Dressmaking Fabric: Choosing the Right Fabrics

It is easy to feel disoriented or lost in a fabric store. With so many different types of fabrics available, your eye usually attracts you first to a particular color or pattern. But that is just one of the many factors that come into play when choosing fabric. Specifically, when choosing dressmaking fabric, it’s imperative to think of:

– How the fabric feels up against your skin. Remember those itchy gowns you wore for your baptism or first communion…yeah, let’s stay far away from those! Let’s stick to fabrics that feel smooth on the skin and you will want to wear for longer periods of time.

– How it will drape against your body. Drape is essential to a proper fit. Most of what makes us shy away from a particular article of clothing is how it hangs on our body. Anything can look good on a hanger – but on your body, it’s completely different.

– How it will behave when sewing. And we don’t mean “behave” like will it throw a tantrum in the cereal aisle of Publix and embarrass you in front of other moms – but more along the lines of will it clump together or still hold it’s shape once sewn

– What the quality of the fabric is Does it have any tears or imperfections in the print, loose fibers, weird dye spots, etc. Those imperfections sometimes even become exacerbated when being sewn together.

For the most part when making clothes, fabrics that are classified as natural, synthetic or a blend of both are typically preferred. These fabrics include cotton, silk, linen, acrylic, polyester, nylon, etc. But, it is highly dependent upon the usage the clothing item will receive to determine its longevity.

Woven fabric is ideal for making tailored items, while knit fabrics are the best fabric for dresses, for form fitting clothes, undergarments, or active wear.

When you’re considering a more upscale and special occasion type of garment, the best fabric to make a dress will be any of these options: raw silk, satin, taffeta, velvet, lace, silk chiffon, or organza. For a fitted bodycon type dress, you can buy medium weight fabrics with some spandex/elastane added. For drapey dresses, you can choose light weight fabrics such as, jersey, crepe, challis, and charmeuse.

Ensure that the color of the fabric is even, without any lines or spots. You can very easily identify any signs of uneven dyeing. There may be some light spots or color fading on areas, especially on the crease line or fold line. This is completely normal and may not affect the dressmaking process. Unless it is part of the design, light colored areas may indicate that color will fade with washing. Another suggestion would be to take the fabric outside to natural light and inspect the coloring thoroughly for any imperfections.

The occasion and the geography of the place where you will be wearing the dress will play an important part in the choice of the fabric as well. You do not want a woolen garment for a trip to the desert in the summer, however, that might be the best fabric for a winter holiday dress in New York. Nor would you don a chiffon dress for your friend’s February winter wonderland wedding in Canada. Those natural light textiles are more suitable for warmer climates. A May Miami Wedding may be the perfect occasion to wear that flowy chiffon dress!

Color is another factor that many people do not often fully consider. How does the color look in artificial light, natural light – or even bunched up together. Does the occasion call for a bright summer color or more of a darker fall hue? These are all important factors to keep in mind prior to having the fabric cut. Many times, you are not able to return the fabric after it is cut, so do not even try to bring it back after going home and realizing that it is a totally different color from what you saw in store.

A cool hack to consider when buying a very expensive fabric, be it designer fabrics for dressmaking or even vintage dressmaking fabrics, is buying some mull cotton (muslin) to make a test model before cutting the more expensive fabric, especially if you are venturing into this for the first time. This is what some of the best designers in the world use when designing a custom dress for their most high-end clients. It allows you to make drastic changes to the design during an initial first fitting without damaging the fabric that will ultimately be used on the final dress.

Although it’s virtually impossible to categorize fabrics as suitable or non-suitable for dressmaking, knowing some of the characteristics and the advantages of choosing a certain type of fabric makes the process of sewing a lot easier. The right type of fabric for your project can make a big difference in the way the final garment looks, so be patient and trust the process when it comes to selecting the best fabric you can afford.

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