Learn about the best dress fabric types. Are you confused by all the fabric names on the back of your pattern envelope? Choosing the best fabrics for dresses can make a huge difference in your final product. Most patterns will list a few suitable types of dress fabric to make it easier for you to decide, but here are a few definitions to help you on your way.
Dress Fabric Types Tutorial
Here are some of the most common fabrics for dresses that you will come across. Most fabric shops are filled with hundreds or even thousands of fabrics, but most fall into these simple categories.
Here I have divided this list into:
- Natural dress fabrics
- Semi-Synthetic dress fabrics
- Synthetic dress fabrics
- Specialty dress fabric types
Read more about all the types of fabric.
Natural Dress Fabric Types
These dressmaking fabrics are made from natural fibers. Many of these are blended with synthetics in order to reduce cost or include additional properties such as wrinkle resistant or being easier to wash.
1. Cotton Dress Fabric Types
Cotton is a natural fiber that is one of the most used fabrics for dresses. It can be used alone or blended with man-made fibers to reduce the cotton and decrease the number of wrinkles in the fabric.
Cotton is a plain weave that comes in endless weights, but most dresses are sewn in a light to medium weight.
Here are some of the types of cotton suitable for dresses:
- Voile: Soft, sheer, and lightweight; good for summer dresses and as a lining.
- Batiste: Similar to voile but slightly heavier; great for delicate dresses.
- Lawn: Crisp and smooth; often used for dresses that require a soft drape.
- Challis: Lightweight and drapey, often used for flowy dresses.
- Cotton Poplin: Crisp and durable; used in more structured dresses.
- Gingham: A checkered pattern fabric that’s good for casual or vintage-style dresses.
- Seersucker: Light and breathable with a crinkled texture; great for summer dresses.
Further Reading: Sewing Cotton
Calico is a plain-woven fabric, generally in a neutral off-white color. It is usually cheap and is often used for testing patterns and sewing a muslin.
I use Calico for making muslins of dress patterns. This is a testing tool before you use your final fabric. Calico can have a more open weave, so if you are planning to sew items other than testers, use a tightly woven one. Due to being a natural fabric, it is prone to shrinkage.
Chambray looks like light-colored, thinner denim and is generally a little stiff. It makes nice dresses, shirts, and skirts where you require a little body.
Further Reading: Sewing Denim
Corduroy has a pile of cords running down the fabric. These cords can be of different thicknesses giving different looks and thicknesses of fabric. It usually has a good body to it and makes nice skirts and dresses where the silhouette is simple with not much gathering. It is also great for clutch sewing patterns.
Denim is generally heavier in weight and has very little drape. It is great for simple dresses with no gathering and is often used for jeans, of course.
Further Reading: Sewing Denim
Flannelette has a warm feel due to its fluffy surface. It is often used in sleepwear dresses. If you are making children’s clothing, make sure you get one that is non-flammable.
Knit is a general term used for stretchy fabrics. Fibers such as cotton or polyester are often blended with Lycra to give extra stretch. There are numerous different types of knit fabrics with different thicknesses and stretch factors. Popular types of dresses include jersey knit, cotton/spandex blends and rib knits.
Fleece is fluffy on both sides and is usually 100% polyester. It is popular for cozy loungewear dresses, tracksuits, and ponchos. The edges don't fray, so it is a great Winter fabric for beginners to sew.
Further Reading: Sewing Fleece
Silk comes in many types and is made by weaving strands produced by the silkworm. It usually has a lovely drape but can be a little harder for beginners to sew. Silk dresses are often chosen for formal occasions, including weddings and high-end social events.
Its smooth texture feels soft against the skin, adding to the overall comfort. Silk also has natural temperature-regulating properties, keeping you cool in summer and warm in winter. However, it can be delicate and prone to damage from sunlight or perspiration.
Further Reading: How to Sew Silk
Wool and wool blend fabrics make lovely Winter dresses. Choose something that is not too thick for your machine to handle. Made from the fleece of sheep and other animals, wool fibers trap air, retaining heat.
Wool dresses can be surprisingly versatile, suitable for both casual and formal settings. The fabric is available in different weights and weaves like merino, cashmere, and tweed, each offering unique attributes. Wool is also naturally water-resistant to some extent but usually requires special care, such as dry cleaning.
Further Reading: Sewing Wool Fabric
Linen is a dress fabric type that is renowned for its lightweight and breathable characteristics. This makes it ideal for hot climates and summer wear. Made from flax fibers, linen tends to wrinkle easily but is popular for its casual, lived-in look.
Linen dresses often come in relaxed dress silhouettes to maximize comfort. However, linen can be expensive and may require special care like hand washing or dry cleaning.
Semi-Synthetic Dress Fabric Types
Rayon is one of my favorite fabrics for women's dresses and clothing as it is lightweight and drapes beautifully, making it flattering for all shapes and sizes.
