A to Z of fabrics: the different types of fabric for every projectPublished on 25 October 2021 By Sarah J 8 min read
There are so many types of fabric to choose from, it can be difficult to know where to start! Our handy glossary of fabrics will help you decide the best fabric for your sewing project and all the making possibilities with your stash of materials.
Textiles labelled as being made from bamboo are usually synthetic rayon, made from cellulose extracted from bamboo and are often soft and smooth. You can also get bamboo fabric made from the pulp of bamboo - this tends to be much stiffer with more of a linen-like texture and is used less often. You’ll likely see bamboo fabric being used for home textiles including bedsheets and pillow covers as well as socks, tees and more.
Often seen as drapes in period dramas, brocade is a richly decorative, heavy, woven fabric usually made from coloured silks so that it has a lovely lustre. To create eye-catching suit jackets, trousers and dresses, brocade fabric comes in fabulous floral designs, tartan and metallic designs for you to choose from.
In any keen dressmakers’ collection, you’re sure to find some calico. At an affordable price, it’s ideal for drafting out your designs and fixing any mistakes in your patterns before transferring to your preferred fabric. Calico is an unbleached woven fabric that can also be used for accessories like tote bags, upholstery and quilting projects.
Canvas is a really durable, plain, woven fabric used for making sturdy things like sails, tents and backpacks. It’s usually made from natural fabrics like linen, cotton or hemp.
Chambray looks a little like denim, but is usually lighter. It’s a plain, woven fabric where the warp yarn is coloured, and the weft yarn is white.
For a decorative addition to your makes, chiffon will bring some sparkle! For the technically minded, this sheet material is woven of twisted crepe yarns to create the lightweight, transparent fabric.
Corduroy is basically a ridged form of velvet. It has a distinct, striped pattern made of channels between stripes of tufted cords. Stitch on-trend cord jackets, and how about a pair of trousers to match?
The cotton plant is used to create so many wonderful things we use every day, including cotton fabric! The material is woven from, lightweight, breathable and easy to work with, which makes it fantastic for a whole host of projects.
A crisp fabric with a silky smooth texture, cotton poplin is perfect for both craft and clothing projects. Sew up lightweight shirts and dresses with this versatile and durable material!
Similar to cotton poplin with its smooth surface, cotton lawn is a super lightweight cotton fabric. It’s ideal for your handmade summer wardrobe, filled with floaty dresses, and tailored trousers.
Crepe has a pebbly appearance, and is most commonly made from polyester or wool, but you can also find it in silk, rayon, and cotton. It doesn’t wrinkle or crease and hangs really well on the body.
Who could live without denim in their lives? It’s what your jeans are made from and has a coloured yarn for the warp (usually blue), and a white yarn for the weft. Quite heavy and extremely durable; it’s why it became such a popular material.
Dress lining is used to reduce wear and strain on a garment, it’s basically just an inner layer of fabric.
Faux fur is a synthetic material made to look just like real animal fur, so that you don’t need to harm any living creatures for your fashion!
Felt is what you get when you accidentally shrink your favourite woollen jumper. It’s made of condensed and matted fibres that doesn’t fray when you cut it, and can be made of wool, natural or synthetic fibres.
Hemp is being heralded as an environmental super-fibre as it grows quickly, just about anywhere, is easy to process and makes a strong, soft, durable fabric. It’s also hypo-allergenic and non-irritating, so is an excellent cotton alternative.
Hessian is a very tough material made from the fibres of the jute or sisal plant. It’s also called burlap or crocus and is commonly used to make sacks, rope and nets.
Jersey was originally made from wool, but is now manufactured from wool, cotton and synthetic fibres. It’s a knitted material, with the right side showing the knit stitch, and the back the purl stitch. This fabric is super stretchy, making it great for t-shirts. It can be one of the more difficult fabrics to sew with, but it’s worth it!
Lace is a very decorative, delicate, open fabric made of yarn or thread - think bridal gowns and frilly edging. Add a lace detail to your tops and nightwear for a sophisticated edge!
Lame, forever to be associated with gold 1970s catsuits, is a material woven with thin strips of ribbons made from metallic fibre. It can be a tricky customer to work with, but is super shiny and totally disco!
Leatherette is a synthetic substitute for leather, with a soft PVC layer and containing no animal bi-products. This is a great for leather-look chair covers and other upholstery projects.
Linen is a textile made from the fibres of the flax plant. It’s really strong, highly breathable, and ideal for wearing in hot weather. It’s also quite laborious to make so is often a bit more expensive than cotton, and is also notorious for creasing as soon as you put it on, but that is part of its luxury charm!
Lycra revolutionised tights and leggings and stopped ‘saggy knee’ syndrome. This elastic, polyurethane fabric, is also responsible for the birth of cycling shorts.
Netting is an open-meshed material, it’s made by knotting together twine, wire, rope or thread.
Nylon is a man-made, silky material that can be shaped into things like stockings through a melt-process.
Polyester (ready for some sciencey language?) is a category of polymers that contain the ester functional group in their main chain, most commonly referred to as a PET plastic. Sound familiar? It’s what you’ll see on most of your plastic packaging. It’s not very planet friendly, but it is highly durable.
PVC is also known as vinyl. These fabrics usually consist of a backing woven from polyester fibres with a surface coating of shiny plastic, so they can be wiped clean and are relatively waterproof.
Ribbing is the stretchy knitted bit that you’ll usually find as cuffs and waist bands. The rib knit looks a bit like stripy ridges, and it's this that allows it to stretch.
Satin typically has a glossy side and a dull side. It’s made from silk, polyester or nylon, and it’s the way it’s woven that gives it a shiny appearance.
Sequins are small shiny discs sewn on to clothes for decoration and sparkle.
Shirting fabric is a fine cotton fabric that is used exactly as you would imagine, for making shirts!
Silk is a natural fibre that comes from the cocoons of silkworms. It’s fine, strong, lustrous and is also known for its hypoallergenic properties.
Suedette is basically fake suede that is usually made from cotton or rayon.
Suiting fabric is made from man-made fibres, most often polyester. Durable and easy to clean, they often have a sheen to them.
Towelling is most commonly made from cotton (but you can get bamboo towelling too) and is a thick, absorbent cloth, woven with lots of little uncut loops.
Tweed is what you would associate with an English country gentleman, but it is also an amazing material. A rough, woollen fabric, it’s extremely durable, waterproof and still made using traditional techniques in the Outer Hebrides.
Twill is a strong, thick fabric that you’ll see every day, used for trousers and jeans. Denim and chino are both examples of twill fabric, with the tightly packed weave making this perfect for your autumn and winter staples.
Velour is a plush, knitted fabric that is similar to velvet but cheaper to make. It’s often lighter than velvet, and is made from cotton or polyester.
Velvet was traditionally made from silk which is why it has a lovely sheen to it. It’s a woven fabric that is often quite heavy, but has a lovely soft feel.
Viscose (also known as Rayon) is actually made from wood pulp, so it is a cellulose, natural fibre like wool or cotton, but it has to be manufactured like a synthetic fibre. Originally called artificial silk, it’s a breathable, durable fabric that drapes well and has a smooth finish.
Wool commonly comes from sheep, but you can get all sorts, from llamas to goats. Once spun it can be woven into fabric like tweed, or knitted to make things like ribbing.