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Fabric & Fiber Knowledge Base

Wool Fabric Information

A knowledge base for sewing and working with wool


One of our favorites here at SBDF, wool is the kingpin of all fabrics in terms of durability and wearability. We also love to work with wool… it listens to what you say!!! On this page, you’ll find information on some of the weights and weaves that we carry most of the time. Most of the wool fabrications contain a small amount of spandex for comfort and wearability. Read more about working with stretch fabrics.

Tropical weight wool

This lightweight suiting is wonderful for year-round comfort. It is slightly crisp and stable so it works well for structured garments.  Many of our selections come from European menswear.  The fashion colors are from high-end women’s manufacturers.


The twill weave offers more drape than a plain weave.  Many twills are now milled in a lightweight which make them ideal for structured suits or slightly constructed separates.


Flannel is a plain weave with a brushed surface.  Great choice for basic jackets, pants and suits.  We suggest a one way layout, lining for durability and appropriate inner construction for the style you choose.  Easy to work with since it takes a press beautifully.

Cashmere, Alpaca, Vicuna

Precious fibers are the most desirable in the wool category due to their soft hand and luxurious look. We buy when we find a price point that is affordable for our customers and maintains the quality that is our trademark.  Working with these luxury goods is a wonderful experience for any sewist.  In choosing a pattern, remember that these fibers are delicate even though they provide incredible warmth.  You will want to beef up the fabric with your inner construction so that the fragile yarns last a lifetime.

Cotton Fabric Information

A knowledge base for sewing and working with cottons


Cotton presents itself in such a variety of fabrics that it’s impossible to categorize cotton without a discussion of different weaves. General characteristics of cotton include, breath-ability, high absorption, comfort and durability. The following are some of the weaves we most commonly offer and their fiber characteristics.


The floater yarns on a satin weave give the fabric a slight sheen which dresses it up a bit and generally makes it softer to the hand. Good uses for cotton satins are separates such as jacket and pants/skirts or shaped tops. It does not work as well for silhouettes requiring drape unless it is very light weight.

For information on how the addition of spandex to this fiber effects the outcome, click here.


A twill weave is a two over two construction which creates an angular pattern on the face of the fabric. A high-angle twill is called a tricotine, most often seen in wool, but can be found in other fibers as well. The angled weave allows for a lovely drape of the fabric while providing stability. It is often used for garments needing both qualities such as pants or skirts, but tailors nicely for jackets as well.

For information on how the addition of spandex to this fiber effects the outcome, click here.

Plain Weave

A one-over-one construction is the most basic and still very useable fabrication for blouse weight cottons such as lawn, poplin, or broadcloth.

For information on how the addition of spandex to this fiber effects the outcome, click here.


Two-ply cotton shirting is some of the finest shirting available, made from fine two-ply yarns giving it strength and durability along with a lustrous finish.

For information on how the addition of spandex to this fiber effects the outcome, click here.

Lawn, Voile, Batiste

These very fine cottons are lightweight and delicate. Great choices for blouses, lined dresses and skirts or special occasion garments.

Swiss Cottons

Swiss cotton refers to fabric that is produced in Switzerland. The cotton is imported from the finest sources in the world and then expertly processed to produce a high quality product. Sometimes the term Swiss cotton is used generically to refer to a high quality cotton fabric, but this is improper use of the term.

Linen Fabric Information

A knowledge base for sewing and working with linens


Linen is the oldest  fiber, dating back to 8000 BC in some records. It has stood the test of time for many reasons. It is durable, resists moths, sheds dirt and does not produce lint.  It is exceptionally absorbent, making it ideal for warm weather comfort.  The fiber weaves into a strong fabric that dyes easily. Strong colors, although fade resistant and colorfast,  do not have staying power at the creases of garments.

There are four categories that we use in our descriptions.

  • Ultralight: Tissue weight for blouses and lingerie
  • Lightweight:  Blouses, shirts, dresses
  • Mid-weight:  Structured tops, pants, dresses, skirts
  • Heavy weight:  Suits and outerwear jackets.

Fighting Wrinkles

All linens wrinkle…it is part of their charm.  There are several ways to deal with the wrinkles depending on your desired look.  To preserve the smooth, crisp look of the fabrication, underline with silk organza, line with cotton, rayon or poly lining and press carefully.  To soften the look, wash the fabric 4-5 times before construction.  The wrinkles, though still present, will have a soft rolling look as opposed to a hard crisp line.  It is personal preference as to the end result you desire.

Rayon Fabric Information

A knowledge base for sewing and working with rayons


We like to say “it’s not your mother’s rayon”! Our grandmothers remember when rayon was first introduced to the fashion market. It was drapey and colorful, but could not be washed and had a crisp hand that was unappealing to some. Not so anymore. Rayon comes in many incarnations now and most are washable. Soft rayon challis, a plain weave, is familiar to many for skirts, blouses and dresses. Rayon crepe is generally imported from Europe. The high twist yarns add a bit of subtle texture and depth to the fabrication. Viscose is often indicative of a European origin and refers to the method used to create the rayon fibers. Our customers like the viscose crepes that come from mills in Italy and France and offer not only fine designs, but a wonderfully drapey hand for dresses and skirts.


