Use this guide to understand fabric so you can choose the right fabric for your project.
When it comes to choosing fabric for your sewing project, it can be a little overwhelming. What type of fabric do you need for your project? What color or design do you want? What colors match or coordinate with each other? Today I want to explain fabric in detail so you can have a better understanding of fabric and so you can make an educated decision for your project.
This post is part of a series for beginner sewers. You might also like these posts:
What sewing machine should you buy?
What thread to buy for your sewing machine?
5 tools you need to start sewing
11 more sewing tools you should have
Understanding Sewing Machine Needles
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What is fabric made of?
Just like in thread, there are natural fibers and synthetic fibers. Natural fibers are grown naturally and are made from things like cotton, flax, or silk. Synthetic fabrics are made from things like polyester, rayon, wood, plastic, etc.
Fabric is made from fibers of material and are either woven or looped together. Woven fabric does not stretch because the fibers are woven together at right angles so there is no give that allows them to stretch.
Knit fabric stretches because the fibers are looped together which allows them to move more freely. Different types of fibers and the tightness of the loops will determine if there is a lot of stretch or a little bit of stretch in the fabric.
What is fabric weight?
Another important feature to pay attention to when choosing fabric for your project, is fabric weight. I pay attention to fabric weight when I am making clothes, especially when I’m buying online since I can’t feel the weight with my hands. The weight of fabric depends on the thickness of the threads, the density of the weave, and the dying and printing process. Generally, if the fabric is a lighter weight, it will be more drapey. If it’s a heavier weighted fabric, it will be more resistant.
Picture of different weighted fabrics
What types of fabric are there?
There are tons of different types of fabric. Just walk into a fabric store and you’ll see wall to wall bolts of different fabrics. Here are just a few kinds…
- Cotton (also called Calico)-Most common fabric for beginner sewing projects. Cotton is a woven fabric that can be light to medium weight. Cotton shrinks a lot, so make sure to pre-wash it before cutting.
- Velvet – Woven tufted fabric that has a short dense pile which offers the soft feeling. Velvet is popular for evening wear or dresses.
- Jersey Knit – Made from cotton, cotton blends, or synthetic fibers. Most popular for making clothes.
- Silk – Can be used for clothing, bedding, handbags, etc.
- Wool – Wool is made from sheep wool and used for things like coats, socks, and gloves.
- Denim – Heavy weight cotton that uses a special weaving process. Denim is most popular for pants and jackets.
- Fleece/Minky – Super soft and great for baby blankets or pajamas.
- Flannel – Napped fabric that is made from cotton or rayon. It’s very soft and great for pajamas, baby blankets, and more.
- Sports/Swimwear – Usually made from polyester or nylon. This fabric is best for swimsuits, gymnastics suits, etc.
What fabric should I use for my project?
The type of fabric you want to use, will be based on what you’re making. Cotton can be used for things like bags, quilts, blankets, aprons, hot pads, pillows, etc. Fleece, Minky, and Flannel are good for pajamas and blankets. Sports fabric is good for costumes, swimsuits, gymnastic clothing, etc. Jersey, knit, and stretch fabric like double brushed poly, lycra, cotton jersey, french terry etc are used for making clothes like dresses, sweatshirts, shirts, blouses, etc. So you need to have your project in mind. If you bought a pattern from someone, they will most likely have a fabric suggestion for you.
How to choose the right fabric?
Once you know what type of fabric you need for your project, there are a few things you should look for. Find the color or pattern that catches your eye. Check the width of the fabric so you can calculate how much to buy. You can find the width measurements on the end of the bolt if you are buying at the store. Generally, fabric comes in 60 or 45 inches. You will also find washing instructions and where the fabric was made on the end of the bolt.
If you are buying a stretch fabric, test the stretch to see if it meets your requirements. For example, I have a clothing pattern that suggests knit fabric that has a 50% 4-way stretch. This means the fabric should stretch both ways (some fabrics will only stretch one way) and shouldn’t stretch more or less than 50%. If the fabric has less than 50% stretch, the garment will fit tighter and might be too small. If the fabric has more than 50% stretch, the garment will be looser and might be too big.
What is the best fabric for making clothes?
There are so many types of clothing fabric out there, I don’t even know them all. I prefer sewing with stretch fabrics because they are more forgiving. As I learn more about fabric construction, I’ll venture out to using more types. But some of my favorites are:
Double Brushed Poly
French Terry Knit
Where can I buy fabric?
There are so many places to buy fabric, so shop at a few places and find somewhere you really like. Here is a list of stores you can buy fabric. I have used some of these, and others have been recommended to me by other seamstresses.