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.
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.
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.
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.
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 one, this 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.
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).