It is important to consider the style and use of the garment when choosing the fabric. Your personal sewing skills should also be taken into account.
The style of a garment affects the material, and the material is a significant part of the look of the garment. Two pieces of clothing made with the same pattern but of different fabrics can look very different. Choose the material according to what you want the garment to look like. For example, if you want a bell skirt that flows and drapes smoothly, you should pick a thin and well draping material, such as satin. If you want the same skirt to be more structured, choose something stiffer and thicker, for example brocade or cotton or linen lawn. Remember that all materials are not suitable for all styles. If you are unsure of what kind of material to use, you can always ask help at your fabric shop.
The use of a garment is also an important factor to keep in mind when choosing the fabric. If the garment needs to be warm, you should pick a thicker and tighter material (or at least line it well). Similarly, if the garment needs to be durable you should choose a fabric that is hard-wearing. For time-consuming sewing projects and garments that should last for a long time, such as coats, it is always recommended to invest in good quality fabrics, even though they might cost a bit more. However, all garments should be made to last as long as possible, so it’s always wise to choose good quality materials.
The maintenance of a garment is also essential. If the piece is something that needs to be washed or ironed often, it is wise to go for a fabric that can take a lot of washing and is easy to press. In any case, all fabrics should always be washed and ironed before cutting, to prevent the final garment from shrinking.
The material also affects how easy a specific style is to sew. Thick and stiff fabrics such as cotton, linen and wool are usually easy to sew whereas thin, flowing and slippery materials such as chiffon and satin are often more challenging.
Typical clothing materials
Batiste (or cambric) is a very fine lawn weave fabric that is mostly used in shirts and blouses. Batiste is usually made of cotton or cotton mix, but also linen and wool are used. This fabric is soft and light, but very stable, which makes it easy to maneuver.
Brocade is a medium weight, stiff and decorative fabric that is commonly used in evening and formal clothing. Brocade is quite stiff, so it’s best for creating structured garments or generous volume. Because of its stiffness and stability, brocade is quite simple to sew.
Velvet is a tufted woven fabric with a smooth pile effect on the right side. Velvet is often made of cotton or polyester, and it can be inelastic or stretchy. Thick inelastic velvet is suitable for evening and outer wear, and it’s quite simple to handle. Elastic velvet can be used in tops and t-shirts, same way as tricot or jersey. Stretchy velvet is a relatively simple fabric, and it can be sewn with an overlocker.
Corduroy is similar to velvet, only with a striped pile effect. Corduroy is used in blazers and trousers, and it’s quite simple to sew. Choose a corduroy with 2-5 % of elastan for very slim-fit trousers. Avoid making decorative topstitchings on corduroy, as the result is usually quite messy.
A cotton corduroy with 2 % elastan
Chiffon is a light and translucent, very well draping and flowing fabric. Chiffon is usually made of silk or polyester or other synthetic materials, and it’s often used in lighter and finer shirts, blouses and dresses. Chiffon is quite a challenging material to sew, as it is very light and thin. The thinner the chiffon, the harder it is to maneuver. When using translucent fabrics, make French seams instead of regular plain seams for neater and more durable result.
100 % polyester chiffon
Crepe is a plain weave fabric with a rough, crispy surface. The structured texture is created by using ‘curled’ spun yarn either for weft or warp, or for both. Almost any fiber can be used for crepe, but most common materials are cotton, wool, silk, viscose (rayon) and polyester. Depending on the material, crepe is suitable for a variety of different garments; outerwear, shirts and blouses, trousers, skirts and dresses. Thick and medium weight wool or cotton crepe is relatively easy to use, whereas thinner and more flowing silk and viscose crepes are more challenging.
100 % cotton crepe
Denim is a strong and hard-wearing twill weave fabric. Denim is mostly cotton, usually with some elastan for stretch. The classic denim is blue, with white weft yarns. Denim is most commonly used in jeans – for very tight and slim-fit jeans it is wise to choose a denim with 2-5 % elastan. However, always go for a good quality, thick or medium weight denim, as very thin fabrics aren’t durable enough for the rough every day wear that a good pair of jeans should be able to take. It’s recommended to use a special denim needle for sewing this thick fabric.
Classic blue denim with some stretch
Flannell is a brushed lawn or twill weave fabric, with a soft texture on one or both sides. It is usually made of cotton, but also wool and synthetic fibers are used. Cotton flannels are most commonly used in shirts, and wool flannel in outerwear. Flannel is a very simple material to use.
Fleece is a soft polyester or polyamide knit with a deep pile texture. It is mostly used for sports and outerwear. Fleece is easy to sew, and the garment pieces can be sewn together with an overlocker.
Interlock is a very elastic knit with similar right and wrong sides. Interlock is used in all sorts of elastic garments, such as t-shirts, tops and sportswear. It is relatively simple to use, but be careful not to stretch the fabric while sewing.
Firm interlock knit
Jersey is a fine and smooth knit with different right and wrong side. Cotton and viscose are very common materials. Jersey is used in a variety of different garments that require stretch, such as blouses, t-shirts, tops and casual dresses. It is simple ti sew, but be careful not to stretch the fabric when being sewn. If necessary, you can sew a transparent elastic into some seams (for example shoulders), to avoid the seam from stretching out of shape.
Light cotton jersey
Sweatshirt Jersey is a thick and elastic knit with a smooth right side, and rough or soft brushed wrong side. This jersey is usually made of cotton, and it’s used for sports and casual wear. It is simple to maneuver, if you remember to be careful not to stretch the fabric when it’s being sewn.
Organza is a translucent, stiff fabric with plain weave. It is usually made of either silk or polyester. Organza is used for evening clothing and fine shirts and blouses. It is moderately challenging to sew, as it is very light. When using translucent fabrics, make French seams instead of regular plain seams for nicer and more durable result.
Translucent but stiff polyester organza
Satin is actually a type of weave. It has a glossy right side, and it’s quite slippery and well draping. Satin is usually made of silk or polyester, but also wool and cotton are used. Light and shiny silk or polyester satins are used in evening gowns and lingerie, thicker wool satin is used for coats, trousers and other outerwear. Depending on the raw material, satin is usually quite a challenging fabric to cut and sew, as it is very slippery and tends to lose its original shape.
Taffeta is a stiff and shiny, plain weave material made of silk or polyester. Taffeta is a firm and crisp fabric that is commonly used for evening and wedding gowns. It’s a stable and relatively simple material to handle.
Tweed is a rough fabric that resembles hand-woven wool. Warp and weft are usually of different yarns, and the texture is rough. Tweed is used in informal outerwear, trousers and, coats and blazers. It is stiff and easy fabric.
Voile is a translucent, soft and light plain weave fabric, usually made of 100% cotton, but also viscose is used. It is suitable for shirts, blouses and dresses, and it is quite a simple fabric to sew.
Soft and light cotton voile