Friday, February 28, 2014

Definition a Day - Seersucker

This will be my last post for definition a day.  I hope you enjoyed it and learned something new and useful.  I know I have.   Each definition of fabric I have posted I put in a significant amount of thought. What were the determining factors?  Weather, usefulness of a fabric, popularity or lack of knowledge of a fabric, a fabric a student might have asked me about or fabrics seen often on commercial patterns.

This last one, seersucker, my husband suggested it.  Perfect timing because yesterday at work we have a brand new collection of seersuckers.
Kaufman fabrics at Purl Soho  

Seersucker is a very popular fabric in the south due to the heat, popular among the southern gentlemen.  It is 100% cotton and has a puckered look, pulling the fabric away from the skin.   The word seersucker literally means rice pudding and sugar originating from Hindustani.  It was quite popular among British colonies  in the warmer regions.

How is it made? It is made using a slack tension weave, and 10 to 16 threads are wrapped on the warp beam creating a narrow stripe.  The stripes are always on grain in the warp (the vertical).  It is costly to make because it takes so long.  Usually you will find it in stripes or checks.

Time to start thinking about your summer wardrobe! These will make a great dress or button down shirt.

Thanks for reading!


Thursday, February 27, 2014

Definition a Day- Bedford Cord

Men's bedford cord chinos from

Another blustery day in Brooklyn, another cold front coming thru and more snow.  Today's definition of the day is bedford cord.  I wish I was wearing a pair of bedford cords right now.  Similar to regular corduroy because of the wales (those raised yarns in the fabric you see) however bedford cord is quite durable and this durability comes from the way it is woven.   The weave is a twill weave and the ribs are created while weaving the fabric.

Where does the name come from? Well the Duke of Bedford of course.  In the 15th century in little ole England there was a man known as the Duke of Bedford.  And he adored this fabric!  Originally it was used for military uniforms but nowadays it is used for apparel and home furnishings.

It is a heavy weight fabric, similar to denim weight and washes well.

bedford cord on

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Definition a Day: Sateen v Satin

Sateen, many people confuse with satin.  Sateen is made with a spun yarn and satin is made with a filament yarn.  Both are made using a satin weave.  A satin weave is when a yarn floats across four or more yarns.  Sateen is made with cotton yarn and satin is made with silk or polyester.  They look similar, both have a sheen to them.  Sateen gets its luster look from the way it is woven.

Sateen can be used for sheets and linings, it is much more economical than satin and very little if any shrinkage.

Cotton sateen from

Poly satin from
Satin is usually used for wedding dresses and other formal wear.  You can find it in non-silk fabrications; polyester, acetate or rayon. 

Both of these fabrics should be dry cleaned and are difficult to cut.  It's best to use a rotary knife and cutting mat, line some tissue paper on top and under the fabric when cutting.  When sewing, don't use a back stitch at the beginning of a seam, this is to prevent the fabric getting sucked into the plate.  When pinning, place pins parallel to the selvage to avoid making snags in the fabric.

Satins and sateens come as Jacquards, damasks and prints.  So the variety is wide and colorful accommodating many projects.

Here is a polka dot satin from

Personally I am not a fan of satin or sateen.  I find sateen is not very breathable and I think it is also because I am just not very blingy.  Is that a word? Even for prom I did not wear any sort of satin type dress, I am a cotton girl.  Which is probably why I became a sportswear designer.  However I do think both of these fabrics are important to mention.  Especially when I teach apparel sewing classes many people do  like to use these fabrics so it is important to be knowledgeable right?

February is coming to a close this week and I will be back to my regular blogging, no definition of the day.  I would love to hear any comments about the past month and if you enjoy learning about new fabrics?  Any thing I can do better or different?

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Definition a Day: Challis Fabric

Cotton silk challis scarf from Dries van Noten at Barneys

Challis is one of those fabrics that can be found in cotton, silk, wool, rayon or a blend.  Originally made from wool, it is a lightweight, spun yarn, plain weave balanced fabric.  It is a great go-to fabric for suits, skirts and dresses because it drapes lovely and has a nice soft finish.
Wool Challis from Theory at Mood Fabrics

Rayon challis from the Vogue Fabric Store

Monday, February 24, 2014

Definition a Day - Quilting Cotton

A beautiful fat quarter bundle from fabricmade on Etsy

Happy Monday! At first I thought quilting cotton is self explanatory but not every sewist knows what it is.  So we are starting off the week nice and easy.  Quilting cotton is a cotton woven in a light to medium weight that is a plain, tight weave and usually a bit stiff.  You won't find quilting cotton in a school textile book but you will find it in the books available to the public.  What's my point? It's really not a technical term but you should know it.   It creases nicely when you iron it.  It washes well and holds up over time.  It is heavier than a lawn or voile.  Since it is a bit stiff, not stiff like canvas, it isn't great for clothing although you certainly can use it for clothing.  It can be used for placemats, napkins and totes. 

