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Fabric- getting to know fabric- part 1- Light to Medium weight Fabric!

We’re almost through the basic theory that a new sewer needs to know. Just a couple more hubs then we’ll be able to dive into the fun projects and procedures.

This one is probably going to be the hardest lesson to write and to 'get'. In the actual classes I had boxes full of fabric swatches for my students to touch, feel and see. Online it's going to be a bit harder. I can give you a mile long list of fabric names but not much on that list will mean anything to you until you actually get to see and feel the fabrics.

You will have to spend some time and bum around at your local fabric shop. The bigger the shop the better, although at first it might feel intimidating but eventually once you get an oversight of the store you will feel more at ease there. Let's dive in.


To have some knowledge about the different fabrics is necessary when sewing. Here is an 'easy to sew' list and we’ll build onto this list as we go along.

It’s my opinion that easy success for the beginning sewer creates a good base. With that in mind I always suggest using easy to sew fabrics with small or no pattern. However, that does not mean that a novice can not accomplish a well made first project, lets say our of sheer or velvet. It just means that the novice will have to give some of those fabrics some extra or special attention.The only problem I see with using hard to sew fabric is that it can be discouraging if something just doesn't work out a well as wanted. (As far as I'm concerned there are mainly two types of fabrics that are really hard to sew and a real pain in the watooooosy, those are velvets in all of their glory and a really fine chiffon that stretches out of shape, no matter what, the second you even get within touching range of it).

Most domestic sewing machines prefer a medium to medium lightweight fabric. The sewing machine factory automatically sets a sewing machine’s timing etc. to run perfect with that type of smooth, even weave fabric. Again that said, does not mean that the average sewing machine can’t sew heavier fabric such as a couple of layers of denim or a totally lightweight sheer or gauze. The machine will just need different settings and needles etc. which we’ll get to soon.


Fabric made from Natural Fibers!

Fabric made from natural fibers are created from animals coats, plants' seeds, leaves, stems and silkworm cocoons.

  • Wool --- wool is a protein fiber, sheep, alpacas, llamas, goats, rabbits etc all grow fur that we humans have been working into clothing and such since the dawn of time
  • Cotton --- cotton is a plant fiber that we (humans) have been collecting and transferring into cloth for thousands of years from the cotton plant’s seed pod
  • Linen --- linen is a plant fiber a super durable fabric that is made from the stalk of the flax plant
  • Jute, Hemp, Ramie, Bamboo... --- each of these are plant fibers similar to linen except that the usable fibers of each of these plants have to be processed a bit differently
  • Silk --- silk is a protein fiber and is made from by unraveling the cocoon of the silkworm, probably the only domesticated insect or bug that has been giving humanity beauty for thousands of years


Fabrics from man-made fibers !

Just to name the main 'fabric families', most of these get other fancy names however are built from the following list:

  • Acetate --- is made from cellulose (wood fibers), technically cellulose acetate.
  • Acrylic --- well the actual name is acrylonitrile is made from natural gas and petroleum.
  • Nylon --- is a polyamide made from petroleum.
  • Polyester --- is a polymer produced from coal, air, water, and petroleum products.
  • Rayon --- is a regenerated cellulose fiber which is almost pure cellulose. (one of my favorites to sew)

gabardine or twill weave

gabardine or twill weave

close up of denim

close up of denim

Types of weave do not make the Types of fabric

The type of weave used to fabricate a material often get mistaken for the type of fabric. Lots of weave styles have lent a certain fabric their name... Let me explain, Gabardine, Twill, Damask, Brocade, Jaquard... before I lose you with all these names let me backtrack and talk about 'Satin' for instance, everyone knows what satin looks like, right? Most people associate it with the shiny material that a lot of formal gowns are made from. Well, satin is not really a fabric but actually it is a type of weave. (although it has become an acceptable name for the fabric. The satin-weave can be woven from silk, acetate, polyester, or even a blend of different fibers. Each of these fibers contribute to how heavy the satin is, how it drapes (hangs), what the satin feels like, what the satin looks like and so forth...

