A Dressmaker’s Guide to Drape

A Dressmaker’s Guide to Drape

Any experienced dressmaker will tell you that possibly the most essential aspect of dressmaking is the drape of a fabric. Now, what exactly do we mean by 'drape'? Simply put, drape refers to how a fabric behaves or hangs when it's used to make a garment. It's about the fluidity, the way it falls, and how it moves when worn. The drape can dramatically influence the final look of a garment, and it's dictated by factors like the fabric's weight, stiffness, and flexibility.


A fabric with a soft drape, like silk or viscose, will fall close to the body and create fluid lines. On the other hand, a fabric with a stiff drape, like denim or heavy cotton, will hold its shape and provide more structure. Understanding the drape of different fabrics is crucial in choosing the right material for your pattern. So, without further ado, our dressmaker’s guide to drape explores how different fabrics behave when it comes to their drape.


Drape Qualities of Different Cotton Fabrics


Woven cottons



Woven cotton is a staple in dressmaking due to its versatility, affordability, and comfort. However, when it comes to drape, it tends to be more structured and less fluid. It holds its shape quite well, making it ideal for structured garments like shirts, dresses with pleats, or A-line skirts.


Cotton Lawn



Next, we have cotton lawn. This fabric is a lightweight, semi-sheer type of cotton that's softer and more fluid than regular woven cotton. The drape of cotton lawn is quite elegant, falling close to the body with a soft flow. It's perfect for loose blouses, light summer dresses, and delicate lingerie or nightwear.


Cotton Poplin


Cotton poplin is another variant of cotton that's slightly heavier than cotton lawn but lighter than a woven cotton. It has a crisp feel and a smooth surface, making it a great choice for smart shirts.  It doesn't drape as well as cotton lawn or jersey, so it's best used for lightweight garments that require a bit of structure.




Voile is a lightweight, semi-sheer fabric that's often made from cotton or cotton blends. It's known for its softness and slight sheen, which gives it a touch of luxury. When it comes to drape, voile falls beautifully. It's light and airy, creating a delicate, floaty drape that moves gracefully with the body. This makes it perfect for loose, flowing garments like summer dresses, blouses, and scarves. However, due to its sheer nature, you might want to consider lining or layering it for certain garments but because of its gentle softness it’s a great option for lining other garments made from natural fibres. 



This popular knit fabric is known for its excellent drape, thanks to its knit construction. Jersey falls beautifully, hugging the body's contours and creating soft folds. It's ideal for designs that require a fluid, flowing drape like wrap dresses, maxi dresses, and t-shirts.



Bamboo Jersey


Finally, we have bamboo jersey. This fabric is a dream when it comes to drape. It's incredibly soft, lightweight, and has a beautiful, subtle sheen. The drape is elegant, making it perfect for high-end designs. Plus, it's eco-friendly, which is always a bonus in our book.


The Drape Qualities of Synthetic Fabrics


These man-made materials have their own unique properties when it comes to drape, and they can be a fantastic choice for certain designs.





First up, we have viscose, also known as rayon. Viscose is a semi-synthetic fibre that's loved by dressmakers for its silk-like feel and superb drape. It's soft, light, and breathable, making it a popular choice for summer wear. The drape is quite fluid, creating a graceful, flowing silhouette that's perfect for dresses, blouses, and skirts.



Next is polyester. Now, polyester can be a bit of a wild card when it comes to drape. It largely depends on how it's woven or knitted. Some polyester fabrics, like chiffon, have a beautiful, floaty drape, while others, like double knit polyester, are more structured. It's a versatile and budget-friendly fabric that can mimic the properties of natural fibres, so it's worth considering for a range of designs.




Lastly, we have crepe. Crepe is a type of fabric that can be made from silk, wool, or synthetic fibres like polyester. It's known for its distinctive crinkled texture and slightly pebbly feel. The drape of crepe varies depending on its weight and composition. Lightweight crepe, like crepe de chine, has a delicate, fluid drape, while heavier crepe, like our triple crepe, is more structured. It's a fantastic fabric for creating visual interest in your designs.

Remember, while synthetic fibres may not have the natural breathability of cotton or jersey, they offer excellent durability, colour retention, and wrinkle resistance. Plus, they can be a more affordable option, which can be a big plus for your dressmaking projects. 


How to Determine the Drape of a Fabric


Determining a fabric's drape qualities is a crucial step in the fabric selection process, and thankfully, it's quite simple. When you're in a fabric shop, the first thing you should do is hold the fabric up by a corner and observe how it falls. Does it hang straight down with little movement, or does it flow and ripple? This can give you a good idea of its drape.


For a more hands-on test, try scrunching the fabric in your hand, then releasing it. Does it spring back to its original shape, or does it retain wrinkles? Fabrics that spring back are likely to have a more fluid drape, while those that hold wrinkles may be stiffer.


Finally, consider the fabric's weight and thickness. Lightweight, thin fabrics like cotton lawn or voile typically have a softer, more fluid drape, while heavier, thicker fabrics like triple crepe are more structured.


Designs which enhance Drape


Remember, the drape of a fabric can greatly influence the final look of your garment, so it's worth taking the time to test and choose the right fabric for your design. If you are following a pattern there are always fabric recommendations to help guide your choices.


You can also look out for patterns with design elements that can enhance the drape of a garment. Gathers, pleats, tucks, and ruching are all dressmaker’s techniques that can manipulate the drape of a fabric to create visual interest and shape.


These techniques allow you to play with the drape of a fabric and create unique, eye-catching designs. They're a testament to the transformative power of dressmaking - how a flat piece of fabric can be shaped and manipulated into a three-dimensional garment. So, don't be afraid to experiment with these techniques in your designs.


Ask Us about the Drape of our Fabrics


This dressmaker’s guide to drape was inspired by questions our customers frequently ask us in the shop and when placing their online orders. We have a beautiful online collection of fabrics with excellent drape. If you want to know about the drape of a fabric not listed above, please do not hesitate to phone us on 020 7738 9589 and we can advise on any fabric we stock online.

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