Plain weave fabric is the plain Jane of fabric weaves. It is the most simple of the three basic textile weaves which include plain, satin, and twill. Plain weave is also known as a linen weave, tabby weave or taffeta weave. It is simple in its makeup because it is just the warp and weft threads passing over and under each other. There are some alternatives to this basic weave, but generally, it is the same principle that is used to weave every type of this fabric.
Balanced plain weave means the warp and weft threads are the same size, the same number of ends per inch as well as the same number of picks that are woven together. The balanced plain weave has a chequered board appearance and is sometimes known as one up one down or over-under weave.
14 Types of Plain Weave Fabrics
This plain weave fabric may be loosely or tightly woven. It is stiff and coarse and often used inside the rim of baseball caps.
This plain weave fabric has a similar look to denim because the warp threads are dyed indigo while the weft threads are left without dye. Chambray fabric looks like light denim and is used to make workwear, shirts and pants.
Cambric is a finely woven, plain weave fabric. It is flattened and rolled at a high temperature to give it a very smooth finish. Cambric was first made in Cambric in France from fine linen.
Airy and thin, chiffon is a plain weave fabric. It can be made from different types of textiles. Synthetics and natural threads weave into chiffon resulting in a wide variation of cost. Read what is chiffon and sewing chiffon.
Cheesecloth is another loosely woven cotton fabric. It is often used for the process of making cheese. During the cheese-making process, the liquid from the cheese strains through the cheesecloth leaving the yummy cheese behind. Cheesecloth can be used to make light and cool clothing for Summer. Read what is cheesecloth.
Crepe has a rough structure due to the twisted or crimped yarn in the weave. There are different twists and crimps used to produce different kinds of crepe. Crepe can be made from natural fabrics for example silk, or polyester and man-made fibers.
Flannel is a loosely woven fabric that is often brushed on one side. This brushing is called ‘napping’ and raises the fine fibres of the fabric to make it softer. Flannel is very popular for baby bedding and pyjamas.
Georgette is a plain weave fabric, but it has a crinkled effect. There are twists in the weave that cause the surface to pucker and create a crinkled finish.
Muslin is a loosely-woven cotton fabric usually in natural colors. It is used to make pattern prototypes while testing new patterns. Read sewing a muslin to find out more.
Organdy is a fine plain weave fabric. It is a lightweight fabric and often used to line evening wear and bridal gowns as well as collars and cuffs. It has a slight stiffness.
Organza is a lightweight, sheer fabric that was originally made from silk. Now it can be made from synthetics, mainly polyester and nylon. Organza is usually considered expensive due to the weaving process which creates the twisted fibers.
The warp yarns of poplin are finer than the weft yarns. This is a lightweight fabric with a soft airy drape quality.
Taffeta uses the plain weave technique, but the threads are twisted as they go over and under to create the plain weave. This twist creates the fabric’s stiff texture.
Velvet is made on a special loom and two pieces of fabric are created. The weave structure produces an extra set of warp threads that are sheared to create a soft pile or feel to the velvet. Velvet always feels very luxurious. Read about sewing velvet and the types of velvet.
The Popularity of Plain Weave Fabrics
Most plain weaves are popular fabrics and it is estimated that 80% of fabrics are plain weave. It is popular because it can accept variations of color and texture. It is generally a reasonably priced fabric. Fabrics that have a different texture to their finish like flannel are made out of plain weave fabric.
Dyed patterns like batik and tie-dye are well received by plain weave fabrics. Specialty finishes like the nap of flannel or the parchment of organdy work well on plain weave. Embossed fabrics like taffeta use a plain weave fabric. Sheer fabrics used for scarves and bridal veils are made of a plain weave fabric and the light weave allows soft colors to shine through.
These properties of plain weave fabric make it so popular in the fabric industry:
- There is no right or wrong side to plain weave fabric.
- It does not fray as easily as other fabrics.
- There is no stretch on the length or the width of the fabric only on the cross grain.
- It is not as absorbent as other fabrics.
- Plain weave fabrics crease easily.
- It is versatile and flexible.
- Plain weave fabrics are strong and hard wearing.
- Plain weave fabrics range in their weight from heavy weight to sheer lightweight fabrics.
- The most popular items made from plain weave vary from shirts and suits, blouses and dresses as well as most other garments not requiring too much stretch.
Variations of Plain Weave
There are variations of plain weave fabrics. These variations are known as:
To create a rib weave, the filling yarns are larger in diameter than the warp yarns. This means fewer yarns per centimeter are visible on the surface of the fabric.
Matt Weave or Basket Weave
Basketweave is a variation of the plain weave. Two or more threads are put together and woven like one thread between the warp and the weft. In the construction of these weaves, the filling yarn or the weft goes alternately under and over the warp yarns.
Irregular Basket Weave
This is created through an irregular combination of warp and weft ribs.
Handweaving on specially designed looms has been handed down and the tradition is still followed today although machines and factory-made fabrics have taken over the handmade industry.
Handweaving can be a very satisfying hobby from making your own simple loom to weaving a mat of your own design. The principle of keeping the warp threads stable and weaving the weft threads in and out or over and under produces the piece of weaving you are trying to make by hand.
Alternatives to Plain Weave
The main 2 alternatives to a plain weave are twill weave and satin weave
- Twill weave has a series of diagonal ribs which give it a sturdy and unique look. Denim is an example of a fabric that has a twill weave. Read what is twill fabric.
- Satin weave has four plus weft fibers that pass over a single weft.
Plain Weave - In Conclusion
Once you have mastered the basic technique of a plain weave there are variations to try. The beauty of trying to weave by hand is a greater appreciation of what you use when you cut and sew your plain weave fabric. Weaving and tapestries are often used as analogies for life and experiences as your tapestry is woven through your experiences,
Tony Robbins, American author and motivational speaker, said these wise words,
“Think of all your experiences as a huge tapestry that can be laid out in whatever pattern you wish. Each day you add a new thread to the weaving. Do you craft a curtain to hide behind, or do you fashion a magic carpet that will carry you to unequalled heights?”
That is something to think about as you appreciate the techniques of plain weaves and creating fabrics.