Fabric choice can really make or break a garment. Not just the color or pattern, but the kind of fabric you use.
I remember begging my mom to sew a pattern intended for knits with a woven, or a flowy top with ponte roma… of course she would try to explain that it wouldn’t work, but the begging continued!
It’s not until you use the WRONG fabric that you really understand using a fabric other than what is suggested in a pattern that you’re going to alter the final outcome. It will fit and look different than intended. I almost feel like it’s a right of passage to make a few mistakes with fabric choice to really understand how important it can be! But, I will try to help you out before you make those mistakes 😉
There are TONS of fabric types out there… I mean A LOT… too many for most seamstresses to remember. But if you can familiarize yourself with what the fabric will look like made up (how it will drape and fit) then you can really help yourself when picking fabrics for a project. Feeling fabric for the amount of stretch, thickness and drape will help you pair it with the right pattern. Once you get to know the fabrics you like, you can more easily order them online for a bigger variety.
I have sewn up the exact same pattern in the same size, modeled on the same body to help show how different weights and fabric types can affect the fit and look of a garment.
I sewed up a ton of the new P4P release, the Sweet Tee, because it is such an easy, quick sew and has a semi-fitted silhouette so it can take a wide range of stretch and be wearable. So, here we go!
I will start with the fabrics with the most drape. Drape is a term meaning how the fabric falls to the body when worn. Fabrics with soft drape will be fluid and drape towards your body. Think looser fits. They will fall beautifully, and still show off your curves without needing to be tight at all. This is my FAVORITE kind of fabric for myself. I love a little looser fit with a drapey fabric. It means I can feel comfortable (not sucking in all day ;)) with a looser fit, but still not look sloppy or like I’m wearing baggy clothes- I still want to show my curves a little to be flattering. But, this is a very personal preference of course! My sister prefers more stable knits for her tees usually. Think about what shirts/garments you like and how that fabric feels and drapes and it will help you understand what you prefer!
Slub Jersey. One of my favorites to work with, it doesn’t have a ton of stretch (which makes cutting and assembling a bit easier), but has drape because it is thin and lightweight. It is light and airy to wear, but doesn’t cling and show off every lump and bump. Another fabric that fits in here would be a lightweight poly/cotton jersey blend :).
Very thin sweater knit on beige and a lightweight rayon spandex on back. You can see on both these that they drape under my bust towards my body/waist showing off curves. The loose-ness around the hips doesn’t look flared, but just relaxed. Both are a little harder to work with during cutting and assembling. The very thin sweater knit usually needs some extra support in the seams baring any weight (like shoulder seams). You can use a clear elastic to reinforce them so they don’t stretch out with wear. The rayon spandex blends are one of my all time favorites as well- I used to want my mom to make me every thing in it 😉 . It has a slinkier feel because it has such a soft drape and can be difficult to fold on grain and cut without some movement. Rayon blends are also notorious for being “clingy”, because they drape so much they also tend to show lumps and bumps you might now want to show. So, I tend to pick rayon blends for a looser fit I know has plenty of room to not cling. Or a tight fit I know will be showing off everything anyways.
Tissue Jersey on front and rayon spandex blend on back. The tissue jersey is a bit of mix, it is not at stretchy and fluid as the others, but so lightweight that is still has some good drape. But the very thin fabric also showed my bra line a bit in front there as well, so you take the good with the bad sometimes with the thin stuff ;). I like the light airy feel of tissue jersey living in a hot climate.
ITY Knit– Ity knit is a poly blend that is knitted to have a smooth face, soft drape and lots of stretch. It’s commonly used in RTW for maxi dress and skirts b/c its flows so nicely. It tends to not be as “clingy” as a rayon blend and usually a little thicker weights (although all fabrics can be found in different weights). I like an Ity knit, especially for a nicer look. When I taught kinder and wore more professional attire Ity was a great, comfortable fabric that looks a bit dressed up even with a simple tee silhouette.
On to the sweater knits! I love a sweater knit for fall, winter and even early spring! Most sweater knits have good drape, especially light to medium weight sweater knits. They tend to be thicker than a rayon spandex and might do better if you’re worried about the thin fabric showing/clinging to any lumps/bumps/bra lines.
This is a very light weight sweater knit with almost an open weave. Again, a tad see through, I will wear this one with a cami under after seeing the pictures ;). But the looser weave also feels a little looser in fit, so putting on a cami under doesn’t make it feel too tight for me.
Light weight hacci sweater knit. Again, you can see it drapes under the bust towards the waist for a flattering silheoutte. This sweater knit is plenty thick for me to not worry about having to wear a layer under as well and a bit more comfortable that it doeesn’t show quite as much detail on lumps and bumps too.
Medium weight sweater knit. This is a super soft ribbed sweater knit- It has tons of stretch and drape. As you can see it looks a bit looser because it has so much stretch and drape. I love this for a cozy sweater-I can’t wait to wear it in the fall (here in the hot south we’re already way past sweater weather!) Even though it is a thicker weight it does show my bra lines b/c it’s so drapey.
Medium weight sweater knit. This feels like an acrylic blend (it was bought from a LA detash page- so I’m guessing on content) so it has a little more body to it and doesn’t drape quite as well as the other sweater knits. It also feels a little tighter, because it doesn’t have quite as much stretch as the others. You can see it still drapes on my deeper curves (like my sway back) but goes more straight down from my bust rather then draping under.
