Good morning, campers! I got the most lovely email today from a customer. I’m going to share part of it with you, because it’s the inspiration for this post:
I just wanted to tell you how much I appreciate your noting with each fabric your suggestion for a pattern. I am a beginner sewer and usually stick to children’s clothes because quilting cotton is easier for me to manage – both in terms of sewing (i.e., it isn’t too slippery or too stretchy) and in terms of matching the fabric’s pattern to the style of dress. … I followed your suggestion and made the portfolio dress with the fabric you suggested and even though I just have a few finishing touches to put on the dress, I know it is going to be the first dress I made that I will wear out the door with confidence!
I have to tell you, that email made my morning! I’m smiling from ear to ear. But it also points out a speed bump that most stitchers hit at some point in their careers, usually toward the beginning. Cotton is a great fabric, and it’s letter perfect for newbies to get going and get good results. There are entire companies built around patterns designed specifically for cotton fabrics.
There comes a point in one’s sewing story arc where you look in the closet at racks of cotton garments (and I am the voice of experience talking here) and say, “Is that all there is?”
Cue Peggy Lee.
No, friends, that’s not all there is. But you need to step out of your comfort zone. You can still use that pattern, but vary it up a bit. Let’s talk about some Advanced-Beginner-Friendly fabrics that you might consider if you’re not cottoning to cotton at the moment. I’m going to stick to wovens. Knits are another story that I’ve dealt with in the past and can revisit here later if you all like.
Rayon has many of the same characteristics as cotton – it comes in many different weaves, it’s a plant-based fiber. It has more drape and weight than cotton, because it’s made from wood pulp. Two types of rayon fibers that are a nice alternative to cotton are rayon challis and rayon broadcloth.
Pros: Rayon Challis is very soft and drapes beautifully. It swings and moves and it’s a great option for skirts and dresses. It’s forgiving of mistakes and it presses well. It’s also a good fabric for soft tops.
Cons: It’s a little more slippery than a cotton, meaning you need to pin it carefully. It shrinks, so you need to make sure to pre-wash it before sewing with it. I put rayon challis through the washer and dryer 3 times before I sew with it, to get all the shrinkage out. It’s not suitable for anything very tailored, unless you underline it or block-fuse it. And even then, I wouldn’t block-fuse rayon challis. It kinda destroys the purpose. I’d rather use a rayon broadcloth in that case.
Some patterns that I would pair with rayon challis include:
Rayon broadcloth has many of the same properties as rayon challis. It’s heavier in weight, and it is more firmly woven. You can find rayon broadcloth that is suitable for blouses and dresses, as well as heavier-weight broadcloths that are suitable for separates. If I make a suit or jacket from rayon, I always dry clean it to prolong its life.
I own a Border Collie, and if I could, I’d own sheep, too. Wool is one of the most versatile fibers known to humankind. It can be woven into everything from tropical weight gauzes to hard-finish gabardines. Not all wools are Advanced-Beginner-Friendly, but one certainly is: Wool Crepe.
Pros: If I were stranded on a desert island with only one fabric allowed to me, that fabric would be wool crepe. You can use it for everything from suiting to dresses. It has wonderful drape. It will work as well for a pencil skirt as for a swingy full-skirted dress. You can dress it up or down. It’s highly forgiving of mistakes. It presses beautifully. It is warm in winter, and cool in warmer weather.
Cons: None that I can think of off hand. Well, it is dry-clean only. And it will shrink, so be sure to pre-shrink your yardage. I use Pam Erny’s method, which produces great results.
Here are some patterns that are suitable for use with wool crepe:
If you look at any of these patterns, you can envision them (and undoubtedly have seen them on many blogs) made up in cotton fabric. But don’t stop there! Once you’ve started sewing, stretch your horizons and your abilities by trying new fabrics. You’ll find that there are lots of other fabric types out there that will give you just as good results, and will give your wardrobe a welcome variety. These fabrics that I’ve shown you are just a taste. Check out fabrics beyond the quilting cottons aisle. You’ll be glad you did!