A Dressmaker's Guide to Fabric Terminology

A Dressmaker's Guide to Fabric Terminology

Sew Much Lingo! 

At Fabrics Galore we understand that whether you're a seasoned seamstress or a curious beginner, navigating the world of dressmaking terminology can feel a bit overwhelming at times.  So, to help you, we bring you a cheat sheet to conquer common fabric and pattern lingo. Sit back and relax while we walk you through the common and less obvious dressmaking fabric terminology.

Fabric Terminology:

  • BCI:
    The Better Cotton Initiative, also known as BCI, is a global movement aimed at making cotton production better for the people who produce it, better for the environment it grows in, and better for the sector's future. It's not a certification system, but rather a program that works to train farmers to use water efficiently, care for the health of the soil and natural habitats, reduce use of harmful chemicals, and respect workers' rights and wellbeing. By purchasing BCI-labelled products, consumers are supporting a more sustainable way to produce cotton.
    • Drape
      Not to be confused with drapes (curtains), drape refers to how the fabric falls. It is the difference between a crisp cotton poplin and flowey viscose. Viscose flow beautifully, creating elegant gathers and soft silhouettes. Crisp cottons hold their shape, making them ideal for structured garments like shirts and trousers.

    • Fibre/Fabric Composition
      Quite simply, this appears first in our product descriptions and tells you what the fabric is made of, for example 100% cotton, linen, polyester, and all kinds of brilliant fabric blends! Knowing the fibre helps predict drape, weight, and care. Understanding fibre composition is key to choosing the right fabric for your project. For example, a fine cotton lawn wouldn't hold its shape for a structured jacket, and vice versa.

    • Fabric Weight
      The weight usually expressed as GSM (see below) indicates the fabric thickness and literal weight. Lightweight fabrics like seersucker are perfect for summer dresses and breezy blouses. Heavier fabrics like velvet or wool suit winter coats and provide body and warmth.

    • Fat Quarter 
      is a term you will be familiar with if you are a quilter, and it's a specific cut of fabric. It's a square piece, usually 50cm x 50 cm, cut from one metre of fabric. It's a popular choice for patchwork and small projects.

    • GOTS
      The Global Organic Textile Standard, or GOTS, is a globally recognised standard that was created to establish universally accepted criteria for organic textiles. This standard covers every step of the process, from the collection of raw materials to the eco-friendly and socially responsible production methods, all the way to the final labelling of the product. If a textile is GOTS certified, consumers can trust that it has met these rigorous standards.

    • Grain
      The grain of the fabric is the direction in which the threads are woven. There are two types: the 'warp' (threads running lengthwise) and the 'weft' (threads running crosswise). The grain can significantly impact the drape or fit of a garment, so it's essential to pay attention to it. It is also important for when you are cutting out your pattern. The grain is often but not always parallel to the selvedge.

    • GSM 
      stands for 'Grams per Square Metre.' It's a measurement used to understand the weight of a fabric. Higher GSM indicates a denser, heavier fabric, while a lower GSM suggests a lighter, more breathable fabric.

    • Interfacing
      An invisible stabilising fabric used to add structure to collars, cuffs, and buttonholes. Interfacing comes in various weights and types, and choosing the right one for your project is essential. For example, a lightweight fusible interfacing might be perfect for a shirt collar, while a heavier sew-in interfacing would be better suited for a structured bag. Interfacing comes in a variety of weights, materials (woven, non-woven, knit), and fusibility (fusible or iron-on and non-fusible or sew-in). When choosing an interfacing it’s important to match the fabric weight to the interfacing. If sewing a lightweight cotton, then use a lightweight interfacing. 

    • Knit
      Knit fabric is a type of textile that results from knitting, a method that involves interlocking loops of yarn or thread in a weft or warp direction. This fabric is known for its unique properties including elasticity and comfort. Unlike woven fabric, which is often crisp and crinkly, knit fabric tends to be soft and stretchy, making it perfect for items like t-shirts, jumpers and activewear. Its flexible nature allows it to comfortably conform to body shapes, offering a cosy fit.

    • Nap
      The nap of a fabric refers to the direction of the fabric's fibres or threads. It's a bit like the direction of fur on an animal. When you run your hand along the fabric, it will feel smooth in one direction and slightly rough in the other. This is because of the way the fibres are raised during manufacturing. The nap can affect the appearance and texture of the fabric, particularly in fabrics like velvet, corduroy, or suede where the nap is more pronounced. It's important to consider the nap when cutting and sewing fabric, as it can influence the way the finished piece looks and feels. When you are cutting out a fabric with a visible nap it is important that is all going in the same direction to create an even finish. 

    • OEKO-TEX 100 
      is a global testing and certification system for textiles. It's all about ensuring that the fabric you're using is safe and free from harmful substances. When a fabric is OEKO-TEX 100 certified, it means that every single component of the fabric, has been tested and found free from harmful levels of more than 100 individual substances known to be harmful to human health.

    • Pile 
      is another term you'll come across quite often. This refers to the raised surface or nap of a fabric, like velvet or corduroy. When working with pile fabrics, remember the direction of the pile can affect the colour and texture of your garment. So again when you are cutting out a project you need to make sure everything is going in the same direction. 

    • Pre-Washed
      As the name suggests, these are fabrics that have been washed before being sold. The main purpose of pre-washing is to remove any residual dye, prevent shrinkage, and reduce the fabric's stiffness, making it softer and more comfortable to wear. Check out our pre-washed fabrics like denim and linen.  
    • Selvedge
      This term refers to the self-finished edges of the fabric that prevent it from unravelling or fraying.  Selvedge runs along the length of the fabric and is often a different texture or colour. See our red denim selvedge for an example of this. When planning your pattern layout, it's important to align the pattern pieces parallel to the selvedge. You can also use the selvedge to determine the grain of the fabric when you start a project. 
    • Slub 
      Slub refers to the intentional, lumpy, uneven textures in a fabric that are created during the weaving process. These irregularities give the fabric a unique, tactile quality. Slub is not a type of fabric itself, but rather a technique used across different types of fabric like silk, cotton, or linen. The result is a fabric with a distinctive texture that adds depth and character to your garment.

    • Toile 
      is a test garment made from cheap material so the design can be tested and perfected before the final garment is cut from the actual fabric. It's a great way to avoid costly mistakes. Toiles can be made from literally anything but calico is most often used. 

    • Warp and Weft
      The basic building blocks of woven fabric are the warp and weft.

      • Warp: The warp threads are the strong, vertical threads in a woven fabric. Imagine them as the threads that run along the length of the fabric, from the bolt to the hem. Warp threads typically hold the tension on a loom while the weft is woven in. They are often slightly thicker and stronger than weft threads to withstand the weaving process.

      • Weft: Also known as the woof, the weft threads run horizontally across the fabric, weaving back and forth between the warp threads. Weft threads create the design and colour variations you see in many woven fabrics.

    • Woven vs. Knit
      This refers to the construction of the fabric. Woven fabrics have a crisscross pattern, created by interlacing threads at right angles. This construction gives them stability and makes them great for structured garments like jackets and trousers. Knits are stretchy like jersey, perfect for comfy T-shirts and dresses that drape and move with your body.

    Happy Sewing!

    Understanding fabric terminology as a dressmaker might seem daunting at first, but with a bit of time and practice, it will become second nature. Remember, every dressmaker, no matter how experienced, comes across terminology they have never heard before. So, keep learning, and most importantly, keep creating beautiful things!

    I hope this guide has been helpful in clarifying some of the common terms you'll encounter in your dressmaking journey. Stay tuned for more insights into the wonderful world of dressmaking.

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