What Sewing Contractors Wish You Knew About Fabric

As a sewing contractor, individuals or companies who are designing products to be sewn, such as apparel, frequently contact me. It occurred to me that many of them have come from backgrounds that have little to nothing to do with the materials usually used for sewing such as fabric. Many people or organizations don’t take the time to learn about the materials they’ll be asking me to construct something from. This lack of understanding, impacts their ability to talk to me about what they really want. To help those customers who are intending to call me or another sewing contractor, I offer another excerpt from the Introduction to my book Industry Clothing Construction Methods.


This excerpt contains the most basic concepts about fabric. For more really useful info on the materials usually used for constructing products by sewing, I recommend the text that I used when teaching fashion design. It’s the same one that most college level programs use as well. There is no better, more comprehensive learning tool on the subject.

You can click here for an earlier blog post containing an excerpt from the Introduction to my book about a key concept for selling–satisfying your customer. Knowing the concepts in that post may also help you define what materials to use in your project. After reading that, click here for my list of 10 things sewing contractors wish you would figure out before contacting us to save you time and money.


Fibers are the most basic building material of fabrics. When manufacturing apparel, the choice of fiber is the first chance you will have to ensure that the garment you make will have the benefits that your customer desires, both when they are purchasing the apparel and later, when they are using it at home or work. The fiber choices you will make as a fashion professional directly affect the quality and performance of the garment being manufactured. All fibers have certain advantages and disadvantages that make them ideal for some apparel but unsuitable for others.

Natural fibers are farmed all over the world and are either protein based like sheep’s wool or silk or cellulosic based like cotton or linen. These fibers are distinguishable from manufactured fibers because the basic structure of the fiber is not changed with heat or chemicals, nor are the fibers formed mechanically. Their original form may be treated to be cleaned or made easier to work with, but they are then spun into yarn in their original structure.

Man-made fibers may be created from many different chemical combinations such as nylon and acrylic or natural materials such as wood and bamboo that are chemically altered and are then mechanically formed into fibers or a continuous filament, which is then spun into yarn. Occasionally, fibers that are natural or man-made may also be fused or felted together to create a non-woven fabric.


Yarn is a linear formation of filaments or fibers that is used to knit or weave a fabric. The choice of which yarns to use in your apparel also gives you a chance to positively affect the quality of the finished product. There are many different yarn structures, from a single smooth strand to multiple strands, in many unique formations that create textural effects in fabric. These textural effects can improve the hand or feel of the fabric for the customer. Is it rough, soft and flowing, limp and clingy, softly textured, or stiff and crunchy? The feel of the fabric in the customer’s hand when they are evaluating a garment on the rack and then when they are trying the garment on are a strong influence on their purchasing decision. Yarns also affect the durability of the fabric and therefore the satisfaction of the customer as they use the garment. The structure of some yarns, diameter, slipperiness, looseness of spin, etc., also affect the construction techniques used to sew fabrics together.


Knitted and woven fabrics are created from yarns. The way the yarns are arranged in the knit or weave depends on the style of garment being made, the use of the garment (once a week or once in a lifetime), what the customer’s expectations are for the garment’s performance (does it need to impress by being silky and shiny or to wick moisture from your skin during exercise?), the fit of the garment (close and slinky or structured and tailored), plus the care and durability of the garment over time. Some woven structures are soft and supple, and some are full and stiff. Some knits are smooth and thin, and others are thick and textured.

Dyeing and Printing

Dyed yarns can make up fabrics, but some fabrics are dyed and/or printed after being woven or knitted. Dyeing a yarn or fabric means that the color will penetrate into the depths of the yarn which usually ensures that the color may fade but will not wear off. Printing may also penetrate into the yarns but is primarily a surface treatment and may wear off in poorer quality apparel.  The order in which these steps are executed depends on the quality level chosen for the textile and the finished garment as well as the types of dyeing or printing methods used.

Yarn,fabric and garment finishing

Yarns, fabrics and garments may then be finished with a variety of methods both mechanical and chemical to further ensure their capacity to satisfy the retail customer. A mechanical finish might enhance a fabric’s fluffy softness; a chemical finish might allow it to be flame retardant. Mechanical and chemical finishes may also be done after the fabric is sewn into apparel and may also be executed by hand as in the case of distressing jeans.


Once the knit or woven fabric is prepared to be sewn, apparel construction begins. Many factors influence the chosen methods of construction, how the interior of the garment is finished, and any decorative construction details. Most important among these factors are the opinions and attitudes of the customer. These factors also include the amount of money necessary to pay for the materials used to accomplish those methods, finishes, and details, how long it will take to complete them, what machinery is available to make them, and if the machine operators have been or can be trained to complete them efficiently. Designers who are trained in all the possible methods, finishes, and details available to them can confidently choose what satisfies the customer as well as their own goals.


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