Choosing fabric is the most important step in sewing a garment. The wrong choice can mean a big disappointment — and we've been there. Fortunately, there's usually more than one “right” fabric for any pattern, and with a few pointers you can easily hit the mark.
How to choose fabric for clothes
When starting a sewing project, you’ll begin in one of two places: either you’ll have fallen in love with a pattern and need fabric to make it, or you’ll have fallen in love with a fabric and need to find a suitable pattern. Either way, you're in love. So that's a good start.
Have a pattern?
Patterns will tell you which types of fabric they were designed for. Although there are no sewing police to come arrest you if you deviate from the suggested fabrics, beginning sewists especially will want to stick to the list. The fabrics listed will have properties (in terms of weight, stretch and drape) that complement the design of the pattern.
12 common garment fabrics
- Cotton voile: A lightweight, semi-sheer fabric with a great drape.
- Cotton lawn: Very similar to cotton voile, but slightly crisper.
- Rayon challis: Smooth and lightweight, rayon challis drapes well and is slightly heavier than other lightweight fabrics, like cotton voile and cotton lawn.
- Chambray: Another smooth, lightweight choice. But this one doesn't drape as well as rayon challis, cotton voile or cotton lawn.
- Denim: As you probably already know, denim is a heavy-weight fabric with very little drape or stretch.
- Double gauze: This unique fabric is literally two layers of gauze woven together. The double layer of fabric solves the main problem of sewing clothing from gauze (the sheerness), while retaining the good qualities (extremely light and breathable).
- Knit: In the knit fabric category, you'll find several types varying from lightweight to medium weight. Knit fabric is your go-to for any garment that needs to have a great deal of stretch. Patterns are designed for either woven fabric or knit fabric, and patterns sized for knit fabric will often specify the degree of stretch needed in the fabric.
- Silk: Lightweight and delicate, Silk drapes well. It has a slightly shimmery appearance. Silk can be slippery and more difficult to work with. It also makes a great lining fabric.
- Satin: Satin can vary from lightweight to heavyweight, depending on the type. Like silk, it has a glossy appearance.
- Linen: Medium-weight, with little elasticity (hence the wrinkles for which linen is famous!). Linen conducts heat very well, which is why it’s a popular choice for warm-weather anything.
- Wool: There are over 200 different types of wool, coming from 40 different breeds of sheep, so you'll find all kinds of variety in this category of fabric. Wool is extremely hard-wearing and versatile. It’s also toasty warm.
- Flannel: Flannel is a soft, lightweight fabric that works well for colder-temperature shirts, pants and jackets.
Have great fabric? Match your fabric to a garment and start pattern shopping!
- Pants: Linen (for warmer weather), denim, flannel, and wool
- Shirts and blouses: Cotton voile, rayon challis, double gauze, knit, silk, chambray, cotton lawn, linen, and flannel (for less drapey shirts and blouses)
- Skirts: Cotton lawn, rayon challis, denim, knit, and linen
- Dresses: Cotton voile, cotton lawn, rayon challis, double gauze, knit, silk, satin, linen, and wool (for colder weather)