| Sewing Patterns for the Modern Woman - Blog Post: How to Choose the Right Fabric for your Seamly Garments

How to Choose the Right Fabric for your Seamly Garments

By Allie

Allie is the co-founder of Indiesew and creator of all things pretty on the site. Follow Allie and receive other Indiesew updates by subscribing to the blog.

Seamly Summer Collection | How to Choose the Right Fabric

It’s often said that fabric choice makes all the difference when sewing garments, and I think that most of us inherently understand that. Generally, we know that quilting cottons do not have the same drape as rayon challis. We’re aware that a structured jacket cannot be sewn in a slippery crepe. 

But for knit fabrics, I’ve found that it’s a bit more confusing to know what substrate is best suited for a project. For the patterns in the Seamly Summer Collection, we recommend using rayon jersey. Rayon jersey has a soft hand, is cool to the touch, and has a liquid drape. It’s the knit counterpart to woven rayon; and it’s a great hot-weather garment fabric.

But it wasn’t until recently that I truly understood that all rayon jerseys are not created equal. It was during the Vallynne Tank testing process that I experienced this to its full extent.

I was testing the knit bands for the neckline and armscye in a lightweight “tissue knit” I had sourced from the fabric district in LA for $2 per yard (hello, warning sign!). Despite using the industry standard 85%-rule for the band lengths, my armscyes continued to be super stretched out during my testing.

It was after talking with Adrianna from Hey June that I realized the fabric I was using was the culprit. To put it simply? The fabric was total crap. Yes, it was super soft and light as air…but that’s likely what made this fabric quite possibly the worst choice for this pattern. Then, some of our testers had the same experience. And I’d consider myself terribly irresponsible if I let you make the same mistake we did. Hear me loud and clear: do not sew with cheap rayon knits.

Let’s see why. To illustrate my point and to further show you how fabric affects fit, we’ve sewn the Vallynne Tank (size S) in three very different fabrics:

Indiesew Blog | How to Choose the Right Fabric for your Seamly Garments

The first is sewn in Robert Kaufman Laguna Jersey (see a 360° view below). This fabric is soft and stable, totally opaque, and doesn’t have much drape. It’s 95% cotton/5% spandex and weighs 5.4 oz. per square yard.

Vallynne Tank sewing Robert Kaufman Laguna Jersey

For someone who’s new to knits, this type of fabric could be considered the quilting cotton of jersey fabric. But look at the shape of the garment. It’s noticeably more tent-like; the tank top stands away from the body. I don’t think cotton jersey is a poor choice for these patterns, but this type of fabric does give this A-line top a completely different look.

The next tank is sewn in our Dark Navy Rayon Spandex Jersey (92% Rayon/8% Spandex). This fabric has noticeably more drape, but is similar in opacity to the cotton spandex. It weighs a bit more (11 ounces per linear yard, 6.5 ounces per square yard), and hence falls a bit closer to the body.

Vallynne Tanks sewn in Indiesew Rayon Spandex Jersey

It has about 70% four-way stretch with great recovery. Like all jersey fabric, the edges roll but not so much that you lose fabric width. For drapey knit garments, this is the premium choice.

The final sample clearly portrays why it’s best to avoid sewing with cheap rayon knits, especially polyester/rayon blends. This fabric is from a big box sewing store, is 65% polyester/35% rayon, and I'd guess it weighs about 4 ounces per square yard. It’s very sheer; hold it up to a bright window and you can see right through it. It has 50% two-way stretch, resulting in pretty awful recovery. Hence the stretched out neckline and armscyes (hey bra!).

Vallynne Tank sewing in Rayon Polyester Jersey

Another frustrating factor of sewing with these super thin tissue knits is that the neck and armscye bands get really narrow when stretched. This can result in uneven neckbands depending on how much you’re stretching the fabric as you sew.

Case in point:

Uneven Neckband | Choose the Right Fabric for the Vallynne Tank

Both Aimee and I are experienced with sewing knit fabric and we each had a lot of trouble getting even bands since the fabric narrows considerably when stretched. If you MUST sew neck and armscye bands with this type of fabric, I recommend cutting your bands at least 1/2” wider than the pattern calls for. If you're new to sewing knit neckbands, check out this post.

Since I’ve started sourcing overstock fabrics for the Indiesew Fabric Shop, quality rayon knits have been hard to come by. About 50% of them are off-grain; another 20% are pilling right on the bolt. Rayon knit fabric gets a bad rap because there’s not much in the way of quality out there. 

So when I found my supplier for our rayon spandex jerseys, I ordered about 150 yards right away. We sewed all of the Seamly Summer Collection in this fabric and I will continue to use it for most of my knit garments. The price point is a bit higher than industry standard for jersey fabric, but it’s worth every penny. And it will make your sewing experience so much smoother.


How to Care for Rayon Jerseys

That being said, there are a few precautions to take with rayon jersey. All rayon jersey fabric will pill if you dry it in the dryer. We recommend prewashing rayon jerseys on warm and line drying the first time. For all subsequent cleanings, wash on cold and only line dry this fabric. It will extend the life considerably. Wash it less if you can. You’ll save water and energy and your garments will wear much better.

Next week you’ll get to see our rayon spandex in action as we show you a new binding method for the Vallynne Tank! 

Have you been keeping up on the Seamly Summer Collection blog tour? Don’t forget to check out these lovely ladies’ posts for some knit garment inspiration. | Seamly Summer Collection Blog Tour

 June 8: Inside the Hem
June 9: The Doing Things Blog
June 10: Dandelion Drift
June 13: The Sara Project
June 14: Fa Sew La
June 15: Sew Mariefleur
June 16: Right Sides Together
June 17: Allie J.
June 18: Cut Cut Sew

Happy sewing! 

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