Last week I gave you the beginner’s low-down on sewing machines and I’ve been struggling to decide what to give you next. There’s sooooo much out there and I’m trying to push through the noise and give you exactly what you need to know to get you sewing at your machine. I was originally going to go through hand sewing techniques, needles and thread but I’ve been to-ing and fro-ing and think the next thing to address would be the thing that we all want to get our hands on first. The substance of our sewing; FABRIC!!!
Let’s get the terminology done first. There are a few words that crop up in patterns all the time and some of the words are fairly similar, it’s easy to mix them up.
SELVAGE or SELVEDGE – They mean exactly the same thing just Selvage is normally the American terminology and Selvedge is European. All patterns and pattern pieces will refer to the selvedge, especially when laying out and cutting the fabric. It is the edge of the fabric that looks tightly woven and usually feels a little different to the rest of the fabric. Its purpose is to stop the fabric from unravelling and there are always 2. In knit fabric, the selvedge is sometimes glued to stop the edge from curling.
GRAIN – The grain refers to the way that the fabric is woven together with the threads. There are 2 types of grain. The crosswise grain and the lengthwise grain. Most pattern pieces will have a long line with arrow heads either side and the word Grainline above it, which refers to the lengthwise grain; this should match with the grainlines of the fabric; parallel with the selvedge.
WARP AND WEFT – These terms refer to the directions of the threads of the fabric that make up the grain. You don’t need to worry too much about them as a beginner, but for those that like the knowledge like me, the WEFT threads run from left to right. I tend to think Weft = Left (to right). WARP threads run up and down the fabric; this makes me think of Star Trek and warp speed (I did mention I was a big geek didn’t I?) The warp threads are stronger than the weft threads.
BIAS – This is the direction diagonal or 45° to the weave of the fabric. Bias is is used in woven fabric to make it more elastic, drape or hang in a different way and has a bit more movement than being cut on the grain.
There are thousands of fabrics available to us and it can make it completely overwhelming to decide on your purchase. I can quite honestly spend hours looking at fabric online – when I get a project and I’m looking for fabric to go with it, I get the FOMO (fear of missing out – it’s a thing you know) and trawl through loads of sites and fabrics, make notes of my favourites and then whittle it down from there. There are things to look for though and some knowledge can go a long way in helping you make your decision, because there’s nothing like choosing the wrong fabric for the right project – but then again, you could end up with a masterpiece.
Fabrics and how they are made are categorised. I’ve put together this graphic to help you understand a little about the basics of the materials and where they come from. Click here to pin it. There are of course many more blends of fabrics out there than I’ve mentioned here; but hopefully this will give you a good starting point.
The next big question is WOVEN or KNIT?
Woven fabrics are created by threads being woven together on a loom. They form a criss-cross pattern within the fabric which is pretty hard to see, it depends on the type of woven you’re looking at.
They unravel quite easily, so the raw edges fray easily, using pinking shears or stitching all the way around the fabric piece you are using can help reduce the amount the fabric frays. I’ve often stuck cotton fat quarters in the washing machine to pull them out and the threads all be wrapped and knotted together requiring me to cut them free. It doesn’t have a massive impact pre-washing before cutting, but you definitely want to make sure those raw edges are finished in some way in your finished garment or item; imagine what’ll happen next time they go in the machine! They don’t stretch easily(unless cut on the bias, which gives them a little bit of give), they lie flat and don’t move very much when cutting and press really nicely. This makes wovens absolutely perfect for a beginner sewist. Everything I have made so far has been a woven. As I’m typing this I have just delved into my first ever knit fabric; which I’ll tell you all about next blog post.
Examples of wovens are:
- Cotton – You can pretty much make anything with cotton; quilts, shirts, purses, dresses, you name it. Really easy to work with. Washes & presses well and you’ll find it blended with lots of the other woven fabrics I mention below.
- Canvas – Fairly coarse and hard wearing. Perfect for tote bags and upholstery.
- Chiffon – Very lightweight and shear. Used mostly as an overlay for it’s floaty quality. Perfect for evening wear, blouses and scarves. Drapes beautifully but can be really fiddly and difficult to work with because of how lightweight and sheer it is.
- Corduroy – Has a very distinctive pattern called a cord or “wale” which creates ridges that run parallel to one another on the fabric. It comes in different wale widths eg: 8 wale, 21 wale etc which relates to the number of cords per inch. The higher the number, the softer and less visible the cords become. Perfect for dungarees, dungaree dresses, jackets, trousers and bags. It does shed a fair bit, so be prepared for that It also has nap which means that if the fabric is brushed in a certain direction it changes the look and shade of the material. Be aware of this when cutting. Give it a good stroke to see which direction you would like it to run.
- Crepe – Lightweight and floaty fabric perfect for blouses, shirts, culottes, trousers – anything that you want to have lots of movement. Lovely for summer months because of how cool it stays.
- Denim – medium and heavy in weight, really hard wearing. Perfect for jeans, jackets and bags.
- Drill – Strong, dense, breathable and comfortable. Used a lot for work-wear because it is so durable. Can come in some really vibrant colours and is good value.
- Gabardine – A thicker woven fabric ideal for suits. Heavier gabardines are perfect for coats and jackets.
- Georgette – or crepe Georgette is sheer, lightweight and is muted in colour.It is crinkly and feels slightly rough. Very flowy and very pretty. Perfect for luxurious nightwear, blouses, dresses, evening gowns and saris.
- Lawn – very fine plain cotton, silky and soft. It is lightweight and slightly see through. Lovely for blouses and lined dresses in the summer months.