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close up of woven fabric

close up of woven fabric

close up of knit fabric

close up of knit fabric

close up of a non-grain (felt)

close up of a non-grain (felt)

We also should discuss how a fabric is made, so that we’ll know what to look for when next at the fabric counter of Walmart or the local material shop.

There a three main fabric groups, and these are:

  1. woven–A basic sample, with the easiest, distinguishable “grain” would be a hemp or jute burlap. If you look at a section you will notice the up & down fibers are dissected by the over and under side to side fibres. Linen etc.
  2. knitted–This is easy, a sweater or take a close look at your t-shirt. You’ll notice the lines of the “chain”. Knits are also stretchy. Tricot
  3. non-grain–Easily explained, with the most common one being Felt.

Do you remember when you were at summer camp and your project was to make a place-mat by 'weaving' colored strips of paper over and under? In all it's simplicity that is really the basics of weaving. The way fabric is woven.

The strips of paper that were 'stationairy' that ran up and down your place-mat are called the warp and the colored strips that were doing the weaving from side to side are called the weft. (the way to remember the different name is your weaving 'weft to wight')


To explain fabric over the internet, the easiest way is going to be if I send you to go in front of your closet. Take a pen and paper along with you too...

Take out one piece of clothing at a time. Try to find 6-8 different types of fabric. It doesn't matter what they are. (NO do not worry, I will NOT make you cut swatches out of each) If the label is still in the garment read it and really look at the material. See and feel the texture... look at it closely, do you see the individual threads that make up the fabric? Or do you see a fine rows and loops of knitted fabric? A poly-fleece top will only show the fuzzies and not the actual 'construction' of the material.

Look at items like:

  • a man's shirt --- most commonly made of a cotton and polyester blend (fabric is usually woven)
  • a pair of non-stretch jeans --- made of +or-90% cotton with +or-10% lycra or spandex (woven in the gabardine or denim weave
  • a wool suit jacket maybe tweed --- made from 100% wool or a blend of fibers (usually woven)
  • a t-shirt --- made of a cotton or cotton blend (a single knit)
  • a Hoody --- fleece made of a polyester (most likely a knit but you will only see the fuzzies)
  • the brides maids dress you wore at cousin Gerdies wedding (made from a satin backed crepe - one side is matte and the is satiny shiny - the weave on the matte side looks as if the fibers are crinkly)
  • etc

Just for fun make your self a list by using the labels, feel and look of each individually


Here is a list of some easy fabrics that any novice will find a cinch to sew with. All of these are in the light to medium weight category.

  • Cotton sheeting…obviously for sheeting, also great for bedroom curtains or valances, Pj’s etc (cotton a natural fibre)
  • Cotton and Poly blend... men's shirts, blouses, quilting fabric, non-iron sheeting etc(also called permanent pressed... most commonly these come in a 50-50 or 35-65 ratio of cotton to polyesters)
  • Cotton twill…work pants, notions such as twill tape etc (cotton and cotton & poly blends)
  • Wool flannel…suit jackets, vests, etc (wool a natural fibre)
  • Wool crepe…dresses, suits, etc (wool a natural Fibre)
  • Chintz…drapes, light upholstery, cushion covers etc (cotton or cotton-poly blends)
  • Linen…clothing, tablecloths & napkins, etc (natural fibre made from flax)
  • Gabardine…pants, uniform jackets, etc (mostly 100% polyester)
  • Poplin…chef jackets, summer clothing, etc (mostly in cotton &poly blends)
  • Light weight denim (non-stretch 100% cotton)…fashion jeans, skirts, etc (the new types have stretch, mainly made from 90-95% cotton, +5-10% of of Lycra or spandex worked mostly into the side to side fibres)

Some of the fabrics are named after their style or pattern of weave or knit etc. For example Gabardine is a name of fabric but also tells that it had a diagonal ridge pattern weave, called either twill or gabardine weave. Or the double knit. A T-shirt’s usually is made of a single knit, a surely recognized sample of double knit would be the older fashioned crimpelene or jersey knits.