Bamboo is one of the newest fabrications on the market. Produced from the cellulose of the bamboo plant, which is plentiful, this fiber is considered green in that it is sustainable and can be produced without chemical washes and finishes. It offers natural anti-microbial features that enhance the comfort for the wearer. Today most manufacturers are referring to the fiber as bamboo rayon as there is some controversy as to whether this is indeed a new fiber or simply a new method for producing rayon.


SeaCell is made from seaweed and produced using the Lyocell method. It is of great interest in the garment industry due to the qualities it offers to the health of the wearer. Amino acids, minerals and vitamins are transferred from the seaweed through the perspiration to the body of the wearer supporting the immune system and increasing metabolism.

TENCEL® (Lyocell)

TENCEL® is actually a brand name for a type of lyocell, or sometimes modal material. TENCEL® is produced by the Austrian company Lenzing AG.  TENCEL® branded lyocell and modal fibers are produced by environmentally responsible processes from the sustainably sourced natural raw material wood.

The fabrics that are created are very soft and full-bodied. Sometimes TENCEL® is blended with cotton or traditional rayon to achieve a different hand. TENCEL® fibers are found in the collections of many leading designers and renowned retailers.

TENCEL® is cool in summer, warm in winter! The highly absorbent TENCEL® distributes moisture throughout the fabric and away from the skin, resulting in a “cool, dry touch.” The ultrasmooth fibers also feel soft, and because bacteria can’t grow on their slippery surface, it’s naturally stink-resistant.

MODAL® (Lyocell)

LENZING™ Modal fibers are produced from dissolving wood pulp in a responsibly managed multi-stage process using sustainable wood.

LENZING™ Modal fibers are manufactured in a modified Viscose process. LENZING™ Modal fibers are more easily washable and have higher resistance to shrinkage.

MODAL(R) shares a lot of similarities with TENCEL (R) when it comes to softness, comfort, breathability, and moisture absorption, except that MODAL(R) has a slightly more delicate touch and feel. It feels softer!

Both TENCEL(R) and MODAL(R) fibers are certified as compostable and biodegradable, and in the right conditions can fully revert back to nature.

Fabrics Made With Rayon Will Shrink!

Whether it is a knit or a woven, made from 100% rayon or a mix of rayon and other fibers, it is important to note that all rayon fabrics will shrink after washing. We have experienced between 8% and 16% reduction in length on some of the rayon fabrics that we have test-washed.

Make sure to take into account the shrink factor of this natural fiber when estimating the required yardage for your project.

Silk Fabric Information

A knowledge base for sewing and working with silks


Silk is one of the finest yarns available to fabric producers and can be used for some of the most delicate and elegant fabrics or some rustic looks such as silk tweeds made with the shorter filaments.


A jacquard weave gives interest and texture to a silk blousing.  The fine floral or geometric patterns send an elegant message and can be used in dressy or daywear garments.


Silk crepe comes in a variety of weights… lighter weight for blouses, heaviest weight for suits.  These fabrications cycle in and out of style, but are so classic that they generally find their way into designer groupings sometime during the fashion year.


Silk twill can be crisp or softened.  In either case the twill weave enhances drape, but the softer version will fall more gently for pants.  Reserve the crisp for tops or trims.


Silk yarns in a tweed stand on their own or blend well with viscose for multi-colored “go-with-anything” jackets.  Solid colors (matkas) work as structured separates.  Watch for fading by protecting your fabric from a constant light source.

Working with Silks

There are a number of methods to facilitate cutting and sewing with silk.  The first suggestion is to respect your fabric and its qualities.  It wiggles and slips because its elegant and drapey.  The sheen requires one way cutting and the slippery quality means you need to take more time than usual in the cutting process.  Some use a layer of paper under the fabric, others use weights instead of pins.  Serrated sheers help cut through the fibers without hacking at them.  Its important to experiment and determine the best methods for you… this is fun and should not be considered drudgery!

Fiber Blend Information

A knowledge base for sewing and working with fiber blends


A fiber blend refers to a fabric made up of multiple different fibers. Each fabric blend has it’s own unique advantages and disadvantages and some blends coming from mills tend to be wildly creative.

Natural Fiber Blends

Best of both worlds, for instance, a cotton/linen is wonderfully soft and cool in hot climates. The wrinkles so common with 100% linen are fewer with this blend. Viscose¹ linen has more drape than all linen. Linen and silk has a soft sheen that is not there with all linen and has a slight texture from the linen component. Wool and silk is more elegant than all wool, wool and lambswool or camels hair is softer and more delicate than all wool. Care instructions are tricky, but we usually suggest going conservative and complying with care methods that work for the most delicate fiber.

¹Viscose is another name for rayon, generally the term viscose is used for a rayon of European origin.

Synthetic Fibers

Traditionally a natural fiber company, in recent years SBDF has added some synthetic fibers to its line. We are seeing a higher quality of synthetics from European mills and are intrigued by the texture and hand that can be derived from these fibers. Advantages include washability and textural interest without the high cost of all natural fibers. In fact, many times surface interest is much more acute when synthetic yarns are used in combination with natural fibers.