- Poplin – Can be made from wool, cotton, silk, rayon, polyester or a mixture. It’s lightweight and cool, making it perfect for summer shirts and dresses. It’s smooth silky and very breathable. Usually has 2 different types of yarn threads weaved together; one in the weft and one in the warp.
- Taffeta – crisp, smooth and plain, made from silk that has that gorgeous swish and rustle sound when it moves. A high end fabric often used in ball gowns and wedding dresses. It is often used in curtains and upholstery too because it holds its shape and adds luxury to any room.
Knit fabrics are created by one continuous yarn made up of threads that are then looped together; making them super stretchy, lovely and soft and often really breathable too. With that though brings a few other issues that we have to tackle when sewing with them. The edges tend to curl which can make matching raw edges a little tricky. They are easily stretched out, not only when they are left hanging, but also when they go through the sewing machine. Most sewing machines only have one set of feeds that pull the fabric through which is underneath the bottom piece of fabric. This can mean that that bottom piece gets pulled through quicker and easier than the one on top. This can lead to the piece of fabric on top stretching out a bit and the raw edges wont match up. A walking foot can really help with this. Used mostly by quilters, the walking foot has a separate set of feed dogs that work with the machines feed dogs and sit on top of the top piece of fabric so that they 2 pieces of fabric to be sewn together go through the machine at the same time, easily. I use mine pretty much all of the time now. Even for wovens because the results I’m getting with it are better, particularly when I have a fair few layers of fabric with some thickness to them. Always be mindful of the weight of knit fabrics when ordering online. Something too lightweight can be nearly see-through and not what you’re after. If in doubt, contact the retailer you’re buying from to ask, or better still, order a sample so that you can know for sure.
You’ll also probably see that when people and patterns talk about knit fabric, they also talk about “serging the raw edges”. As a beginner and even a little further on, DO NOT worry about this. Serger’s are machines that sew and cut the fabric at the same time. It makes working with knits much faster, but it most certainly isn’t necessary to have one. I don’t have one and I’ve not had the pleasure of using one yet, but to be honest, I would actually prefer to upgrade my sewing machine, than buy a serger at the moment.
Examples of knits are:
- Cotton Jersey – Most common type of knit, ranges from lightweight to heavy, great for T-shirts.
- Cotton Ribbed – Super-duper stretchy which makes it pretty clingy. Often used for cuffs and necklines
- French Terry – Great for lounge wear, hoodies, sweat pants and super cosy. “Flat” on the right side and has visible loops on the wrong side. Very soft and has a nice drape to it too.
- Ponte di Roma – A thicker knit fabric that has a lovely drape and is lovely and soft. Feels quite luxurious and not too clingy either. Stretchiness can vary, but it is pretty sturdy, making it a little easier to work with. Perfect for Autumn and Winter makes like cardigans, jumpers and dresses.
- Sweatshirt Fleece – smooth on the right side and fleecy on the wrong side, not super stretchy, making it easier to work with. Has a good drape but beware of bulk in the seam allowances.
- Cotton Interlock – Great for a beginner knit because it’s a little thicker, making it more stable to sew. Perfect for skirts and dresses in the Autumn and Winter.
- Cotton Lycra & Spandex – The small amount of lycra/spandex in the fabric means that they stretch and then recover; go back to their original shape really well. Cool and breathable, making them perfect for spring layering and the summer months; make t-shirts, vest tops, and skirts. The raw edges of this fabric curls quite a bit, but that means you can leave them un-hemmed for a relaxed look.
- Jersey Rayon Spandex – lighter in weight than the cotton spandex so ideal for sewing children’s t-shirts and layering for those summer months. Curls a lot at the raw edges making it harder to sew.
- Lycra Spandex – Really stretchy and is heavier in weight, smooth and shiny, it is perfect for swimwear, dance-wear and active-wear.
There are many more fabrics to explore and lots I haven’t mentioned, but I hope that this gives you a good guide to start to get to know what you’re looking for and when patterns recommend certain types of fabrics. If you don’t find what you’re looking for here, or want to know more about other fabrics I haven’t mentioned, go check out my pinterest board; Different Fabrics, patterns and their names
If you’re not so sure where to buy your fabrics from, here are some of my favourites: (I am not affiliated with any of them, but I do love them)
- Elephant in my Handbag
- 1st for Fabrics LTD
- BST Fabrics
- Pin and Sew UK
- Empress Mills
- Girl Charlee
One last thing to mention is that when using different fabrics, you do need to be aware of what needle you’re using. I’ll go in to all that in the next beginner’s blog post.
Now for the giveaway!!!!
I’ve been thinking about this for a few weeks and just to celebrate the fact that I have a blog out and it’s in its fourth week, that there are a few people reading it and I want to THANK YOU SO SO SO SO MUCH!!!! Plus Christmas is coming up and we all need a stunner accessory to coincide with our Christmas outfit. SO, here it is – I am doing a giveaway for this handmade Roxy Wallet. This Christmas spectacular will stave off all of your sparkly cravings. It’s a really beautiful wallet and I hope the winner loves it as much as I do. I may even add in a couple of sewing goodies too. Photo’s don’t do the real thing any justice. Good luck.
To be in with a chance of winning, all you have to do is:
- -Like this blog post
- -Leave me a comment
- -For an extra entry to win head over to Instagram and follow me there
The giveaway is completely of my own doing and not in affiliation with anyone else. It will be open to people on Instagram and Facebook as well.
The winner will be announced on Wednesday 5th December at 3pm.
Happy sewing beautiful people.