothing including jackets. There are mainly 3 types of laminates – Non-porous laminate , micro porous laminate, viscous coating.
Oilcloth, also known as enameled cloth or American cloth, is a close-woven cotton duck or linen cloth with a coating of boiled linseed oil to make it waterproof. (Wikipedia). This is the earlier version of the oilcloth. Nowadays Modern oilcloth refers to a cotton or linen material coated with a clear vinyl layer on top. The clear finish can be shiny or matt.
This hard wearing, durable and easy to clean (just wipe to clean) material is great for making tablecloths, coverings, luggage, tote bags, kitchen accessories etc., but not so much for making garments.
Check out this post if you would like to make an attempt at making oilcloth.
6. Polyester fleece
Fleece can be water resistant depending on its quality (not waterproof). Denser the fleece the more it is water repellant.
Because of its water repellent quality, it is frequently used to make cloth diaper outer layers. With a specially applied water-repellent coating, you can make fleece more water resistant than it is originally.
Wool is naturally water resistant (not waterproof) and it is a natural fabric which is its USP; if coated with lanolin you can increase its water resistance. You may have to do this periodically. You can also buy boiled wool which is also very water resistant – this wool is boiled in hot water and made denser so that the waterproof quality is increased. Wool felt is used to make hats which can stand some amount of rain exposure.
8. Vinyl, pleather and plastic
These artificial materials are waterproof and are usually used in sewing to make cosmetic bags, tote bags, beach bags, placemats etc. If you are making marine upholstery and stuff needed on boats, you will need to buy 100% waterproof marine vinyl fabric like expanded Vinyl (Polyvinyl chloride) with fabric backing or Vinyl and Polyester Composite fabric.
Naugahyde is an American brand name for a vinyl material designed to resemble leather, made from fabric coated with rubber or vinyl resin. It is an upholstery material that is tough, durable, supple, flexible and waterproof.
PEVA is acronym for polyethylene vinyl acetate. This PVC-free, non-chlorinated waterproof material is considered as a toxic free alternative for PVC. It is used to make waterproof shower curtain liners.
10. Densely woven branded fabrics
Fabrics made of cotton or synthetic micro denier filament yarns with compacted weave structure are trusted to be water repellent and even water proof because they are made with this purpose – with very little pores between them so that the water will not pass through them. They may also be given a Durable waterproof repellent (DWR) coating to make them waterproof.
Check out more details of a specialized fabric Ventile here which is a branded cotton fabric with water resisting properties. The densely woven cotton textile gives reasonable protection against typical rain, as claimed by the manufacturers.
Best known branded Synthetic water proof fabrics
Gore-tex fabric is said to be the most waterproof windproof fabric available. The best thing is that it is breathable as well. You can read more about the fabric here.
This is a very popular water proof fabric – it has a Direct Venting waterproof barrier which is an advancement of the ePTFE (expanded Polytetrafluoroethylen) technology which will be “keeping you dry and comfortable in the widest range of temperatures and conditions” www.eventfabrics.com
The fabric is water repellent breathable, durable and fast drying.www.nanotex.com
100% Waterproof Cordura® Nylon
Cordura is a Nylon which is waterproof. You may need to choose a 1000 denier Cordura nylon for this – and for abrasion resistance, strength etc the fabric is unbeatable.
Medical and Surgical Fabric from Shawmut Corporation -This stretchable fabric is a mix of 80% Nylon and 20% Spandex and is waterproof, windproof, and breathable. Darlexx fabric (Darlexx Thermalastic®) with a Lycra face, grey microfleece backing is also waterproof.
Water repellent fabric. A Nylon fabric with a matte surface has a durable water-resistant finish to repel moisture.
This synthetic rubber is waterproof – it is the material used to make wet suits.
It is a 100 percent expanded vinyl on the outside with a jersey knit backing. This is a favorite for making outdoor upholstery as it looks like leather.
Sunbrella (water resistant not waterproof)
Sunbrella fabric is one of the most popular outdoor fabrics – it is fade resistant, mildew resistant and water resistant – but not waterproof.
Coated Oxford Fabric (Nylon or Polyester)
This is a Urethane Coated Nylon or Polyester fabric. Frequently used for making tents, bags, flags, banners, outer fabric as well as lining of bags etc
This branded fabric is resistant to all elements including sun and water and even fire. It is a synthetic sunshade fabric made of PVC coated polyester fibers. The malleable fabric is used to make umbrellas, outdoor cushions etc.
Waterproof ratings when buying waterproof fabrics
You will find ratings on water proof fabrics/ garments starting from 500 mm to 20000 mm and it shows the fabrics comparative waterproof quality. Real water proof ability starts from 5000 mm. For withholding heavy rain you need to get a rating of 10000 mm and above.
Make your own waterproof material
This article in wikihow tells you how to make your own waterproof material by spraying a waterproof sealer on the fabric surface. Usually hardwearing twill weave fabrics like Cotton suede, Wool Covert are used for this.
How to sew with PUL/oilcloth/laminated cotton fabric
Do not use pins to keep fabric layers together on visible areas – pin can mark the fabric and leave permanent holes. Use clips to hold the fabric or pin on the seam allowance. You may find that you do not mind the odd pinholes though. Test and use.
Keep the plastic side down when you sew, where possible- your pressure foot will move better on the fabric side than on the sticky plastic side. If you have to sew on the plastic side use a tissue paper on top of the material and sew as usual.
The regular metal pressure foot of your sewing machine will stick to the slick plastic material and refuse to go forward. Use a Teflon foot to sew on the sticky side of these fabrics. Walking foot will also be a great aid here, as it feeds fabric smoothly. No drags, glitches or stops.
Use ballpoint needle to sew – this will sew without leaving holes.
Use polyester thread, because it is stronger than cotton thread.
It is not enough that you have waterproof fabric. All waterproof breathable fabrics may also need to be seam sealed to ensure that the garment is truly waterproof. A fabric is truly waterproof when all seams are so sealed that there are no leakage points.You can use special sealers/seam tape for this purpose.
Use waterproof zipper tape to ensure the fastener is also waterproof.
Care of waterproof / water resistant materials
Wash by hand if possible. These materials are best not dumped into the washing machine and forgotten.
Do not dry clean or bleach or use any of the spot stain remedies you use on normal fabrics or even harsh detergents. Read the care label on the fabric carefully. Some of these fabrics should only be wiped clean with clean water.
Suitability Durability and breath ability are of primary concern when selecting your waterproof fabric. So test the above-given fabrics for your project against these criteria.
More reading material on waterproofing and water repellent fabrics : Durable water repellent finish – Wikipedia.
Water Proof fabrics – Fabrics that do not allow any water to penetrate through them. This is the ultimate among all the categories. The finish closes all pores on the fabric and the fabric is completely immune to water.
Water repellent fabrics – Fabrics with a special fabric finish on the surface or special tight weave or one with special sprays applied that cause the water to roll off the surface. When the finish is gone the water repellency is also gone.
Water resistant fabrics -Fabrics treated so that it resist water to an extent. A chemical coating is applied on the surface. If you are standing in the rain for some time under some of these fabrics eventually water will get through.
Water repellent finish – A special finish added to the fabric surface to make it repell water – the finish prevents penetration of water droplets to the inside. The advantage is that if applied moderately it does block the pores of the fabric and render it not-breathable.
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