Oh no....! Not the dreaded 'H' word....

Here it comes… homework… yup homework... next time you're in town stop in at the fabric store find and get familiar with some of the materials we discussed here. Read the labels on the side of the bolts to see what the content of the fabric is... Take the list you made in your closet and try to find similar fabrics at the store. This will give you a bit of a feel for what a good fabric might be for what type of usage.

Some fabric sold at Walmart and discount stores will have an 'Unknown fiber content' sticker on some of their on-sale bolts. These cheap discount tables are a fun place to dig around and play the guessing game.

TIPS: If you buy any of these 'unknown fiber content' fabric from these cheap discount tables make sure you buy extra and you have to wash them before going to the trouble of sewing with them. I bought a few meters off one of these tables a not very long ago because of an absolutely perfectly perfect colour match and lucky for me I bought a couple of extra meters because it shrank almost 30%.

For my Buddy Timorous!

the head of an interlock/ribbing single knit tube knitting machine

the head of an interlock/ribbing single knit tube knitting machine

interlock/ribbing single knit tube knitting machine

interlock/ribbing single knit tube knitting machine

these types of machines come in all different sizes on the round... socks, gloves, t-shirts, hats, pantyhose, leggings etc all need different circumferenced machines

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  • Sewing Kit--- Have to have-s!
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Great sewing hubs by other hubbers

  • How to Make a Cloak or Cape
    Whether for a costume or just keeping warm, a cape or cloak can be great. Learn how to sew your own, or try the no-sew cape method!
  • Featherweight Sewing Machines
    The Singer
  • Treadle Sewing Machines:Sew Simple
    Knowing how to use a treadle sewing machine is on it's way to becoming a lost art. Many people think that the treadle, or manually powered, sewing machine is a thing of the past but that is not true.
  • How To Sew Prefold Diapers
    Cloth diapers can be made from a wide range of materials: twill, jersey, birdseye, flannel, and terry cloth. Cotton and hemp are the most commonly used fibers, though traditionally linen was also used...


Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on July 02, 2013:

Thank you for reading and commenting Caliamartin. If this hub is of even a smallest amount of help then it was worth writing it. Mind you it wasn't a hardship to write it as I absolutely love fabric and cloth art in it's many many glorious forms.

regards Zsuzsy

caliamartin on July 01, 2013:

Wow! I'm so impressed with your sharing so much knowledge. If this is only Part 1 I'm in trouble because I thought I knew something about fabric. I think you've covered so much here. I'll be keeping this bookmarked and coming back for reference in the future.

Thank you for all your work here.


Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on March 21, 2011:

KoffeeKlatch Gals, thanks for stopping by I just love fabric and could talk about it in all its forms and glory for hours and hours and hours.

hope you're well

regards Zsuzsy

Susan Hazelton from Northern New York on March 19, 2011:

Wow Zsuzsy, where were you when I was trying to learn about fabrics? It took me quite a while to get them down pat. Even now I have to refresh, relearn, and learn new. Great information and so much of it. Voted up and useful.

Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on February 16, 2011:

Tamara thank you for your nice comment. I love all sorts of fabric and could talk about it forever and a day. My non-sewing friends hate to go shopping with me because somehow or another we always end up at the fabric store from where I never want to leave.

regards Zsuzsy

Tamara on February 16, 2011:

This hub is much like a book on fabrics. Thanks.

Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on November 21, 2010:

Thanks Lilly... the next hub one should be on line late tomorrow.

hope you're well


Lori J Latimer from Central Oregon on November 21, 2010:

I am interested, and will be passing these to my daughter and 1 granddaughter who both sew. We look forward to the rest of the series. You need a clone? :0)

Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on November 20, 2010:

Hello Lilly, how are you? There is sooooo much I want to share with you all. I'm getting frustrated that I don't have as much time to get hubs written and published.

