Welcome to our complete fabric and sewing guide! Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced sewer we hope you will find the information and tips helpful. Fabric is one of the most important components when creating clothes and textile interior design pieces. It’s essential to get the basics right to set you up for success.
Continue reading to learn about different fabric types and print styles, the equipment and tools you’ll need and the basic hand stitches to master. We also share some great project ideas that you can easily try out at home by following step-by-step sewing tutorials, and what to consider when shopping for fabric to save you time and money.
Fiber is the main component that is used to produce fabric. There are two different types of fiber, natural (extracted from plants and animals) and synthetic (man-made and regenerated). Natural fibers are generally more environmentally friendly compared to synthetic fibers because they are biodegradable, renewable and carbon-neutral. They do not use as many chemicals during the production process compared to synthetic fibers.
Examples of animal-based natural fibers include silk and wool, while plant-based natural fibers include cotton, hemp, linen (flax), jute, bamboo and pineapple. There are many advantages when it comes to natural fibers. They are eco-friendly, durable, absorbent, insulated, hypoallergenic (good for sensitive skin), comfortable to wear and fire resistant.
Synthetic fibers are made using chemical processes. They are easy to mass produce and became popular due to the high demand for cheap ‘fast fashion’. The fibers are more durable, stronger, absorbent and resistant compared to natural fibers. However, they are non-biodegradable; they break down slowly into smaller pieces called microplastics which pollute the planet. They also melt when heated and produce poisonous gasses when burned. Examples include polyester, nylon, lyocell, acetate, acrylic, rayon (viscose), PVC, and Spandex (lycra or elastane).
The fabric used for home decoration projects will largely differ in texture, design and quality compared to fabrics used for dressmaking. Visit our interior design guide to learn more about fabric interiors and how they help to set the mood of a room.
There are many gorgeous fabrics that can be used around your home. We have listed our top fabric suggestions, including their features and how they are best used so you can find the right fabric for your next project.
Cotton is the most commonly used natural fiber in the world and is one of the cheapest fibers to produce. Cotton plant bolls are harvested, processed and combed into yarn. Cotton is often used to make clothing as it’s soft, durable, lightweight, breathable, absorbent, and easy to clean and dye. Cotton plants require tons of water, fertilizer and pesticides to grow so organic rain-fed cotton is best as it’s more sustainable.
If you plan to use cotton fabric, remember that it shrinks after the first wash so make sure you account for this when deciding how much fabric you’ll need for your sewing project. Pre-wash cotton fabric before first use in a machine using the same temperature that you’ll use to wash the finished garment (or item) in the future. You will find that cotton softens after multiple washes.
Tip: iron the fabric after pre-washing to make it easier to mark and cut your pattern pieces.
Cotton fabrics range in weight (from heavy to light) and are suitable for making curtains, quilts, cushion covers as well as shirts, skirts, trousers, jeans and dresses.
Fibers are extracted from the flax plant before they are spun into yarn and woven to make linen fabric which is comfortable, soft, breathable and luxurious. Flax plants require very little water to grow, which makes linen more sustainable than cotton. However, linen is more expensive to produce than cotton as it’s slow to harvest and difficult to weave.
Woven linen can be purchased in a variety of different weights and it’s often blended with cotton so it’s prone to creasing. This fabric is suitable for making pajama pants, shirt dresses, tunics and blouses. It can also be used to make cushion covers, curtains and wall coverings.
Hemp is an excellent choice if you’re looking for environmentally friendly fabric as it requires little water and hardly any fertilizer or pesticides to grow. The fibres are stronger, longer, more absorbent and resistant compared to cotton fibers. Hemp is a comfortable, soft, durable, breathable and lightweight fabric but like linen, it wrinkles easily. This fabric is not as popular as cotton because it’s difficult to dye and expensive to produce. Hemp is an excellent alternative to cotton that can be used to make clothing.
This very long fiber is made from the jute plant. Jute fabric is durable, tough, rough, highly breathable, stain resistant, quick drying, inexpensive and environmentally friendly. It’s easy to mass-produce and used mainly to make bags, rugs, curtains and upholstery.
Silk fibers are spun by silkworms before becoming moths. It’s a luxurious fabric that’s soft to touch and has a shiny appearance. Silk is very expensive because it’s costly to produce and limited in availability. There are four main types of silk (muga, mulberry, tasar and eri). Silk is a versatile fabric that is smooth, comfortable, breathable, lightweight and durable, however, its production is cruel to animals as the silkworms are killed in boiling water.
A silkworm cocoon
This fabric is difficult to sew as it slips easily. Silk can be used to make scarves, shirts, blouses, jackets, pajamas, neckties and eveningwear. It can also be used to make pillows, bedding, curtains and wall hangings for your home.
