Beginner Sewing: Fabric Types

Once you have all the tools required to sew, you will also need some fabric!

Most patterns will list the fabric that they are suitable for; this will include whether it is for a woven or a knit fabric and also the suggested weight, content and weave type of the fabric as well. We will explain what all of these terms mean below.


A woven fabric is made on a loom. The yarns or threads that make up a woven fabric run

straight along the length of the fabric, called the warp, and straight across the width of the

fabric, called the weft.

A woven fabric is recognisable by the perpendicular intersecting threads, the sturdy woven

selvedge (the edge of the fabric in the warp direction), and the lack of stretch or ‘give’ in the

warp direction. Note that a woven fabric may have stretch if it contains elastane fibres (Lycra).

Plain woven fabrics will often look the same on both sides. However others, such as satin or printed fabrics, you can clearly see which is the right and wrong side to the fabric.


The most basic form of knit fabric are those knitted by hand using 2 knitting needles and a

ball of wool. A knit fabric is made on a knitting machine. knit fabrics are made using one or

more long threads or yarns that are knitted to create interlocking loops.

A knit may have been glued at the selvedge edge to keep it from curling, or it may have been

left to curl slightly.

Knit fabrics look different on each side and the loops face one direction. This affects the

appearance of the finished garment. It is important to identify these directions before cutting.

Knits usually have stretch in both directions, however the most stretch will be across the

width of the fabric so it is this direction that usually wraps around the body. They have very

good recovery, crease less than woven fabrics and are more comfortable to wear.


The easiest way to find the grain of the fabric is to look at the selvedge edge. The straight grain

will be parallel to the selvedge. The cross-grain is at 90° to the selvedge. The bias is at a 45° angle.

Your pattern pieces will each have a large arrow on them (called the Grainline), this indicates that the arrow on the pattern piece should be in the same direction as the grain of the fabric. By lining up the pattern with the grain of your fabric, your projects will hang straight without twisting.


Fabrics have a right side and a wrong side, and your pattern’s instructions will refer to these.

If you’re using a printed fabric, the right side will be easy to see. With other fabrics, such as

satin, you will instinctively know which is the right side of the fabric because you will be used to seeing it in your wardrobe or in clothing stores (it’s the shiny side for satin!). 

With plain coloured fabrics the right and wrong side is more subtle and with more experience you will be able to identify these more easily. In the meantime you can make a note of the right side

of the fabric when you buy it. If all else fails, just remember that if you can’t tell which is the

right side, no one looking at you will be able to either!

Knit fabrics have a definite right and wrong side that you will be able to identify by looking

closely at the yarns that make up the fabric.

Whichever side you choose as the right side make sure you keep it consistent for all the pieces.

Even fabrics that initially look the same on both sides can look different once under different

lighting, so a sleeve could end up a different colour to the rest of the jacket it belongs to!


People often get confused between the ‘fibre content’ and the ‘weave’ of a fabric, although you

may not have heard these terms at all before. 

The most common example is ‘silk’ and ‘satin’. If we have a fabric called ‘silk satin’, silk is the fibre content, in other words the fabric is made from silk (which is a fibre that comes from silkworms). The silk fibres are spun to make them into yarns (kind of like a very fine ball of yarn for knitting). These yarns are then woven into a particular pattern to create the fabric. That pattern is the ‘weave’, which in this case is a ‘satin weave’ but we usually just refer to it as ‘satin’.

If a polyester fibre is woven into a satin weave, what is created is a ‘polyester satin’.

  •     Fibre sources from animals include: silk, wool.
  •     Fibre sources from plants include: cotton, linen, hemp.
  •     Fibre sources that are man-made or chemically processed include: polyester, nylon,

viscose, acetate, acrylic, elastane.


Most fabrics shrink when washed, which can be a major problem when it comes to garments.

If you have ever had a chain store shirt that fit perfectly at the store but then was too small or

short after you washed it, then you have experienced this first hand.

So avoid this we need to wash our fabrics before cutting and sewing to pre-shrink them. You

will need to pre-shrink your fabric by washing it in the same way as you plan to wash the

finished project. 

Get into the habit of noting down the fibre content and washing instructions when you purchase fabric, you’ll find it written on the tag. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations to keep your fabric in the best condition. Your fabric needs to be fully washed and dried before you use it. There is no need to pre-shrink interfacing.


Interfacing is a fabric that is glued or sewn to the wrong side of your main fabric to give it

strength and structure. Once the project is sewn up the interfacing should not be visible. 

Uses include bags, belts, collars, cuffs, waistbands, button stands and anywhere else that strength or stability is needed. In tailored garments entire panels are interfaced to create a smooth professional finish.

Interfacing comes in 2 main types. Fusible interfacing is the most common and has glue on

one side. The glue side goes against the main fabric and then heat and pressure is applied

using a dry iron which melts the glue, sticking the two fabrics together.

The other type of interfacing is called ‘sew-in’. It does not have glue and must be attached

to the main fabric by sewing them together around the edges (within the seam allowances).

Sew-in interfacing is used when applying heat would damage the main fabric. These fabrics

include velvet, metallic fabrics, PVC, beaded and sequined fabrics.

Interfacing also comes in varying levels of quality. The best quality interfacings will feel like

fabric in your hand, the worst will feel like paper and will give your project a papery feel,

not to mention create a rustling sound whenever you move! Also some paper-like interfacings are more like tissue paper and often break down over time with washing so the garment will lose its strength and integrity where it needed it. 

When choosing interfacing, select one that feels most like your main fabric. If your fabric is a lightweight silk, choose a lightweight interfacing. If your fabric is a knit, choose a knit interfacing. If your fabric is thick and heavy, choose a heavyweight interfacing. It is best to test interfacing on a face cloth sized piece of your fabric to get an idea of how it will change the feel and drape of your fabric. 

Interfacings only come in white, grey and black. However these colours are all we really need

as the interfacing is not visible once the project is completed. Choose white interfacing for

white or coloured fabrics, and grey or black interfacing for dark or black fabrics only or

you may see the interfacing through the fabric.


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