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13 things to look for in Fabric for clothes

The factors to consider in fabrics to make clothes, like fabric types, quality, pricing - basically how to make informed choices.
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There are so many types of fabrics available, it is very easy to feel lost in a textile showroom. Usually, the color and patterns attract you first to a fabric. But that is only one element of the fabric.

The way the fabric will feel against your skin, how it will behave when sewing, how it will drape against your body – all these are as important to your fabric buying decision as its color and designs.

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What to consider when getting fabric for clothes

Type of Fabric

First thing is to know what is the type of fabric you have in mind – The textiles available are broadly categorized as natural textiles and synthetic textiles.

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The main Natural textiles are Cotton, Silk, Denim, Flannel, Hemp, Leather, Linen, Velvet, Wool; The synthetic textiles include Nylon, Polyester, Acetate, Acrylic, Polar Fleece, Rayon and Spandex.

Fabrics which are generally classed as natural ( Cotton, Silk, Linen etc) and synthetic (Acrylic, Polyester, Nylon ) and a blend of both are all equally suitable for making clothes.

But some fabrics are a little bit more preferred than others.

Woven fabric is best for making tailored clothes, while knits are best for making form fitting clothes/active wear. Checkout this post for a list of knit fabrics you can use for specific dressmaking projects.

Check out the post on Textiles for more details on what are textiles, different types etc. as well as this post on the 20 questions to ask about a fabric’s quality.

If you want to know the names of each different type of fabrics you can check out this post on Fabric names – a Glossary.

These fabrics can be further classified according to the way they are printed, embroidered, woven, dyed & stitched. You also have to consider the weight of the fabric.

Structure of fabric

Problems in buying loosely woven fabrics

Check the weave, people. If the weave is loosely woven you will have a see-through garment and also maybe a weak garment. You will have to consider buying lining for thin fabrics and loosely woven fabrics. Some fabric may look thick, but it may be deceptive.

The manufacturer may have used heavy sizing to make it look thick – just use your nail to scrap the surface and you will see some powdery thing – do not buy this fabric.

Check out this post “what is lining” for details on the need for lining in clothes and the best fabrics for lining.

If you are looking for a see-through fabric have a look at this post on Sheer & Transparent fabrics. You may also want to look at this post on open weave fabrics.

If you are looking for thin fabrics check out this post – 10 best thin and lightweight fabrics for dressmaking.

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If you want a thick and heavyweight fabric check out this post.

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If you are looking to buy stretchable fabric have a look at the different types of stretchy fabrics here.

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If you want some glitz and glamour you will want fabrics with some shine as mentioned in this post.

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If you are looking for fabric with pile here are those.

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And here is the post on the best waterproof or water resistant fabrics for your sewing.

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Sometimes, you may wonder at the fabric you have and doubt its authenticity. There are some tests that professionals use to test the fabric to know its worth and truth. To know more about this check out this post on Fabric testing.

Related posts : What are woven fabrics ; What are natural fabrics ; What are animal fiber fabrics; What are non-woven fabrics; What are synthetic fabrics.

Colorfastness

Ensure that the color of the fabric is even, without any streaks or spots.

You will have to open up and check carefully to see indications of uneven dyeing. There may be spots or color fading on areas especially on the crease line/ fold line.

If you find light colors in some areas, unless it is a design, do not buy – this may indicate that color will fade with washing.

Try a simple test – One way you can test the color of the fabric you are about to buy is to take a small white kerchief or cotton, dampen it and then rub it somewhere on the fabric; If it is good quality the color will not transfer to the fabric/ cotton in your hand. 

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Suitability & Location

Then you have to know the suitability of the fabric for the garment you have in mind. You cannot make a bikini with wool. For exercising, you need fabric that you will be comfortable as you sweat it out.

Check out the fabrics best for exercising in.

Check out the post on the best fabric for wedding dress materials as bridal clothes are a different category than everyday clothes. You may also like to know the best fabrics for making baby clothes.

The occasion and the geography of the place where you will be wearing the dress will play an important part in the choice of fabric. You do not want a woolen garment for a trip to the desert. Or a chiffon dress for a vacation in the skiing resort. Natural textiles are more suitable for the summer climate.

There is the matter of the weather of the place you will be wearing the fabric. You can melt in silk in warm climates especially if it is lined ( though that does not prevent me from buying silk).

For example, in my place where humidity is high with hot weather, I would prefer to always be in loose, lightweight cotton attire than anything else. As I also want UV protection from my garments when I go out, I would choose a densely woven cotton fabric. Even the underwear is better in cotton ( No spandex bands anywhere near the skin). 

Check out the best fabrics suitable for making summer clothes.

Shrinkage

One more consideration when buying the fabric is the way it will shrink after washing. Most fabrics shrink, but different fabrics shrink differently. A safe bet would be to buy at least 10% extra fabric. If you can buy preshrunk fabric, this is the best. Preshrunk fabric will have labels that will say “Sanforized” “Mercerised” etc.

