examples of cotton fabrics

Cotton fabric types

This A-Z guide to cotton fabrics – from clothes-press – covers fabric properties, main uses in sewing and washing care instructions.

Cotton fabrics are a great choice for dressmaking. They are widely available and come in a huge range of textures – from lightweight lawn and voile to heavy-weight velvets and moleskin. They are generally easy to sew, durable and easy to wash. There is a quite a wide range in quality and price. Cotton has a tendency to shrink so you’ll need to pre-wash your fabric before you start sewing.

Main types of cotton fabrics

  • Broderie Anglaise – also called eyelet. Plain-weave material with shaped, embroidered holes (called eyelets) punched in it. Can be either cotton or a cotton-synthetic mix. Used mostly for dresses, tops, skirts and nightwear. Care: 60°C machine wash and warm iron on wrong side.
  • Brushed cotton – also sometimes called flannel or flannelette. This cotton fabric is generally medium-weight and has surface fibres that are brushed on one side giving a soft, warm feel. It can be either plain, striped, checked or printed and is mostly used for casual shirts, warm linings and children’s clothes. Wincyette is a lightweight flannelette which is sometimes used to make nightwear. Care: 60-95°C machine wash and hot iron on wrong side.
  • Calico - inexpensive, coarse, plain-weave light- to medium-weight cotton fabric. Often used to make slopers, toiles or test garments though, to be honest, any cheap fabric will do for this really. Care: 60-95°C machine wash and hot iron.
  • Cambric - a plain-weave cotton fabric which is fine, smooth and firm-textured as it’s closely woven. Often used for blouses and children’s clothes. Care: 60°C machine wash and warm iron, pressing while damp.
  • Canvas - this is a medium- to heavy-weight, plain-weave cotton fabric that’s extremely strong, sturdy and durable. As well as its traditional use for sails, the lighter-weight versions can be used to make smocks, tunics, skirts and bags. Care: 40°C machine wash and hot iron, pressing while damp.
  • Chambray - a light- to medium-weight plain-weave cotton fabric which has a subtle variation in colour between the warp and weft threads. Generally comes in blues, greys and blacks but you do get other colours. It’s easy to sew and wears well. Often used for shirts and tops, dresses and children’s clothes. Care: 60°C machine wash and hot iron.
  • Cheesecloth - soft, loosely-woven cotton fabric with a plain-weave, rough finish and crinkled texture. Used mainly for casual blouses, shirts and skirts. Care: hand wash and warm iron.
  • Chino – also called drill. Strong and durable medium-weight cotton fabric with a twill weave. The fabric has a slight sheen and is frequently dyed beige, navy or black. Often used to make trousers, uniforms and work clothes.  Care: 95°C machine wash and hot iron.
  • Chintz - closely-woven, hardwearing, plain-weave cotton fabric with a glazed (so slightly shiny) finish. It’s often printed with bright floral patterns. It’s mainly used for soft furnishings but you could use it to make a dress. Care: dry clean and warm iron on wrong side.
  • Corduroy - also called cord, baby cord, and needlecord. This hardwearing, medium- to heavy-weight cotton fabric has lengthways ribs that brush smoothly one way giving one side of the material a textured, ribbed surface – like a kind of ridged velvet. The ribs are called cords and the number of cords per inch is the wale. Corduroy fabric commonly varies from 4-wale (wide wale) to 21-wale (fine needlecord). The standard wale is about 10-12 cords per inch. Corduroy and needlecord can be printed or plain, and are often used for making trousers, dresses, tunics, skirts, shirts and children’s clothes. Care: gentle 40°C machine wash and warm-hot iron on wrong side.
  • Cotton velvet - a medium-weight woven fabric with a silky pile or nap on the right side. The pile brushes smoothly one way and creates a soft, luxurious feel. Velvet tends to be expensive and is often used for evening wear. Care: dry clean. Warm iron on wrong side with a pressing cloth and using steam only to revive pile.
  • Crinkle cotton - also called crêpon. As the name suggests, this cotton has an intentionally creased texture. It’s sometimes pure cotton and sometimes a cotton-synthetic mix. It’s used mostly for casual shirts, blouses, skirts and dresses. Care: 60°C machine wash. Either twist then leave to dry without ironing, or press on wrong side using a cloth with a warm iron.
  • Damask - this is a double-sided, medium- to heavy-weight cotton fabric which uses a satin weave against a plain background to create patterns (often floral) woven into the fabric. The fabric is slightly shiny from the satin weave and is often used for posh jackets and waistcoats as well as tablecloths and home furnishings. Care: hand wash or dry clean. Iron with warm iron using a pressing cloth.
  • Denim - very strong, robust, heavy-weight cotton fabric that is densely woven using a twill weave. Colour-wise it tends to have white weft threads and blue or black warp threads, though you do get other colours. It’s used to make casual clothes such as jeans, skirts, jackets, shirts and work clothes. Care: 40°C machine wash and hot iron, pressing while damp.
  • Dotted Swiss - also called Swiss dot and dobby cotton. This is a lightweight, sheer (semi-transparent) cotton fabric with small textured dots woven in. Its uses include summer blouses, dresses, nightwear and children’s clothes. Care: 40°C machine wash and warm iron on wrong side.
  • Gingham - lightweight, plain-weave cotton fabric with woven checks, normally one colour and white. It’s hardwearing and often used for children’s clothes and table linen. Can be pure cotton or a cotton-polyester blend. Care: 60°C machine wash and hot iron.