Onto more stable knits 🙂
Cotton Spandex/Cotton Lycra. Lycra is a name brand of spandex, so they are essentially the same fabric (much like tissue is to kleenex). This has good stretch and recovery with the spandex in it, but has much more body. Meaning it will not drape towards your body, but stick out more stiff and hold it’s own shape. I prefer to use cotton spandex on tighter fits, since there is no need for drape. I find it not very flattering on a looser fit because it doesn’t drape under bust as well and will feel a bit tighter due to the thicker, more stable feel. A lot of seamstress love this fabric because it is easy to find in great prints and a wide variety of colors, as well as a bit easier to work with because it is thicker. And I love it for youth, but not for myself. If we can all gang up on the knit companies to print their amazing customs on fabric with more drape I’ll sign the petitions 😉 I just can’t feel great in most cotton spandex shirts. I didn’t even hem this one because I knew it would quickly be cut up into something for baby girl! With that said, my sister likes a cotton spandex tee because she doesn’t like her fabric to drape to her waistline/under her bust. She prefers the more stable knit. Again, all personal prefence and learning to pair it with the right pattern for yourself!
Stretch French Terry. This is a medium weight french terry with good horizontal stretch. French terry is a very popular fabric right now, and I share the love of it! But when using french terry you need to be aware that it doesn’t have great drape. As you can see, it doesn’t fall under the bust to the body, but straight down. And my sway back pooling is much more obvious. It feels tighter on as well even though it has some stretch because it is thicker. Now there are some with rayon in the blend which helps give it drape. But most french terrys are much more stable on the knit spectrum and do better as something that needs a thicker, more stable fabric like pants, shorts, jackets, sweatshirts, etc… I added a cowl on this one for a fall/winter look since french terry is a thicker, warmer fabric.
Liverpool. This is also a very popular fabric right now. It is a poly spandex blend with high horizontal stretch and a texture on the right side. It has a feeling close to scuba/techno/neoprene. It is a more stable knit without much drape. This is better suited for something that needs stretch and stability, like a tighter dress, pencil skirt, ect. It does not have good drape, as you can see it goes straight down from my bust instead of falling toward my body under towards my waist. It also makes the tiny “wings” on the dolman very bulky/poofy. I was sad to cut into this gorgeous liverpool for this example, because I knew it wasn’t a great match for this pattern-but for the good blog post I did it!!! I hopefully still have enough for something that does work well with it! It is also all polyester, so it doesn’t breathe well. So, for me in TX I can only handle a thick poly knit during winter months.
Ponte Roma would also belong in this high stretch, but more stable category. It is a poly, rayon, spandex blend and is great for the same things: tighter dresses, pencil skirts, pants, etc.
Pictures coming soon!
Cotton Jersey. This is a thinner cotton jersey. It doesn’t have a lot of stretch or recovery since there is no spandex in it. It doesn’t have great drape. This is thinner cotton jersey so it has a touch of drape just because it is thin, but anything medium weight is considered more a “t-shirt jersey” without much drape or stretch at all (think traditional t-shirts). I like this best for boys and men. I don’t love drape on a man usually, they’re shirts are cut straight and they are meant to hang pretty straight as well (Unless they have some amzing abs to show off 😉 ). For myself though I don’t love cotton jersey, but I do use it for a traditional t-shirt style from time to time. Notice is looks and feels tighter because it has very little stretch. it also sticks out from bust and booty instead of draping towards body. I have a sway back, which I didn’t alter for here (you can see the pooling of fabric on my lower back) and it is much more obvious in a stable knit then a soft, drapey knit. So if you’re still learning to perfectly alter for your body shape more stable knits are less forgiving to those alterations you may need, including full bust adjustments. I do have some tees in a jersey I love though, I like to pair it with something only semi-fitted throughout the whole body so it doesn’t feel too tight on my chest and doesn’t miss the drape on a looser area.
From top- the more stretch and drape the looser and more flowy it will look – to the bottom–the more stable and less stretch will be more stiff and tighter feeling garment. Keeping this general rule in your mind when pairing fabric to patterns will help you decide what will give you the best look and fit!
This isn’t even close to all the fabric choices that are out there, but I tried to include the most popular knits I see in the shops and being asked about in the P4P group on a daily basis! I hope it helps you when picking fabric to pair with a pattern for the perfect look and outcome!
And remember that practice makes perfect- so if you make a few garments with the wrong fabric choice, use it as a great learning experience and know you’re a better/more knowledgeable seamstress after that mistake 😉
Thanks for this post! It gives me a much needed guide in the right direction. I made one SFR and it fit great but the next didn’t. I’m looking forward to another win with the third. My daughter gets the second.
Melanie Morin says
As a beginner seamstress, I have found this blog post very interesting and I have learned a lot! Learning how to sew is so much more than just sewing a straight line. Understanding fabric and how it will impact the final product is very important as well. Thank you!
GREAT information, thank you thank you!
I haven’t sewn one of your patterns lately (I blame the baby), so I can’t remember if you include this information in your pattern, but I find it INCREDIBLY helpful when pattern designers include information on what types of fabrics work great and what types work so-so. Makes it so much easier for me to make something I love.
This post was amazing! Thanks for taking the time to explain all these fabrics, and show samples. SO helpful! I have not sewn clothes regularly for about 15 years, so getting back into all these fabrics takes time. Thanks again!