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A Beginner's Guide to Sewing - Fabrics

A Beginner's Guide to Sewing - Fabrics

Fabrics are made when fibres are twisted into threads and those threads are woven or knitted into a sheet. Fabrics vary by the type of fibre used, the method with which they are knitted or woven and the treatments we give the fabric. There are so many varieties of fabrics and so much to learn, but let’s start with the basics.


When you walk into a fabric store you will find most of the fabrics on large rolls, like wrapping paper. You choose the fabric you would like and carry it to the desk, where an assistant will cut the amount you would like. Small projects like cushion covers will need approximately half a metre, tops and shirts will need a metre to a metre and a half, and large projects such as curtains or dresses with lots of layers will need considerably more.


It is easy to be swept up in the colour and feel of fabrics, but what you first have to consider is the weave. Knits are stretchy and very comfortable, but often aren’t sturdy enough to use for soft furnishings or smart enough for dressy garments. A plain weave is the easiest to sew as it doesn’t stretch and isn’t slippery. A twill weave is similar but on close inspection has a diagonal stripe pattern. Denim is a common twill weave fabric, since this weave is very hard wearing and jeans were originally work clothes. Satin weaves are shiny and soft to the touch, but this means they will slide around a lot while you sew them. Despite this, their finished appearance is very impressive, hence their use in neckties and ball gowns.


Once you have decided what type of weave or knit you want, you must consider the fibre:

- Cotton is the most versatile fibre – it is soft, absorbent, and suitable for both warm weather and cold weather clothing.

- Polyester is often combined with cotton to produce a ‘polycotton’. These are cheaper than cotton, but since cotton is a more comfortable fabric to wear you should try to get a high percentage of cotton if possible.

- Viscose (also known as rayon) is a semi-synthetic fabric, meaning it is partially natural. It is made by using chemicals to break down cellulose from plants and trees. Viscose is mostly used for clothing.

- Silk comes from the fibres silkworms create to build their cocoons. The fibre reflects light beautifully, producing a shiny fabric mostly used for evening wear.

- Nylon, like polyester, is a plastic fibre. It is used to make tights and was particularly useful during World War Two, when it was used to make parachutes, tents and rope.


Fabric treatments are a great technological advancement in the world of textiles. Some examples are; waterproofing fabric for rain jackets or tents by spraying them with silicone, or microencapsulating liquids in fabric, such as using a moisturising oil in a pair of tights. Treating a fabric can make it more suitable for the job you want it to do, which increases the usability of your finished product.


Now that you know how fabrics are made you can pick the one that best suits your project. Then you get to do the fun bit – picking the colours and prints that look the coolest!


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