Polyester is made of polyethylene terephthalate. It’s often blended with natural fibres, like cotton and wool, and artificial fibers to make more durable fabric that’s each to wash. This fiber is soft, lightweight, strong, durable, quick-drying, crease-resistant and holds its shape well but attracts static electricity and stains easily. It’s commonly used to make a variety of different clothing items as it’s inexpensive to produce. Woven polyester and cotton/polyester blends are easy to sew.
Rayon is made from regenerated cellulose. It is a cheaper alternative to silk as it looks shiny, it’s easy to drape and is very absorbent. It’s best to dry clean viscose fabrics as they can shrink easily, become stiff and fade in colour if washed. Alternatively, they can be hand washed in cold water and dried flat or line dried. The fabric loses half of its strength when wet and has poor abrasion resistance. It’s a popular fabric choice for clothing including dresses, jackets, blouses, neckties and suits.
Lyocell is a type of rayon fabric; it’s breathable, absorbent, crease and shrink-resistant, soft to touch and has a slight sheen. This is another popular synthetic material for making clothing such as dresses and trousers. It can also be used for home décor including upholstery, curtains and tablecloths.
There are hundreds of different fabric patterns and styles used for fashion and interior design. Fabrics can be used for decorative elements in your home to add texture, interest and character to a room.
Bold and vibrant African wax print fabric can be used to add a splash of colour to brighten your living spaces. These 100% cotton, fun fabrics can add warmth and comfort to any room. Vibrant colours can boost your mood bringing instant joy and happiness. The many design styles are often inspired by African culture.
Botanical print is a popular trend that allows you to add vintage and boho-chic touches to your home decor. These versatile fabrics, featuring leaves, plants and ferns, can be used as the main focal point of any room in the house. They come alive when surrounded by potted plants bringing the wonderful feeling of nature into your home.
Cute, intricate and detailed floral prints come in a wide range of designs from simple to complex patterns that differ in scale. They can be used in your living room as well as bedrooms and office space. Floral patterns add character and nature to your home decoration creating a calming, relaxed and joyful environment. These fabrics mix well with solid colours and many other patterns such as stripes or plaids.
Paisley was originally a Persian or Indian design but became popular in Europe, particularly during the 1970s. The designs feature droplet-shaped motifs and intricate, exotic patterns with a retro feel. It’s a suitable pattern for curtains, cushion covers, bed sheets, tablecloths, quilts and upholstery. The designs stand out if used with neutral, plain colours or they can be mixed with checks or geometric patterns.
Ditsy (or Ditzy) are colourful, cheerful, small, repeated patterns that spread across the entire fabric. The designs often include flowers, small figures or geometric shapes. These fabrics work well for home décor projects that have a casual style.
Versatile, eye-capturing geometric patterns are popular for modern interior design and also look good with mid-century modern or retro styles. This fabric style features geometric shapes including circles, ovals, triangles and squares. The patterns can be symmetrical, abstract or regular.
Stripes are commonly used in the interior design world. There are many different types of stripe designs including barcode (stripes of various widths) and awning (broad stripes that can be separated by thinner bands). Versatile stripes can be paired with many other patterns without clashing.
Animal print, such as zebra, leopard, cheetah, tiger, giraffe, and peacock, is a trend that’s been around for decades. Leopard print is the most popular animal print in the fashion industry. When used in interior design they are often the focal point of a room. These fun prints go well with plain colours such as black, white, dark blue and red.
If you’re planning to sew by hand, then you’ll need to invest in some good-quality sewing needles. Alternatively, if you would like to sew by machine then you’ll need to invest in a well-made, reliable sewing machine with a good range of features that are suitable for your needs. Trustworthy brands include Brother, Juki, Janome, Bernina and Pfaff. It’s worth spending a bit more instead of going for the cheapest model.
A serger (an overlocker) is a three or four-thread machine that’s useful to have alongside a regular sewing machine to create clean edges on seams. You can sew pretty much anything without a serger but it’s particularly helpful when making garments to stop finished edges from fraying especially when washed. It’s also easier to use a serger when sewing knitted fabrics as they stretch easily.
We recommend using a good-quality steam iron as well as the following sewing tools to get your new hobby off to a good start. Whether you are an absolute beginner looking to learn to sew, or a little more experienced, we have listed our top tools to assist you with your new project.
Good quality fabric scissors (such as Fiskars) will help you to cut through several layers of fabric at once. Dressmaker shears can be used to cut most fabric types whereas tailor scissors, often used for quilting, are a good choice for heavy-duty fabrics such as leather and denim. Rotary cutters can also be used to cut out pattern pieces with a cutting mat.
Fabric scissors come in a range of different sizes and weights; consider comfort, if you’re left or right-handed and the type of fabric you usually work with when choosing the perfect pair. When you’re more experienced at sewing you might also like to purchase embroidery scissors and pinking shears.
