Introduction to Fabrics

While #sewing is an important rudimentary #cosplay & #costuming skill, so is knowing a few things about #fabrics, which have different qualities depending upon the materials used & how they were manufactured.

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1. Fabric Basics

What is a fabric? A fabric (which may also be called a textile or cloth) is a flexible material comprised of a series of interconnected fibers. The three most distinguishing features of a fabric are the type of fibers being used, how the fibers were interconnect during the manufacturing process and the overall fabric weight.

Let’s look at fibers and the manufacturing processes first.

1.1 Fibers

Fibers fall under one of two main types: natural or synthetic. These have different properties that can be divided into pros & cons, which we have listed in the following table.

Natural Fibers

Synthetic Fibers

Composition

Come primarily from plants or animals. Created in a laboratory. Usually a petroleum product.

Pros

  • Easy to dye.
  • Absorbant.
  • Breathable.
  • Strong.
  • Wrinkle-resistant.
  • Versatile.

Cons

  • Plant fibers wrinkle easily.
  • Animal fibers are expensive.
  • Not very breathable.
  • Difficult to dye.

Fabrics can also be made from minerals, but since these are not common in clothing or costuming, we’ll leave that to you to research on your own if you choose to do so.

The most common fiber types are listed below:

Fiber Category

Fiber Types (& their sources)

Animal

  • Wool (sheep’s hair)
  • Silk (silk worm’s unwound cocoon)
  • Cashmere (Indian cashmere goat)
  • Angora (Angora rabbit)

Plant

  • Cotton (cotton plant)
  • Linen (flax, a.k.a., linseed)
  • Rayon (wood pulp)
  • Acetate (wood pulp)
  • Hemp (hemp fibers)

Synthetic

  • Nylon (petroleum)
  • Acrylic (petroleum & natural gas)
  • Polyester (petroleum & coal)
  • Spandex (petroleum)
  • Kevlar (aramids)
  • Nomex (aramids)

1.2 Manufacturing Processes

Of the various ways fabrics can be manufactured, the two most common are woven fabrics and knitted fabrics, which are compared in the following table:

Woven Fabrics

Knitted Fabrics

Construction

Constructed by interlacing a set of longer threads (called the warp) with a set of crossing fibers (called the weft) on a frame known as a loom.

Constructed by repeatedly interlacing loops made from a single, long fiber together in multiple rows.

Qualities

  • Minimal stretch.
  • Strong
  • Won’t snag.
  • Easier for beginners to sew.
  • Available in both 2-way & 4-way stretch.
  • Not as strong.
  • Susceptible to snagging.
  • More difficult for beginners to sew.

2. Fabric Weight

The type of fibers, the manufacturing process & how closely packed the fibers are determine a fabric’s weight. Fabric weight is measured as ounces per square yard (oz/yd²) or grams per square meter (GSM). The lighter a fabric is, the more flowing it will be, but it will also the typically be less durable. The heavier a fabric is, the more stiff and durable it will be. Also, the heavier the fabric is, the thicker it may also be depending upon the type of fiber used.

GSM

Fabrics

Lightweight

1 – 150 GSM

0 – 4.4 oz/yd²

  • Organza
  • Chiffon
  • Voile
  • Taffeta
  • Single Jersey
  • Spandex

Medium Weight

150 – 350 GSM

4.4 – 10 oz/yd²

  • Velvet
  • Cambric
  • Sateen
  • Chambray
  • Interlock Jersey

Heavyweight

350+ GSM

10+ oz/yd²

  • Canvas
  • Denim
  • Hessian / Burlap
  • Poplin / Broadcloth

3. Putting It All Together

Having listed the basics about fiber types, manufacturing processes & weights, here’s a more detailed list about each fabric listed above.

