Introduction to Fabrics

Thursday, 18 November 2010, 8:00 | Author : Kricket
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Understanding fabric, the process through which it is made and the differences in manufacturing, is the foundation of costume construction.  In this post, we will examine fiber content, type of weave, and fabric weight so that you can determine what fabric will be most suitable for each project.  All too often, cosplayers default to cotton fabrics because they are the “easiest” to sew, however, there are plenty of other interesting fabrics out there that all have different properties.


Fabric is created by intertwining the base fibers (1″-25″ in length) or filaments (there is no limit to their length) into yarn, which in turn is intertwined to create the yards of fabric we see in stores.  The following definitions are cited from The Costume Technician’s Handbook.

natural fiber: Originates from plant fibers and animal hairs.  The yarns that are most commonly associated with natural fabrics include cotton, linen, wool, and silk.

man-made fiber: Cellulose from plants is chemically altered and forced through spinnerets that creates artificial filaments.  The yarns that are most commonly associated with man-made fabrics include  rayon and acetate.

synthetic fiber: A chemical reaction called polymerization, liquefies the chemicals found in water, coal, and petroleum.  Differing from man-made fibers by the lack of natural materials, this mixture is also forced through a spinneret to create filaments.  The yarns that are most commonly associated with synthetic fabrics include nylon, polyester, spandex, and acrylic.

Once the yarn is prepared, the strands must be combined to create fabric using one of three processes:

woven: Weaving is the process of interlacing two sets of yarns on a loom.  There are three types of weaves: plain (brocade, flannel, monk’s cloth), twill (denim, herringbone), and satin (cotton sateen).

knit: Knit fabrics are produced by the interlooping of yarns; loops are formed and new loops are drawn through previously formed loops.  Industrial knitting differs from hand-knitting in that each loop is on its own needle.  There are two types of knit styles: weft (i.e. fake fur) and warp (i.e. waffle weave).

nonwoven: Adhesives; chemicals; or pressure, moisture, and heat are all way to create an unbroken bond between fibers.  A common nonwoven fabric is felt.


Many sewers have learned to distinguish fiber content simply by sight and touch, however, it is not always so simple.  If you cannot readily identify the material, you can burn a few threads to determine what fibers it contains – assuming the fiber content is relatively pure.  The test requires you to take note of key signs such as smell, color, rate of consumption, and extinguishing qualities.  It is important to know your fabric material to properly care for and maintain it.


Many fabrics are categorized by weight: light, medium, and heavy.  Although you will not usually see this terminology on the bolt, it is most relevant when you are purchasing interfacing fabric to reinforce your primary fabric.  The yarn diameter and the number of yarns per inch affect the fabric weight, which is measured by the number of ounces per square yard.

Over the next few weeks we will be introducing you to the most common fabrics within each weight category.  Once you have been acquainted with the most common fabrics, you will be able to make an informed decision about which fabric to use for your cosplay.

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