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If you’re new to sewing, you’ve probably heard the term woven fabric. You may be wondering what kind of fabric that is and what it is used for. Woven fabric isn’t a specific type of fabric but rather a group of different fabrics that share similar characteristics.
In this blog post, we look at what woven fabric is, its characteristics and how it is made.
Fabrics are generally broken down into 3 different types: woven fabric, knitted fabric and non-grain fabrics such as felt and leather. Woven and knit fabrics are the most common types and they have many differences and similarities. The terms 'woven' and 'knit' do not refer to specific fabrics, but rather the design or the way the fabric is put together.
What is a Woven Fabric?
Woven fabrics are fabrics which have been created on a loom. Woven fabrics ae made from two threads, the warp (lengthwise thread) and the weft (crosswise thread), interlaced at right angles to each other. Warp threads are the vertical yarns that create the length of the fabric, these are held in place on the loom, and the weft threads are interwoven through them horizontally.
In the photo below, the warp threads are white and the weft threads are coloured.
The weft threads make up the width of the fabric and run from side to side. At each side, the weft threads turn, creating a tighter weave which prevents fraying - this is called the selvedge or selvage.
There is no standard width of selvedge, most are around /2 inch. The selvedge will often be printed with the designer’s name, the name of the fabric and coloured dots showing the individual colours used in the fabric.
Different Types of Weave:
Plain Weave Fabric:
Plain weave fabric has a simple and plain criss-cross weave. It’s manufactured to be durable and long-lasting, and various thread strengths can be used to enhance its durability. Plain weave has two identical sides on a fabric. Other weave types have a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ side. The right side is the one meant to be shown on the outside of a garment while the wrong side is supposed to be hidden. Striped patterns can also be created by altering the colour of the warp textiles.
Generally, plain weave fabrics are strong and long-lasting. They resist pilling and retain their shape even after regular washing. However, plain weave fabrics lack stretch and tend to crease easily. Due to its structured shape, plain weave is typically used for furnishing fabrics and clothing which does not need a soft drape against the body e.g. shirts, suits, blazers
Examples of plain weave fabrics include cotton, linen, muslin, chiffon, organza, and taffeta.
Twill Woven Fabric
Twill is made by passing the weft thread over one or more warp threads then under two or more warp threads and so on. This produces a diagonal pattern or ‘wale’ within the fabric.
Twill will often be described using fractions: the fraction denotes the woven structure of a fabric: a 4/2 twill, for example, would mean that a weft thread was woven over 4 warp threads followed by two underneath. Twill fabrics have a front and a back side, unlike plain weave, where the two sides are the same.
Twill is a heavyweight weave, known for its strength and durability. Due to its diagonal pattern, twill fabric is more resistant to tearing and wear than other fabrics and is used for trousers, jeans, polo shirts and jackets. Twill was originally made from cotton, but it's now also made with other fibres such as polyester, a cotton-polyester blend, and wool. Examples of twill are denim, chino, gabardine, and drill.
Herringbone Weave Fabric:
Herringbone, also called broken twill weave is easily recognisable by the chevron shapes created within the weave. The pattern is difference to twill, twill has diagonals going the same direction whereas herringbone pattern is arranged into columns with the lines in each column leaning towards opposite directions. The pattern is called herringbone because it resembles the skeleton of a herring fish.
Herringbone weave is more resilient than simple twill. The weave is mostly made from wool or tweed which makes herringbone fabric ideal for upholstery, suits, dresses and outerwear.
Satin Woven Fabric
A satin weave fabric is one of the more complicated types of woven fabrics. It has a high glossy top surface and a dull back surface. The weave is achieved by ‘floating’ four or more weft yarns over a single warp yarn and then floating four warp yarns over a single weft yarn. Satin weave it is not durable as it tends to snag.
Satin-woven fabrics are used in clothing and apparel, particularly couture wear, wedding dresses, and drapery linings.
Pile Weave Woven Fabric
Pile weaves incorporate additional yarns into the weave during the process to create a fabric which has a ‘pile’ or ‘loop’ on the fabric surface. The base of the fabric is woven in plain or twill weave but, to form piles, one extra yarn is passed either in warp or weft direction. There are 2 different types of pile weave, cut pile and uncut pile. In cut pile the loops on fabric surface are cut, e.g. velvet fabric and in uncut pile fabric the loops on the surface are not cut, e.g. terry towel.
Examples of pile weave include terry cloth, corduroy, velvet, velveteen, faux fur.
Characteristics of Woven Fabrics:
Woven fabrics are not as stretchy as knit fabrics. If you pull a woven fabric hard, it will stretch a little along its length, and will hardly stretch along its width. However, woven fabrics will stretch diagonally on the bias directions.
Woven fabrics are very easy to sew with since they don’t stretch much however cut woven fabric will fray at the edges so you will need to either use pinking shears or hem the edges.
Woven fabrics can be made of both natural (e.g. cotton/wool/linen/silk) and synthetic (e.g. polyester/nylon/elastane) fibres and are often made from a mixture of both e.g., 100% Cotton; 80% Cotton and 20% polyester; 80% cotton and 20% spandex. In general, woven fabrics tend to have a coarser texture instead of being soft.
Some woven fabrics like gingham are closely woven while others like voile are loosely woven. A closely woven fabric is more durable and will keep its shape better. Most woven fabrics aren’t considered to be ‘drapey’ fabrics, although some will have more drape than others. A woven fabric is less likely to pull and snag due to how the threads are woven together but also tend to wrinkle and crease more easily so may have to be ironed more frequently.
The closeness or looseness of the weave is measured by the count of cloth e.g 60 warp threads to 50 threads to the inch (written as count is 60 X 50). Woven fabrics with a lower thread count or a looser weave will have more stretch than fabrics that are more tightly woven.
In the next blog post, we look at different types of woven fabrics but before we go, lets just consider some commonly asked questions:
Is Cotton a Woven Fabric?
Cotton is a type of fibre - it is not a fabric in itself. The term ‘woven’ refers to how a fabric is made, not what it is made of. Cotton can be made into woven fabrics like corduroy, denim, gabardine, and poplin but can also be used to make knitted fabric.
How Can You Tell If Fabric is Woven?
If you’re unsure whether a particular is woven or not, then look at the threads. Woven fabrics will have threads that criss-cross over each other instead of having loops like knit fabrics do.
Another way to tell is to stretch the fabric. Woven fabrics will only stretch diagonally and not lengthways or widthways. Stretch the fabric in all directions and if there is any resistance, the fabric is most likely woven.
Finally, you can test for wrinkles. Just scrunch a piece of the fabric up and let go. Woven fabrics are more likely to show wrinkles after being let go or have creases in the fabric.