3.1 Lightweight Fabrics

Fabric

Fiber Type(s) & Manufacturing Process

Typical Uses

Organza

Woven silk, nylon or polyester
  • Bridal wear
  • Evening wear

Chiffon

Woven silk, nylon or polyester

  • Evening wear
  • Lingerie
  • Blouses
  • Scarves

Voile

Woven cotton, cotton/linen blend or cotton/polyester blend

  • Window treatments
  • Mosquito nets

Taffeta

Woven silk or rayon

  • Ball gowns
  • Wedding dresses
  • Curtains
  • Wall coverings

Single Jersey

Knitted wool, cotton, synthetic fabrics or cotton/synthetic blend

  • T-shirts

Spandex

Knitted spandex or spandex/cotton, spandex/polyester, or other spandex blend

  • Compression clothing
  • Super-hero costumes
  • Tights
  • Zentai
  • Wrestling singlets
  • Active wear
  • Underwear

3.2 Medium Weight Fabrics

Fabric

Fiber Type(s) & Manufacturing Process

Typical Uses

Velvet

Woven tufted rayon/silk blend, silk (rare), cotton (less luxurious), polyester, nylon, acetate or other fibers & blends.
  • Ecclesiastical vestments
  • Royal & state robes
  • Wall hangings

Cambric

Woven linen or cotton

  • Linens
  • Shirts
  • Handkerchiefs
  • Ruffs
  • Lace
  • Needlework

Sateen

Woven cotton, cotton/linen blend or cotton/polyester blend

  • Window treatments
  • Mosquito nets

Chambray

Woven cotton, similar to denim but lighter & with the white weft visible making it lighter in color.

  • Dresses
  • Pants
  • Shirts
  • Sneakers

Interlock Jersey

Knitted wool, cotton, synthetic fabrics or cotton/synthetic blend; similar to single jersey but both sides are identical and it’s thicker

  • Higher end t-shirts
  • Tank tops
  • Camisoles
  • Bridal wear
  • Receiving blankets
  • Dresses
  • Baby’s layette items

3.3 Heavyweight Fabrics

 

Fabric

Fiber Type(s) & Manufacturing Process

Typical Uses

Canvas

Woven cotton, linen or hemp.
  • Handbags
  • Backpacks
  • Electronic device cases
  • Shoes
  • Artist medium

Denim

Woven cotton

  • Blue jeans
  • Shirts
  • Jackets
  • Work clothes
  • Shoes
  • Upholstry
  • Lampshades
  • More

Hessian / Burlap

Woven jute or sisal fibers blended with other vegetable fibers

  • Rope
  • Bags
  • Gunny sacks
  • Rugs
  • Ghillie suits
  • Sand bags

Poplin / Broadcloath

Woven wool, cotton, silk, polyester or a blend of these

  • Dresses
  • Shirts
  • Upholstery

4. Selecting the Right Fabric(s) for a Costume

The first thing you’ll want to ask yourself is where you plan to wear the costume. If you’re only planning to wear the costume on a cool Halloween evening, then going with heavier / less breathable fabrics might be your better option for staying warm.

If you’re planning to wear the costume primarily at comic or anime conventions, then you’ll want to stick to the most breathable fabrics so that you stay cool and comfortable. After that, it also depends on what type of garment(s) you need to make:

  • Pants: linen or denim
  • Shirts & blouses: cotton voile; rayon challis; double gauze; knit; silk; chambray; cotton lawn or linen
  • Skirts: cotton lawn; rayon challis; denim; knit or linen
  • Dresses: cotton voile; cotton lawn; rayon challis; double gauze; knit; silk; satin or linen
  • Superhero costumes: spandex

If you need to dye a fabric, then you definitely want to use a fabric that is made primarily from natural fibers. Do you need to give the fabric a weathered or tattered look, then you’ll probably want to stick to cotton-based fabrics. Other considerations, such as the sewing pattern you’re using for the garment, can also impact the type of fabric to be used, including any color pattern that the fabric has.

References:

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One thought on “Introduction to Fabrics

  1. Pingback: Selecting the Best Fabrics for a Cosplay | Costuming, Cosplay & Costume Clubs 101

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