A handy glossary of materials to help you decide what is the best fabric for your next sewing project.
Bamboo Textiles labelled as being made from bamboo are generally synthetic rayon made from cellulose extracted from bamboo and is often soft and smooth. You can get bamboo fabric made from pulped from bamboo, but it’s much stiffer, more like a linen and is used less often.
Brocade often seen as drapes in period dramas, this is a richly decorative, heavy, woven fabric usually made from colored silks so that it has a lovely lustre.
Canvas is a really durable, plain, woven fabric used for making sturdy things like sils, tents and back packs. It’s usually made from natural fabrics like linen, cotton or hemp.
Chambray looks a little like denim but is usually a bit lighter. It’s a plain, woven fabric where the warp yarn is coloured and the weft yarn is white.
Chiffon is transparent, lightweight and shimmery, so is usually used as a decorative addition to a garment, unless you’re a particularly racy lady! For the technically minded, this sheer material is woven of twisted crepe yarns.
Courdouy is basically a ridged form of velvet. It has a distinct, striped pattern made of channels between stripes of tufted cords.
Cotton comes from a fluffy plant and that is used for all sorts of things. The material that is woven from it is lightweight, breathable and easy to work with.
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.
Denim, 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 favorite woollen jumper. It’s made of condensed and matted fibres, doesn’t fray when you cut it, and can be made of wool, natural and synthetic material.
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.
Lace is a very decorative, delicate, open fabric made of yarn or thread. Think bridal gowns and frilly edging.
Lame, forever to be associated with gold 1970’s catsuits, this 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.
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 it’s luxury charm.
Lycra revolutionised tights and leggings and stopped ‘saggy knee’ syndrome. An elastic, polyurethane fabric it 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’re wipe clean and relatively water proof.
Ribbing is the stretchy knitted bit that you’ll usually find as cuffs and waist bands. The rib knit looks a bit like strypy ridges and its 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 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.
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 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.