Cloth napkins from my etsy shop

Pros for the quilting cotton? There is moderate shrinkage and it is easy to sew with.  I always have my beginner students use quilting cotton for their projects.  And there is so much to choose from!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Definition a Day - Bamboo -Not so Eco

Most of us know what bamboo fabric is. And what is fantastic is that you can find it in yarn and fabric shops and it is so luxuriously soft.  However we hear bamboo and we think "oh great, natural, good for the environment etc"....  Not so true.  Because of all the processing bamboo is not so eco friendly.
Bamboo is made from the pulp of bamboo grass.  There is a lot of processing and chemicals involved to get the pulp into usable fabric.  With that said....
There are so many wonderful aspects of bamboo; it wicks, it takes dye very well, the fibers are highly absorbent, it is very soft.  In the winter it insulates and in the summer it cools.  It also has anti-bacterial qualities.  Bamboo can be found in the outdoor industry, the active industry and the ready to wear industry.

Habu Textiles, which is based in NYC, makes a beautiful bamboo yarn.  I would love a shawl or a dress made from this.  It is the most beautiful shade of white and very, very soft.

As a fabric, bamboo is woven in a plain weave and is a light to medium weight.  It is easy to sew with and has minimal shrinkage.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Buckram - a Super Versatile Fabric

From Fiber and Pixels 

Buckram is so incredibly versatile.  You can use it for book covers, as a stabilizer in bags or purses and also in hats!  Three very different uses.  So what is it and where does it come from? Buckram is a spun yarn fabric converted from cheesecloth grey goods with adhesives.  It is a fabric that will stand up on it's own which makes it perfect for book covers and millinery purposes.  It has an open weave and is very heavy.  It is found in the drapery section of a store usually because it has a fourth use! It can be used as an interlining to stiffen pinch-pleated window treatment fabrics.

I have used buckram as a lining in many of my totes. It does come as a fusible which makes it fantastic as a lining.


Have you ever used buckram? I cannot believe how many uses this fabric has.  I cannot think of any other fabrics that can be utilized for so many different items.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Definition a Day - Dimity

Have you ever heard of dimity? I haven't. I think I may have seen it though since it is a woven.  And in my past life I was a wovens designer.  I should ask my colleagues who are in the drama world if they have worked with dimity because I read that it was a bit of draping worn by performers of the Poses Plastiques, which was an early form of strip tease. Performers wore flesh colored silk body stockings and a dimity to give the illusion of modesty.  oh la la risque....

Swatch photo from the Vintage Fashion Guild

Ok so the technical definition is that dimity is a sheer woven that has double threads in the warp.  The warp is the vertical direction of the fabric.  Although sheer, it is a strong fabric. When a heavier yarn or 2 yarns are put together to form one, this is sometimes called a cord.  It is woven into a plain weave and interesting little fact is that it usually is made from pre-shrunk cotton so there is minimal shrinkage.  The word comes from the Greek Dirnitos which means double thread.

I stumbled upon a fantastic website called Thistle Hill.  First of all I love the name! I imagine a lovely southern or northern country retreat!  They create, weave, reproduction fabrics such as dimity.

Also used for draperies, curtains and sleepwear.
I would imagine it would make great summer sleepwear since it is sheer and lightweight.

If you have worked with dimity I would love to hear your thoughts on it!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Definition a Day - Drill

drill fabric
I have never heard of drill fabric.  As I was looking thru my book of fabrics I stumbled upon drill in the woven section.   It is extremely similar to canvas or duck.  And appropriately named, it is a fabric mostly seen in a utilitarian use.  It usually comes unbleached or colored.  It is a very durable twill and medium to heavyweight.  And 100% cotton. What makes it so strong?  It is the way the twill is woven, it is called a warp-faced twill.  See in the above picture the ridges are slanted?  This is the weave and the warp yarns are creating this slant.  One of the contributing factors is that the yarn is woven so close to the surface and at a diagonal.

Most famously is the Dickies Company that uses drill fabric.  Many of us are familiar with these coveralls.  Well they are made of twill fabric which is actually drill.