A thimble is a small pitted cup usually worn on the index or middle finger to prevent it from being pricked or poked when sewing with a needle by hand. It can also be used to help push the needle through the fabric. They are made from hard materials such as bone, metal or wood.
If you have poor eyesight, needle threaders help to poke fine threads through tiny needle eyes when hand sewing. Watch the below video demonstration to learn how they work. You can also purchase special needle threader tools for sewing machines.
An essential sewing tool with a sharp point and blade that you can use to unpick stitches if you make a mistake and cut stitches in a seam.
For hand sewing, the needle you use needs to be a comfortable length and suitable size. It should be sharp and the eye large enough so you can thread it easily but not too big to prevent the thread from slipping out while you sew. Small, fine needles are best as your stitching will look neater.
Sewing machine needles also differ in size, they have different points and sized eyes which are suitable for different types of fabrics. For example, if you’re sewing satin or silk fabrics then you’ll need a fine tip needle. It’s good to have a supply of multiuse needles so you can replace them quickly and easily if they break. Also, consider having a twin needle (and ballpoint needles if you’re planning to sew knitted fabrics).
Magnetic pin holders are so helpful for picking up and easily keeping track of needles. They can help you to save time as you can drop the pins instead of pressing them into a pin cushion. They also help keep your workstation clean and tidy.
Standard sewing pins work well but it’s also handy to have some clips especially if you’re working with several layers of fabric. The benefits of using clips instead of pins are that they don’t create holes or marks in the fabric and you don’t risk breaking your needle as you don’t sew over them.
Instead of using traditional tailor’s chalk, use a fabric pen which makes a coloured mark that vanishes after 12 to 24 hours for sewing, quilting and embroidery projects. The pen mark can also easily be removed with a damp cloth. It’s worth testing on a swatch of your fabric first to make sure the marks disappear completely. This pen can be used for marking darts, sewing lines and notches for example.
A large, clear ruler is usually used for quilting but can also help to create patterns as you can see the fabric underneath. It can also be placed in front of your sewing machine so you can use it to do quick measurements while you sew.
When making garments, it’s important to use good pattern paper that’s not too thick and durable so it does not rip when pinned or handled. It should be flexible, so it’s easy to handle and fold, and easy to put pins through the fabric without damaging the pattern. There are different types of pattern paper such as tracing, dotted, brown, and white rolls.
It’s definitely worth using a zipper foot (adjustable or invisible) to attach zippers neatly.
If you don’t have a serger, you can use overcasting stitches with an overcasting foot on your sewing machine to finish your seams neatly. It can also be used when sewing with stretchy knitted fabrics.
Fray check is a clear liquid that seals seams preventing the fabric from fraying. It can also be used to secure the ends of thread for example when sewing buttons. You could use it during a project before finishing raw edges.
There is a vast range of sewing equipment and tools available which can be expensive. You may not need all of these when you start out so just stick to the basics to begin with.
If you’re new to sewing, your first projects may be a bit daunting. To help you get started, check out our handy tips to help you jump straight into future sewing projects…
We recommend using Craftsy which is a great resource if you’re learning to sew for all types of crafts. They offer over 1,500 online classes and you can try some for free before deciding if you’d like to become a member.
YouTube has lots of free video sewing tutorials with helpful step-by-step instructions, which you can follow from start to finish. Pinterest is another great resource for sewing project inspiration. There are lots of great books available to help you whilst you’re learning. It’s good to have a beginner’s guide near your workstation so you can refer to it if you run into any problems that you’re not sure how to solve.
If you would eventually like to start selling your handmade creations then we recommend using Etsy to make it easier and quicker to get started online. You’ll also be supported by an online community of creatives just like you!
It’s enjoyable sewing with African wax print fabrics, due to their colourful and bold patterns, but what do you need to consider if you’ve not used it before? We recommend choosing simple sewing patterns so you can let the eye-catching fabrics do all the talking.
If you’re choosing African print fabric to make clothing then it’s best to use repeated patterns that are small in scale to make it easier when pattern cutting. You should also decide where any key parts of the motif (for example, animals, objects and shapes) should be positioned before you start cutting the fabric.
Read our blog ‘What to Consider When Sewing With African Wax Print Fabric’ for more great tips!
There is a wide variety of hand sewing stitches and the type you choose will depend on your chosen fabric and project. If you can master the basics of hand sewing then you’ll be able to mend/alter your clothes including sewing on a button, fixing a hole in a seam or even hemming a pair of trousers so they are the perfect length. You could learn embroidery to add decorative touches and personalisation to your sewing projects.
To create a simple running stitch, bring the needle up and down through the fabric at a regular distance. The stitches should be the same length with the same amount of space between them. This stitch can be used to add topstitching to garments, when mending clothes, adding decoration and making gathers in fabric.
