How to Choose the Best Fabric for a Particular Sewing Pattern
Once you have found the perfect sewing pattern for what you want to make, your choice in fabric is just as important. In order to achieve the best results from your sewing project, it is important to know how to choose the best fabric for a particular sewing pattern. Most patterns sold are going to be for clothing but there are also numerous other sewing projects for which patterns are made. Let’s start by looking at choosing fabric for clothing projects before tackling the rest.
The Right Fabric for Your Clothes
The fabric determines how the final product performs, how well it will wear, what type of care it will require, and how you will feel when you wear it. We all have those favorite pieces of clothing that we go to repeatedly and continue to wear them until they are no longer functional or modest! It is the combination of pattern and fabric that makes them such a good choice.
The first place to start is with the back of the sewing pattern envelope. It will list you how much fabric you will need according to the width of the fabric and the size of garment you will be making so you don’t purchase too much or too little for your project. You will also find several types of fabrics listed that are recommended for the style of the pattern. While there is no law that says you can’t stray from the recommendations, this information will give you a good guideline to follow based on whether the recommendations are stretch or woven, how heavy they are, and their ability to drape.
Stretch vs Woven
The most obvious difference between fabrics is that between woven and stretch (knitted). Some garments such as t-shirts and bathing suits are always made of stretch fabrics so that they can be pulled on without the use of fasteners and they regain their shape once you get them on.
Woven fabrics, on the other hand, have little or no “give” to them and they must be cut and sewn into the desired shape. Openings that re-fasten with zippers, buttons, or snaps must be implemented into the pattern before it will work.
Some of the sewing patterns you can buy are designed specifically for use with stretch fabrics and you shouldn’t attempt to make the garment out of woven instead. In addition to the reasons above, these two types of fabrics are also different in other ways. While wovens usually come in a 44/45” width, stretch fabrics are usually 60” wide. That means that the recommended layout on the guide inside the pattern will differ from what it would be with wovens, too.
You are more likely to be successful using knit fabric to make a garment that is normally made from woven fabric than the reverse. For example, it isn’t uncommon to see knit jackets that are made to go with casual pants or jeans. Just be aware of areas that will need some extra support. Use a heavy front interfacing to support buttonholes and buttons and across the tops of any outside pockets to keep them from sagging.
If you have a standard sewing machine, you may have more trouble than you bargained for when you start to sew your knit garment together. The best way to sew knits is with an overlock machine that cuts the selvage from the fabric as you sew and forms a chain stitch over the edge to retain the stretchiness of the fabric after stitching and prevent the fabric from raveling out. If your machine has a stretch stitch, it may be dependable enough to use occasionally but if you plan to make a lot of knits, it may be time to invest in a serger.
The weight of the fabric is obvious by touch. Cotton Denim, canvas, heavyweight wools, poplin, and corduroy are examples of heavy weight fabrics. You can feel the weight and thickness just by holding them. Pants, outerwear, and winter weight dresses are commonly made of these materials because they hold their original shape and provide warmth.
Medium weight fabrics like velvet, broadcloth, taffeta, oxford, and sateen are often recommended to making blouses, shirts, skirts, or other garments that require some flexibility. A blouse wouldn’t be very comfortable made from canvas and it wouldn’t allow you much room to move. On the other hand, a medium weight fabric gives adequate flexibility while also holding details like pleats and gathers in a way that will make the garment more appealing to the eye.
Chiffon, organza, voile, lace, cheesecloth, and mesh are some examples of light weight fabrics. Many are also quite delicate, meaning that they are easy to pick or tear. Women’s clothing is more often made from these fabrics because of the feminine appearance that it gives. When choosing the fabric for a highly detailed pattern, such as multiple pleats or pintucking, lightweight fabrics are not always the best choice. The more stitching you do, the more likely you are to damage the fabric.
