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Which fabrics are best for beginners?

Which Fabrics Are Best for Beginners?

How do I get started?!

 

Introduction

 

Most beginning sewists let their projects and patterns guide them toward a fabric selection. We argue that developing an understanding of popular fabrics while you gain technical skills will open up your projects to greater creative possibilities.

 

This guide is intended to help beginners select a fabric and have informed discussions when purchasing.

 

Even if you aren’t a beginner: choosing less temperamental fabrics will help boost your confidence, save you money and likely lead to better results.

 

What should beginners know about working with fabric?

 

Much of learning to sew involves gaining a “feel” for your equipment and materials. This is why we recommend familiarizing yourself with various kinds of fabric by taking time to visit showrooms or order sample swatches online (Zelouf Fabrics offers this service free of charge). Gaining a sense of how your needle, thread or sewing machine push and pull material will become a second sense over time. As you practice, you’ll gain muscle memory, and your tools will start to seem like creative partners. Patience, self-forgiveness and learning not to judge your work against the pros will help make learning enjoyable.

 

What makes a good beginner fabric?

 

Natural fabrics are great for beginners. Examples include cotton, linen, hemp, chambray and bamboo. Natural fabrics tend to be stable and easier to iron, plus they’re usually more environmentally friendly than synthetic materials. Special instructions on how to treat and care for cotton are included in the next section.

 

Natural fabrics are also well-suited to hand-sewing.

 

Not too heavy, not too light: denim and leather are too thick (and any holes you make in leather will be permanent), tulle, organza and jersey are too thin and will be frustratingly difficult to keep straight on your machine. Materials like jersey roll up at the edges, making hems tricky to sew. Heavy materials like denim will break needles and slow you down.

 

Textures and patterns that don’t need to match at the seams will help hide sewist errors. Just about any pattern besides stripes will forgive a beginner’s mistakes. Zelouf Fabrics offers an expansive library of patterned materials—most recommendations in the next section also come in a variety of patterns.

 

Not stretchy, not silky or slippery, not embellished: satin, velvet, light sheer fabrics will slip and run crookedly through your machine and lightweight materials like tulle will tear easily. Stretch fabric can be easy to damage, especially if you need to remove incorrect stitches. Even non-stretch fabric will expand a little and seem larger when you’re running it through a machine. The extra calculations required to work with stretch fabrics can be overwhelming for a new sewist.

 

Embellishments like sequins, beading and embroidery are tough, technical and can make a mess of your workstation. They also dull up your scissors and needles and are best left to patient, experienced sewists who have enough time to work slowly.

 

Nothing too high maintenance. This means avoiding fabrics that require special care or instruct you to use a presser pedal on your sewing machine—that’s far too complicated for someone still making friends with their equipment.

 

Inexpensive fabrics are an obvious choice. Sewists may want to practice on sample swatches or used materials like old clothes, curtains or tablecloths. On the other hand, smaller-scale, simpler projects can be a great way to start working with a greater variety of fabrics, including expensive materials. Cushions, cloth napkins, sleep masks or face masks, scrunchies and placemats or table runners are fun, achievable ideas for beginners.

 

Typically Recommended for Beginners

 

-Cotton: Best Overall

 

Cotton is sturdy, affordable and easily accessible for most…and so cozy.

 

It’s important to know that cotton does shrink significantly. You’ll need to order more fabric than your pattern requires as well as pre-shrink before sewing. This is easy enough: as with all fabrics, you should clean your material on whatever washing machine settings you’d use for a finished garment. Iron your fabric on a low, gentle setting with no steam and you’re ready to work!

 

Look for the following kinds of cotton, which are all recommended for beginners: shirting, voile, lawn, twill and cotton blends (see section below on “polycotton” for more information).

 

Chambray is made of cotton, looks and feels similar to a very lightweight denim and is recommended for beginners. It’s easy to work with, a popular choice for shirts and tote bags and can appear very expensive.

 

Zelouf Fabrics offers chambray in a variety of colors and patterns, including: Jacquard Floral Embroidery, Mengesha Ethnic Embroidery and Marlena Double Border Embroidery.

 

-Polycotton: Best Budget

 

Polycotton—polyester blended with cotton!

 

The primary difficulty of working with polyester is its resistance to wrinkles. Keeping polyester folded long enough to sew a hem or seam into it can seem impossible. (One sewist recommended ironing on a low setting, then holding the material in place until it cools. Be careful; synthetic materials are prone to burning.) Polycotton blends are more versatile and stable than polyester on its own.

 

Zelouf Fabrics’ polycotton selections include a charming “Woven Burnout Print” that resembles watercolor dots, a Woven Floral print in blue or yellow and Liona Woven Stripe fabric.

 

-Ponte: Best Beginner Knit, Most Versatile

 

Ponte—unlike jersey—won’t roll at the edges and has the advantage of being double-knit, which means heavier, more durable and sturdier material. Knits tend to pucker, stretch and require special sewing techniques. Ponte, however, is a more forgiving blend and serves as a perfect entrée into working with slightly stretchy material.

 

Zelouf Fabrics has a large library of ponte fabrics available for browsing.

 

A concluding bit of encouragement and advice.

 

Learning to sew is difficult! Having patience with ourselves while we climb a very steep learning curve will pay dividends over months and years of practice. Figuring out why you’d like to sew will keep you on track. Gaining a particular skill, realizing a certain project or any kind of budget, tailoring or style motivations are all worthy creative endeavors.

 

As tricky as these projects can be, they aren’t impossible. Each stage of work you complete will lend its own lessons and opportunities for improvement. You’re learning all the time—keep going.

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