Demystifying Fabrics - Woven Fabrics

Posted by Freya Gilbert
on March 22, 2020

We often get asked about the fabrics we sell and how to choose the right fabric for the right patterns. 

We're incredibly fussy when it comes to ordering fabric for the shop, because we're fussy when we're shopping for fabric for our own projects too.  We have a fantastic network of suppliers, whose fabric is beautiful quality, can be sourced back to the factories where it is produced (or further) and who offer beautiful and ethically sourced dressmaking fabrics including Deadstock, Oeko-tex certified and organic ranges (we'll be sharing more about these in a future blog soon).  

SO what are woven fabrics? At it's most basic definition, a woven fabric is made up of 2 strands of yarn woven together on a loom. But let's find out more about what can change the feel and type of fabric.

The ‘Type’ of fabric is made up of three factors:

  • The weight of the yarn which is dictated by a combination of the weight of a single strand and how many ply (strands) the finished yarn is made up from
  • The fibre types used to make the yarn
  • The weave 

These three components can be used in a wide variety of combinations to create a huge range of fabric types.  Which is why understanding the classification of fabrics can be very confusing! Added to that there are different names for some fabrics depending on what country you are in! We're going to do our best to demystify woven fabrics for you from a UK point of view. 

Weight

Let’s start with Ply.  ‘Ply’ is more commonly used when discussing knitting and crochet yarns, but all thread, when it is produced to make fabrics is spun into yarn first.  It’s not common to discuss the ply of the thread in fabrics, but it is common to discuss the weight of the fabric in gsm (grams per square meter). 

The GSM of a fabric can vary from around 100gsm for light-weight fabrics, such as viscose or lightweight single jersey, to 400gsm for heavy denims or sweatshirt weight jersey.  The gsm of a fabric alters the feel and the drape of the final garment too.

You might see a fabrics weight in ounces too, especially with denims or fabrics produced mainly for the American market like quilting cottons.

Where we have this information from our suppliers, for example for denims when it’s really important, we will write it on the fabric labels and share it on the website.

Sometimes we can only roughly judge the weight of the fabric and categorise it in to one of three weight brackets.  Light Weight will include cotton lawn, most viscose and some polyester fabrics.  Medium Weight includes triple crepe polyester, cotton poplin, light-weight denim, cotton or viscose twill and some jersey fabrics.  Heavy weight fabrics include 12-14oz (around 400gsm) denims, heavy sweat shirting and coating fabrics. We do include this categorisation on our website to help you pick the right fabrics for your projects. 

 

Woven Fabrics at Crafty Sew and So

 

Fibres

Fabric can be made from a huge selection of fibres, and at Crafty Sew & So we stock quite a variety.  On our shelves you will find wool, polyester, viscose, linen, ramie, cotton, lycra and elastane.  Different materials have different properties which make them ideal for garment sewing.

Wool, usually made from sheeps wool is warm and often soft – perfect for sewing coats or trousers.  Often wool is used in a blend with other fibers to keep costs down.

Polyester, made from plastic, dries fast and doesn’t crease – ideal for a work or holiday wardrobe. 

Viscose is a man-made fibre, created from wood fibres.  It's also known as rayon.  Viscose/Rayon is cool to touch, light-weight and breathable – ideal for summer clothes.

Cotton is stable and easy to work with – perfect for new dressmakers.  It’s also hardwearing and ideal for Children’s clothes

Linen and Ramie are both made in similar ways, they are natural fibres which breathe well and dry fast – ideal for holidays and warmer weather.  Linen is made from the flax plant, while ramie fabrics are made from nettles. They are stronger than cotton for longer lasting, hard wearing clothes.  They have lower elasticity in the fibres, so they crease more easily.  It’s best to accept that and roll with it as part of the design of your garments.

Lycra and Elastane are usually mixed in with the other materials mentioned to provide stretch and recovery to a fabric – great in workout gear and for comfortable daywear. 

Most of these materials can be used on their own, in single fibre fabrics, but they can also be blended together at different ratios. Elastane is often added to cotton to make a stretch woven or knitted fabric, for example. 

Elastane can be blended with other materials for varying degrees of stretchy-ness and recovery (how well the fabric moves back to its original size and shape).  Most common is 5% elastane, which adds enough stretch for comfort without over stretching and affecting the fit of a garment.  

Our suppliers almost always provide the fibre content of our fabrics, which we list on the fabric labels and on the website.  Only if we’ve not been told the information, will we not be able to share it.  In that case, we will list what we can judge to be in the fabric by feeling the fabric and a burn test.  This isn’t 100% accurate, as we can’t be sure we’ve spotted all the fibres within a blend, but it gives a good idea of the main fibres used to produce the fabric.

woven fabric types at crafty sew and so

 

Weave

Fabric weaves are where things get really interesting.  Once the yarn is made up of the chosen fibres, there are a huge variety of ways in which you can weave them together! To keep things simple, I will be describing the fabric weaves we stock most often. 

