Fabric for Beginners Part Five: Types of Synthetic Fabrics

Hello sewists!

I hope your head isn’t spinning too badly from the three posts about common and useful cotton fabrics (one, two, three), because it’s time to talk about more fabrics! Today I’ll focus on synthetic fabrics which are often an inexpensive alternative to natural fabrics.

You probably are pretty familiar with polyester, but there are a wide variety of synthetic fabrics available that mimic or enhance natural textiles. Some are used for very specific purposes while others can be adapted to different garments and crafts and blended with other textiles to create a unique fabric. Here is a basic guide to some of the most common synthetic fabrics you’re likely to encounter.

  • Acetate
    Acetate is commonly used in garment lining, which is a handy thing to know when you're learning to sew - Sew Me Your StuffAcetate is commonly used in garment lining, which is a handy thing to know when you're learning to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff
    Acetate is a fabric made from cellulose with a silky and lustrous appearance. In clothing it is most often found as the lining for garments like dresses, skirts, and other formal or professional wear. Garments containing acetate usually have to be dry cleaned, so as a beginner you may want to stick to lining materials that can be washed in the machine.
  • Acrylic
    Acrylic fabric has some good properties, but natural fibers are probably a better option for someone learning to sew. - Sew Me Your Stuff
    Acrylic fabric is often used to imitate wool or cashmere or in babies’ clothing because it can be cleaned repeatedly without wearing as much as most fabrics. It’s more often used in knitting than in sewing and in home decor. I have never used acrylic since I started sewing, and I feel like a beginner probably will have little use for it and would be better off sticking to natural textiles.
  • Nylon
    Nylon Fabric is a very common synthetic fabric but may not be the best choice for someone learning to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff
    Nylon is one of the oldest truly synthetic fabrics, and it has a million uses. It can be found in home decor, outerwear, athletic wear, swimwear, and even bridal gowns because of its versatility. It’s highly durable and resistant to environmental damage, so it’s often used in outdoor gear. Some say that nylon is a good choice for beginners because it’s inexpensive and versatile, but lots of extra care has to be taken to sew nylon successfully. It can’t be pressed or pinned which are techniques that beginners need to learn, so I would recommend saving nylon for later!
  • Polyester
    Polyester is a really common synthetic fabric that can be very useful for beginners learning to sew - Sew Me Your StuffPolyester is a very common synthetic fabric that can be useful for beginners learning to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff
    I’ve known some girls who have tried to cut polyester from their wardrobes completely, but I’m not sure that’s possible anymore. Polyester can be found in a wide array of garments and mixed with other fibers to create many different fabrics. I think most people associate polyester with imitation silk and don’t realize how versatile it actually is (Side note: If you’re not sure if a garment is polyester or silk, set it on fire. If it burns, it’s silk; if it melts, it’s polyester. Learned that one in China!). As a beginner, polyester can be a good choice because it’s so inexpensive, but I would still recommend avoiding very stretchy knits because those are difficult for beginners. Make sure you use small needles and polyester threads – cotton thread won’t have enough stretch!
  • Rayon
    Rayon is a comfortable and inexpensive synthetic fiber but can be difficult for beginners learning to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff
    Rayon was first introduced as imitation silk, but has since become pretty well known in its own right because it drapes so well and can be used in a wide variety of garments. Rayon is very lightweight and silky which makes for great garments but can cause a lot of headaches for beginners. Beginners using rayon have difficulty cutting the fabric because it slides so much and often need to use interfacing to be able to stitch the  fabric and keep it stable. Maybe after you get more experience sewing stretchy cotton or polyester knits, rayon will be a good choice for making some beautiful garments.

That’s just a quick summary of the most common synthetic fabrics you’ll encounter at your fabric store. The one I would most recommend for beginners is polyester because it’s so inexpensive and versatile. Remember to prewash and preshrink your fabrics, no matter what you’re using!

Happy sewing!

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Fabric for Beginners Part Four: Cotton Fabrics 103

Over the last week or so I’ve shared part one and part two of a basic guide to the most common cotton fabrics, focusing mostly on apparel fabric. Now it is time for part three to wrap it up, and next I’ll talk about some common synthetic fabrics.

If there are any fabrics in particular you would like more information about, let me know!

And now, the last few cotton apparel fabrics I think any beginner sew-er should know:

