Here at g&g at this time of year we get asked a lot about ‘warm fabrics’ for dressmaking, so in this post I wanted to share what might constitute a warm fabric along with examples and ideas of what patterns and specific fabrics you can combine to make really lovely new clothes for Autumn and winter.
Hear me chat about these fabrics in my latest youtube video. Below you can also find further explanations and links to fabrics and patterns that are available to buy in our online shop.
Firstly, there are several characteristics of a fabric that might make it ‘feel warm’ when worn as a garment: Fibre content, the fabric weave, the physical thickness or texture of the fabric, the colour palette of the fabric and if you line the garment or not.
This is by far going to be the biggest factor in making one fabric warmer than another. Fabrics that contain wool, either blended with other fibres or 100% pure wool, will be the warmest and mean you don't need to layer up as much. The higher the wool content the warmer it will be as it has naturally insulating properties.
When making garments with wool there are usually other things to take into account. I would say for home dressmakers, the main one that will come up is how to wash it. Generally speaking wools should either be dry cleaned or some may be able to be hand washed gently with cool water. So this can often affect your decision to choose a wool fabric if you don’t want to have to launder it in either of those ways.
I would say, that’s going to be the first choice you need to make really. If you want to be as warm as possible then you need to weigh up having that as a priority or being able to launder with ease as a priority.
Dressmaking fabrics made from wool, or wool blended with other fibres can come in different thicknesses and weave making it suitable for lots of different types of garments.
Our range of thicker, heavier wools are great for coats, jackets or coatigan style garments.
This selection of lighter weight wool mix fabrics have more drape and movement to them making them suitable for trousers and some dress and top styles
Fabrics that are water or somewhat wind resistant may also help you to feel a bit warmer by staying dry or keeping out the whistling wind! When you get into the technical terms of water proof, water resistant and water repellent it gets quite specific as fabrics need to undergo certain tests to be labelled with those terms.
Fabrics that are coated or dipped in wax will have water repellent properties. At the moment we have a few of the Millerain waxed cotton canvas fabrics that are suitable for jackets and coats. Due to supply/manufacturing delays at Millerain it has been difficult for us to secure more stock of their range but we hope in the future more selection will be available.
Synthetic fibres - fabrics containing polyester or polyester mixed with other fibres tend to be less breathable than more natural based fabrics. This can make them feel a bit sweaty to wear sometimes, so they may make you feel warm, but not in a good way if the heat can’t escape!
Other types of fibres, for example cotton, viscose/rayon, synthetic fibres or blends may feel warmer if it feels physically thicker or has a more spongy texture. It might be that the fabric sort of traps a layer of air within it so that can make it feel a bit warmer as well.
Quite often fabrics that are woven with a twill weave feel a bit thicker, heavier or more weighty than their plain weave counter parts. A twill weave is when you can see sort of diagonal looking lines of texture when you look closely at the fabric on one side.
For example, twill weave viscose fabrics tend to feel a bit heavier than plain weave viscose fabrics, but still have that beautiful drape and movement to them. Technically speaking they won’t really be any warmer, but feeling like you are wearing a heavier fabric may make you feel a bit warmer.
This fabric is characterised by those lines of the cord that have a sort of soft brushed feel to them. They come in different thicknesses measured by how many of those lines - termed wales- there are in an inch. So needlecord, which has very fine lines has a high wale count, whereas chunky think lines will have a low wale count. Some corduroys are 100% cotton, some have some stretch fibres in them so they can be suitable for lots of projects from dresses, dungarees, skirts and trousers.
Often thought of as a predominantly summery fabric, the two fine layers of loosely woven cotton that make up this fabric can trap a layer of air and feel almost a bit puffy or spongy. Layered up with other garments it might feel a bit warmer and cosier to wear. Cotton gauze is suitable for tops and dresses.
Sweatshirt fabric with that classic fluffy, fleecy backing can feel really cosy next to your skin. The physical thickness of that fabric may also sort of trap a layer of air in there as well. This is perfect for classic cosy cardigans jumpers, hoodies and lounge style trousers.
It’s fairly common to get stretchy/jersey/knitted fabrics that are made in a way that creates lots of small loops on the reverse of the fabric. This can make the fabric feel physically thicker and again, could help to trap an extra layer of air and help you feel a bit warmer.
Often these fabrics can bridge between t-shirt/top style patterns and jumper style patterns and be suitable for both. They are thicker than a typical cotton t-shirt weight, but lighter than the fleeceback sweatshirting mentioned above.
These fabrics can be woven in various different ways, for example twill weave, herringbone or plain weave but what makes them similar is that they are finished with a process that brushes the surface of them making them feel fluffy and well...brushed! That texture in itself feels soft and cosy against your skin and the greater surface area of the fabric can also trap air and make it feel warmer.
These fabrics will have more structure to them and hold their shape more than say a cotton lawn or a viscose/rayon type type fabric so anything that you make will be more boxy/firmer/hold its shape more. That makes them great for simple boxy styles, classic shirts, and dresses too. Just bear in mind that if the garment is fuller or has gathers for example, it will feel more sort of puffy or sticky outy than it would if you used a fabric with more drape like a viscose or rayon. This isn't a bad thing, it's just a particular style or look that you need to be aware of.
Colour is known to be a power communication tool and can evoke physical and physiological reactions so it's no surprise that if you wear certain colours it may help you to feel more comfort or warmth regardless of its physical thickness or technical characteristics.
If there is a really beautiful, autumnal lightweight viscose fabric that you love the design of, don’t rule it out on the basis that it's thin. Wearing it with tights, a vest or other under garment and cardigan can mean you can make use of any fabric at any time of year with good old layers!
Adding a lining to the garment can make it feel warmer, again as it will help to trap air between the layers of clothes you are wearing. It’s like wearing two items of clothing as once really when you think about it and we all know that layering up when it's cold does keep you warmer.
Some garments are naturally lined anyway, a coat for example is quite likely to be lined. When lining a coat you need to remember that it will always be worn over other clothes so needs to be easy to take on an off. For this reason you really want the sleeves at least to be lined with a slippery lining type of fabric so that it can slip over your other clothing. The main bodice of the coat can be lined with the same or it may be lined with something like a cotton lawn or flannel/brushed cotton, for example.
If a dress or skirt is to be lined and you plan on wearing it over tights or legging, it’s going to be better to line it with the same type of slippery lining fabric so that it doesn’t stick to your legs as you walk and move around.
There are different types of this sort of traditional slippery lining in terms of the fibres that make them. Acetate/polyester or synthetic variations will tend to be less breathable and make you sweat more. Whereas viscose, cupro or silk types of lining will be more breathable.
You can line garments with light weight cotton for example, and this might be common for a fabric that is a bit transparent or for more summery garments like a skirt or dress that would be worn with bare legs.
You can also add an ‘interlining’ to a garment which is lined. This is an additional layer of fabric that sits hidden between the main fabric and the lining fabric. It might be a type of wadding or I have in the past used a technical fabric called Thinsulate which has specific insulating properties. You can source that fabric on this website.