It is breathable and highly absorbent, wicking moisture away from the skin. Rayon fabrics are often used to mimic the properties of natural fibers like silk, cotton, and linen at a lower cost. However, rayon can be prone to wrinkling and may require careful handling, including gentle washing and low-heat ironing.
Further Reading: Sewing Rayon
Modal is a type of rayon made from beechwood fibers. Known for its extraordinary softness, it's commonly used in casual dresses, loungewear, and undergarments. It holds dye well, making it resistant to fading.
Moreover, Modal is breathable and about 50% more water-absorbent than cotton, making it ideal for hot weather wear. It is also eco-friendly to some extent, as the production process is generally more sustainable than that of other synthetic fibers.
Synthetic Dress Fabric Types
Polyester is an incredibly versatile synthetic fiber known for its durability, resistance to wrinkles, and ease of care. Often used in a blend with other fibers to improve their properties, polyester dresses can vary greatly in appearance and texture.
While it isn't as breathable as natural fibers, technological advancements have made modern polyester more comfortable to wear. However, static cling can be an issue, and the fabric may retain odors more than natural materials.
Nylon is a synthetic polymer that is durable, lightweight, and highly resilient. Because of its low moisture absorbency and quick-drying properties, it is often used in activewear or swimsuits rather than day-to-day dresses.
However, some casual and evening dresses use nylon blends for added durability and sheen. The fabric is not very breathable but is highly resistant to abrasion and wrinkling, making it relatively low-maintenance.
Acrylic is a synthetic fiber that mimics the properties of wool at a lower cost. It is lightweight and soft, often used in knit dresses and sweaters. Acrylic has good color retention and is resistant to moths and mildew. However, it is less breathable than natural fibers and may pill over time. It is also sensitive to heat, so low-temperature washing and drying are recommended.
Spandex is a synthetic fiber known for its exceptional elasticity. It's rarely used alone in dresses but is often blended with other fibers like cotton, polyester, or nylon to add stretch.
This makes spandex-containing fabrics ideal for form-fitting dresses, activewear, or any garment that requires a high degree of flexibility. Despite its stretchy nature, spandex is prone to breaking down over time, especially when exposed to high temperatures and chlorine.
Specialty and Luxury Fabrics
Velvet is a plush, woven type of dress fabric that has a short, dense pile, giving it a uniquely soft and smooth feel. It is often made from silk or synthetic fibers like polyester.
Velvet dresses are generally associated with luxury and are perfect for evening wear and special events. The fabric drapes well but can be heavy and warm, making it more suitable for cooler weather. Care can be tricky as velvet can easily be crushed or damaged. Read more about the types of velvet.
Satin is a glossy fabric often used for formal dresses, including wedding gowns and evening wear. It features a smooth, shiny front and a dull back, achieved through a specific type of textile weave. Satin can be made from silk or synthetic fibers like polyester.
It drapes beautifully but can be slippery to work with. Satin dresses are prone to snagging and should be handled with care to avoid damaging the fabric.
Taffeta is a crisp, smooth fabric traditionally made from silk or synthetic fibers like polyester. It has a lustrous finish and a distinctive rustle when moved.
Taffeta dresses are often used for formal and bridal wear because the fabric holds its shape well, making it suitable for voluminous skirts and structured silhouettes. However, it can wrinkle easily and may require professional cleaning to maintain its appearance.
Lace is a decorative, open-weave fabric often used for wedding dresses, evening wear, and romantic or feminine styles. Made by looping, twisting, or knitting threads, lace comes in various patterns and types, such as Chantilly, Alençon, and Guipure.
Fabrics for Dressmaking - In Conclusion
Here are some examples from my sewing patterns.
- 1. Quilting Fabric used for Isabella Romper Sewing Pattern
- 2. Calico used for the FREE Capelet Sewing Pattern
- 3. Corduroy used for the Anke Dress sewing pattern
- 4. Chambray used for the Paisley Skirt sewing pattern
- 5. Knit used for the Elise Dress sewing pattern
- CHIFFON – Sewing Chiffon
- BATIK – What is Batik
- CANVAS – Sewing Canvas
- COTTON – Sewing Cotton
- DENIM – Sewing Denim
- FELT – Sewing Felt
- FUR – Sewing Fur
- KNITS – How to Sew Stretch Fabric
- INTERFACING – Types of Interfacing
- LACE – How to Sew Lace
- LEATHER – Sewing Leather
- RAYON – Sewing Rayon
- SHEER – Sewing Sheer Fabrics
- SILK – How to Sew Silk
- THICK – Sewing Thick Fabrics
- VELVET Sewing Velvet
- WOOL – Sewing Wool
- FLEECE – Sewing Fleece