A Beginner’s Guide to Choosing the Right Fabric
By Jan H Roos
It’s one of the most important things a sewer must learn to do. What, you ask? Choosing the right fabrics for your sewing projects.
For many beginning sewers, choosing fabric doesn’t seem like a big deal. In fact, ask any experienced sewer about it, and you’ll hear the same story. For one of their early sewing projects, they chose an awesome pattern to work with, carefully read the fabric recommendations on the back of the pattern… and then completely ignored those fabric recommendations because they found a beautiful fabric they just couldn’t pass up, even though it wasn’t the type recommended. After all, what difference would it really make?
The result? Well, usually those projects ended up total disasters. When all was said and done, the pattern went to waste, the fabric went to waste, and the hours spent on something that couldn’t be worn or used also went to waste.
To avoid all of that waste, it’s important to learn which fabrics you should avoid, especially when just starting out. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
Fabrics That Are Hard to Work With
Sometimes, when you see a fabric in just the right color, with a pattern that you’ve instantly fallen in love with, it can be hard not to buy it and try to figure out what to do with it later. But the truth is that some fabrics are so hard to work with, only the most experienced sewers stand a chance of turning out something worthwhile with them. And here are three of the fabrics beginning sewers should stay away from.
– Satin Fabrics. Satin fabric is beautiful. It’s so silky, shiny, and rich-looking. Who can resist it, right? Well, you probably should. As beautiful as it is, satin is extremely difficult to work with because it’s so slick. Satin likes to slip through your fingers and slide across flat surfaces. Getting it to “sit still” long enough to cut it properly can be a real challenge. And getting two pieces of satin to stay together long enough for you to sew them can be just as tough.
– Knit Fabrics. The best thing about knit fabric is that it’s stretchy. That makes it an excellent fabric choice for many sewing project. But that same stretchiness is what makes knit fabric so hard to work with. You need to stretch knit fabric a little as you sew it to keep it from puckering up. But stretching it too much can cause gathers, which is also bad. And you shouldn’t stretch it at all when laying out your pattern. Knit will also snag and run, which can turn a gorgeous, and possibly costly, piece of fabric into a mess.
– Denim. The world loves denim, so of course you’ll be inspired to make something with denim fabric. The problem with denim is its thickness. Just cutting it can be hard, especially if your cutting tools aren’t as sharp enough. You can’t sew denim with any old needle, unless you like broken needles and sewing machine jams. No, you have to use a needle especially made for denim. You also have to outfit your sewing machine with special accessories, which means extra expense. But, even when using the right needles and accessories, you’ll probably run into trouble when sewing with denim.
It’s not that you should never work with difficult fabrics. But learning to work with them properly can be frustrating, and will take a bit of time. For a beginner, it’s much easier to start with fabrics that are easier to work with. Experience with “easy” fabrics can give you skills that will make working with more difficult fabrics much easier.
The Best Fabric for Beginners
The absolute best fabric for beginners is 100% cotton fabric that is closely woven. This type of fabric is extremely easy to work with, it’s one of the easiest fabrics to cut, and you won’t run into many problems while sewing with it.
Cotton is also extremely versatile. You can use it to make just about anything. And projects made with cotton are comfortable, durable, and easy to maintain.
Still, cotton isn’t perfect. The biggest drawback of using cotton fabric is that it shrinks, especially when it’s washed for the first time. So, when buying cotton fabric, you have to buy more than you think you’ll need. You also have to pre-shrink it, running it through the washing machine before using it in your sewing project. If you don’t pre-shrink cotton before using it, the project you make it will shrink the first time you wash it. So that dress you spent hours making will end up being too small for you to actually wear.
Despite a few drawbacks, which are minor compared to other fabrics, cotton fabric is the way to go for the beginning sewer.
Learning how much trouble choosing the wrong fabric can cause can be an expensive lesson. But, by keeping these guidelines in mind, it’s a lesson you can learn without wasting a lot of time, energy, or effort.
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