Sewing Tips: Understanding Fabric Types and Color

Posted by on Mar 28, 2013

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Unless you’re a paper doll, it’s hard to get dressed without fabric. The kind of fabric affects the way clothes fit, hang, move, look, wear, feel on your skin and swish when you walk. Learning how they’re made and how they behave is an important first step in choosing fabrics for your projects.

Three Basic Types of Fabric

Woven, knit and non-woven fabrics
Woven fabrics are made of horizontal and vertical yarns that are crisscrossed on a machine called a loom. The process is the same as when you wove pot holders at summer camp.

You might think only sweaters are knitted fabric, but T-shirt fabric (cotton jersey) is knitted too. It is made on machines that interconnect loops of thread or yarn. Knitted fabrics stretch, take on the form of the body, and don’t unravel easily when cut.

Nonwoven fabrics are made by using heat or chemicals and friction to bind the fibers together. Wool felt doesn’t unravel when cut.

The Fibers and How They Fall

Wool, which comes from sheep, keeps you warm, but it also breathes. It’s good for cold weather wear because it absorbs about 30 percent of its weight in moisture before it feels damp.

Tulle, spandex, polyester, nylon, Polarfleece and Kevlar are all man-made synthetic fabrics. Synthetic fibers are popular and practical.
Cotton comes from the seedpod of a cotton plant, and is used to make many different woven fabrics, like denim, quilting cotton and canvas. Cotton is also knitted and made into cotton jersey for T-shirts and sweatshirts. Cotton dries quickly and is great to wear in the summer.

Silk fibers come from the cocoon of the silkworm. The beauty of silk is the way it holds color. Silk drapes and folds gracefully. Try it on the dummy and see.

Linen comes from the stalk of the flax plant, and is spun into thread and woven into fabric. Linen is two times stronger than cotton, and it tends to wrinkle.

Choosing Fabric Colors

A little color info really helps in pulling an outfit together. Look around you at
school and you’ll see that mostly the palette is bright — T-shirts with colorful
printed slogans, patterned skirts, multicolored tights — a riot of color and fun all
mixed and matched into one-of-a-kind styles.

Primary Colors
Everywhere there’s light there’s color. This is because light is made up of many colors — some we can see, some we can’t. The three basic, or primary, colors are red, yellow and blue. By mixing the primary colors, you can create all the other colors of the rainbow. Mix the three primary colors together and you get brown.
Secondary Colors
Secondary colors are made by mixing together two primary colors. The secondary colors are orange, green and violet. They appear between the primary colors on the color wheel.
Complementary Colors
Complementary Colors
Each primary color has a special relationship with the secondary color made by mixing the other two primary colors. These colors are called complementary and they make each other pop when worn together. Choose complementary colors when you want an outfit that makes some “noise.”
Analogous Colors
More harmonious outfits can be made by using what are called analogous colors, that is, any three colors next to one another on the color wheel, for example, yellow, yellow-green, and green.

Now that you know about color theory, forget all about it and just have fun experimenting. Find out what colors you like together—and look good on you. Above all, don’t be afraid to trust your judgment. If you think it looks good, it probably does!

Building Your Fabric Collection

There’s probably lots of fabric around your house ... old T-shirts, the dress your baby sister has outgrown, and even paper towels, or those shiny fabriclike overnight mail envelopes (made from a material called Tyvek). If you know anyone who sews (maybe a friend’s parent or older sibling), ask if they have any scraps — most people who sew are happy to encourage a beginner! Part of the fun of making these doll clothes is that very small pieces of fabric make amazing-looking outfits.

When you shop for fabric at a store, you’ll discover that it is sold by the yard, which is 36 inches long, and in a variety of widths. Most fabric stores will sell you smaller pieces, a 1⁄4 or even 1⁄8 of a yard. Quilting stores are great places to find colorful printed cotton fabrics; the precut fat quarters you’ll find there are enough for most projects in this book. I buy fabric I like, even if I don’t necessarily know what I’m going to do with it. Some people shop with a specific garment in mind, which is a good idea when you’re making clothes for people and need several yards of fabric.

Fashion Designer
This fabric guide is excerpted with permission from "The Fashion Designer's Handbook & Fashion Kit: Learn to Sew and Become a Designer in 33 Fabulous Projects" by Marjorie Galen and published by Workman.

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