We all know
that certain fabrics are more suitable for some projects
than others. Do you know where fabrics come from, or how
to care for them? Here is a summary of the main types of
natural fabrics and man-made fabrics:
Cotton - comes from cotton boll (plant). Can be
woven, pressed by heat into flannel, or used as knits.
Good for almost all purposes, such as Apparel, Crafts,
Quilting, Baby and Children's accessories. As a natural
fiber, cotton "breathes" which makes it comfortable to
wear. For quilters, cotton is the fabric of choice-- it
handles and sews easily. Care: machine washable.
comes from flax (plant). Real linen wrinkles easily, but is
cool, and like cotton, linen "breathes"-- making it a good
choice for summer apparel. Linen is also great for table top
accessories. To maintain its crispness, linen is often
dry-cleaned. For a softer look, many linens can be
hand-washed. Read your labels carefully.
comes from silk worms. The collection process is intricate
and explains why silk is often expensive. Silk can have
either a smooth finish or a nubby finish (raw silk). Care:
usually dry clean, but many new silks may be hand washed.
Read label carefully.
comes from animal coats (the animal is not harmed!) known
for its warmth, wool is often blended with man-made fibers.
Good for apparel, especially outer wear. Care: usually dry
clean, although some wools may be hand-washed. Read labels
Polyester - When it was first introduced, polyester
became a favorite fabric for apparel. It is easy to care
for (mostly machine washable . read labels carefully)
and keeps its shape and color well. The disadvantage of
polyester is that it does not "breathe," which means it
retains body heat and moisture and its not as
comfortable as some of the natural fibers. Depending on
the manufacturer, polyester fabrics have different
names, many of which you will recognize - Dacron,
Fortrel, Kodel and Trevira are among the many. Polyester
may be offered in the form of knits, jerseys or cotton
and silk-like fabrics.
Considered the most "natural" of the man-made fabrics, rayon
is most often used for apparel. Depending on its
construction, it has a soft draping quality, or can be made
to look like linen. Rayon, too, has brand names such as
Avril or Enka. It is more absorbent than polyester and
usually is best dry-cleaned.
New types are being developed yearly! Sometimes Nylon is
mixed with other fibers for apparel. Some Nylon brand names
are Antron and Viviana. Nylon is often a major fiber in
knits, nylon tricot (underwear) nylon velvet and stretch
swim wear. Machine washable.
- (Brand names include Acrilan, Creslan, Orlon) is often
used as a substitute for wool, in sweaters, fleece wear and
other outer wear. (You'll also find acrylic-wool blends.)
Like wool, acrylic is warm and wrinkle resistant. One of its
advantages is that it is usually machine washable.
Types and Designs
Now you know the basic categories of fabrics. Within those
categories, there are different types of fabrics, that are
identified by their construction (how the fibers are woven
together, or by their design). Here's a brief list of some
of the terms you might come across when looking at fabrics.
Batiste - very fine, soft, usually sheer cottons,
often used for handkerchiefs, nightwear and children's
- closely woven fabric. If you look closely, you'll see tiny
plain woven cotton, usually printed with tiny floral
- tightly woven cotton, usually in solid colors, such as
cambric blue. Used in apparel, especially casual shirts.
heavyweight cotton, used for items that require strength,
such as tote bags, knapsacks, and slipcovers.
- finely woven cotton, usually with white and another color.
The white is very subtle, used in the crosswise (warp)
yarns. A chambray shirt, for instance is usually pale blue,
but if you look closely you will see the white yarn.
popularized by the GAP! This is cotton twill that has been
pre-shrunk and mercerized. Most often used for sports pants
and other sports wear.
highly glazed cotton with a rich glossy finish. At Cranston,
we call this "Cransheen finish." Chintz adds a decorator
touch to home furnishings, and is also great for dressier
- cotton pile that has been cut and woven with wide or
the workhorse of cottons! Very strong, and similar to
Chambray, in that it is often made with white filling.
another strong, durable cotton, used for projects that are
meant to last, i.e. travel accessories, slipcovers, awnings,
- very soft cotton, usually with a nap. Used often in baby
wear. For children and baby apparel, make sure it is flame
- can be cotton or wool. This is the twilled fabric that
spans the seasons, and is often used in jackets, skirts and
- yarn-dyed woven cotton, usually seen in the form of
another strong cotton weave - used in uniforms and other
items that require strength.
cotton lawn is a fine, crisp, combed cotton fabric, used in
children's wear, nightwear and traditional quilting.
originally from India. Real madras is hand-loomed and dyed
with vegetable dyes. Patterns are usually stripes or plaids.
very basic plain woven fabrics. Depending on the type,
muslin can be coarse or fine, dyed or unbleached. The
unbleached variety is often used for pattern making or test
- finely woven cotton, often used for sheets. The higher the
thread count, the softer the hand.
cotton that has been woven with a raised, cord or weld
effect. Also called dobby weave.
usually heavier weight cotton that has a very fine rib
running from selvedge to selvedge.
cotton that has been woven with a satin weave.
- crinkly cotton fabric, most often used in summer sports
woven on knitted cotton pile with loops on one or both
sides. Because of its absorbency it is very often used for
crisp, sheer, lightweight cotton, used for formal wear.