Watch the below video to learn how to backstitch. The stitches should be the same length with no gaps in-between like the running stitch. For a more secure seam, make the stitches as small as possible. This is a strong stitch that can be used when mending garment seams, especially in hard-to-reach places which are fiddlier to sew by machine.
Stem stitch is another important stitch (also called point de cable, stalk or crewel stitch) commonly used in embroidery patterns to create a twisted look for thin lines. It can be used to outline shapes, especially curved lines, and make flower or plant stems. It can be used to make anything from garments to quilts and cushion covers as well as motifs.
The slip stitch can be used when you do not want the stitches to show, for example, if you make a pillow and want to neatly close the place that’s open after turning it inside out. The seams are sewn together instead of the raw edges; you might need to use some pins to hold the two seams together to make it easier for you to hand sew. The stitches should be small and it’s important to use thread that matches the same colour as the fabric so it blends in. This is a useful stitch to learn even if you’re learning to sew by machine.
Other hand stitches include split, cross, chain, herringbone, satin, feather and chevron. Watch the below video to see how to sew 15 basic embroidery stitches.
Once you have practised the basic sewing stitches you could start to make small and simple items such as cushion covers, napkins, handkerchiefs, scarves and blankets by hand or machine.
A cushion is an excellent project if you’re new to sewing by machine as they are a simple shape. There are several different ways to make a cushion cover from basic to more advanced designs. For more of a challenge, you could learn how to add piping around the outside seams or how to insert a zipper or button closure.
Cheerful bunting is fun to make for decorating your home, garden, campervan or tent for parties and festivals. It’s a great way to recycle your leftover fabric scraps which will save you money. You’ll need woven cotton fabric for the triangles (floral prints work well) and bias-binding cotton tape to join the triangle pieces together. Bunting is a lot easier and quicker than you might think to make.
New curtains can quickly freshen up any room. When you make your curtains, you have a great choice of fabrics to choose from. They can be an easy project for beginners as curtain seams are all straight. It’s important to measure and cut the fabric accurately.
Plain fabrics are easier as you don’t have to worry about complicated pattern matching. You’ll need fabric for the curtain, lining (if using) and tape (header or ruflette). The easiest types of curtains to make for beginners are called tab top and hidden-tab.
Learn how to make tab top curtains using this easy sewing tutorial: http://kitschycoo.blogspot.com/2010/05/tutorial-quick-tab-top-curtains.html
If you like to have plants in your life then this is the perfect project for you! It’s a great way to add some colour and pattern to your home décor to add interest to a room. This video tutorial uses cotton canvas and a different print for the lining fabric which can be folded over at the top edge to create a contrasting cuff. Add a drip tray so you don’t have to remove the pot from the bag when watering. You can also coat the cover with waterproofing spray.
Another great sewing project, especially for beginners as it just uses straight stitch, is a handy tote bag which you can keep inside your handbag to use when shopping for groceries. It can also be used to carry library books and A4 folders. To make the project more challenging add a zipped pocket on the inside or applique on the outside. Follow this easy sewing tutorial to make a tote bag with an inside lining: https://www.seasonedhomemaker.com/simple-tote-bag-tutorial/.
For more great ideas explore our blog 20 Fabric Items to Make at Home for inspiration or learn How to Make DIY Traditional African Print Fabric Gifts for men, women and the home.
Fabrics are either woven, non-woven or knitted and they vary in weight, drape and stretch. Woven fabrics including cotton, linen and cotton/linen blends are easy to sew as they don’t slip or stretch a lot. Knitted fabrics like shiny polyester, rayon, silk and cotton jersey are more difficult to work with especially if you’re a beginner.
We recommend using light to medium-weight fabrics that are plain-coloured or have small-scale prints as they are easier to cut and sew your pattern pieces together. It’s important to learn about different fabric types so you purchase the right materials for your sewing projects. What else should you consider when shopping for fabric?
We hope you have found our fabric and sewing guide helpful and inspiring, particularly if you’re looking to start sewing as a new hobby. We’ve recommended which fabrics you could use, some of the equipment that you may need and new sewing techniques and stitches to learn. If you’re eager to get stuck in why not give sewing a try starting with the basics first? You don’t need to have a sewing machine to begin with. Sewing is a useful new skill to learn.
Here at Kitenge, we offer a beautiful, colourful and unique collection of authentic, 100% cotton, African wax print fabrics (made in and sustainably sourced from Africa). It’s possible to purchase our fabrics by the yard (1 to 6) so you can purchase the exact amount you need reducing unnecessary waste. We also sell fat quarters that are left over from our African print clothing production for quilting and crafts projects. If you have any questions, simply contact us and we will be more than happy to help. 🙂SHOP AFRICAN PRINT FABRIC
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