Welcome to Sewing Circle!
In this feature, I love to answer your sewing questions as best I can, and then let the rest of you wonderful and talented readers out there chip in your ideas! We all have something different and interesting to offer, regardless of our individual skill level.
Today I'll answer a question from Dominique, who asked...
First, I would like to mention that I really enjoy your blog! I learn how to sew when I was very young but unfortunatly, I put these skills aside while being a teenager... I just recently come back to sewing and looking at your procjets is very inspiring!
Taking the space that you offer through Sewing Circle, I would like to ask you a short question about fabric. I feel like I never know which type to pick and finally getting the one that doesn't fit with the pattern I'm looking for. Do you have any suggestions of easy and simple fabric for dresses and skirts? (Why are there so many types of cotton? And wool?)
Great, great, great question, Dominique!! So often I see that the choice of fabric makes THE difference in a project, especially for things like clothes or throw pillows that get a lot of usage and wear.
It's really hard to tell you exactly which fabrics are best for which styles, but I can give you a few things to think about.
- First, almost all clothing patterns will tell you on the back what the recommended fabrics are, although they're not always helpful. Always read the back of the pattern if you're concerned, and look at those types of fabrics while you're in the fabric store.
- The biggest differences in fabric are in weight, I feel--you can't make a heavy coat out of a sheer chiffon. Duh. So think about fabrics in terms of the garment you'd make out of it, and stick to that. Some fabrics, like "shirtings," are great for blouses and tops, but not great for pants or shorts. A nice linen with an embroidered pattern is good for a skirt or maybe a dress, but too heavy for a shirt. And, of course, a knit fabric is best for patterns that are meant for knits (they will tell you on the pattern). And alternatively, don't make a pattern that's meant for a woven fabric out of a stretchy one. It won't work.
- Generally, the fabrics that are best for apparel are in the front of the fabric store. They are often seasonal colors or named for the types of things they're best for ("suitings," "bottomweights,"...). You can take the recommendations of the store displays!
- Quilting fabrics, often near the back of the store, come in super cute prints but are not meant for clothing. They can work for clothing, with a lining or appropriate finishing, but they are best for quilts or shower curtains or little home dec projects. I know, some of the prints are sooooo cute, but it is hard to make them durable and wearable. I don't use them for clothing myself, although some people I know do.
- There are so many types of cottons and wools and silks because each of those words just describes a material--it's like talking about a food made of wheat flour. There are a million foods you can make from wheat flour. Cookies, bread, pasta... it depends what you do with it and how you shape it! Same with fibers. The cotton, wool, and silk fibers are very versatile and can be woven with other things or woven to specific textures and thicknesses for different uses. You can go around the store and feel different types of cotton--sheer lightweight ones, waffle-weave knits, corduroys, twills, piques, seersuckers, quilting calicos... all kinds of choices. Polyester and nylon can be used for many things, too, but they will always feel different than a natural fiber. They are great for clothing, too, especially when you don't want to spend a lot of money on silk or wool, but they are a little more difficult to work with than cotton.
- If you want to test out a pattern, make a "muslin" out of whatever cheap fabric you can find--an old sheet or a thrift store find or a fabric that you got on sale for less than $1 a yard would be great! This way you can test out the pattern without spending too much time or expensive fabric. You don't have to finish the edges of the muslin or add fastenings or anything.
Fabric choice is essential for a good project, but the things that go along with it make it work even better!
- The other very important thing to consider are the accessory fabrics that you'll need to use: linings and interfacings, mostly, that will make the difference. A very lightweight but crisp cotton is lovely for a lining, but poly/nylon linings are cheap and easy to find. I use lightweight fusible interfacing on pieces of the garment that need reinforcing. Don't skip the lining and interfacing!
- And sometimes, a pattern may not call for lining, but will be nicer with it. Sometimes I line things instead of giving them self-fabric/interfaced facings.
- Use the right buttons, zippers, and trims--no point in spending lots of time sewing something just to throw on whatever zipper you have. Buy the right one for the project (right color and length, and type. I use invisible zippers, but many people use regular nylon ones).
As for my personal preference, I like natural fibers better than nylon, polyester, acrylic, fleece, etc. any day. I do use artificial fibers for many linings, and for some silk tops. But I loooove a good cotton dress! Just makes me so happy.
Hope these thoughts have helped!! Readers, please chip in your ideas about the best fabrics for beginning sewists! Thanks for reading, and everyone feel free to send me an email with your questions for Sewing Circle. Until next time!