Sewing used to be considered an essential household skill; before the industrial revolution, most people made their own clothes and household linens, with a select few being rich enough to pay other people to perform the same tasks. Today, like many aspects of home economics, sewing is in some ways becoming a lost art. However, both professional and amateur fashion designers still buy and use fabric for clothing. Novices to sewing may be overwhelmed by the number of textiles on the market and feel confused about which to choose. Getting a little education about fabrics does not take much time and is the best way to guarantee a good result when constructing a garment. Fabric buyers should understand the two basic types of fabrics, the two basic origins of fabric fibres, and the concept of fabric weight. Shoppers should also understand how prints and patterns can make a sewing project more complicated and how this can influence the overall effect of the finished product.
Types of Fabrics
Virtually all fabrics fall into one of two categories: knits and weaves. These terms describe how threads are interconnected to create lengths of cloth. Most sewing patterns indicate the type of fabric that is appropriate for the project. The characteristics of each of these types of fabric are listed below.
Like knitted jumpers, knitted fabrics are created by intertwining loops of fibres around each other, only fabrics are knit from threads instead of yarns. Knits are usually stretchy and soft. Typical examples of knitwear include t-shirts, jumpers, activewear, and leggings. Most knit materials are classified as jersey. Dresses may be made of knitted or woven materials, depending on the styling.
Woven fabrics are created in the same way that tapestries and carpets are woven on a loom. A basic weave consists of two sets of threads that run perpendicular to each other. The warp threads run vertically, and the weft threads are woven horizontally through the warp. Weaves are generally crisp and rigid and do not stretch except diagonally (on the bias). Examples of weaves, regardless of the fibre used to create them, are:
Different weaves are achieved by altering the configuration by which the threads are woven; for example, instead of going over and under each thread, a weft may cross one warp thread and pass under two or three. This pattern may be staggered on the next row to create a diagonal line, as with twill or denim. Many other variations can be achieved. Apparel that is generally made from woven materials includes suits, waistcoats, button-down shirts, jeans, and professional or dress trousers.
Types of Fibres
As there are two types of fabric from which to choose, so there are primarily two types of fibres: natural and synthetic. Each type of fibre has positive and negative qualities that may be appropriate or inappropriate for certain garments and different circumstances.
The first clothing fabrics were created from fibres found in nature, and these fabrics are still used in modern apparel. Plant-based fibres include cotton and linen. Animal products used for textiles include wool and silk. Some vegans may oppose the use of animal fibres out of a sense of ethical responsibility; however, health enthusiasts and green consumers may prefer to wear only natural fibres, even if they do come from animals. Extremists may wear only cotton or linen.
Synthetic materials include polyester, acrylic, and nylon. Synthetic fibres are often blended with natural ones to add strength and durability. The addition of synthetic threads usually increases wrinkle resistance as well.
There is an exception to almost every rule, and viscose or rayon is the exception to these two rigid fibre classifications. Viscose is derived from a natural substance: plant cellulose. The cellulose is processed to such a degree that it cannot be considered truly natural; however, to call it purely synthetic would be a misnomer as well. Viscose makes a wonderful substitute for silk, although it can also resemble wool, linen, or cotton depending on how it is made.
The weight of a fabric determines not only its suitability for a particular garment but also how easy the fabric is to work with. Most fabrics can be classified as light, medium, or heavy in weight. While it is not a hard-and-fast rule, lighter fabrics are usually used for shirts, blouses, and dresses, whereas heavier materials are best for jackets and trousers. These rules flex somewhat depending on the season; a summer-weight trouser may be sewn from a lightweight fabric, for instance.
Lightweight fabrics are made with fine, light fibres in a looser weave or knit. A lightweight material usually weighs anywhere from about 1 to 3 ounces per yard. Examples include organza, voile, chiffon, and sheer muslin. Many light fabrics are easy to sew but may be slippery and difficult to hold in place while sewing.
Medium Weight Fabrics
Medium-weight fabric weighs anywhere from about 4 to 7 ounces a yard. Many typical cottons, linens, silks, and wools fall in the medium weight class.
A heavy fabric usually weighs over 7 ounces per yard. Heavy material is generally thick and difficult to penetrate with a needle. This can be particularly frustrating when sewing by hand, and a thimble is required to protect the fingers when pushing the needle through. On a sewing machine, a larger gauge needle is required, as a finer one can break from the force. Two of the heaviest fabrics used for clothing are denim and corduroy.
Fabric Prints and Designs
Some fashion designers, dressmakers, seamstresses, and tailors are partial to printed fabrics, while others prefer solids. Clothing wearers usually fall into one camp or the other as well. Even people who prefer to wear solids on their person usually appreciate a beautiful pattern on cloth. Prints are much more eye-catching in a fabric store compared to solids, but keep in mind that patterns are difficult to sew. One of the signs of a well-made garment is a pattern that is matched perfectly at the seams. This requires not only careful cutting but often purchasing more material than would otherwise be necessary. The sewing must be carefully executed as well. It is often best to practise pattern matching on straight-sided non-apparel items, such as an envelope clutch or throw pillow, and then move on to a simple skirt. The more seams on the garment, the more difficult the pattern matching.
Where to Find Fabric
One can buy clothing fabric from a number of retailers: sewing shops, arts and crafts outlets, hobby shops, and discount stores. Buyers can also shop online for fabric by seeking out specialty retailers. Some off-the-beaten-path resources for material include antique shops, flea markets, craft fairs, yard sales, consignment shops, thrift shops, and auctions. Online auctions usually offer both new and used clothing materials.
How to Buy Fabric on eBay
You can find plenty of clothing fabric on eBay without having to trudge from one shop to the next. This global marketplace brings you offerings from a vast number of sellers to give you the best selection and the most competitive pricing. eBay also makes it possible to find rare or vintage textiles that you would otherwise never come across, as well as luxury fabrics that might not be available in your area.
To start looking at fabric, find the All Categories link on eBay's home page and click it to view every product category in the directory. Choose a logical category and move through subcategories until you arrive at fabric, then specify fabric for clothing. You can also try the keyword search by returning to the home page and entering a word or group of words into the Search field. This is a more direct way of finding a specific type of fabric.
Whether you shop through the directory or by searching for keywords, eBay allows you to continually narrow your search by clicking on category filters, such as those for colour or other variables.
Buying fabric for clothing requires some education and planning in order to avoid disappointment. Purchasing several yards of a beautiful material, only to find that it is unsuitable for a pattern or difficult to work with, is frustrating and costly, since most textiles cannot be returned once they are cut from the bolt. Novice sewers are better off choosing a pattern before a fabric so that they can use the pattern instructions to choose the right one.
Most materials can be classified as weaves or knits and natural or synthetic, although viscose or rayon is pretty much a cross between a natural and synthetic fibre. A material may also be considered light, medium, or heavy in weight; the weight determines the structure and warmth of a garment as well as how easy it is to sew and work with. Prints and graphic designs can sometimes be difficult to sew because they must be matched at the seams.
By taking time to read pattern requirements and assessing fabrics, anyone who sews can increase their chances of success with a sewing project and come away with a great-looking piece of clothing.