If you’re fairly new to clothes making, some of the terms relating to fabric might be confusing. Here is a handy guide to help you understand the terminology and get the most from your new-found hobby.
Fabrics can either be made from natural or man-made fibres. Natural fibres come from originate from animals or plants, while manmade fibres are produced through a chemical process. Examples of manmade fibres include nylon and polyester.
Natural fibres are preferred by many for clothes making due to their comfort and breathability. They do have a tendency to shrink though, so pre-washing is advised before dressmaking.
Manmade fibres are generally cheaper than natural ones and can be more durable. They are less prone to shrinkage and dye-running. They might not always be as comfortable as natural fabric, and not as breathable but they are more likely to keep you warm in cold weather.
You don’t have to choose one or the other though, a mixture of both natural and manmade fibres can be used, which is called a blend. An example of this is polycotton, which is a mix of polyester and cotton. It has all the benefits of the easy care of manmade fibres, with the comfort of cotton. There are a large number of such blends, all with different qualities.
You might have heard the term ‘fabric hand’ and wondered what on earth it meant. This expression is used simply to describe how a fabric feels against the skin. It refers to things like: is the fabric stretchy, crisp, heavy or soft? Of course, everyone will feel fabrics in different ways so it’s quite subjective. It’s important to know though, as it affects whether a fabric is suitable for a particular project or not.
As well as fibre and hand, fabrics are also classified by their method of production. Fabrics can either be woven or non-woven.
A woven fabric contains many strands of fibres woven together and interlocking. An example of a woven fabric is Cotton Poplin Fabric. It is produced using a plain weave construction. The fibres will travel in different directions, called warp and weft to create an interlocking piece of material. Cotton poplins are easy to use and very popular. For a wide range, visit http://www.higgsandhiggs.com/fabrics/cotton-poplin-fabric-112cm.html
In a non-woven fabric, there are long fibres which are locked together through processes like chemical, heat, solvent or mechanical means. An example of a non-woven material is felt.
When you’re starting out with dressmaking, it makes sense to choose an easy-to-handle fabric. Woven fabrics are a good choice, especially those with a plain weave construction. These will not need complex seam sewing or any special treatment.
Choosing a plain fabric without complex patterns is another good idea until you’ve got the hang of pattern matching. Otherwise, any mistakes could be highly visible. In the same way, dark colours are preferable as they will disguise any less than perfect stitching while you’re starting out.