Monday, 7 February 2011

Pique, tricel and other fabrics, what the heck???

Ok so I am a novice when it comes to fabric.  Before learning to sew I knew there was silk, velvet, satin, cotton, linen and polyester and that’s about it.  I never realised how many different types of cotton there were, let alone all the other different fabrics out there!  It’s crazy.  Therefore I've always struggled when reading the recommended fabrics part of a sewing pattern.  It always seemed to contain at least one fabric I have never heard of.

To start with I struggle with names of fabrics that suggest they are made of more than one type of fabric, but I think it just means they have the appearance of another type of fabric.  Maybe I am misunderstanding but I do not get these:

Cotton sateen
Crepe back satin
Then there are those fabrics that have the word cotton in them but are all totally different [or are they?].

Cotton Broadcloth
Cotton Twill
Cotton Drill
Cotton Lawn
Cotton Duck Cloth

And so on

Then there’s fabrics everyone else seems to be aware of that I have no clue what they are:

Crepe (this makes me think of crepe paper, which is a rougher sort of tissue paper I used as a child when making stuff)
Finally what about these fabrics:

Tissue faille
Crepe de chine

Can anyone tell me what the heck they are?  Most of those I found listed listed on one of my stash of vintage patterns so maybe they no longer exist or are called something else these days.

I think a lot of confusion comes because I think the names for the fabric are there to describe the different style of fabric so you can identify the process used in turning the material (cotton, silk etc) into fabric.  For example velvet can be made from silk or cotton or something synthetic can’t it, but the name velvet describes the fluffy pile unique to velvet [I think].  So the name describes the texture, weight and style of the fabric not what it is made from, right?  But fabric shops tend to tell you what material the fabric is made from (often in percentages) and only sometimes have a description of the style of fabric.  So when I go in a fabric shop the label will say 100% cotton or whatever but it’s totally different in weight and texture to another 100% cotton in the same shop even though they are both made from cotton, the fabric making process was clearly different, and has thus created a different style of fabric.  Or am I totally wrong here?

As you can see thinking about fabric sends me off in circles and makes me dizzy.  Oh and don’t even get me started on knits vs wovens, or wools or jerseys!!!!

Perhaps I need to invest in a fabric guide book, but what I really want is a book with little samples of each type of fabric so I can really understand what I am looking at.  Does anyone have any recommendations on where to start? 


  1. I would love to see people's answers to your post as I'm also pretty clueless! I have a rough idea from spending lots of time in fabric shops feeling up the fabrics and through the ones I've used I'm slowly learning which ones I like and don't like. I'd love to make my own swatch book from the fabrics I've collected so far but I'm terrible at actually noting down the composition of the fabric.

  2. Hi Laura, cute blog!

    Start with wikipedia. just type something in like twill. Also, try google images, type in something, like pique, and through the images you'll probably realise you've seen it hundreds of times before without knowing it. Most fabric shop assistants (perhaps not fabric land) are really knowledgable. Don't be afraid to ask questions when you are there, even if you're not buying that day.

    Here's an article I wrote about Cotton sateen:

    Wishing you all the best, hope to see you soon
    Zoe xxx

  3. Hi Laura, I was just perusing the Burdastyle blog, saw this & thought of you.

    Two excellent fabric reference books to own are Fabric Sewing Guide by Claire Shaeffer and More Fabric Savvy by Sandra Betzina; Fabric U is an iPhone app that provides information about 120 well-known fabrics.

    Let us know how you get on?!

  4. Thanks for the advice and the links ladies. I may actually start my own fabric swatch collection like the burda article recommends.

    Zoe- Ive actually got a load of dark purple cotton sateen that I thought was all soft and shimmery and gorgeous but have been too scared to use! I must conquer the fear!


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