I think about fabric a lot–probably more than is healthy or normal. I love how nice fabric looks and feels, and I love sewing clothes with it that I can wear over and over. I like looking at fabric just sitting on my shelf. It’s true, I am a hopeless FABRIC NERD.

fabric top five

When it comes to sewing clothing, I’ve tried just about every kind of fabric you can imagine; silk, rayon, knits, chambray, tulle, corduroy, you name it, I’ve tried it. The fabric I have the most experience with (hands down) is definitely quilting cotton, which I have tried on many occasions to beat into submission to produce clothing, with some successes and some failures (more on that later). But like many, I find myself drifting towards a special few types of fabric when it comes to sewing for myself. The following five types are my personal favorites, the ones I buy over and over, for things like the Washi Dress, clothes for Clementine, and blouses/top-type things. I’m ignoring the ginormous fabric category known as “quilting cottons” for now, partly because I think they really deserve a post of their own, and also because, though they do sew up nicely into certain kinds of garments, I still find myself, well, preferring these five instead when it comes to sewing tops and dresses.

You may notice that these fabrics aren’t necessarily the most traditional garment fabrics, but most of them are pretty widely available. I think the reason for this is that, like many of yours, most of my fabric purchases come mainly from the same online shops that typically sell quilting fabrics. I’ve also noticed that many of the garment fabrics that I grew up sewing with became pretty scarce when sewing went out for a spell (the Dark Years, when it was NOT COOL to sew your own clothing, so the only people who were sewing garments were the ladies making patchwork vests? Remember that? *shudders*). Obviously garment fabrics are still widely used by the ready-to-wear clothing industry, but they’re much harder to find by the yard in great variety unless you’re pretty savvy online or have access to shops like Mood or Britex in the bigger cities.

1. Double Gauze

This fabric is a double layer of gauze stitched together with tiny stitches to hold it in place and keep the two layers from sliding around. It has a loose weave and breathes well, making it really nice for summer dresses. And did I mention how soft it is? SO SOFT. My Aqua Washi is what I wear on days when I want to feel like I’m in my pajamas all day. No joke. One small downside: the loose weave can make it slightly more difficult to sew.

double gauze quad
Top: aqua WASHI dress, far far away top
Bottom: shirred sunsuit, princess and the pea dress

2. Voile / Lawn

I’m grouping these two types together because they are so similar in weight and behavior. Also: I understand that the “voiles” on the market now from Anna Maria Horner and Free Spirit and soon from Cloud 9 (KOI by Rashida Coleman-Hale will be the first collection to include voiles) are actually not true voiles, which are more loosely woven and sheer, but are indeed lawns passing for the fancier French-sounding substrate. (But since this is The Internet, as LeVar Burton would say–don’t take my word for it.) Why do I love these so much? Lawn/voile is really easy to sew as it is quite stable and doesn’t wobble around a ton like, say, silks or knits, but is still soft and floaty and lightweight enough to feel really comfortable. One small downside: it can be sheer, especially in lighter colors, so lining is often a must.

lawn voile quad
Top: green pleated top, pink maxi WASHI dress
Bottom: Liberty tie neck top, yellow voile top with white ric rac

3. Knits

It should come as no surprise to you that knits are high on the list of my favorites, since I’ve now posted two series of posts about knits (see them here). It just makes sense: if you are the type of person who loves to throw on a t-shirt every day (I am), why wouldn’t you sew with the fabric you wear the most? For kids, this is a no-brainer. My kids wear Flashback Tees almost every day.

knits quad
Top: Nani Iro knit top, whale tee for C
Bottom: teal knit top, fox tee for E

4. Rayon Challis

Rayon is what we were all sewing with back in the nineties. Now it’s baaaack, but it’s even better. This year, the highly-anticipated cotton rayon challis fabrics designed by Anna Maria Horner hit the market, and they are TO DIE FOR. If you haven’t already read Anna Maria’s fantastic posts about rayon challis, please read this onethis one and this one right now. I’ve sewn one top with it so far (not yet blogged), and I’m hooked. Drapey, silky, easy to sew, doesn’t fray a ton, washes like cotton…is this my Dream Fabric?? Maybe. My biggest problem with rayons currently is that the print selection is really pretty small. I also get the feeling that fabric shops that sell mainly quilting cotton as their bread and butter are hesitant to carry it, making it trickier to find online and in person. And so far, most of the prints on rayon recently have been — though lovely — a bit large for clothing; I think the smaller prints lend themselves better to garment sewing. Hello, manufacturers? Let’s see some more (small-scale) prints on rayon challis!!!

