Monday, December 17, 2012

Can you Spot a Quality Fabric?

Fabric selection at Sew and Sews Place

The rumor still lives.... the one that says you shouldn't use quilting cotton for making garments. This week I was asked about this because (somewhere) it is written not to do this.  Did this tale get started because quilters are stingy and don't want to share their cute prints? Are there quilt store owners that just don't want apparel sewing customers? Is it from snobby couture tailors? Well, where ever it came from, it's just plain not true. You have my permission (if you need it!) to use ANY type of materials that will lay down and be cut and fold up to be sewn - canvas, duck cloth, cheesecloth, buckrum, aida, upholstery, vinyl...AND quilting cotton- for wearable attire. A good outcome is really dependent on your fabric being of quality construction - and of course appropriate for the style in drape or "hand" (this is just as important as the quality) and it helps to have an attractive color and print type.

Understanding quality of fabric thoroughly would take up a whole text book, but let's just boil it down to the most critical points to know.  Some of the fabric information you need to know is listed on the fabric bolt, you know, that flattened piece of cardboard  the fabric is wrapped around:


1. Fiber
Is it natural or man-made?  Natural fibers are usually more expensive (wool, silk, cotton, linen- being made from wood pulp, I also put Rayon in this category), will shrink when washed, and are a joy to wear (breathable) and sew with (- yes, even silk!), but man-made, or synthetic fibers (polyester, olefin, nylon, acrylic) can take hard use, and are often stain resistant, and do not shrink with washing. The expense of natural fibers are made more affordable by mixing with a man-made fiber. One of the problems with this comes in the form of pilling, especially when mixing polyester with cotton. Cotton is made of short strands twisted together. The short strands continually sluff off, but the long and strong poly fibers hang on to it, creating the pill.
2. Yarn
The yarns of man made fibers can either be extruded into one long strand or they can be made to imitate natural fibers, creating a copycat fabric that is very hard to distinguish from the real thing. However, the yarns of a natural fiber not only determine the look of the fabric, but also the quality. Long fibers are usually more expensive (think silk satin), but short fibers woven together can create beautiful textures, as in Silk Shantung or Dupioni. The thickness and twist of the yarn makes a difference too. Without a microscope who would know what the twist is?  We consumers aren't concerned with this feature very often, but there is at least one type of fabric that you know where a high twist yarn makes a loveliest texture, and that is with Crepe. High quality crepe is so hard to find. If you get the chance, FEEL the a crepe dress from the 30's or 40's. Our modern Crepe fabrics do not even compare.
3. Weave
The weave in a fabric refers to the interlacing of the threads. Terms such as jacquard, satin, twill, crepe, etc, describe this interlacing. In a plain weave where the lengthwise and crosswise threads are woven over and then under each other, a tight weave is a sign of high quality. How many yarns per square inch did they use? If you hold the fabric up to the light can you see holes though the weave? Don't be fooled by a loose weave that feels stiff. Manufactures treat these fabrics with a starch finish that will become limp and soggy with the first washing.
3. Finishes
Dyes, printing process, starching, other treatments for wrinkling, etc.These treatments can happen at the time the fiber is made, or after the fabric has been woven. For example, a pattern that has been woven into the fabric is going to be higher quality than a pattern that was stamped on and may not be parallel to the grain. Cheap dyes can rub off on your hand and color your undergarments.

If you want to read more about spotting quality fabrics, here is a good blog post that I can refer you to:
http://www.secondcherry.com/quality-1.html

The bottom line is that both good and poor quality fabric can be found on the clearance rack, in the quilting store, at the second hand shop. It's not what it's called, but how it's made that matters!






1 comment:

Catherine Daze said...

I never knew that's why pilling happens!