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Qualities of Fabrics Explained

Oct 31, 2007
Fabrics are ever new and an inspiration to one who sews. Each year, new developments in synthetic fibers and in the blending of synthetic and pure fibers offer many exciting variations in textures and designs.

It is often difficult to distinguish the fabrics of the natural fibers from those of synthetic or blended fibers.

Silk, linen, cotton and wool are made from natural fibers and are known as the pure fabrics. Silk fibers are from the cocoon of the silkworm, cotton fibers from the cotton plant, linen from the stem of the flax plant and wool fiber from the fleece of sheep.

Synthetic fibers, such as rayon, acetate, nylon, and Dacron (Dacron is a trademark for polyester fiber of the Dupont Company) polyester fiber, Orion (Orion is a trademark for an acrylic fiber of the Dupont Company) acrylic fiber, etc., are made into widely used fabrics. However, some of the most interesting and durable are made by blending natural fibers with synthetic fibers.

Widths vary, but are more or less standard for various types of fabrics. Cottons, linens, velveteens and corduroys are usually 35" or 36" wide. Silks are usually 39". Nylons, rayon's and other synthetics run from 39" to 45" wide. Wools generally run around 54" or occasionally 60" in width. Imported fabrics do not always conform to our measurements and may be as narrow as 27".

When buying pattern and fabric, consider one in relation to the other: is the fabric right for the design, or the design right for the fabric? Also, are both design and fabric right for one's figure type? There is a wide assortment of patterns and fabrics for every type. Keep in mind that vertical lines tend to make one appear taller; large plaids, bold prints, horizontal lines and fabrics with a definite sheen tend to make one appear larger.

Refer to the back of the pattern envelope for suggestions as to suitable fabrics, for width and yardage required and for findings necessary to finish the garment, such as interfacing, linings, trimmings, zippers, etc.

It is not always easy to tell the right from the wrong side of a fabric. But the way cloth is rolled or folded is a good clue. Cotton and linen usually come folded with their right sides out; while silk and wool have their right sides inside. If rolled on a bolt, the right side is usually inside. Napped fabrics are softer and fuzzier on the right side. If one side of a fabric is more lustrous than the other, the shinier is usually the right. The weave, too, gives many clues. The right side is more perfect and free from irregularities, rough spots, etc. The selvage is generally smoother. Solid colored cottons can generally be used on both sides.

Shrinkage of Fabrics

Although most fabrics are pre-shrunk, precautions can be taken against further shrinkage.

To shrink fabrics, first snip the selvage and be sure both ends are straight with the crosswise thread. Cotton and linen can be immersed in warm water. The fabric should be folded lengthwise and then crosswise several times. Soak for several hours. Do not crush fabric or wring it. Hang fabric lengthwise and allow to drip. While still damp, spread fabric, folded lengthwise, on a sheet on a flat surface. Smooth and straighten fabric bringing ends and selvages together. Before fabric is thoroughly dry, press with the grain of the fabric on the wrong side.

To shrink wool fabric fold it lengthwise and place on a flat surface. Cover with a damp sheet and fold the two together. Then cover with a dry cloth and let set for several hours. Spread the fabric out and straighten if necessary matching ends and the selvage edges. When fabric is thoroughly dry steam press lightly on wrong side pressing out center fold.

Now you know a little about the different fabrics, it is time to start sewing.
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