5. Cotton-linen sheeting

Finally, the lightweight cotton-linen blend fabrics called “sheetings” from Kokka of Japan are another of my favorite fabrics; they have a similar weight to quilting cottons, but I find them to be nicer and a bit drapier (is that even a word? I don’t know). Not quite as soft as the double gauzes or voiles, but I’ve really enjoyed wearing the clothes I’ve made with them, and you can’t beat the amazing prints from Melody Miller and Heather Ross printed on them in the past couple of years.

sheeting quad
Top: Charlie Dress for C, Green Snow White top
Bottom: Arrow Dress for Quilt Market, Ruby Star Washi Dress

Note: You can find most, if not all, of these fabrics in online fabric shops, including those that sponsor this blog; for those who are unfamiliar with shopping for fabric online, check out this post I wrote about shopping for knits online or this one: Rae’s Big List of Fabric Shops).

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Categories: fabric, tips and tricks
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37 Responses to My top five fabrics for clothing

  1. Love this post!

    I’m digging “voile” a lot of late – great for summer dresses. I have some double gauze that I’m dying to make something from but I’m terrified to cut into it. Isn’t that always the way?

    • Rae says:

      Thanks Karen!! Yes, totally get it. I have soooo many pieces of fabric that I’m terrified to cut into. Need to get over that!!

  2. Sarah says:

    awesome, i’ve soooo needed a fabric guide because I want to start sewing a few of my clothes and don’t even know where to begin! I think i would’ve picked up quilting cotton or some knit and called it a day. thank you!!

  3. Karen says:

    Very helpful!

  4. Brooke says:

    I just bought my first double gauze nano iro from a sale miss matatabi was having and cannot wait for it to come in the mail! Alll your projects with it have looked so good you convinced me to try it. Now here’s hoping I find the right project for it and don’t let it just sit on my shelf for two years like all my Heather Ross pieces.

  5. Great post! I’m still in the trial and error part of fabric picking… this post should surely help minimize the errors! :) Thanks!

  6. cecile says:

    Thank you ! I agree with you, I still ahve to try cotton-linen sheeting, your pictures look great…
    I think you are close to Minnesota (or in Minnesota maybe ?). There is a great fabric store in St Paul that carries wonderful fabrics, including all the ones you mention here. They have a good selection of rayon. It’s Treadle yard Goods. You should try to go, or even give them a call, they don’t have an online store but I know they take orders by phone.

    • Rae says:

      I’m in Michigan, but I’ve heard great things about them, in fact I think they’re on my Big List somewhere…or maybe in the comments on that post! :)

  7. Jennifer says:

    Great list! I’m always disappointed in the results when I sew apparel with quilting cotton.

  8. Josie says:

    Golly!! I thought that when people used cotton sheeting they actually used a COTTON SHEET! Thanks Rae.

  9. Kathy says:

    Love this post. So helpful. I have never tried two of these so now I have something new for a challenge!

  10. kristin says:

    Yes. Good list. I’d add shot cotton, though it does wrinkle pretty easily…but it has a great washability / drapeyness factor that works really well on clothes. Since you asked. ;P

    I think the clothing on the line pajama pants I made for O during our SEW OFF are still one of my favorites, just because they’re so soft and perfect in weight. Too short on him; he still wears them.

    • Rae says:

      I don’t know what is wrong with me. I completely left SHOT COTTON off the list. Seriously, one of my faves. I guess that one will have to have its own post. :)

  11. Angie says:

    Here here on the rayon challis! I used the AMH large butterfly print on a top and it’s one of my most worn me-made pieces this summer (actually, it’s in your spring top pool somewhere). Looooove that fabric. But I agree, some smaller scale prints would be even better.

  12. Sarah says:

    Thanks for this post, Rae, it’s really helpful.

    You are making me think that the Robert Kaufman (I think?) organic voile solids that were around a while back are true voiles (not lawn)–I pulled some out of my stash recently (to line a Little Geranium!) and after it washed up it was a lot thinner/gauzier than I expected it to be based on my experience with the AMH “voiles” (which I absolutely love, despite those scare quotes).

    Interesting that you mention rayon challis–I have been wondering if that fabric would be suitable for a Washi Dress? The fabric seems a bit slipperier than quilting cotton/lawn/etc. so I’m a bit hesitant to just attempt it on my own…any tips?

