Discover the Different Types of Fabric

8 minute read

There are so many types of fabric out there that it can be hard to keep track of them all. Fabric is one of the most important materials in sewing and quilting. It's what we use to create clothes, accessories, and home decor items. But with all the different types of fabric available, it can be tough to know which is suitable for your project. In this quick guide, we'll discuss some of the most common types of fabrics and how to identify them. We'll also give tips on choosing the right type of fabric for your needs and answer some of the commonly asked questions about fabric. Read on to learn more!

Pink Fat Quarter Fabric with white foliage design on a sewing machine

Table of Contents:

I. Introduction
II. How Many Different Types of Fabrics Are There?
   A. Natural vs. Synthetic
   B. Woven vs. Knitted
III. What Are Different Types of Fabrics?
   A. Cotton
   B. Wool
   C. Silk
   D. Linen
   E. Polyester
   F. Nylon
IV. How Do You Identify the Different Types of Fabric?
V. What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Each Type of Fabric Material?
VI. Which Type of Fabric Is Best for a Specific Project?
VII. Conclusion

 DIY baby bibs made with fat quarter fabric collection from Altenew

How Many Different Types of Fabrics Are There?

To understand how many different types of fabrics are there, you need to remember that “fabric” is created by weaving fibers together. Most fabrics are composed of various blends of fibers. The type of fiber used and the production process are some factors to consider when it comes to the different types of fabric.

Natural Synthetic Woven  Knitted

-Obtained from plants and animals
-Examples: Cotton, Flax/Linen, Jute/Bamboo, Wool, Silk

-Made from synthetic matter
-Also known as man-made fibers
-Examples: Polyester, Vinyl, Rayon, Cellulose, Fiberglass
-This process involves interweaving two pieces of yarn horizontally and vertically on a loom.
-The yarn runs at a 45-degree angle.
-Woven fabric is sturdier and tauter than knit fabric because the fabric doesn’t stretch.
-This fabric has a weft and a warp.
-Examples: Silk, Satin, Chiffon, Crepe, Denim, Linen
-This process involves forming the yarn into an interconnecting loop design.
-The fabric stretches significantly.
-This type of fabric is elastic and keeps its shape.
-It has two types: warp-knitted and weft-knitted.
-Examples: Lace, Mesh, Lycra
Did You Know? Wool is a type of fabric that is derived from various animals’ hairs. While most people think of sheep when they hear “wool,” there are distinct types of wool that producers derive from animals other than sheep. (Source)

What Are Different Types of Fabrics?

There are hundreds of different types of fabric, each with its own unique properties and purposes. Fabric can be made from various materials, including cotton, wool, silk, and synthetic. Each type of fabric has its own advantages and disadvantages that should be considered before making a purchase. Here are some of the most common types of fabrics.

Cotton fabric in different colors

1. Cotton is a popular choice for fabric because it is soft, absorbent, and durable. This fabric type is made from natural fibers from the cotton plant. The encasing for the cotton fibers is the part that becomes the cotton fabric. It is often used to make clothing because it is comfortable and can withstand frequent washing. However, cotton fabric can shrink when washed in hot water or tumble-dried on high heat.

Close up of wool knitted fabric

2. Wool is another popular natural fabric made out of hair fibers from different animals. This moderately breathable, renewable, and biodegradable type of fabric has a softer feel than cotton. It’s commonly used for winter clothing such as sweaters, socks, and gloves because it can keep people warm. It also has high heat-retention and moisture-wicking abilities. However, wool is more expensive than cotton and can be difficult to clean.

Olive green silk fabric crumpled and bunched up

3. Silk is a luxurious fabric with a smooth, glossy surface. It is often used for evening wear, wedding dresses, lingerie, scarves, and ties. Soft and delicate, silk can be easily dyed in a variety of colors. This natural fabric is made from a silkworm’s cocoon that is often found in China, Europe, and South Asia. Turning silk thread into yarn is a delicate and time-consuming process; that’s why silk clothing is often expensive. However, silk is delicate and can be damaged easily.

Olive green linen fabric bunched up

4. Linen is made from fibers extracted from the flax plant. It takes a long time to soften the fibers and can be difficult to weave. This extremely strong and lightweight type of fabric can withstand extreme temperatures - making it perfect for summer or light clothing and garments. Linen is also naturally moth-resistant and biodegradable (when not dyed or treated).

Multi-color polyester fabric tied with twine

5. Polyester is a relatively inexpensive woven fabric made from synthetic fibers (petrochemicals). Polyester fiber is a popular and widely used fiber around the world. This extremely durable and lightweight fabric does not absorb sweat or other fluids well, so it is uncomfortable to wear in hot and humid weather. This flexible fabric is easy to dye, wash, and care for and also resistant to shrinking and stretching. Polyester is great for curtains, tablecloths, pillowcases, and bed sheets.

6. Nylon is another synthetic type of fabric that is silk-like but stronger than polyester. It is incredibly lightweight, stretchable, and water-resistant, making it perfect for athletic wear. Nylon’s lack of absorbency and breathability make it the worst type of fabric material to wear during summer.

Fun Fact! During the first few months of World War II, DuPont worked hard to find a way to replace Asian silk and hemp with nylon in parachutes. It was also used to make tires, tents, ropes, ponchos, and other military supplies. (Source)

When choosing fabric, it is essential to consider the purpose of the item you are making. 

