Rayon has been around for many years and the processes used to create it were pioneering in the early manufacture of materials. It is an integral part of the fabrics we use today and knowing more about what is rayon and sewing rayon will help you create and sew beautiful garments.
What Is Rayon?
Rayon is a fiber and not a completely natural product because it undergoes several chemical processes. However, it is extracted from the cellulose in wood pulp, and so it is not entirely artificial either.
Take this quick quiz about what is rayon:
- Is rayon artificial?…No
- Is rayon natural?…Not entirely
- Is rayon chemically manufactured?…Yes
- Will rayon shrink?…Yes
- Is rayon stretchy?…It can be
- Does rayon wrinkle?…Yes
How did you score on the quick rayon quiz? The simple yes, no, and maybe answers deserve a follow-up explanation. Knowledge is power and your sewing skills with improve with a better understanding of this fabric option.
Rayon has been around since the early 1900’s and was originally known as artificial silk, and that could be the reason it is confused with an artificial product. It was one of the first manufactured fibers and is still popular today.
There are various techniques currently used in the manufacture of rayon and its derivatives.
In the fabric world, one of the most common types of rayon is known as viscose. The main difference between rayon and viscose is the type of plant or pulp used to extract the cellulose fibers.
Uses of Rayon
Rayon is used in fabrics to make clothing, soft furnishings, drapes and bed linen.
Trivia: It is also used in the medical field for absorbent bandaging, pads, gauze and other hygiene products.
What is Rayon: Blends and Properties
The rayon fiber is very versatile and can be used as a blend for other fabrics including cotton, silk, wool and linen.
It adds its qualities of softness, vibrancy, absorbency and lighter weight to more expensive high-end fabrics making them more affordable.
Because rayon is a master of disguises it also blends well with silks and satins and adds quality to knit fabrics.
Advantages of Rayon Fabric
Rayon has some wonderful properties that make it a popular addition to other fabrics.
- Soft and comfortable.
- Easy to dye in bright colors.
- Drapes well. The fact that it is flattering due to its drape is one of the best reasons for sewing rayon!
- Highly absorbent.
- Blends well into other fabrics like cotton, wool, silk and linen.
- It does not absorb body heat and so is ideal for hot countries.
- It does not build up static electricity.
Disadvantages of Rayon Fabric
Rayon has some disadvantages to be aware of, especially if you plan on sewing rayon.
- When wet, it loses strength and may stretch or shrink, so pre-washing is essential.
- Rayon has weak abrasion resistance due to poor elasticity of the fibers and so it can damage easily.
- The flammability of the fabric makes it a risk. Rayon inspired the Flammable Fabrics Act of 1953 due to public concern over burning incidents with brushed rayon sweaters. The FFA act now has regulations in place and the production process is monitored closely to protect the consumer.
- Cellulose-based fabric, like rayon, is easily damaged by other chemicals. Washing instructions, as well as ironing and drying information, are important. Always check labels and treat viscose and other rayon blends with care.
Now you know what is rayon, it is always helpful to have a few tips on sewing rayon before you start. It is sometimes slippery and therefore needs some extra care. Although there are different blends and compositions, there are really two main categories that the fabric fits into which will determine the sewing technique.
- Woven rayon
- Stretch rayon or knit rayon.
Before you start, read the labels carefully, pre-wash the fabric, go through this checklist before you get ready to sew.
Sewing Rayon that is Woven
- NEEDLE – Change your machine needle to a fine point or even a ballpoint needle.
- STITCH SETTINGS – Set your machine to a smaller stitch and test on a scrap of fabric to ensure there is no puckering. (Read what to do when your seams pucker)
- SEAMS – French seams work well with rayon as a seam finish. Otherwise use a serger as the fabric frays easily.
- THREAD – Choose a polyester thread or polycotton. (Read types of sewing thread)
- PINS – Pin very carefully and place the pins vertically along the seam line for extra security.
- MACHINE TIP – Try not to pull or push the fabric through the machine. Take it slow and watch for stretching and slipping.
- INTERFACING – Interfacing helps keep necklines and armholes steady and hemming tape will help secure the hem.
- HEMS – As rayon wrinkles easily, let the garment hang for 24 hours to allow the hemline to settle before hemming. Most fine rayons are best with a narrow hem.
- PRESSING – Always press with a presser cloth and avoid running the iron up and down the fabric. Rather press flat and then move to another point and press again.
Is Rayon Stretchy? Sewing with Rayon Knits
When used for knit fabrics, rayon has stretch properties although the rayon fiber itself is not stretchy. Knit fabric made of rayon is stretchy due to the weave of the fabric or the addition of threads made of Spandex or Lycra.
Personally, I always prefer knit rayon with at least 5% Spandex mix as it returns back into shape nicely after being stretched and worn.
Because of the beautiful way that rayon knits drape, they are a popular choice for skirts and draped styles of shirts and dresses. It is generally a very flattering fabric for looser style patterns.
Here are some samples from my Treasurie sewing patterns that were made in rayon. The black dress was a medium weight stretch rayon, the top was a light woven rayon and the skirts were sewn from rayon voile. Rayon takes dye really easily and is found in a lot of batik and tie dye designs as well as more modern prints.
For general advice on sewing knits, see my article on how to sew knit fabric.
- NEEDLE – Stretch rayon will need a stretch fabric needle and the same attention to detail in preparation for sewing. (Read types of sewing machine needles).
- PREPARATION – Don’t forget to preshrink your fabric first. (How to test for shrinkage)
- THREAD – Choose a polycotton thread or polyester and test the stitches before going ahead.
- SEAMS – If you don’t have a serger, sew the seams with a narrow zig-zag to retain the stretch and to prevent the stitches breaking.
- STYLE CHOICE – You will often find that rayon knits weigh more and are denser than cotton knits so are not always suitable for long length maxi styles which may be dragged down by the weight of the fabric. If you do want to use rayon for a maxi style, you may need to cut an inch or so off the bottom. Try your garment on before you sew the hem.
- HEMS – Use hemming tape to stop hems from wrinkling. Use a zig-zag stitch to sew hems or use a double twin needle.
- ADVICE – If you are new to sewing knit fabrics then read how to sew stretch with a regular machine.
Washing Rayon Clothing and Items
Rayon is prone to shrinkage so cold water washes or hand washes are normally recommended. Some rayon blends may be preshrunk so may be less prone to shrinkage than others.
Always check the care label on your rayon item before you start washing.
What is Rayon – In Conclusion
Good overall advice for both types of rayon is to prepare well and pin wisely before sewing. Choose the correct needle and stitch length and take a slow but steady approach to working with rayon.
Rayon brought a ray of light to the early manufacture of fabric and continues to play a big part in the quality and character of fabrics today.
SEWING DIFFERENT KINDS OF FABRIC
- 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