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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.

fabric-getting-to-know-fabric-part-1-light-to-medium-weight-fabric

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-getting-to-know-fabric-part-1-light-to-medium-weight-fabric

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



fabric-getting-to-know-fabric-part-1-light-to-medium-weight-fabric

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)


fabric-getting-to-know-fabric-part-1-light-to-medium-weight-fabric
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...

fabric-getting-to-know-fabric-part-1-light-to-medium-weight-fabric
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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.
fabric-getting-to-know-fabric-part-1-light-to-medium-weight-fabric
fabric-getting-to-know-fabric-part-1-light-to-medium-weight-fabric

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')

fabric-getting-to-know-fabric-part-1-light-to-medium-weight-fabric

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: