Top tips on choosing the right fabrics for your garment projects

When starting a clothing company or brand, the overall design and color, quality of the seams, and accurate sizing are essential. But there is another vital consideration all garment manufactures have to decide on: the type of fabric. Arguably, choosing the suitable fabric for your garments is the most crucial factor. It can either bring the design to life before your eyes or see it become a disaster in the making.
Even if you have a clear image of what you want your finished product to look like, selecting a fabric from the thousands available can be overwhelming. Thankfully, we are experts on all things textiles and have several handy tips that will help you find the perfect materials that will do your designs justice.
Consider the fabric weight
The weight of fabric refers to how heavy it is. With all fabrics, this is measured in grams per square meter (GSM). The higher the GSM measurement, the heavier and denser the fabric will be. As a general rule, all materials will fall into three categories: lightweight, medium-weight, and heavy-weight. These three categories have a GSM of 30-150, 150-350, and 350+, respectively.
Fabric weight is an essential consideration as it affects several features of the material. For one, it tells you a lot about quality when comparing two similar fabrics of different weights. However, don't rely on fabric weight when comparing the rate of two completely different fabrics. For example, denim is heavy thanks to its weave and the fibers used, whereas chiffon has loose stitching that makes it lighter. This chiffon material is not poor quality compared to denim; it is just an entirely different fabric altogether.
The weight of the fabric is also pivotal when designing garments for specific weather conditions. Whereas lightweight materials are best for hotter climates, heavy-weight fabrics are best for more excellent needs. Likewise, stiffer and denser fabrics are less comfortable than lighter materials but will be more long-lasting. Heavy-weight denim, for instance, is better suited for jeans that will be worn regularly, whereas lightweight denim is preferable for shirts. For the balance between comfort and durability, mid-weight denim would be a great option.
Consider the drape
The drape of the fabric refers to how it hangs and will ultimately affect how the garment looks when being worn. Stiffer fabrics will have more petite drape and will retain their shape, sticking out when pleating or gathered. On the other hand, fabrics with more drapes will be more fluid and floaty. How you imagine the item of clothing fitting will determine which drape is best for you. For example, a long floaty skirt will be best made using a drapey material, whereas a structured dress needs a stiffer fabric with more petite drape. To test the drape of a fabric, unfold the material for a few meters and see how it hangs.
The drape of a fabric is often confused with weight, but these are two separate features. Take organza and denim, for example. Both of these materials have low drapes and will retain their structure. Organza is a beautiful material for sheer puffy sleeves or skirts with lots of volumes, and denim won't cling to the wearer or float in the wind. However, denim is a heavy-weight fabric, while organza is a lightweight fabric. This is an excellent example of two materials that are both soft drape but that have opposite weights.
Consider the stretch
The stretch or elasticity of the material is also an important consideration. This refers to how much a piece of fabric can be pulled and stretched without the fibers breaking, enabling it to return to its original length and shape. To test the fabric stretch, remove a few inches of the material against a ruler from 0" until you feel resistance. Divide the number between the ruler by the original length of the fabric to determine the percentage of stretch. The ability of a fabric to stretch depends mainly on the type of yarn used to manufacture the material. The use of elastic fibers such as lycra, elastane, and spandex in the fabric will stretch it. The type of weave used also influences how much stretch material has, with knitted structures known for being stretchy.
When talking about stretch, materials can be divided into two categories which refer to how they stretch: two-way stretch materials and four-way stretch materials. Two-way stretch fabrics will only stretch along one plane, either lengthways or crossways, whereas four-way stretch fabrics stretch in two directions, both lengthways and crossways. Most fabrics will have the ability to pull, even if only a little and along one plane. However, some materials are much more stretchy than others.
Jersey and lycra are high four-way stretch fabrics and will quickly bounce back to their initial shape when stretched. This stretch makes these materials extremely comfortable to wear and perfect for sportswear. Other high-stretch fabrics include jersey knits. Being light-to-medium weight and with good drape, this is a highly versatile and multi-functional material that is great for T-shirts, sweatpants, underwear, and sportswear.
However, high-stretch fabrics are more difficult to sew with, and you will need to check that highly elastic materials work with your sewing pattern. Making the same garment with high stretch fabric and the soft stretch fabric will drastically alter how they fit the wearer. If you are using these fabrics, be sure to use a zig-zag stitch. Using a straight stitch will mean that the material will stretch, but the seams won't, resulting in a poor-quality end product.
Now you know enough about different materials, look at our catalog of high-quality fabrics and get started on your latest garment and apparel project.