Dickies Painter Coveralls that uses drill fabric

I have to say I am so surprised I have never heard of this fabric. Especially since I have designed some mens workwear.  Learn something new every day right?!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Acetate - it melts.

taffeta fabric 100% acetate from

Let me start off with saying a negative with acetate is if you catch on fire it will melt against your skin! Ouch! I wish it could melt the snow and ice on our sidewalks.  Every hardware store in our area has sold out of ice melt.  Ok now that  that is out of the way acetate can be a fantastic fabric!  It is made from wood pulp cellulose so it is animal friendly.  It is soft, lovely and drapes beautifully!  It looks similar to satin but doesn't cost as much. And it is one of the fabrics that can come as a knit or a woven.

Acetate Tulip Dress from

Great fabric for outdoor wear because when it gets wet it dries quickly.  Also it is used in wedding dresses.  Wow from outerwear to formal wear. Amazing!

If you are ever on Jeopardy and are asked what fabric was originally used to make film and is considered very eco-friendly, this is it.

Wrinkle resistant and somewhat easy to sew with.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Definition a Day- Broadcloth vs Poplin

I decided to definite broadcloth and poplin together because they are so similar and I, myself wanted to know the differences.   They are both plain weaves.  Broadcloth can be found as a cotton or cotton blend, poplin usually is 100% cotton.  More often broadcloth is found in solid colors where poplin can be found in solid colors or prints.


poplin photo from

 The main difference is that poplin has a coarse yarn in the weft, also known as the filling yarn.   This coarse yarn causes a rib.  Broadcloth has larger yarns in the weft (the filling yarn) and sometimes the filling yarn is a twisted yarn.  These subtle differences have a significant effect on the feel of the fabric.

Both are good for shirts, pajamas, and other apparel.  Seen often in men's shirts.

Historically - broadcloth hails from England and poplin from France

PROS - both are easy to sew with and come in a wide variety of colors.  Broadcloth has moderate shrinkage and poplin has minimal to no shrinkage.

CONS - none really

I have experience with both of these fabrics having worked in mens wear for so many years.  These are both great shirting fabrics and as I have worked more on housewares I will use broadcloth for napkins.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Definition a Day - Cotton Flannel

Flannels from my stash after being washed.

With all of this cold weather and more snow coming to NYC and most of the country I can't help but wear wool sweaters and flannel shirts.  Which brings me to today's definition, flannel.  There are two types of flannel.  Here in the US when we say flannel we think of cotton flannel. However, across the Atlantic, especially the UK, flannel is used for wool flannel and flannelette for cotton flannel.

So cotton flannel is a medium weight plain weave or twill weave brushed or napped fabric.  Usually we see it in plaid yarn dyes but also comes in solids and lots of fun prints.   As you can see I have some in my fabric stash.  These ones I bought to make Harper some bibs and pants.

Great for shirts, skirts, sheets and blankets. Easy to sew with.

PROS- soft and warm

CONS- frays easily, shrinks more than regular cotton wovens

From Fifth and Brannan      

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Definition a Day - Lawn Fabric

Quilt using Liberty Tana Lawn, Kaufman Cambridge Lawn and Liberty Bloomsbury Art Fabrics

Since  I started the week yesterday with voile a light weight fabric I thought I would follow up today with lawn fabric.  Lawn is very similar to voile.  It is a lightweight, plain weave, cotton and soft.  Made of combed cotton or cotton blend yarns.  There is a high count of yarns used giving a lovely hand and a silky feel.  One of my favorite fabric companies is Liberty of London and many of their fabrics are made using cotton lawn.  They call it Tana Lawn.

Lawn can be used for quilting and apparel.  Personally I am not a huge fan of quilting with it because it is so silky however I will still probably use it in quilts.  Above photo is a quilt I made for Andy last year using some Tana Lawn fabrics.

When you sew with lawn fabrics it's best to use a size 8 or 10 needle. And there is minimal shrinkage.

Lawn wrap dress from Susannah Dashwood blog

Liberty Tana Lawn

Monday, February 10, 2014

Definition a Day - Voile

printed voile blouse found on pinterest from Le Chateau

Ok first thing is first, Happy Monday! It snowed here again in NYC. Only a few inches though.  Yesterday at work I was telling a co-worker about my definition a day blog posts and he suggested I definitely define voile.  AND point out that this fabric can be pronounced two ways.  So Keith, thank you for the suggestion.  Voile, it can be pronounced like foil and the French would pronounce it vwyal (like wall).  

Voile is usually found being 100% cotton but can be found in blends.  It is sheer and a low count, plain weave fabric.  It comes from the French word veil.  It is great for curtain linings or curtains, also great for lingerie.   It is soft but crisp so has a lovely drape.  This is because the yarns used to weave it have a hard or voile twist.

PROS- easy to sew with, nice drape, breathable and breezy
CONS - wrinkles easily, shrinks

Voile from

Here is a beautiful photo example of voile, the sheerness of it.

