Interested in dressmaking? Like it or not, you’re also interested in fabric – or must become so! Dressmaking fabric can be sturdy, delicate, ephemeral, or snug.
Your choice of fabric will lend as much unique character to the finished garment as your choice of pattern or design.
This said, you can’t just toss dresses together will-nilly from whatever dressmaking fabric catches your eye without asking for heartache. Some materials lend themselves to specific designs, and don’t work well with other deigns. Until you gain some experience, there are some general guidelines you might consider.
Some dressmaking fabric considerations are self-evident. If you’re making a professional dress to be worn to the office or to college, you obviously won’t be using silks and sating (outside of a few very specific applications). Knowing the intended use of the dress will get you most of the way to your fabric decision. The second half of the decision has to do with the person who will wear the garment. Some people have a personal style, and have some pretty strong opinions about what they wear. In truth, we all have preferences when it comes to the dresses we wear – and the dressmaker must consider these preferences before they get started. It’s also true that certain body types are flattered by certain cuts and designs. As a dressmaker, its part of your job to make sure that the garment that you provide flatters the person wearing it.
Silk is a luxuriant fabric most often used for blouses, intimate wear, pajamas, robes, and ties. It’s a woven fabric made from the silk of a small worm. Silk is light and airy but provides little insulation – it’s very popular in warmer climates.
Wool is the oldest and most widely used dressmaking fabric around. It’s absorbent, warm, and resists wrinkling, and for good reason – wool is woven from the fur of sheep, and provides for them the same warmth and protection that it does for us! Wool is best for cool-weather applications, and makes fine coats, jackets, pants, and dresses. Wool should never be ironed, and in most cases, it’s dry-clean only. Make sure that the person for whom you’ve made a wool garment is aware of it’s limitations regarding cleaning and care.
Linen is a cool, natural material that can easily straddle the line between professional and casual. Linen skirts, suits, pants, or dresses are very popular for their airy feel and appearance. Woven from the fibers of the fax plant, linen is usually a relatively smooth, soft material, though the quality can vary by grade and manufacturer. It makes a great dressmaking fabric choice.
Cotton is the last material we’ll look at here. The variety in weave, quality, and color of cotton dressmaking fabric, coupled with its relatively low price point and high level of durability make it extremely popular. The right cotton or cotton blend can be used for fashioning nearly any style of dress. Cotton tends to be comfortable – rarely ever itchy – and it’s likely that cotton already takes up a large portion of your wardrobe. Cotton should be your go-to dressmaking fabric for most common projects. It is made from the fiber of the cotton plant.
So far, we’ve only looked at natural dressmaking fabric. There are a number of man-made fabrics appropriate for a lot of your dressmaking projects, too. One thing that synthetics offer that natural fibers just can’t match is stretch – most stretch materials are at least partially synthetic. Other options include nylon (incredibly rugged), polyester (no, it didn’t die in the 70s, it just got better), and various blends. Don’t discount synthetic dressmaking fabric, as it has a lot to offer for specific projects.
By making yourself familiar with the various dressmaking fabric that is available to you, you can ensure that you purchase the very best materials for whatever project you’re working on. Read the pattern’s recommendations, then think about the garment’s intended use and specific needs with regards to durability, temperature, absorbency, and frequency of use. These questions will lead you to the right dressmaking fabric every time!