Sew, What's New?

Curating sewing and quilting talent, techniques, and tutorials, since 1997.

By Tamara Waters

For the beginner, an important part of learning to sew is becoming familiar with the wide variety of sewing fabrics available.

Fabrics fall into two categories: natural and man made/synthetic.

Natural fabrics include
cotton and linen. Most
silks and
wools require special care when laundering such as handwashing or dry cleaning.

Of all fabrics,
cotton and cotton blends (cotton blended with synthetic fibers) are perhaps the most versatile and easy to care for, not to mention the lowest in price.
Cotton is always a wise and safe choice.

There is also a large variety of manmade fabrics available, including acetate, acrylic, polyester, nylon and rayon. Synthetic fabrics also include sheer fabrics, bonded fabrics (such as velvet) and vinyls.

Synthetics and blended fabrics (blends of natural and synthetic fibers) tend to fray easily. To combat this, you should cut these fabrics with pinking shears and leave a generous seam allowance.

Most man made fabrics are shrink-resistant and generally wrinkle-free. Such fabrics are usually machine washable and can be ironed if needed. Always iron on low as synthetics tend to scorch easily.

Fabrics come in standard widths of 45, 54 or 60 inches. Muslin fabrics come in 36-inch widths; upholstery fabrics generally come in 72-inch widths. Other fabrics will fall into variations of this width-range.

When preparing for a sewing project, you should remember that while the pattern is very important, the presentation of the project is based upon the fabric chosen. A dark, heavy fabric can convey a somber and subdued mood, while lighter, brighter fabrics have a cheerier air.

Fabrics are dyed a certain color, left a natural hue or they may be printed with a colored pattern.

Generally, heavy fabrics such as wools, corduroy, velvet or velvetine are better suited to clothing and patterns designed for fall and winter use. Lighter fabrics (in both color and weight) such as
cotton, linen and percale are better choices for spring and summer.

When choosing a fabric for a pattern, the back of the pattern envelope will usually give suggestions for the best fabric.

To choose the correct fabric, several factors must be taken into account. Will you be making a simple dress, an evening gown or a purse? Also, what about the care of the fabric? Will it need to be ironed? Is it preshrunk and colorfast? Will the fabric require dry cleaning, handwashing or machine washing? Finally, consider the color. Is the blouse short-sleeved or long-sleeved, and is this color and pattern better suited to one or the other? Again, the pattern you are working from will give suggestions for the best choices of fabrics.

Remember that the pattern and the fabric should complement each other. For example, you would not choose a bright plaid fabric, a heavy wool or corduroy, or a busy floral print fabric for a dress pattern that features a number of flounces and embellishments. Those fabrics would be better suited for a simple-cut dress, while the flounced dress would work well with a soft cotton, linen or rayon in a single color.

The best way to familiarize yourself with various fabrics is to visit a fabric store in your area. Peruse -- and handle -- the many colors and textures of fabrics that are available. This will also help you begin to develop your own personal taste in fabrics.

In addition, take the time to look over various patterns. Read the backs of the envelopes to get an idea for the types of fabric recommended for different styles of clothing.

Look through your favorite clothing store to get an idea for fabrics that you like for specific styles of clothing.

Now, here are a few basic fabric terms you should know:

Bias: A diagonal line of fabric. True bias is found when lengthwise grain is folded to meet up with the crosswise grain.

Crease: A line or mark made when fabric is folded, then pressed.

Facing: A second layer of fabric used to finish necklines, front and back openings, sleeves, etc. Special fabric used for facing is called

Grain: The lengthwise and crosswise run of the fabric. It is always important to know the lengthwise grain of a fabric it runs parallel to the selvage edges because you must match the pattern grain to the fabric grain before cutting.

Ravel: To separate or pull woven threads away from the cut edges of fabric.

Selvage: The outside edge of a fabric, which is usually woven and won't fray. On some printed fabrics, the selvage may be a white strip with lettering printed on it. The selvage is woven more tightly and is usually trimmed off.

Thread count: The number of threads or yarns per inch in the warp (lengthwise threads) and weft (crosswise threads) of a woven fabric.

For more information on sewing, visit the hobbies section of

Free Shipping on orders $35+

Views: 84


You need to be a member of Sew, What's New? to add comments!

Join Sew, What's New?

Comment by nyillah on October 12, 2009 at 9:08am
this information was good...i always look for cheap material that is on sale to make sample garments with..and i am still learning how to coordinate fabric and colors to match eachother...
i notice some patterns are hard to understand also (not a beginne;s pattern)..but i still try sewing them anyway..if i mess up ..i'm always learning.. either i'll try again or move on to something else... good information thank-you for it
Comment by Susan on October 4, 2009 at 8:07am
Fran, click here for Elmo fabric

Comment by Fran(grami) on October 3, 2009 at 9:00pm
Right at this moment, I am about to pull my hair out. I am looking for Elmo Fabric for my great granddaughter. I want to make pj's either fleece,cotton or flannel. Need at least 4yds. or more if I can get it. Anyone have any thoughts to help me. Thank you , much, much
Comment by Beverly on October 3, 2009 at 6:04pm
Since I have taught many people to sew I found this to be very helpful & informative. Thank you

© 2021   Created by Sara.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service