I’m going to spend a little time today talking about woven fabrics. We will discuss how woven fabrics are constructed and their identifiers; different fabric types; using the right needle; how to handle these types of fabrics; and useful tools that may help you. Sewists generally have a preference and either like sewing with knits or wovens best; that is simply because they require a slightly different set of skills. Hopefully this post will help to give you the confidence to start working with woven fabrics.
CONSTRUCTION AND IDENTIFIERS
Woven fabrics are constructed with a warp thread or yarn which runs vertically up the fabric. A Weft thread or yarn is then woven over and under these fibres to form the fabric itself. Due to this construction method woven fabrics do not stretch like knitted fabrics, as a rule. However most woven fabrics will have some level of stretch along their bias – at 45° from the selvedge edge.
Like knits, woven fabrics are usually identified by the fibres used to construct them (cotton, viscose, silk,) but also by their construction method (tweed, twill, poplin). For example, cotton could be anything from an extremely fine and lightweight cotton lawn, to a heavy and densely woven cotton duck. Just like with knit fabrics, the trick is picking the right fabric for the item you are constructing. All Made for Mermaids patterns have suggested fabrics listed under the ‘Supply List’ section. The list of fabrics will not be exhaustive, but it will give several different types of fabrics which we would suggest are suitable for the pattern, to give the best results.
Just like with knits, you will get the best results from using the correct needle for your fabric type and weight. A Universal needle is a good all rounder for sewing wovens, and the weight of your needle will expend on the weight of your fabric. A cotton lawn or a silk would need a lower weight needle, such as a 75. A mid-weight quilting cotton would probably need a 90 weight. A thick canvas might need a 110 weight needle.
You may also get a better result on a finer fabric, like silk, with a Microtex needle, and if you are sewing up some jeans you will want to try out a denim needle for the best results.
This video gives some examples of various different woven fabrics and what they could be suitable for.
HOW TO HANDLE AND PREP
Before starting to sew with your fabric, it is always recommended to launder your fabric in the same manner that you will be caring for the garment after construction. Pre-washing not only removes excess dyes and pre-shrinks fabrics before cutting but it also removes any chemicals left on the fabric after construction and transportation.
Unlike knits, woven fabrics will fray along the cut edges and these will need to be finished to help stop the fabric fibres from separating and the seams from shredding. There are several ways of finishing a woven fabric. This video will go through the five most commonly used ways of finishing raw woven edges.
Using pinking shears to trim the seam allowance. This cuts the warp and weft threads at different lengths, which helps stop them from fraying in long threads.
French seams are the traditional couture method for stopping wovens from fraying and are best used when dealing with very fine fabrics such as silk or chiffon. They enclose the raw edges of the fabric inside a second seam. Just decide if you are going to use this method before you cut your fabric as you may need to cut a bigger seam allowance to allow extra space for encompassing two seams in the space.
A simple zig zag stitch along the raw edge of the fabric can also be used to finish off the edge of the fabric.
Many sewing machines come with an ‘overcasting’ stitch and foot. These can be used together to form a stitch which wraps around the raw edge of the fabric cleanly, preventing fraying.
SERGE / OVERLOCK STITCH
Lastly, if you have a serger/overlocker you will be able to use a 3 thread overlock stitch to serge along the raw edge and finish the fabric quickly and cleanly.
The temptation when you have an overlocker/serger is to use this to construct your garment because it is so much quicker, however this is not recommended. Woven fabrics need to be left with a thicker seam allowance than knits or the threads can work their way out under tension and the seams can shred, particularly in high stress areas. This is why we always suggest to sew wovens with a sewing machine first and then just to run along the edge of the seam allowance with your overlocker/serger. This leaves a deeper seam allowance and helps keep the integrity of the seam.
Pinking shears are a fantastic tool to have at your disposal. These scissors have a special zig-zag cutting edge, which trims the threads of the fabric at different lengths to help prevent fraying. They can also be used to help ‘notch’ fabric around a curve or for reducing bulky seam allowances and layering.
DUCK BILL SCISSORS
A small pair or sharp scissors with a duck bill edge, like these, are great for trimming seam allowance, cutting notches and reducing seam bulkiness by layering. The larger duck bill edge helps stop you trimming through lower layers by accident.
A tailors ham is a tool designed to help you press curves into a garment, for example pressing out the seam over a princess seam bust curve. You can get the same sort of shape at home using a rolled up cotton towel, but a proper Ham is brilliant for helping get the best results from your pressing, which is vital when sewing wovens. The general rule is to press after every step to get the most professional looking finish.
Dana is from Suffolk, UK, where she lives with her wonderful husband and daughter. She works as a sewing teacher, pattern tester and sewing blogger and is never very far away from a needle and thread. You can find her at Slippy Chicken IG , if you want you want to follow her adventures in sewing plus size womenswear and mad kids clothes.