This article was original published on Sewing With Sarah.
When I first learned to sew, I was told that sewing with wovens was easier than sewing with knits. They were supposed to be better behaved, easier to manipulate and more durable, not to mention less expensive. I *think* the person who told me this must have been talking about quilting cotton, because as soon as I tried my hand at some lovely silk georgette (I tend to go straight for the gold! Why waste time on the boring stuff?) I became very, very disenchanted with wovens.
Knits, to me, are easy. There are a million patterns out there for knits. They have a very forgiving nature, both in fit and construction. Something doesn’t quite line up? Just stretch it! Something too loose? Just serge it with a bigger seam allowance! Most knit patterns don’t have any pesky darts, bias tape, or set in sleeves to contend with, and it’s easy to dive headfirst into sewing knits and forget all about their less flexible cousin, wovens.
BUUTTT….that would be a mistake!
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8 Reasons You Should Sew Woven Garments
- Wovens are cool and comfortable. Some of your favorite ready to wear tops are probably wovens- materials like rayon challis, linen, or tencel. They tend to breathe a bit more than knits, and are easy to wash and wear.
- Wovens come in such lovely prints! Forget your grandma’s quilting store, gorgeous floral prints (or geometric ones) can be found here, here and here. How can you resist?
- You can only make so many yoga pants. Even I have to admit that there’s room for a nice structured pair of woven shorts among my Brassie collection.
- Wovens offer you the opportunity to learn new skills! Although they might seem intimidating at first, there’s no substitute for that feeling you get when you conquer your first fly zip, welt pocket or bias binding.
- Wovens press so well! Ever tried to get a crisp press on yoga knit? Not gonna happen. Wovens are so crisp!
- Wovens have a lovely drape. Well, some of them. Don’t try to turn quilting cotton into a drapey top, but many wovens have a lovely flow to them that most knits just can’t match.
- Stretch wovens! The best of both worlds. Nuf said.
- New Patterns! Patterns for Pirates just announced their “Summer of Wovens”, Greenstyle has several awesome patterns designed for wovens (see examples below), and I’m still in love with the Made for Mermaids Daphne tops I made during the blog tour.
Tip and Tricks for Sewing with Wovens
Things to keep in mind when working with wovens:
- They fray. Like a momma on her last nerve. Finish your seams with a serger, pinking shears, or a zig zag stitch. If you don’t, your item will literally unravel.
- Turn down the differential feed! If you have a serger, you’re probably used to doing most of your construction on it. With wovens, you’ll sew your seam first, then finish it. Make sure your differential feed is turned down to 1.
- Spray Starch is your new BFF. If you’re working with a shifty woven (like this chiffon top), treat it with a little spray starch to keep it from oozing around all over your cutting table.
- Don’t worry about the grain line…much. You can snip and tear your fabric to find the grain. Try it, its SO SATISFYING! See video example below- I love this lady!
That said, some wovens are difficult to get on grain, and if yours is putting up a fight, don’t fret. Just do your best- it will probably turn out just fine, especially if its a smaller item like a top.
- Use a needle made for your fabric. When I work on chiffon and challis, I like to use a microtex needle, but a smaller universal needle would work too. Don’t try to sew with your ballpoint/knits needle!
- Use pattern weights and a rotary cutter. These just make everything easier.
- Measure and cut carefully. Unlike knits, you won’t be able to stretch them to make pieces fit together, so make sure you’ve got a quality pattern and that you cut it correctly.
Types of Woven Fabrics
Just like knits, there are a variety of woven types. They fall into a few main categories:
- Cotton/quilting cotton: These are stiff and usually not suitable for clothing, except for perhaps a very young child. Great for applique or projects though!
- Stretch woven! These are fun- they usually have about 20-40% stretch and make great bottonweights for shorts and pants.
- Challis: a flowy material, usually with a rayon base. Very easy to wear, slightly more challenging to sew, but see tips above for taming this fabric!
- Chiffon: a sheer or semi-sheer material, challenging to work with but beautiful to wear.
- Georgette: Thin like chiffon, but less transparent. Shifty, but beautiful. Can be silk or polyester.
- Gauze/double gauze: This is a great fabric to learn on. Perfect for summer- its slightly fragile but doesn’t shift around and is very nice to wear. Good for tops or lightweight pants.
- Poplin: a thicker woven, sometimes with stretch (but not always). Good for pants, shorts and jackets.
- Chambray: Looks almost like denim, but much lighter. Great for tops and lightweight bottoms, easy to work with.
My Favorite Woven Garment Patterns
OK, so maybe you’re convinced? Try out some of my favorite woven patterns:
Greenstyle Moxi Shorts (stretch woven)
Greenstyle Taylor Shorts – Photo credit Greenstyle Creations
Greenstyle Pace Skirt – Photo Credit Greenstyle Creations
Greenstyle Caroline Chevron Maxi Dress – Photo Credit Greenstyle Creations
Gracious Threads Dax Trousers (blogged here)
Made by Rae Geranium Dress – Photo Credit Made by Rae
Editor’s Note: Want to try your hand at a woven pattern? Try it on the Claiborne Ruffle Top!
Hacking Knit Patterns
There are some cases where you have a pattern made for knit fabrics that can be altered to work with woven fabrics. Check out this fun flow chart by Melly Sews explaining when this substitution can be made successfully. For more information on how do this this, visit her complete tutorial here.
Here are a couple of my favorite knit-to-woven hack projects. Click on the links for full instructions.
You can also hack a knit pattern to have a gathered back, like I did here with the Lago Tank
Greenstyle Brassie Stretch Woven Hack:
I hope this has been helpful in encouraging you to take the leap into wovens! They are a lot of fun to sew and wear!