  • Seersucker
    Seersucker is a cotton fabric with a unique texture but isn't too difficult if you're learning to sew - Sew Me Your StuffSeersucker is a cotton fabric with a unique texture but isn't too difficult if you're learning to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff
    Being from the South, I’m quite familiar with seersucker garments worn in the spring and summer. Funny enough, I was actually told recently by a guy from South Carolina how the unique crinkled texture of seersucker is achieved: the yarn tension is alternated during the weaving process so that certain bunches of yarn clump together and cause the fabric to crinkle. It may look intimidating, but sewing with seersucker is not particularly difficult. It is most often used in men’s clothing but can be used for a wide variety of garments for men, women, and kids.
  • Twill
    Twill fabric is slightly heavy in weight for someone who is learning to sew - Sew Me Your StuffTwill Fabric is slightly heavy in weight for someone who is learning to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff
    Twill is most often identified by the diagonal lines across its surface. It’s most often used for dresswear such as suits and jackets but can also be found in casual bottoms like shorts. It’s a pretty flexible fabric for a lot of different projects, but it is a little heavy for a beginner who’s first learning to sew, and sometimes you have to use a nap pattern which adds a layer of difficulty. After you get the hang of sewing, twill is probably a good choice for projects in the near future!
  • Velveteen
    Velveteen fabric is not particularly difficult if you're learning to sew, but requires some special steps - Sew Me Your Stuff4Velveteen is not particularly difficult if you are learning to sew, but it does require some special steps and care - Sew Me Your Stuff
    There are fabrics made from 100% cotton sold as “velvet,” but what you’re more likely to find is velveteen. It can be used in clothing, but is also great for decorations especially around the holiday. The fabric itself is not difficult to sew, but there are extra steps you have to take to maintain the fabric. You have to lay your pattern out properly to work with the nap, edges need to be finished very well, and when pressing it’s easy to accidentally press the texture out of the fabric. I would recommend holding off on this fabric because of the extra care and sticking to something more low-maintenance. Maybe around the holidays you can grab some velveteen for crafts and projects?
  • Voile
    Voile can make some beautiful garments but is probably too delicate for someone who is learning to sew - Sew Me Your StuffVoile can be used to make beautiful garments, but is probably too delicate for someone who is learning to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff
    Voile is a very delicate sheer fabric that can be used to make draping garments and beautiful dresses. However, it is so delicate that it requires some special care that may be difficult for a beginner. Definitely experiment with this fabric in your future projects, but for now use fabrics that are more durable but still lightweight as you develop your sewing skills!

That’s about it for cotton! There are a wide variety of cotton fabrics from which to choose, but that’s a rundown of what I think are the most common apparel fabrics you’ll encounter in the fabric store. I mentioned before that I didn’t put a lot of emphasis on purely decorative fabrics for upholstery or other furniture, but in the future if you’d like I can cover those as well.

Know Before You Sew: Cotton fabrics tend to shrink when washed, so you’ll need to prewash all cotton fabrics before starting a project. When you buy a cut of fabric, the care instructions are usually written on the bolt so be sure to look at that before you leave. If you buy a remnant, the care instructions are usually on the label.

Happy sewing!

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Fabric for Beginners Part Three: Cotton Fabrics 102

Earlier I wrote this post to begin to introduce you to the various types of cotton fabric from which you can choose and their respective uses. Now it’s time for the thrilling second part of your journey into cotton!

In general I’m focusing on apparel fabrics and shying away from fabrics that are purely for home decor such as bedsheets and tablecloths. If you would like more info on those fabrics, let me know in the comments and I’ll include them in the next section!

  • Gingham
    Gingham fabric is a great choice for children's clothes and kitchen accessories as you learn to sew - Sew Me Your StuffGingham fabric is a great choice for children's clothes and kitchen accessories as you learn to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff
    This woven fabric is typically found in a checkered pattern. You’ll usually find gingham in kitchen settings, either in upholstery or accessories (think of a basket lined with gingham and filled with muffins…delicious blueberry muffins), and it isn’t often used in adult fashion. However it can make great clothing for children during warmer months because it is lightweight and durable enough to withstand playtime. This fabric is not particularly difficult to sew, but because it may have a nap or one-way pattern if you’re not ready to match patterns yet it may be best to go with a solid color fabric for now.
  • Knit
    Cotton knit is a common fabric but can be very challenging if you're learning to sew because it is so stretchy - Sew Me Your StuffCotton knit is a common fabric but can be very challenging if you're learning to sew because it is so stretchy - Sew Me Your Stuff
    You probably are familiar with knit cotton if you have ever owned a T-shirt. You may often hear this fabric referred to as Jersey, but modern jersey fabrics are not exclusively cotton, so it would be best to check the composition of the fabric before you buy. Knit cotton is very stretchy which makes it great for casual wear, but not so great for beginner sew-ers. I have successfully sewn some jersey garments in my day, but it is a headache because the fabric stretching as you stitch can cause issues, and it’s recommended that you use fancy products to do it properly, and all-in-all you should stick with woven fabrics for now. It may seem a little counter-intuitive; I know when I first started I thought T-shirt material must be the easiest to sew since T-shirts are so ubiquitous, but alas that is not the case!
  • Oxford
    Oxford fabric can tax your sewing equipment, so not the best choice for now if you're learning to sew - Sew Me Your Stuff
    Typically used in men’s dress shirts, Oxford is a woven fabric with very narrow stripes. It is a relatively coarse fabric, so very sturdy equipment is needed to sew an Oxford shirt. Probably not the best choice for your first few projects!
  • Poplin
    Poplin is a great choice if you are learning to sew because it does not stretch and is a lightweight fabric - Sew Me Your StuffPoplin is a great choice if you are learning to sew because it does not stretch and is a lightweight fabric - Sew Me Your Stuff
    I bet you a soda you’ve never heard of poplin. I sure hadn’t until I actually started researching cotton fabrics, so either I’m completely oblivious or this fabric is the best-kept secret in the fabric world. Poplin is a thin, breathable, “all-purpose” woven fabric found often in sportswear, mens’ shirts, and uniforms though it can also be used in blouses and dresses as well as decor. Sewing with poplin can be very simple because it doesn’t slide around much as you stitch and it doesn’t stretch. Sounds like a great choice for a beginner!

Check back soon for the final installment of your introduction to cotton fabrics!

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