We are using the plus category of fiber identification to indicate a mélange of yarns.  Many of our European imports would not pass a burn test for 100% natural.  When we pull each yarn and test, the additives are generally fancy yarns of rayon, nylon or poly.  These are added to give textural interest and strength. If the fabrics are milled for import, it also helps the designer keep import fees down.  If there is significant presence of a synthetic, we will do our best to spell it out. Otherwise we will use the plus category to indicate additional fibers.


Spandex (trade names include Lycra and Elastane, which is generally indicative of a European product) is added in small percentages to natural or synthetic fibers to provide comfort and increase wearability. Working with a woven that has spandex can be challenging if you do not first do some testing to be certain the fabric will work for the application you have in mind. First, for fit, you need to consider which way the stretch runs (lengthwise, crosswise or both) and adjust your pattern accordingly, using less fabric in areas of greatest ease to accommodate for the elasticity. Once you have used a stretch woven you will find the right adjustments for your favorite patterns. When deciding on style, consider using top stitching to control the bounce that you will get with details such as darts and tucks. The spandex softens the creasing and makes these tailored details less crisp. Just adding a bit of stitching to hold the line is a good solution.

Synthetic or Faux Leather

A knowledge base for sewing and caring for synthetic / faux leather

Synthetic leather is often made of polyurethane or polyvinylchloride with a polyester, cotton, or rayon backing. In some cases, Lycra or Spandex are introduced into the backing material enabling the fabric to stretch.

Faux leather comes in different weights and textures. Working with this fabric is similar to working with natural leather. Choose the sewing needle and stitch length that are appropriate for the weight of the fabric. Test with a small piece first. Thin and sharp needles are often preferred and longer stitches are more appropriate. Faux leather may be applied to a wide variety of items such as rain wear, jackets, leggings, skirts, dresses, and hand bags.

Unlike natural leather, faux leather is nonporous. It is therefore easier to care for. You may be able to simply wipe it down with a damp cloth for a quick surface cleaning. No special chemical or dry cleaning needed!

When washing is required, you may hand wash it in cold water using mild soap or detergent. If machine washing it, turn your faux leather item inside out and place it into a mesh washing bag to protect it from any potential damage. Wash in cold water using the delicates cycle setting.

To dry your faux leather garment, lay it on a drying rack or hang to dry. Never put faux leather items in the dryer or apply heat to dry it! To remove wrinkles, gently steam it using the back side. Make sure not to stretch it as you apply the steam. We recommend testing with a small piece first.

Leather Information

A knowledge base for sewing and caring for leather

Leather is a natural product and as such has minor imperfections.  We do our best to sort out any skins that we feel do not meet first quality standards.

Professional cleaning is recommended.  Commercial cleaners can be used for spot cleaning, but testing in an inconspicuous place is necessary, especially with dyed leathers.

For more discussion of working with leather, consult your favorite fabric compendiums.

Leather is sold in full skins.  Generally we have lambskin from the designer marketplace.  This is the most common type used by garment manufacturers.  Occasionally we would have calfskin.  Generally the skins range in size from 5 -9 square feet.  They are laser measured at the tannery.  Skins are sold singly and no price differentiation is made for sizing within the same groupings.  We ship the largest skins first unless otherwise directed by the customer.

Knit Fabric Information

A knowledge base for sewing and working with knits

Single or Jersey

Single knits or jerseys are lighter weight and have more drape than double knits. They work well for tops and dresses, not as well for pants and skirts.


Double Knit is often a good choice for separates because it has more body and stability than the single knits.

Interlock is a type of double knit that is generally a mid-weight and works well for tops and lightweight bottoms.


Ponte knit is very popular because of its versatility. It is a kind of double knit that produces fine ribs when it is knit. Ponte knit is well suited for structured garments.


Sweater knits are looser weave or novelty stitches and work best for cardigans or tunic tops.


Printed knits are desirable because the yarns take the dye so well. We have a strong preference for the viscose/elastane from Europe.  Our cotton knits are chosen carefully for finest quality available.

Microfiber Polyester (ITY)

Microfiber polyester knits (ITY) are great for quick and trendy tops…they wash and wear well and come in at an affordable price point.

Batik Fabric Information

A knowledge base for sewing and working with batiks

The batiks that are offered in our online store are hand-dyed in Bali and we often wait months for our production to arrive stateside. The designs are unique and we choose a rayon base rather than cotton since it is more usable for garment construction. The rayon is very washable as it has been exposed to hot water many times during the dyeing process. The colorations vary from yard to yard making the batiks singularly unique. Soft and comfortable, colorful and distinct, these fabrics are a favorite with all our customers.

Note: The information offered in this fabric guide is meant to extend the customer’s understanding of the fabrics that are offered in our online store and should not be considered a complete source for fabric and fiber know-how. Information provided here is a culmination of the knowledge of our staff as we work and sew with the various fabrics we sell.