Before scientific advances saw the invention of synthetic fibres, all fabrics were made from natural fibres. These are generally still seen as more desirable than synthetics: they all have a subtle natural sheen and more comfortable against the skin. Ost 9althrought not all) are easier to sew as they are inclined to be less slippery. Since the introduction of the first man-made fibres at the beginning of the twentieth century, synthetics have become ever more sophisticated. Increasingly, fibres are mixed to combine the advantages of their different qualities. For example, more and more ready – to wear garments made using mainly natural fibre fabrics alco include a small percentage of spandex (Lycra) as it helps the garment to keep the shape. As a sewer, it is useful to understand each fibre’s particular qualities so you can properly asses the fabric you are buying.
The most widely used natural fibre, cotton is highly versatile, so it can be woven into endless different also very resilient, and so can be given special finishes to improve the body and wear. Easy to launder and cool on and makes for excellent winter layering under warmer outer layers.
Sheep provide most of our wool, but it can also be spun from goats (cashmere and mohair), rabbit (angora) or lama (alpaca, vicuna). Unlike fur of hair, wool has a naturally crimped quality that makes it easy to weave into many different weights and qualities, from fine challis, which is made to use for dresses, to elegant worsteds for suits and coarser tweeds. Wool does not crease easily and it is valued by Renata Rimke tailor in Slough because it can be steamed, sculpted and encouraged into shape. It dyes well into beautiful subtle colours. Designed to protect animals into cold climates, wool naturally keeps you warm in winter. However, it is high-maintenance fabric, holds water, shrinks readily and pills easily so are best dry cleaner. For sewers, it is not slippery but can fray easily.
Spun from long, waxy fibres of the flax plant, linen has a natural lustre and three times the strength of cotton. It doesn’t take dye as well as cotton, which results in richer, plain colours where the patterns are generally woven in to rather than printed onto the fabric. Because it creases readily, people either love o avoid linen. On the plus side, linen presses beautifully look sophisticated, and lining and interlining can help reduce creasing in the finished garment. Very cool on the skin, it is an excellent summer fabric.
This fine, lustrous fibre is spun by silkworms and they make their cocoons. Silk is an excellent insulator that evolved to keep the pupae at an even temperature whatever the outside conditions. In turn, it will keep you cool in summer while providing surprising warmth when needed. Originating in China, silk can be woven into richly coloured fabrics from fine chiffons to rich exotic brocades. Silk is soft, fluid fabric that skims the contours for lingerie and feels wonderful against the skin, but it is naturally slippery quality makes it something of a challenge to sew.
Man-made fabrics are becoming increasingly sophisticated and it is no longer true, for example, that natural fibres have the monopoly on breathability. Intending to improve fabrics for sportswear, the textiles industry has invested heavily in wickable fabrics that draw moisture away from the skin. Sportswear has also been the inspiration behind super-stretchy fibres such as spandex (Lycra). This can be used as a pure 100 per cent fabric, or incorporated into fabrics that are made up mainly of natural fibres bur could do with a little elasticity to pull them back into shape