If you are looking for a fabric that will not stretch or lose shape, you can look for the “anti-sag” label. If you are looking for a fabric that will not twist out of shape, you can look for the “anti-twist” label.

Color

Color of the fabric is an important consideration. Make sure that it suits your skin tone very well, not the celebrity you have seen it on. Different tones of the same color can look very different on the same person.

You should preferably shop for fabric in daylight than after sunset. Even if it is daylight in some fabric retailers, it is difficult to see the true color of the fabric. The artificial lighting in the showrooms usually distorts the color. If you are matching the color, like choosing the lining for the main fabric or choosing fabric to add as trim, this is especially important. 

The fabric showrooms will usually have a light well where you can see the fabric in sunlight (or a window with good light from outside). 

Another tip I have read is to crush the fabric in your hands – not the whole, you take a side and bunch it up. The color may seem different now, not the first color you thought it was. Time for re-consideration, maybe!

You will not be able to return the fabric after it is cut from the bolt so do not even try to return it back after going home with it and realizing that it is an altogether different color from what you saw inside.

Are you worried about “What color should I wear?” Checkout the posts on clothing color combinations as well the post on color trends and the factors affecting them for fashion.

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Dimension

When buying a very expensive fabric ,you should consider buying some mull cotton to make a muslin before cutting the costlier fabric, especially if you are making the pattern for the first time.

Most fabrics are about 44″ wide. When you go to buy fabric, estimate how much you want first and then go to the shop. Check out this post to know the answer to this frequently heard question “How much fabric do I need”.

With a fat quarter, you will get an 18″ wide by 22″ long. This measure is used to make a variety of small projects. These are available in the shops I frequent as cut pieces – they are mostly prized low and some of them, when they are last off the bolt, prized very low. You will have to ask the salespersons for pieces like that. Some great bargains can be had this way.

In dressmaking, we buy fabric by the yard/meter. One yard is about .91 meters. In a quarter of a yard, you get a 9″ by 44″ strip of fabric, which is about 22 cm in length. It is always better to buy wider cloth.

According to the width of fabrics, they may be called single-width and double-width. Single width is usually up to 49 inches in width and double width up to 60″. You will have to know the yardage you need for your project before you go shopping.

You can learn more about yard to meter conversion here. Check out this post on reading a tape measure 

Fabric suitability to specific garment


Selecting fabric for sewing Pants 

Choose fabrics that are not too hard or rigid, or you wouldn’t be comfortable in them. Linen, Denim, flannel, For colder climates, choose wool (100% as well as wool blends) – wool tweeds, wool crepe; it basically depends on what pants you are talking about – Tailored trousers, Unstructured Pant, Combined, Jeans. For tailored pants, you can choose wool or wool blends (with rayon). Corduroy is comfortable to wear fabric to choose for pants.

Selecting fabric for sewing for kids

All cotton fabrics are good for kids. You can choose a cotton satin stretch or a cotton twill or cotton satin or lawn. Knit fabrics are also great for kids – you can go for wool knits. Interlock knits are dressmaking knits that stretch across the grain. Avoid synthetic textiles. Check out this post on the best fabric for clothes for babies and children for more detail on this topic.

Selecting fabric for sewing Skirts

 Lightweight cotton is my favorite to sew skirts. Cotton lawn cloth in pretty prints is great. Silk jersey is a great fabric for sewing skirts, as is Ponte Roma knit fabric. You can buy printed silk and rayon in crepe, chiffon, georgette, and charmeuse; Fine knits in rayon, microfiber, and silk. Also, drapey rayons, soft wool, lycra blends, and stretch velvets are all suitable for sewing skirts. 

Selecting fabric for sewing Jackets

Wool (Wool crepe has a great drape and gives enough structure for jackets; wool tweeds are great as well), Linen & Flannel. Velvet (Check out the slouchy velvet blazer tutorial, by the way). Lightweight knits are good for free-flowing jackets like this waterfall jacket pattern

Selecting fabric for sewing dresses

Raw silk, satin, taffeta, velvet, Lace, silk chiffon, and Organza are all great for making dresses. But then it depends on the type of dress too. You can buy medium-weight fabrics with some spandex/elastane added for a fitting bodycon-type dress.

For drapey dresses, you can choose lightweight fabrics. Jersey has a drapey fit like this. Crepe, challis, and charmeuse are all drapey fabrics suited for this style.

Check out these posts : Best fabric for making casual dresses and topsNames of different dresses.

Selecting fabric for sewing lining inside clothes

Rayon, Acetate, and cotton lining materials are popularly used. Check out this post on lining and the fabrics used for making the lining for more details.

Selecting fabric for sewing blouses/ shirts 

Lightweight cotton fabric, Cambric, Chintz, Twill, Faille, Seersucker, Poplin, lightweight woven broadcloth, batiste, linen, eyelet are good for making shirts and blouses. I love chiffon blouses. Silky satin fabric is good for making airy tops.

Check out the post on the 7 best fabrics for making shirts.

