Types of Dress Fabric

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Choices abound when choosing dressmaking fabric.
Choices abound when choosing dressmaking fabric. (Image: miflippo/iStock/Getty Images)

Dress fabrics can be broadly classified into two main groups, those woven or knitted from natural fibers and those created by man-made materials. Hybrid combinations of both natural and made-made fabrics are frequently used in dress construction, and each has its own properties of texture, weight, drape and wear.

Cotton Is King

Natural fabrics are created by weaving or by knitting fibered yarns. These fabrics are based on materials found in nature, such as cotton, which is culled from a vegetable fiber. A fabric worn by people in countries all over the world, cotton fabric is a top choice for dressmakers, as it is comfortable to wear, soft against the skin, and breathes easily, allowing air to circulate. It is durable and machine-washable and holds color well.

Silks, Linens and Wools

Spun from the cocoons of silk worms, silk is an elegant, lightweight material that drapes beautifully and feels soft and comfortable against the skin, which makes it a desirable choice for dress fabric. While a durable fabric, silk does require special care with regard to cleaning and pressing. Linen, made from flax, is a quality, breathable fabric that makes it a useful fabric for warmer climates; however, it does wrinkle easily and requires ironing after each wear. Wool fabric, which comes primarily from sheep’s wool, provides warmth and long-lasting wear, and is used in a variety of weaves and weights for dressmaking. Luxury wools such as cashmere and angora and wool blends, which mix wool fiber with other natural fibers and/or man-made fibers, expand the range of wools available for dressmaking.

Synthetic Fabrics

Technology has developed chemically produced fibers for fabrics that include rayon, acetate, polyester, nylon and Spandex. Polyester blends, often a combination of polyester and Spandex, are a dress fabric choice that affords easy wear, little care, and comfort. The Spandex allows for enough stretch in the fabric to prevent tugging, and is often incorporated into dress blousing and skirting to enhance wearability. Rayon, created from wood pulp cellulose, is a widely used versatile synthetic fabric that provides durability and ease of wear, as it breathes like a natural fabric.

Fabric Blends

Natural fibers and man-made products are frequently blended to create a fabric that enhances the properties of both. These man-made fibers are bound to natural fibers to produce garments with various properties, including materials that stretch, repel moisture and resist fading, wrinkles, and shrinkage. Polyester/cotton is a hybrid that results in a versatile fabric that is cool and light; washes well and shrinks far less than 100 percent cotton. Polyester/ramie is an easy-care fabric that is easy to care for and suitable for all types of dresses. Jersey is a single-knit fabric with moderate stretch that is frequently blended with cotton, but can also be made from wool, silk, polyester and nylon. Natural fabrics today commonly have a synthetic counterpart that provides added comfort, reduces wrinkling and increases affordability.

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