CHOOSING THE RIGHT FABRIC
There is such a tremendous selection of fabrics available; the job of choosing fabric can be overwhelming. As you peruse the different fabrics, you may be drawn to the bright, splashy colors at first. Then, the subtle colors, interesting textures and weaves present you with more possibilities. It is essential to be informed about fabrics, so that your project is successful. But, it is still important for you to fall in love with the fabric!
We will begin by breaking down the types of fabric into categories, then sub-categories. You will want to know what the fabric is made of, how it will drape (flow), and what the care instructions are. One thing is for certain – it pays to invest in quality fabric, as you are going to put a lot of your energy into the project, and you want it to be a success.
TYPES OF FABRIC BY FIBER CONTENT
The fiber content of a fabric will determine the comfort of the garment when you wear it, and how you will need to care for the garment. Usually, in a store, the fabric content will be on the end of the cardboard form that the fabric is wrapped around. Be sure to ask the sales people, as sometimes the form is re-used and does not match the fabric. If purchasing fabric from a web site, the information should be displayed with the fabric. In case you find fabric that the fiber content is unknown, it can be tested by burning it. More about fabric testing later.
NATURAL FIBER FABRICS
Natural fiber fabrics are made from materials that grow in nature. Fibers come from animal coats, silkworm cocoons, and plant seeds, leaves, and stems. Natural fiber fabrics are biodegradable and also can be recycled. In recycling, the fabric is shredded back to fibers, respun into a coarse yarn, and then rewoven or knitted. Wool is the most common recycled fabric, but cotton can be recycled and made into industrial wiping cloths, mattress filling, and carpet backing.
Cotton is known for its comfort, appearance, versatility, and performance. It is available in many fabric weights, colors, patterns, weaves, and prices. Cotton comes from the seedpod of the cotton plant. It is grown in warm climates that have plentiful rain. The cotton fibers are taken from the boll (seed pod) and vary in length. They can be as long as 2 ½” and as short as 3/8”. The long fibers are the more costly, and are harder to produce. Once the cotton is picked, it is separated by a process known as ginning (remember hearing about the cotton gin?) and the long fibers are made into thread. The short fibers are used to produce rayon. The quality is determined by: a) fiber fineness; b) color; c) foreign matter. To figure out the fiber length, peel a thread and untwist. Look for fibers longer than ½”.
Enough history lesson, now on to what is so great about cotton. Cotton has many admirable characteristics and a few less-than-admirable characteristics:
There are many cotton fabrics, which range from lightweight sheers to heavy velvets. Some examples of cotton fabric are: batiste, broadcloth, calico, canvas, chintz, corduroy, denim, flannel, muslin, gauze, percale, pique, plisse, sateen, velour and velvet, to name a few. The list goes on and on. There is, of course, different qualities of cotton. The highest quality cottons are made from the longer fibers, such as Pima, Egyptian and Peruvian cottons. Look for fabrics that the fibers are closely woven. In general, better quality cotton fabrics are softer than the lesser quality cottons. The lesser quality cottons often have sizing added to make them seem to be firmer and heavier than they are. Once you wash it, the sizing will be gone, and you will be left with a fabric that will not wear well or last very long. Buy quality! To figure out if the fabric has heavy sizing, rub the fabric against itself. If it softens, or it gives off a powdery feel, that is heavy sizing. If you hold it up to the light, you may be able to see the sizing between the threads. Mercerized cotton is stronger and more lustrous, which it retains after many washings. Mercerizing permanently straightens the fibers, and makes it smooth.
Fabric PrepPre-wash or dry clean, and iron before you lay out for cutting. When you pre-wash, wash the fabric the same as you will wash the garment.
PressingThere is a cotton setting on irons, which is high heat, and a pressing cloth should be used. If your cotton is very lightweight, or is a cotton blend, use a lower heat setting. It is a good idea to press the fabric when it is damp. If the fabric has a permanent press finish, use a warm setting and steam.
Layout/Cutting/MarkingAlthough many types of cotton do not have a nap, some have a print that only goes in one direction. Also, velvets, corduroys, velveteens and some other cotton fabrics have a nap. Keep this in mind when laying out the patterns, as they have instructions for both with and without naps. When cutting lightweight fabrics, use serrated (pinking) shears. For most of the cotton fabrics, regular straight shears or a rotary cutter will work just fine. Use fine pins, as some of the fabrics will have a mark if you use large pins.
South American and Thai Cottons