There are about 2 dozen in the works, so if you're interested keep looking for them... soon

thanks for taking a look and for commenting

regards Zsuzsy

Lori J Latimer from Central Oregon on November 20, 2010:

Thank you for sharing your world of knowledge with new people sewing or wanting to sew. Excellent step by step guides, easy to follow. The best. Voted up and shared

Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on October 16, 2010:

Hiya Support Med., always glad when you stop by for a visit. Coffee tea? I have a long list of learn to sew hubs on the go. If you ever have any question just ask and I will try to answer them.

regards Zsuzsy

Support Med. from Michigan on October 16, 2010:

It's great you are an expert! Will definitely keep this hub as a reference as I keep thinking about learning how to use the sewing machine and knowing the fabrics helps too. Voted/rated.

Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on October 14, 2010:

Tracy Monroy thank you for taking a look and for commenting.

I love to re-upholster things too. I have a 40 year old chair that's on it's seventh or eighth cover, whenever I change my living room around I recover the chair too to match.

regards Zsuzsy

Tracy Monroy on October 14, 2010:

I have always been huge into fabric and doing different things with it. I have been recently using upholstery fabric and been redoing old chairs and furniture that I find. It really is a great hobby that can be tailored to your interests. Excellent hub!

Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on October 12, 2010:

heart4theword always glad when you drop by and thank you for taking a look and for commenting.

I hope you're well.

kindest regards Zsuzsy

heart4theword from hub on October 11, 2010:

Another detailed hub:0 Thanks for sharing the knitting machines! Would like to see them in motion? Have had people say that I am a knitting machine! Wish I could produce what these do, in the short amount of time they do:) Informative Hub:)

Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on October 09, 2010:

Thank you Karen for taking a look and for commenting.

hope you're well

kindest regards Zsuzsy

Karen Ellis from Central Oregon on October 09, 2010:

Wonderful article, thanks.

Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on October 08, 2010:

Michael L. Borg, unfortunately not being able to see and feel your fabric I'm not going to be of any help at all. All I can suggest is that you take the vest to a good fabric store. Chances are that if you go to an independent store (a fair sized one) ask there for the person who does the buying of goods for the store they might be able to recognize the fabric that you're after and also where to buy it... Just another thought 'Dry cleaners' are pretty good at identifying fabric too.

good luck with your search

regards Zsuzsy

Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on October 08, 2010:

WildIris funny that you would mention just that I have a hub in the works about how to recognize the different fabrics by burning a bit and the smells associated with it.

Thank you for taking a look and for commenting.

hope you're well

kindest regards Zsuzsy

Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on October 08, 2010:

Lady Guinevere always glad when you drop by and thank you for the link.

I hope you're well.

kindest regards Zsuzsy

Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on October 08, 2010:

Lily Rose, your hub is almost ready it has become a monster of a long hub so I had to re-edit and re-edit because I have sooooo much to tell you about the memory quilts.

talk to you soon

kindest regards Zsuzsy

Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on October 08, 2010:

Sherri I'm always so glad when you drop by my hubs and if they bring back some happy memories then they're well worth the time spent writing the hub. Now talking about bolts of fabric with no immediate project in mind... there are a few dozen of those batches hanging around here too along with the many, many, ma-a-a-ny meters or maybe I should say miles of fabric that have a supposed purpose (well they did last time I looked) However the sad part is that when ever a new great project shoes up on the horizon I just can't find just the right thing in my stash and then I have to with heavy heart go fabric shopping.(I keep telling myself this and one of these days I might actually believe it too hehehe)

take care

kindest regards Zsuzsy

Michael L. Borg on October 07, 2010:

I am having a hard time getting an unknown fabric(linen)used in men's dress vest identified.Plus, where this material can be purchased.