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Making shawls and scarves need different considerations for the fabric – check out this post on the fabrics for making scarves

Fabric Prints & Patterns

When buying patterned fabric (most of the patterned fabric comes with a width of 45 or 54 inches), there will be pattern repeat in these fabrics, and this should be taken into consideration when cutting fabric as well as buying them – i.e., if you want to match the patterns at the seams.

If you would like to know the names of the different kinds of patterns; on fabrics, check it out. This post has the names of all the checkered patterns and this, stripe patterns.

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The motifs will be distributed in a planned fashion on the fabric. But you may notice irregularity sometimes – If the print is not placed on the fabric correctly, it cannot be matched or lined up when constructed without distorting the fabric and the hang of the garment.

Fabric construction

One major factor you consider in choosing the fabric for your clothes is the quality of the fabric. It has to be a good quality fabric without any tears or imperfections in the dye, print, fibers etc

These include considerations like the fabric weave, thread count grain of the fabric, fabric weight etc.

You can learn more about thread count here. Fabric weave may also be of much importance to you – I would choose a waffle weave fabric for making kitchen towels more than any other because of its absorbency. Check out the 20 different types of fabric weave here.

Grain of the fabric

This is a major consideration – i.e., if the most attractive fabric you have seen in the showroom does not have its grain right, just discard it. The garment you make with it will never hang right. You can learn more about grain and grainline of fabric here. 

Fabric weight

The fabric weight is dependent on many factors like the weave, fiber type, etc and is typically denoted by GSM. GSM can vary from 60 -700; 700 being the GSM of very high-quality woolen fabric. A denim fabric has a GSM of 400, depending on the weave.  

You can see the chart below classifying fabrics according to their fabric weight. But one thing you have to keep in mind is that higher fabric weight does not denote higher fabric quality. It just is an indication of the suitability of the fabric for a particular project. 

You cannot choose high fabric weight fabric denim for a lightweight floating shawl. Knowing the fabric weight is useful when comparing the same type of fabrics, but even this will depend on its application.  

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One major factor in the quality of dressmaking fabric is the finishes it has – the fabric finishes and treatment refer to the processes it undergoes to enhance its looks as well as quality. Check out the list of the 70+ different fabric finishes and treatments.

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In a nutshell, the most important criteria to look for in the fabric you buy are as follows.

Thread count

The number of threads per inch of fabric (yarns-per-inch). Higher the thread count higher the number of threads woven per inch, and the higher the quality.

Balance of weft yarn and warp yarn

In the weaving of the cloth, there will be a balance in the proportion of horizontal weft yarn and the vertical warp yarn. This is very important in any fabric. In high-quality fabric, this balance (either in numbers or in size) will always be maintained.

Finishing

Processes used on fabric to improve appearance and performance.

Ply

The fibers that are woven to make the fabric will either be as a single strand or will be formed by combining two yarns (twisted). When two fibers are so twisted together, they result in a stronger, durable yarn that also resists pilling. A two-ply yarn is superior to a single-ply yarn.

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Author: Sarina Tariq
Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.
17 thoughts on “13 things to look for in Fabric for clothes”
  1. John Baptist

    Thanks a lot for this detailed information.
    I wish you get as a link to download it in pdf format

    Reply
  2. Ava
    In my 55 years I have never seen an anti-sag or anti-twist label on clothes. Reply
  3. anaushka
    i would like to now the different manufacturers who produce good quality good of these fabrics in mumbai and what should their average cost be? Reply
  4. Esther
    This is amazing Reply
  5. Jan P
    Wow! I feel like I won the lottery. So much great and informative information. I want to make handbags and there so many good ideas here. Thank you for your wisdom Reply
  6. Atunwase Gbemisola
    wow! You should think of writing a book. This article is so loaded. Thank you Reply
    • Sarina

      Hi Atunwase
      Thank for this comment and the appreciation.

  7. Anna.Maria.lottering
    l really wood like to make goose of your fabrick.And I’m interested. Reply
  8. Faith
    Thanks…This article is helpful Reply
  9. Samuel
    Tell me places to buy those materials in Nigeria. Reply
  10. Deb
    Best fabric for long summer robes? Polyester blend… cotton that doesn’t wrinkle… Tercel???? Please advise. Reply
  11. elisa
    I like & love your writing, very helpful me GBU love from indonesia Reply
  12. Amrita singh
    Silk fabrics Reply
  13. Smitha
    I need to know the places from where I can purchase export quality materials for kurtis to start a small unit Reply
  14. Amjad Hossain
    Thanks for it. I want to know about Garments factory of Bangladesh.What kinds of apparels they made & what kinds of fabric they use. If there any product category, please let me know. once again thanking you. Reply
  15. POLLY KALANZI
    Need dresess and shirts cotton fabric materials to make dresess and mens shirts let me know the price per meter need in Rolls of 45 and 60 meters rolls Reply
  16. Thanks for the advice about scrunching the fabric in your hands to see if the color changes. My daughter wants me to make her dress for Prom next spring, and she wants a particular shade of blue. I wouldn’t want to ruin a yard of fabric, so maybe I could scrunch apparel swatch cards before I decide on the material. Reply
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