Voile via pinterest
Loving these voile pants in seafoam green.  These pants are by the brand Hard Tail and are made with a double layer of voile.  Perfect for hot climates.

Voile pants by Hard Tail at Nordstrom
Have you ever sewn with voile? I haven't but I am thinking of maybe making a pair of pants similar to the ones above by Hard Tail.   You can find more voile photos here on my pinterest board for fabrics.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Definition a Day - Tweed

Tweed girls coat from J. Crew

Tweed is a fantastic fabric that just says fall and prep school.  You know when you see a tweed because it will have little flecks of color in it.

houndstooth tweed
Most tweeds are wool but you can find blends, usually with silk which gives it a lovely drape and makes the fabric lighter weight.  Characteristically tweed is a medium to heavy weight wool.   Most tweeds are in a twill weave, that diagonal weave which is what makes it durable.  Tweeds come in many different patterns.  Ok what does that mean?  It means the coloring of the yarns.  For example there is herringbone, plaid or houndstooth.
houndstooth tweed Vans (photo from
Here is a fabulous pink and white tweed that is currently being sold at Mood Fabrics in NYC.
It is by Marc Jacobs.  I can so see myself in a sheath dress made with this fabric.  This tweed is made of wool, cottton and polyamide.  See how the yarns in the fabric are large and thin?  This is going to make it a loose weave but give it a very cool slubby look.  This isn't a traditional tweed but the non orderly way it is colored is what is making it a tweed.

 Tweeds are easy to sew with, flexible and durable.  Therefore they are often used in sport coats, skirts and outerwear. 
Have you sewn with a tweed before? Did you like it?  I have never sewn with a tweed before but I would love to hear what others think about it.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Definition a Day: Fashion Week Fabrics- Brocade

Brocade jacket and skirt Michael Kors via
Fashion week began in NYC yesterday so I thought I would give a definition of a fabric being seen on the runway by Michael Kors.  Brocade - a woven fabric usually made with colored silks.  It can come in polyester or acrylic as well therefore being cost efficient.  It is woven on a jacquard loom which is basically weaving a design as it is made.  Brocades are nice to use in skirts, pants and even totes.  Also seen being used in upholstery, wedding gowns and costumes.  Comes in medium to heavy weight.
 an African inspired Brocade from
Michael Kors from

Here is a cute brocade in polyester from Mood Fabrics .  And if you aren't local to NYC you can order swatches thru

Now for the pros and cons.

PROS - available in synthetics so can be affordable, looks luxurious, minimal shrinkage, patterns can be ornate or subtle.  Another pro in my opinion you can use the face or back side of fabric.  Since the design is woven it looks pretty on both sides!
CONS - can fray easily so here's a tip use wider seams and finish them with a serger or pinking shears

Have you ever sewn with a brocade? Do you think you might try it out? If not why not? 

I would love to hear what you think of the fabric.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Hemp, You Don't Smoke It

Hemp is becoming quite popular for sewing.  Some people may think it may be toxic but it isn't.  It actually is a very eco-friendly fiber.  It can grow in many climates, quite rapidly and requires little water.  It also is a weed suppressor.  It replenishes the soil around it and cleans the toxins from the ground.  Fabric wise, it is quite similar to linen with the exception that it does not wrinkle as easily.  It is a plain weave and can shrink significantly. It looks like canvas with a slubby appearance.  It also is quite versatile coming in different weights.
hemp knit from 
55% hemp/35% organic cotton

PROS- easy to sew with, softens with each wash

CONS- can fray

Everybody is getting on the hemp train, even Martha Stewart.  Lion Brand knitting company is now carrying a cotton/hemp yarn in a worsted weight in 20 colors and it is being licensed under Martha's brand. Being a worsted weight and eco-friendly it is perfect for baby gifts, washcloths and towels.

Looking to buy something made already with hemp? Check out Patagonia.  They have a wide selection for men and women.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014


Organic cotton gabardine

Gabardine is another fabric that is often suggested on pattern envelopes for skirts and suits.  Gabardine, invented by Thomas Burberry, of the famous Burberry brand.  He wanted to create something that was versatile and durable.  Gabardine is a twill weave and twills are quite strong.  Traditionally gabardine is made of worsted wool yarn but now can be found made of cotton, synthetics or other blends.  It is a medium weight fabric and usually is dry cleaned or hand wash.

Great for dresses, shirts, straight skirts, pants, jackets, coats and suits.

PROS -  gabardine tends not to wrinkle
drapes well

CONS- difficult to press
can pucker around curves when sewing

Dior Homme Gabardine Duffle Coat

From the online fabric store

Hermes Suit in gabardine wool and cotton