Here's a quick reminder of the basics of weaving fabric...

Fabric is woven on a loom with a warp yarn threaded up vertically on the length of the loom. The warp goes up the fabric, and is held on the loom.  Then a yarn is woven across the weft of the fabric, side to side and is shuttled back and forth under and over the warp yarn to create the weave.  I keep them straight by remembering that WEFT goes right to LEFT and back again! 

 

Plain Weaves

plain weave diagram

A plain weave is a simple one-over, one-under process of weaving.  Similar, I imagine, to what you would automatically think of when you think about weaving two threads together.  Depending on the tightness, or how close together, the yarn threads are woven, and thickness of the yarns, you can make quilting cottons, poplins or lawns, from a variety of fibres or 2 different yarns made up of different fibres. For example, lawns can be made from viscose too.

Plain weaves have a smooth feel and are generally relatively stable to work with.  Cotton poplins and lawns are particularly good for beginners to work with for dressmaking.

Gingham is also made with a plain weave, but using alternating stripes of dyed threads to create the pattern. 

Crepes are also plain-weave fabrics, but feature a textured, crinkle finish.  This is created because the thread on either the warp or the weft is over wound in the reverse direction.  When this untwists, the yarn contracts together and the signature texture is created.

Crepes can be made from cotton and viscose, but most commonly they are made from polyester.  You will also find crepe-backed-satins, which are bonded with a satin fabric to create luxury fabric, ideal for evening wear. Georgettes and morricain fabrics are also types of crepes with slightly different textures.

 

Twill Weaves

Twill Weave Diagram

Twill Weaves are woven together creating a staggered arrow shape by weaving one-under, two-over (or two-under, four-over etc) moving up the starting point for each weft row.  This diagonal weave texture is visible on the surface of the fabric, and creates a textured feel when you touch the fabric.  The diagram does a better job of explaining it, I think.

Twills tend to be a heavier weight weave. When made from viscose or polyester fibres, they retain the materials typical properties (drapey, light) but will feel heavier than a lawn or crepe made in the same material.

Denims are a type of twill weave, usually made from Cotton, but elastane can be mixed in for added stretch.  Denim is often made as a heavy fabric, from 8oz to 14oz (200-400gsm).

 

Satin Weaves

Satin Weave diagram

Satin and Sateen are both types of very fine twill weaves.  The way they are woven gives them a very smooth surface resulting in a luxury feel.  Satin is traditionally made from synthetic fibres, like polyester, as a cheaper alternative to silks.  Sateens are also made with a satin weave, but from a cotton fibre.  They have a beautiful soft and smooth finish to them.

Sometimes elastane is mixed in with the primary fibre to provide a little stretch to the fabric too. On product listings this will be described as a stretch-satin or stretch-sateen.

 

Jacquard fabrics have a design woven in to them which creates an added texture in a pattern or design.  Traditionally these fabrics feature florals, but modern versions include animal prints and geometric designs. Brocade, tapestry and demask are all types of textured jacquard fabrics.  Weaving jacquard fabrics requires a speciality loom, which controls individual warp yarns.  Due to the nature of the weave, jacquards tend to be heavier fabrics.

 Jacquard fabric on a loom

Corduroy is produced by combining warp and weft threads of differing diameter. Glue is applied to the back of the fabric and it is then cut to produce a ribbed appearance. the glue is removed and the fabric is brushed to give a lustrous finish. The spacing of the cord ridges is measured in wales per inch. i.e. an 8 wale cord would have bigger ridges than a 16 wale.  

 

So, you can combine the three factors- weight, fibres and weave-  to create a wide selection of different fabric types. 

  • You can have a light weight cotton lawn, or a midwight cotton twill. 
  • You can weave a midweight polyester-elastane blend crepe or a lightweight viscose lawn. 
  • You can have denim twill weave in a light weight 4oz in 100% cotton, or a heavy 12oz denim with 5% elastane in with the cotton.

Pretty much any combination is possible, so we do our very best to guide you when you're  purchasing fabrics from us.

 

I hope that's helped clarify the jargon around woven fabrics, and will help you choose the right fabric for your next project.

Take a look at all our woven fabrics HERE!

If you need any more advice just get in touch and don’t forget you can use our Swatch Service to try before you buy! 

For all the information you could possibly want on textiles, materials, weaves and fabric finishes, do have a look at the Encyclopaedia Brittanica - https://www.britannica.com/topic/textile

All diagrams are from http://texpedia.org/

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