For example, if you are making a shirt, you will want to choose a breathable and comfortable fabric. If you are making a curtain, you will want to choose a durable fabric that can withstand sunlight. Once you have considered the purpose of the item you are making, you can narrow down your choices and select the best type of fabric for your project.

Here’s Your Quick Guide to Everything Fabric!

Different types of fabric in different colors folded and stacked

How Do You Identify the Different Types of Fabric?

To identify different types of fabric, you need to know what to look for. The first thing to consider is the material that the fabric is made from. Different materials have different properties and can be used for different purposes. For example, cotton is a natural fiber that is soft and breathable, making it ideal for clothing. In contrast, nylon is a synthetic fiber that is strong and durable, making it suitable for use in tents and other outdoor gear.

The second thing to consider is the construction of the fabric. Fabric can be made from either one or two materials, and it can be created in a variety of ways. The most common construction methods are woven and knit. Woven fabrics are made from two pieces of material woven together; whereas knit fabrics are made from one piece of material that is knitted together.

Colorful fabric with patterns

Looking at the weave of the fabric can also help identify them. The weave is the way the threads are interlaced to create the fabric. Some common weaves include plain weave, twill weave, and satin weave. Plain weave is the most basic type of weave and is created by interlacing the threads in an over-under pattern. Twill weave is created by interlacing the threads in an over-under-over pattern. Satin weave is created by interlacing the threads in an over-under-over-under pattern.

The third thing to look at is the finish of the fabric. The finish is how the fabric has been treated to give it a certain appearance or feel. Fabrics can be finished with various treatments, including dyeing, printing, and coating. These treatments can change the look and feel of the fabric and its properties.

For example, a fabric that has been coated with a waterproofing treatment will be more resistant to water than one that has not been treated. Some common finishes include mercerizing, calendering, and embossing. Mercerizing is a type of finish that makes the fabric more lustrous and easier to dye. Calendering is a type of finish that gives the fabric a smooth, glossy surface. Embossing is a type of finish that creates a raised design on the fabric's surface.

Denim jeans folded and stacked side by side

Finally, you need to consider the weight of the fabric. Fabric is typically measured in ounces per square yard in the US and grams per square meter (GSM) in many other countries. The heavier the fabric, the more durable it will be and the laster it will long; however, heavy fabrics can also be more difficult to work with.

Different types of fabrics have different uses. To choose the right fabric for your project, you need to consider what you will be using the fabric for and what properties it needs to have.

Fun Fact! There are different types of silk, but 90% of the silk produced globally is mulberry silk.

Altenew Fat Quarter Fabric collection with different colors and patterns

Create Your Next Project with This Fat Quarter Fabric Collection!

What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Each Type of Fabric Material?

There are many different types of fabric materials, each with its advantages and disadvantages. Here are some of the most common ones:

Type of Fabric Advantages Disadvantages
Cotton -Breathable
-Comfortable to wear
-Easy to wash and care for
-Can be machine-washed and dried
-Cotton can shrink when it is washed and dried, so it may not be a good choice for garments that need to be laundered regularly.
-It is not wrinkle-resistant.
-It does not dry easily.
Polyester -Durable
-Dries quickly
-Polyester is not very absorbent
-Can be hot to wear in summer weather
-It is not breathable.
Wool -Warm and natural fabric
-Resistant to wrinkles and dust
-100% sustainable
-Hypoallergenic and hygienic
-Has thermally-insulating properties
-Wool can be itchy for some people to wear
-Can be heavy and bulky
-Can be uncomfortable
Silk -Luxurious fabric
-Soft and smooth
-Easy to dye
-Silk is delicate and can be easily stained or damaged.
-Not wrinkle-resistant
-Can stretch or shrink when wet
Linen -Strong and natural fabric
-Cool to wear in warm weather
-Organic linen uses natural dye
-Linen wrinkles easily and can be difficult to care for.
-Can be expensive
-Tumble-drying linen can cause permanent creases
Nylon -Strong and resistant to wear and tear
-Great for athletic clothing and gear
-Can handle extreme temperatures
-Doesn’t wrinkle or shrink
-It doesn’t absorb water well.
-It lacks dimensional stability.
-Might fade easily because it is almost always acid-dyed

Now that you know the advantages and disadvantages of a few popular
types of fabric materials, you can make an informed decision about which one is right for you.

Fun Fact! Back in 1938, DuPont promoted nylon fiber as the "first man-made organic textile fiber," which was derived from "coal, water, and air" and promised to be "as strong as steel, as fine as the spider's web."

Discover Easy Fabric Crafts!

DIY pink blouse with white floral patterns and cinched gartered waist

Which Type of Fabric Is Best for a Specific Project?

When choosing a type of fabric for a specific project, it’s important to consider the properties of the fabric and how they will affect the finished product. Some fabrics are better suited for certain projects than others.

For example, cotton is a good choice for clothing because it’s soft and comfortable. Polyester is a good choice for upholstery because it’s strong and durable. Nylon is a good choice for athletic clothing because it’s resistant to wear and tear. Consider the purpose of the finished product and choose a fabric that will best meet those needs.

different types of fabric in different colors

Find the Best Type of Fabric for Your Next Project!

So, what’s the best fabric for your next project? It depends on a few factors: what type of look you’re going for, how much money you want to spend, and how much time you want to put into taking care of your clothes. We hope this guide has helped you better understand the different types of fabrics available and their unique properties. Armed with this knowledge, you can confidently choose the perfect fabric for every project and occasion!

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