Lightweight fabrics that are too sheer to use as a garment can still be used to add interest to a blouse or skirt. We see this method used all the time in wedding gowns. Sheer layers of organza are layered over a satin or taffeta dress to give the dress a dreamy appeal that also coordinates with the wedding veil.
The same method can be used in creating everyday clothes without the limitation of using white fabrics. Organza or chiffon may be purchased with embroidered designs or you can use your sewing machine to create your own. Even if your pattern recommends using medium to heavy weight fabrics, you may be able to add a sheer layer to create a completely different look.
It is also important to note that there are many fabrics that have lighter or heavier versions that may be more or less appropriate for the pattern. Denim has become so popular over the years that you can find it in light, medium, and heavy weights for making any type of garment. Base your decisions on how thick and heavy a fabric feels in comparison to the others to make the best choice.
The drape of a fabric is the way it hangs. You could almost say it is a measure of liquidity, its ability to flow. Most fabrics with good drape are lightweight, with those like chiffon and organza having the best drape. Naturally, a pattern that is fitted is not going to require a fabric that has a lot of drape while one that has large, flowing sleeves or a draped neckline demands a fabric with a lot of drape.
Look at the pattern for any details where there are likely to be any “folds” of fabric. If there are, then you need a lightweight fabric with a good drape that will suit the pattern without adding a lot of weight.
It is easy to get an idea of how much drape different fabrics have before you buy the fabric for your pattern. Unroll enough of the fabric from the end of the bolt to hold at least a foot of the fabric in your hands. With the length of fabric extended between your hands, start bringing your hands closer together.
What does the excess fabric do? Fabric with good drape will gather into folds at the bottom. Those with less or no drape will create a vertical fold that stands out in your direction or fold into itself in the center.
Most bolts of fabric list the care on the end of the bolt. Fabrics have changed a great deal today and many that were always dry clean only in the past are now machine washable. Don’t pass up a wool fabric for your suit pattern based on its cleaning method until you know that it really is a problem.
When purchasing natural fibers like cotton, wash the fabric before cutting the pattern out so that shrinking takes place before you sew. Also keep in mind that 100% cotton fabrics may have to be ironed frequently and some synthetics such as rayon have to be ironed with care and can actually burn or melt if they come into direct contact with the iron. The last thing you want to do is choose a fabric for a piece of casual clothing that ends up needing special treatment.
Choosing Fabric for Other Projects
There are many patterns available today for making household items so that you can spend less, customize your designs, and take pride in your accomplishments every time you use them! These patterns may be for curtains and drapes, tablecloths and placemats, throw cushions for the sofa or the patio, or decorative items that provide the perfect accent.
Choosing the fabrics for these projects can be a lot simpler with a few issues to keep in mind. If you are making curtains or drapes, you have the option to use traditional upholstery fabrics for professional looking draperies or one of those fun poly/cotton prints to make curtains for the kitchen. Whichever option you choose, don’t neglect the lining. Otherwise, the light from the sun could fade your curtains and leave them looking shabby in no time.
Any time you line a fabric that will be laundered, the lining should have similar properties with regards to all the details listed above. If either fabric is prone to shrinking, it should be laundered prior to sewing to make sure it doesn’t end up puckering and ruining the shape.
When making items for outdoor use, such as cushions and pillows for the patio, get a good quality outdoor material that is water-resistant and treated to resist UV light. Although your choices may be limited as far as colors and designs, regular fabrics are not going to hold up under any type of harsh weather. Also, take the items indoors during winter or else keep them securely covered to protect them when not in use.
Bringing It Together
Once you have a better understanding of what sets fabrics apart and the different ways that they behave, you will be able to look at any sewing pattern with a different perspective. Look at the image on the envelope to determine how the fabric hangs, the special details, and the fit of the garment to determine what you need from your fabric. You can also work in the opposite direction if you find a fabric that you just love. Choosing a pattern that will use its qualities to advantage will now be an easier task and it will make sewing it even more enjoyable.