Can you help to direct to who & where to get answers?

Thanks, Mike Borg

WildIris on October 07, 2010:

Zsuzsy Bee~ A most educational Hub. When buying mystery fabrics second-hand and the fiber content is unknown, pull a few threads and burn them. If the threads melt, then there is fiber content has some synthetic, man-made properties. This is especially useful to do when trying to determine if what you're holding is 100% silk or a poly blend.

Pre-washing & drying fabric is a step that I've sadly overlooked in the past. Really, don't skip this step.

Debra Allen from West By God on October 07, 2010:

I linked this to my hub on Learn to sew Pattern Selection and knowing about Fabrics. I only skimmed the surface and you are more indepth.

Lily Rose from A Coast on October 07, 2010:

Hi Zsuzsy Bee! This was a really great hub to read. Although very much a novice, I have spent a lot of time in fabric stores and am familiar with most that you mention, but I did learn a lot here, too! Thanks! I can't wait for the next lesson!

Sherri from Southeastern Pennsylvania on October 07, 2010:

Once again, memories (I'm starting to sound like a broken record on your Hubs)! My grandmother always had boxes of leftovers. I was free to dig into those boxes any time I wanted. She also had bolts of fabric she'd buy on sale, not with any project in mind but just because she liked the color or pattern or texture. From the time I could use a sewing needle without stabbing myself, I was digging through those odds and ends to make doll clothes and quilts, all under her expert guidance. Those were my first lessons in what kinds of fabrics were easiest to sew and how to tell one fabric from another.

Great job on meeting the challenge of describing fabrics without being able to show your students the fabric on the spot. The clothes closet adventure is perfect!

Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on October 04, 2010:

Timerous, I added a second pic. If you would want to cut tube fabric straight and would cut it with scissors and follow the 'row' you would see that it's made continuous... to save time the factories don't even stop when they have to change color at the end of the demand run... they just add the different color and keep going.

Eventually (after I have my sewing series finished) I might throw a hub together on just this, thanks for the idea.

Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on October 04, 2010:

Hello, hello, thank you for taking a look and for commenting

Tim Nichol from Me to You on October 04, 2010:'re so good to me suz. While the picture doesn't immediately conjure up visions of a Metallica t-shirt being made, it just shows how mechanically inventive some people are..where there's a will, there's a way. Cool. Thanks for the tea, btw. :)

Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on October 04, 2010:

Hiya Timorous I'm so glad you stopped by. Tea, Coffee?

T-shirting, ribbing and some fleece(jogging suit fabric) are a knitted fabric and the 'knitting machines' that produce the tube fabrics have round heads... (that is where the 'knitting needles are located) I just happen to have a picture of one such an animal, I will add it to the bottom of the hub. What's that saying? A picture is worth a thousand words.

Hope you're well, missed ya


Hello, hello, from London, UK on October 03, 2010:

Very interesting and informative.

Tim Nichol from Me to You on October 03, 2010:

Wow've certainly covered this topic well (in a lovely turqoise/blue, cotton-polyester, no less). lol.

On another frequently intrigues me, how t-shirts can be made 'one-piece' a continuous 'tube' of fabric, where the only parts sewn onto it are the sleeves and the collar (no seams up the sides). Perhaps you could explain this phenomenon of manufacturing wizardry...

Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on October 03, 2010:

Hiya Alekhouse, fortunately I didn't have to do any research for this hub as is for all the sewing hubs. I used to teach evening classes at my tailor shop. My kids are always teasing and telling everyone to get out of the way when I turn on the fountain as I don't know when to stop...

I can't help myself, I absolutely love fabric and cloth art in it's many many forms.

Always glad when you have a chance to drop in for a visit.

Hope you're well? Any sights on moving?

take care


Nancy Hinchliff from Essex Junction, Vermont on October 03, 2010:

Did you research this or did you know all this stuff? I used to sew a lot and it took years to learn all this, and more. You did a great job on this hub.

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