    • Rae says:

      I actually think the rayon would work fine for the Washi — it’s a wee bit “slippery” but not bad…just make sure you press and pin more than usual and never skip stay-stitching with rayon.
      :)

  13. Katherine says:

    What a useful post for someone like me who is new to garment sewing. Thanks Rae! I’ve tended to stay close to quilting cottons as I’m comfortable with them (I’ve got 3 quilting cotton Washis so far!) but this gives me some confidence to branch out :)

  14. Aimee says:

    I enjoyed reading this post, thankyou! Unfortunately other than voiles, lawns and knits the others are pretty hard to find. Other than the nana iro ones and a very few japanese ones, I don’t see hardly any double gauzes (though I’m going to try one anyway…) I wish there was more selection of all of these fabrics in prints that I like. I love Heather Ross but her older stuff is ridiculously hard to get now. :(

  15. Kristi says:

    Rae, what a great post… I have finally started experimenting with more fabrics and am trying to find more places to buy them (I just checked out all your sponsors! :) )… I did a google search on rayon challis and fabric.com had a whole bunch (not sure the quality though) and lots of smaller scale florals (ok, mostly florals). Thanks for helping those of us who feel like there are things we should know, but no one tells us (like, duh, different fabrics make things hang and feel differently!). Ps. I had e-mailed you about a Washi problem once (quilting cotton not making it hang flatteringly) and you suggested voile, I made one up and I love it!!!

  16. Alison says:

    Thanks for this post. I was uncertain what most of those fabrics were and kind of thought all wovens were basically the same as quilting cottons. I’ll have to try some new ones to make the Geranium pattern I just won!! Thanks again!

  17. Larissa says:

    Thanks for the heads up about rayon challis. I’ll have to try some out! Can’t wait to see what you made with it.

  18. Andrea says:

    What are the two fabrics in the top picture with the title on it?? With love from a fellow fabric nerd :)

  19. Nancy says:

    Hi Rae, do you (or maybe other readers) have any recommendations for the best type of fabrics to use when lining voiles/lawns? Thanks.

    • Rae says:

      I most often use plain white batiste, or plain white/off white voile. Something really soft and silky about lining with voile. I suppose it’s a bit of a splurge but it’s totally worth it for the comfort (batiste is generally less expensive than voile).

  20. Ginger says:

    Thanks for this post. I’m excited to see rayon challis on the market again. I’ve never sewn (or seen) double gauze. I should buy some and give it a try, but it sounds kind of scary. :-)

  21. sarah vine says:

    okay I want some Rayon Challis now! Am I dreaming or did I buy fabric from sewmamasew before? And is there no way to buy fabric from them anymore? It may be that I’m up too late browsing the web…..

  22. teri w says:

    I LOVE double gauze & I LOVE thinking about/shopping for/and hoarding fabric. I found and purchased a few yards of this: http://www.fabric.com/apparel-fashion-fabric-shirting-fabric-yarn-dyed-fabric-michael-stars-designer-double-cloth-shirting-plaid-black-ivory.aspx?cm_vc=756b1813-cbc1-43b3-84bd-29889bf8fb7b
    and it’s awesome! And it’s inexpensive for dbl gauze (and in an adult print, yay!)

    Cheers.

  23. Hannah says:

    This is super helpful for me as an inexperienced sewer. I’m in love with the prints in the sheeting category (and with the Arrow dress in general), but for the combination of comfort and drape, since I’m not great with knits yet, I find myself most attracted to the voiles. Of course, that might also be due to the fact that the green pleated top is completely stunning.

    You should show off some of your work in the sewing community on Kollabora! It takes quite the eye to be able to make clothes that are adorable without being precious. That point of view is valuable anywhere!

  24. Holly u says:

    I am just dipping my toes back into garment sewing after years away. Too many bad results scared me off, so I’m a big believer in making a muslin now! It was the 90s when I sewed before, and I love love loved challis for its flowiness. It’s slipperiness caused me no end of grief though. What would you use as fabric for a muslin that would mimic the feel of a voile or challis without breaking the bank?

    • Rae says:

      For all wovens, I use muslin. Some muslins are lighter than others (and some get lighter once washed), so you sometimes have to search a bit for good muslin that will approximate your fabric. It’s never as drapey, but for testing purposes I haven’t had any problems. With all muslins, you never get the *exact* drape or fit of the final garment, but knowing what will change from muslin to final garment is something you pick up over time…

  25. Erica says:

    I never know about buying rayon, because I’ve had so many pieces of rayon clothing shrink badly. As in, an adult shirt comes out of a gentle-wash cycle in a toddler size. Any tips on this? Is “rayon challis” the magic kind that launders well?

  26. Marina says:

    Thanks for this post. As a non-quilter and mainly dress-maker for my girls and myself I’m always on the look out for dress-making fabric options.

    I love voile but don’t always necessarily want to work with something as luxurious as the lawn-like voiles on the market now. So am constantly on the lookout for the traditional plain cotton voiles (as long as they’re not super-sheer!).

    Have often thought about Spoonflower as an option for voiles but am worried about possible lack of colour saturation?

    Anyway, sorry for the ramble – love your blog!

    Marina :)

  27. Janet says:

    I have just found you! I sewed some of my own clothes in the seventies and would like to again, thanks for all the help.

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