The Sew Weekly Sewing Circle

Hi guys!


I was just looking through the forums, and saw your comments through 'What's Your Fave Fabric to Work With' and it made me think how I don't know much about fabrics at all... I use thrifted/second hand/op shopped fabrics, and they don't really come with the 'Cotton Lawn' tag or anything!!!


There's probably going to be a time where I just go to a real fabric shop and touch EVERYTHING and write it down, but I wonder if you guys have any ideas of how to identify fabrics? It's my personal challenge to use recycled things, as I avoid buying new things in my day to day life, so I can imagine I'll be constantly questioning myself through the year about fabrics!


Perhaps there's some online resources or places (Like the pattern wikia?) that helps you define fabrics? How did you learn what fabrics are what? Am I really naive and should probably know this by now?

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I'm glad you asked this Veronica because I have no idea what anything that isn't cotton actually is..... here's hoping someone can help!

A quick test to tell if anything is man-made or natural is to try and burn it!  (Outside of course!)  Natural will burn and man made will just smoulder or melt.


For anyone living in the UK, John Lewis is great, as they will let you buy just 10 cm of fabric.  They also give you a little paper 'tag' with all the fabric details on it - what it's made of and how to wash it etc . 

I have to say that I'm horrible at identifying fabrics. Like you, Veronia, about 99% of my fabric is thrifted or vintage and it's quite difficult to figure out them all. I'm usually good at telling the difference between synthetic and natural fabrics, but the other classifications usually go over my head.
I've also been thinking of making myself a little sample book, using my 'identified' fabric, which I can then use to compare 'found' fabrics with.

Would you believe I did classes on this years ago!! But it was all very involved. We looked at threads under microscopes, burned them, tore them, stretched them, abraded them. All with nifty little gadgets that looked like mini torture devices. lol. My lecturer was British and always wore sportscoats with leather patches at the elbow (courtesy of one of the sewing teachers) bless him. I'm not sure any of us had quite the same passion for fabric science that he did... but he never seemed to notice!

I'm usually guessing with vintage fabrics - they can be tricky .. the fibres may be the same, but  the textures/weave/knit  can be very different from anything you get today making it difficult to compare. I'll try to dig out some of my old college stuff and see if I can find anything useful. (That doesn't involve the fabric testing gadgets!)

I think I have some notes on fabric structure too from my Manchester Poly. days. I'll see if I can dig those out ...

Good for you to be recycling fabrics...
About identifying them, when they don’t have the tag compassion on is very hard because the feel can be very similar for different types of materials.
As a beginner, I only use fabrics my fingers can manage, so as long as they are no slippery, knits or suede, leather, velvet I have manage to buy good fabrics.
I also stick with the more natural the fibre the better, like cottons and linens… as they press well and they don’t look ugly if you unpick …
About learning what fabrics our, there are many books like Claire Shaeffer's Fabric Sewing Guide that you can find on your local library, or any sewing book will have an introduction on the topic.
I would say go with your instincts… close our eyes and really feel it. Don’t buy because you like the look of it ! You have to like when you put on your skin, when you squeeze, fold, let it move... Does it springs? How it behave? That’s helps…

Thanks Rachel and all you guys! This is a great help!


It's funny because I sometimes think: Oh, it's just common sense, and I have heaps of that! But a few times, I get it wrong (my blue shirt dress for example) and even for this week's Oscar's theme, the fabric felt ready for that style, but looking at it now, it's almost a little stiff around the gathered skirt bit.


But there's LOADS of things to consider, especially that a lot of vintage fabrics aren't made now, so to compare (like Casey says) is harder to do...!

I have this vintage thrifted fabric that I'm planning to use for a Pendrell blouse. My question is... what the hell is it?? I can determine that it is some kind-o-synthetic, but I have no idea what. It is all slippery and a little shiny, but it has a heck of a lot of stretch to it. Most/all of the synthetic materials I'm familiar with have little to no stretch.... I'm particularly curious as I have to underline it and I have no idea what to use with a synthetic that has quite a bit of stretch. Does anyone have any ideas? Does this mystery fabric have an actual name?

hmm.. that's a tricky one. Maybe some kind of nylon? Swimwear lining is great for lining stretch fabrics. It usually comes in white, beige & black.
I've never even heard of swimwear lining! Is it something I could get at Spotlight? Do they sell it even when it is so cold?? Thanks for the advice, I always appreciate it!
Are you sure it's vintage? I've noticed that a lot of dress fabrics now have some spandex in there for a bit of stretch. Not really sure if you're supposed to line it, the idea being that it will 'give'. Could you do a separate slip for it?


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