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How to Choose Your Dress Fabric

Choosing the correct fabric for your project may seem like an easy task - you just pick the one you fancy right? Wrong!! Choosing the incorrect fabric can make sewing and fitting your garment difficult or downright impossible. Now I’m normally not a colour inside the lines kind of a girl (I've been called contrary on occasion) but I will always admit the people who design the patterns know best. So if I’m told to use a chambray or a cotton type you better believe I’m using a cotton! So in order to choose correctly you must first understand what these names mean. I’m going to break them down into their types and styles as a pattern might suggest them and explain what they mean.

There are a few basic types of dress fabrics that you will come across again and again - particularly when reading the back of your pattern crepe or crepe de chine; cotton or chambray; sateen; taffetas; jacquards; satin/duchess satin and laces.

What do these mean and why do you pick one over another?

Chambray/Cotton types: This is usually taken to mean a cotton fabric that is not too thick with no stretch, these would be suitable for projects like shirts and dresses with some structure as they are not particularly flowy and so will not skim the body. Chambray is simply a cotton that is a woven mix of white and another colour. These are usually interchangeable with sateen (usually cotton with a smooth and shiny finish, not to be confused with satin) linen/linen types or seersucker which is a bumpy checked/striped cotton.

So basically if you are told to use any of these fabrics what you are looking for is a cotton or linen fabric or even a mixed fibre that feels like cotton or linen but it should be non-stretch and relatively stiff. These are probably the easiest types of fabric to sew with and so are great for beginners projects.

Gaberdines: Gaberdine is a tightly woven fabric usually interchangeable with lightweight wool blends. These fabrics work really well in suiting and trousers. If you want to imagine what they feel like think back to your school trousers or skirt. But fear not! There are all sorts of nice new versions that will frequently be labelled “suiting”.

Denims/Twills: Twills are fabrics woven a certain way so that the surface of the finished fabric has diagonal lines and the reverse is smooth. A denim is basically a type of twill made from cotton usually in that classic indigo blue but there’s many versions. Patterns that look for these type of fabrics are usually utility style garments or garments with a firm structure like boiler suits or jeans which these fabrics really lend themselves to.

Jersey: Jersey refers to any knitted fabric with stretch, they come in many weights from a light viscose jersey which usually drapes beautifully to heavier cotton sweatshirt style jerseys. Luckily your dress pattern will specify what type of jersey you need - some jerseys stretch in more and in more directions than others. 

Ponte Roma: This is a double knit type of jersey which means for our purposes it’s usually slightly heavier and less drapey than other jerseys. This makes it easier to sew than most jerseys while still having good stretch and suitable for more structured garments.

Scuba: Scuba or Neoprene are again double knit fabrics though much heavier than ponte roma with a smoother surface, it can be used for sportswear but is increasingly being used for evening wear as it gives great structure and will hold its shape.

Crepe/ Charmeuse types: Crepe is nowadays a kind of cover all term for fabrics that have a light to medium weight and a nice flow and drape, crepe will usually have a slight dimpled texture. Charmeuse is a lightweight similar style of fabric with a smooth finish. Crepe is probably the most versatile of fabrics being used in blouses, dresses and any garment where draping and flow is desirable even certain trouser patterns.

Taffeta/Dupion: Taffeta is a smooth woven fabric with a crisp finish, dupion is usually a stiff slubbed silk but synthetic versions are made. If your pattern calls for these or like this, what it is really asking you to use is a relatively lightweight crisp and stiff, non stretch fabric. These types of fabrics are mostly used for structured garments as they hold shape very well and look fabulous in full skirts.

Satin/Duchess/Crepe back satin: Satins usually have a nice flow and are used mainly in evening wear. A satin finish means the fabric is woven a certain way to make the surface smooth and shiny. Duchess satin has a higher thread count and so is usually less shiny and has slightly more body than other satins though it still drapes beautifully. Crepe back satin is as it says a satin front with a crepe finish back which gives beautiful weight and drape and allows you to use both matt and shiny sides in the one garment.

Lace/Chiffon/Tulle: These are all soft sheer fabrics usually used overlaid on a satin lining in evening wear. They can also be left unlined as sheer details on a garment or in jackets and the likes. Tulle can also be used to create frothy layers though not to be confused with it’s less expensive nylon net counterpart which is used to make stiffer underskirts and create volume. If you’re looking for these you’re most likely making occasion wear.  

There's probably some fabrics I have missed but the types outlined above are the most common you will see. If your pattern calls for a fabric not listed above the most important thing is to understand how the garment falls and drapes and to match it up with the right style of fabric. Indeed the reverse holds true that if you fall in love with the fabric before you pick the pattern have a look and feel -  How does it fall? Does it stretch? Is it Stiff? Does it need lining? Once you understand the fabric properties you can choose the right project.

Hopefully having read this you feel confident in your fabric choosing abilities but to help you along we have added some check boxes on our website to narrow the choice down. If you’re the type who likes a feel and a chat (and who doesn’t) then call into one of our Hickeys stores where our expert staff will be happy to offer advice! The most important thing is to have fun! Choosing your fabric is not only the most important part of your project but it's probably my favourite part. Having a look and a feel and imagining what the finished project will look like - and what shoes I'll wear it with! Please feel free to comment below/ ask me questions if I missed some or you’re unsure of what to pick.

 

Laura

I started working for Hickeys when I was only 16 and my love affair with all things fabric, textiles and crafts began!! I always have some project on the go (even if they don't always get finished), and after 17 years in the business I'm still learning new things all the time from fellow staff and amazing customers!

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