GET TO KNOW YOUR BASICS
If you are new to the world of sewing, then fabric bases could be a little bit of a minefield! But don't worry- I'm here to help! This is going to be brief- but it could help! So the main yarn groups are:
Celulose: These fibres come from a plant base so this is commonly Cotton, Linen, Bamboo, Hemp. They are greatly versatile, take moisture away from your skin, very breathable and the industry is coming along leaps and bounds in terms of making these fabrics more eco-friendly and more organic fabrics are becoming available. Cotton is of course very widely used in different weaves, widths and colours to create well loved fabrics such as denim, chambray, sateen, gauze, poplin and jaquards.
Protein: Protein fibres come from animals, so the better known are Wool and Silk although across the market you will find Cashmere, Alpaca, Angora and Mohair. Silk is sort of the odd one out here as the rest are kind of 'fluffy' fibres. A common quality with the fluffy fibres is their thermal qualities and also their potential 'felting' if care isn't given during washing. Silk again, is a very delicate yarn, surprisingly it is harvested from silk worm cocoons which is was gives us such a thin fine yarn.
Semi- Synthetic: The best known semi- synthetic fibres are Viscose and Rayon. How can something be 'semi- synthetic' you might ask? So, in simple terms, its wood pulp, made into a sludge and pushed through a spaghetti maker which makes very fine yarns which are simultaneously spun into a full yarn. Difficult to picture isn't it! But- this process gives us some of the most versatile fabrics on the market. Viscose and Rayon are known for their soft handle, lovely drape and breathable qualities- they can be known to crease though!
Synthetic: Synthetic fibres are exactly what they sound like- synthetic. They use a similar method to make the fibres as the semi- synthetic but instead of wood pulp being pushed through, its generally a chemical base ie. Polyester, Acetate, Acrylic. These fabrics are mostly used and purchased as they can give you a very good impression of a more expensive base such as cotton or silk for less money. Yes they are cheaper, but it's sometimes a good thing to have a bit of Polyester blended into your Cotton, it reduces creasing, sometimes can improve the handle and can in some cases make the fabric more durable.
Elastane: Although it isn't really a yarn base, I thought that elastane might be worth explaining here. Elastane is elastic, very thin pieces of elastic are often woven into your fabrics to improve the fit. If its a pair of jeans you might have 3% activewear might have up to 18%. The main yarn is often woven around the elastane to protect your skin from its grippy texture, kind of like a coil.
There are SO many weaves out there and different verifications of them once you start introducing different thickness', colours, and number of yarns. Hopefully this can simplify it just a little bit and help you to understand your fabrics. Here we have 3 of the most commonly used weaves plain, twill and satin. There are several decorative weaves that I will mention briefly also.
Plain Weave: A plain weave is very simple, this is what you will find on most cotton fabrics, calico, linen and viscose. A lot of daywear fabrics follow this pattern. It is basically and 1-1. One under one over. This weave can be made more interesting by introducing varying tensions, slub yarns and adding in additional yarns (also known as a basket weave).
Twill Weave: A twill weave is most commonly used on denim. This is a staggered 2-2 weave. Each yarn will go over twice and under twice, this creates a very durable and hardwearing structure. You can identify this weave by its distinctive diagonal lines, the over yarns being staggered leaves almost a surface design. You can often find this as a denim, a cotton drill (lighter weight often colourful dyes), viscose twill, canvas and rayon.
Satin Weave: Satin weaves are often used on silk fabrics and other lightweight, delicate fabrics. This weave follows a 1-4 pattern meaning that each yarn goes under 1 and over 4. This gives the surface a sheen finish however the loose surface means that satin weave fabrics are more susceptible to pulling. They are quite the opposite to the twill weave and is easily worn. Commonly this weave is used for fine fibres such as silk and tight spun cotton sateen.
Jacquard: Jacquard fabrics can be described as fabrics that have their pattern woven into the fabric, not printed on top (although some jacquards may also be printed on). This is done using the loom, a pattern is created using cards with holes punched in to tell the weaver where to pick up and drop different yarns. This technique was used vastly with silk yarns historically creating intricate patterns like paisley. Today we see jacquard woven with most yarns and different weights and colours.
Corduroy: Corduroy is woven using a plain weave as standard however adding in extra loops into the weave. Once it has been woven, the extra loops are cut, usually in vertical rows, creating a plush ‘fluffy’ channel. Popular types of corduroy are; corduroy, needlecord, jumbo cord.
Velvet: Velvet is made using a similar process to corduroy however instead of only cutting in channels, all the additional loops are cut. High quality velvets are often made in silk or viscose and are backed with a sort of mesh fabric. You can find more affordable velvets with a jersey back which also stretch.
Jersey: Jersey fabrics differ from woven fabrics as they are knitted, not woven. This is done using big knitting machines which create loops- very much like traditional knitting, often done with finer threads. Jersey fabrics are often woven with elastane for comfort however it is not always necessary as the knit provides the fabric with a natural stretch. Printed jersey fabrics are very popular and this print is done post fabric production. You will find on the market a range of yarn based such as cotton, viscose, polyester and bamboo. Patterns are added to jersey through the knitting machines picking up and dropping stitches, for example rib knit and cable knit.
Crepe': Crepe weaves can be either woven or knitted into jersey. A crepe' fabric has a bumpy texture, kind of crinkly but quite tight. Crepe' is achieved by tightly twisting the yarns as they are being woven/ knitted. This creates a tightness to the yarn and leaves you with a lovely bumpy effect. There are lots of different types of crepe' fabrics on the market, single crepe', double crepe', satin back crepe', crepe' de chine and jersey crepe are all very common. You will find a vast variety of the different compositions in crepe' fabrics as well, silk, viscose, polyester and elastane are the most popular.