Today I want to talk a little bit about buying fabric. There are so many fabrics out there. When you are new it can feel overwhelming. Fabric can make or break an outfit. When I first started sewing clothes, I used a basic tank top to draft a dress pattern for myself. It went great, until I actually put it on and it was smaller than I expected. I couldn’t figure out how in the world that happened. The better I got with sewing clothes, I began to realize fabric plays a HUGE role in how the garment will turn out. In my example above, I traced a very stretchy tank top and used a knit, that wasn’t very stretchy, to sew it. Looking back I am thinking well duh, what did you think would happen? When you are new and are actually in the moment its easy to do something like that. To help you avoid some of the mistakes I made, I want to walk you through a few basic things when it comes to fabric!
There are two basic types of fabric in the apparel world, knits and woven. Below I will go in more depth about each one. I do both online shopping and in store shopping when I buy fabric. If you are new to sewing it may be more helpful to actually shop online for awhile until you get a feel for what you are looking for. I like online shopping because it specifically tells me what type of fabric it is, how stretchy it is, and even what it is good for. There are so many different types of fabrics under the knit/woven umbrella. If a pattern calls for rayon, you can simply search rayon fabrics and sift through what pops up. Where as when you are at the store you have to have a general idea what type of fabric is what, or you are look at every single tag. I love shopping at Girl Charlee (affiliate link), Raspberry Creek Fabrics, and Fabric.com. They all have really good descriptions of the fabric, leaving online shopping super easy. Art Gallery has really amazing knits, along with the club line at Raspberry creek. It is a very high quality fabric.
Knits are stretchy fabric. Knits tend to be a bit harder to work with since they stretch and roll sometimes, but they are the most comfortable to wear! Not all knits are created equal. Depending on what type of knit you are dealing with, it could be super stretchy or hardly stretchy at all. Knowing the properties of the knit you are using is very important for the outcome of what you are making. Here are a few things to consider when using knits:
- Weight: There are different weights of knits. Heavier weights such as ponte, interlock, double knit, cotton spandex are great for working with more structured garments. Lightweight knits work best for garments that are flowy.
- Stretch percentage: When making a knit garment, the pattern will usually tell you what stretch percentage you need in your knit. Stretch percentage is important because if the pattern is designed for a very stretch knit and you use a not very stretch knit, it won’t fit right. It will be pretty tight and may not even fit over your head. On the other hand, if you use a fabric that is too stretchy for the pattern, it may hang in places it is not supposed to and be a little bit too big. To figure out the stretch percentage of a fabric, see the chart below.
- 2 way vs 4 way stretch: There are two ways knits can stretch. Some knits only stretch one way (horizontally when selvages are laying together) and some stretch both horizontally and vertically. If your knit only stretches one way, you want to make sure the stretch is going horizontally across your body. If there is a four way stretch you can technically place the pattern wherever you want, but usually the horizontal stretch is still the greatest. You need to use four way stretch when making garments that hug the body tightly, like leggings or swimwear.
- Stretch Recovery: Stretch recovery is how well will the knit take shape again after being stretched out. This is important because you want your garments to retain their shape and not stay stretched out. You can test your knit by stretching it and observing if it goes back to original length. If it stays stretched out slightly it doesn’t have very good recovery. Anything with spandex in it has really good stretch recovery.
Direction of Stretch Chart:
**To manually calculate your stretch percentage take the length of your fabric fully stretched divided by the original length minus one. For example the original length is 3″. You stretch it to 4″. You take 4 divided by 3= 1.33 minus 1 = .33, so the stretch percentage would be 33%.**
Woven fabrics are fabrics that don’t stretch. Woven fabrics tend to be easier to work with than knits making them perfect for beginners.
- Weight: Like with knits, woven comes in different weights as well. Light and medium weight make great kimonos, breezy tops, flowy dresses, etc. Depending on the fabric, you may need to line skirts/dresses when working with certain lightweight fabrics. Heavier weight makes good coats, jeans, etc.
- Drape: Drape is important when selecting a fabric if you are making a garment that is flowy. Quilting cotton typically isn’t a good selection for sewing clothes because it has bad drape. Drape basically means how well will the garment hang. To test a fabric’s drape, you can hold it up so it hangs. Observe how well it hangs. Does it stay rigid or does is softly and gently hang? If you want your garment to flow well and hang softly, you will want a good amount of drape. If it is more of a structured or close fitting garment, drape isn’t super important.
- Grain direction: There are three different ways to cut your fabric. Along the grain, cross grain, or on the bias. Most garments are cut parallel to the grainline. This means the salvaged edges are running parallel to the pattern piece. Cross grain means the salvaged edges are perpendicular to the grain. Bias means the fabric is cut at a 45 degree angle to the selvage. The direction fabric is cut is crucial to the way a garment will fit once sewn up. The pattern pieces will have a arrow guiding you on how to lay your pieces yon the grain.