  • Jersey (or knit) - cotton jersey is the stretchy fabric widely used for t-shirts and tops, dresses and sportswear. It’s generally light- to medium-weight and the quality is quite variable. A good quality jersey has fine knit stitches, drapes well and is crease resistant. For sewing, you’ll need to use a ball-point needle on your sewing machine and a stretch or zig-zag stitch. Care: 40°C machine wash and hot iron.
  • Lawn - lightweight, plain-weave cotton fabric that has a crisp, smooth feel. It can be quite sheer but is reasonably strong due to the fine weave. Often used for blouses, children’s clothes and sometimes underwear. Care: gentle 40°C machine wash and warm iron.
  • Linen-cotton mix – soft, light- to medium-weight fabric which is often a 50-50 mix of cotton and linen. It keeps the feel of linen but is a bit more robust and creases less. Watch out as you can sometimes get scratchy fabrics – get a sample first if possible if you’re ordering online. Often used for skirts, dresses, tunics, aprons, shirts and jackets. Care: gentle 40°C machine wash. Hot iron on wrong side while damp.
  • Madras cotton – lightweight, plain-weave fabric which is woven in different colours to form checks or patterns. Sometimes it’s woven on handlooms. It creases easily and is generally used for casual clothes. Care: hand wash and hot iron.
  • Moleskin - this is a medium- to heavy-weight, firm cotton fabric. One side of the material has a fine nap which creates a soft, brushed feel to the surface. It’s often used for skirts, trousers, shirts, coats and jackets. Care: 40°C machine wash and warm iron on wrong side.
  • Muslin – this unbleached plain-weave cotton fabric is quite soft and lightweight as it’s got quite a loose or open weave. As well as being used as an interlining in tailoring, it’s sometimes used for sewing test garments and is also what you use to strain fruit juices for jelly and wine-making. Care: 40°C machine wash and cool iron.
  • Polycotton - this is a blend of polyester and cotton, sometimes 50-50 and but often 65% cotton and 35% polyester. Generally it’s a lightweight plain-weave fabric which is very durable and crease-resistant. The downside is that it’s less breathable than cotton so can be sweaty if worn next to the skin. Uses include aprons, children’s clothes and non-iron shirts and skirts. Care: 40°C machine wash and warm iron.
  • Poplin - also called cotton broadcloth. Medium-weight, tightly-woven, plain-weave cotton fabric which is easy to sew. It’s very versatile and is often used for shirts, blouses and dresses. Can be pure cotton or blended with polyester. Care: 60°C machine wash and warm iron using a pressing cloth.
  • Quilting cottons – also called patchwork, printed or craft cottons. These are light- to medium-weight plain-weave cottons which have are reasonably closely woven – there’s a huge variety of printed fabrics available. They’re often used for tops, aprons, tunics, skirts and dresses. Care: 40°C machine wash and warm iron.
  • Sateen - also called satin. A medium-weight, satin-weave cotton fabric which has a soft, smooth texture and sheen. Mainly used for dresses and skirts. Care: 30°C machine wash and warm iron on wrong side.
  • Seersucker - this lightweight fabric is woven with alternating stripes of flat fabric and puckered fabric. It’s often checked or striped but you do get plain versions too. It’s sometimes used for tablecloths and for casual shirts, suits, trousers and children’s clothes. Care: 60°C machine wash and doesn’t usually need ironing.
  • Shirting cottons – these are lightweight, crisp cotton fabrics with woven-in stripes or checks. A variety of weaves are used and shirting fabrics include poplin, twill, herringbone, Oxford and broadcloth. Not surprisingly, they are mainly used for shirts but are also made into nightwear and boxer shorts. Care: 40°C machine wash and warm iron.
  • Silk-cotton mix – a soft, lightweight fabric which has a cotton weave combined with the lustre and drape of silk. It’s generally used to make blouses and dresses. Care: gentle 40°C machine wash, hand wash or dry clean, warm iron on wrong side.
  • Ticking - a medium-weight, strong, twill-weave cotton material which has woven-in stripes, usually dark blue or red on a cream background. Ticking can either be cotton or a cotton-synthetic blend. It’s not used all that much in dressmaking – its main uses are for mattress covers and in upholstery – but can be used for aprons and bags. Care: 95°C machine wash and hot iron, ironing on wrong side while damp using a pressing cloth.
  • Towelling - the uncut loops on the surface of this cotton fabric mean that it is very absorbent. It’s used mainly for towels, bathrobes and beach cover-ups. Care: 60-95°C machine wash and hot iron.
  • Voile - a very lightweight, plain-weave cotton fabric which is partly see-through. It’s soft so drapes and gathers well. Voile can be either plain or printed, and is generally used for blouses, dresses and children’s clothes. You’ll need to make any seams and darts as neat as possible as they generally show through to the right side. French seams are often used for sheer fabrics. Care: gentle 40°C machine wash and cool iron.

Note on washing instructions

I’ve included general care instructions for each fabric but please check any information that comes with the fabric you’re buying. Alternatively, test a sample to check that the general recommendations given here are right for your specific fabric. The temperatures given are the maximum suggested for each fabric – obviously you can do lower temperature washes if you prefer. Fabrics made from natural fibres can shrink quite a bit (sometimes 10%) when you first wash them, so do make sure you buy enough fabric to allow for this and pre-wash it before sewing.

Where to find more detailed information on fabric types

Online resources

  • Google images – I find this is the best place to get a quick idea of what any of the fabrics look like

Books for more in-depth information

  • The Sewing Book – of all the general sewing books I’ve read, I think this one has the best guide to fabric with excellent photos

Read more on clothes-press

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