Most of us will be very familiar with cotton as a dressmaking fabric, but are you aware of the wide range of different types of cotton fabric that are at your disposal?
Cotton has been grown and used as a fabric for thousands of years. So it’s no surprise that cotton can be found in a whole host of products that we use every day including clothing, bedding, paper and packaging. The process of cotton production even creates a bi-product that is used as biofuel!
But how many people know and understand the details of the different weights and types of cotton that we can use when we sew our own clothes?
This is the information I’m going to be sharing with you in this article, so let’s get into it!
If you’re interested in learning more about fabric, do check out my detailed guide to 40+ different fabric types!
What Is Cotton Fabric?
I’ve previously written in detail about how the cotton plant is grown, harvested and made into fabric, so I won’t elaborate too much here. However a quick recap will tell you that cotton is a natural fiber from a fruiting plant that grows with a shell that protects the fluffy ‘boll’ (the fruit) which grows around the cotton seed.
Cotton is natural and recyclabe, and the industry is – albeit slowly – moving towards increased sustainability and ethical labor in the majority of the world. The cotton-growing industry is generally a low-pesticide user and cotton fibre a low-energy crop, making it popular with the ever-growing number of ethical consumers.
It’s a naturally created and versatile fabric that is found in numerous types of clothing and 100% cotton fabric is also a popular hypoallergenic option for many.
Different Weights Of Cotton Fabric
Once it has been woven or knitted, cotton fabric is classified by weight ranging from lightweight at one end of the scale to heavyweight at the other. The weight will affect the type of cotton fabric created, as well as the way it needs to be laundered.
- Lightweight Cotton Fabric Types
- Medium Weight Cotton Fabric Types
- Heavy Weight Cotton Fabric Types
Lightweight Cotton Fabric Types
Lightweight cotton fabric usually weighs around 200 gsm and would be used for t-shirts, summer dresses and lightweight shirts.
Lightweight cotton works well in fabric weaves such as broderie anglaise, crinkle cotton, muslin and voile.
Medium Weight Cotton Fabric Types
Medium weight cotton fabric weighs between approximately 200-400 gsm and is often used in the manufacture of items such as thicker t-shirts and sarongs.
Most medium cottons are used for clothing, for example, jersey, calico, poplin and chino.
Heavy Weight Cotton Fabric Types
Cotton fabrics weighing over 400 gsm would be considered a heavy weight cotton and would be used to make fabric such as moleskin or velvet and used for more heavy duty or luxurious garments.
Toweling is a great example of heavyweight cotton – it’s absorbent, durable and washes well. Other heavyweight cottons include canvas, corduroy and denim.
7 Types Of Cotton Fabric Weaves
There are many uses of cotton fibre which is used in the creation of a wide range of different weave structures. You can read more in detail here, but as an overview I’ve put together a list of seven commonly used types of weaves created with cotton.
Basketweave is a basic weave which has a checkered look. It is created by interlacing two or more sets of warps and wefts at right angles. The resulting fabric has a rich texture with a slightly raised surface.
This type of weave is often used for towels, table linens, and upholstery fabrics though it does surface in more higher-end fashion brands.
2. Duck Weave
Duck weave – also referred to as duck cloth fabric – is a sturdy weave that is constructed with two warp threads in each ‘slot’ and the just the one weft thread, woven at a right angle.
The fabric created is both strong and durable, and it has a slightly raised surface from the doubling up of warp threads. This type of weave is often used for workwear.
3. Herringbone Weave
This weave is created by interlacing the warp and weft threads in a zigzag pattern to create a fishbone-pattern. The resulting fabric has a textured surface with a subtle sheen and is structured rather than drapey. Herringbone weave is often used for more formal clothing such as suits.
4. Pique Weave
Pique weave is created by interlacing the warp and weft threads in a way that creates a raised, textured surface which resembles geometric shapes. This type of weave is often used for sportswear, casual wear, and children’s clothing.
5. Plain Weave
Plain weave is the most basic of all weave structures, using a simple and even weave structure – it is created by interlacing the warp and weft threads in an over-under pattern. Depending on how close together the warp threads are set, the fabric created from this can be strong and durable with a smooth surface and or looser and more prone to ripping. Plain weave fabrics are often used for clothing.
6. Satin Weave
Satin weave fabrics are created by weaving the warp and weft threads in a way that creates a smooth surface with a glossy sheen on the ‘right’ side and a more dull version on the wrong side.
This fabric weave is often used for formal wear.
7. Twill Weave
Twill weave is created by interlacing the warp and weft threads in a diagonal pattern. Twill weave fabric has a soft hand and a subtle sheen. This type of weave is often used for clothing, upholstery, and drapery fabrics. You can learn more about twill fabric here.
Different Types Of Cotton Fabric
There are around fifty varieties of cotton fabric, but here are a few that you may have come across before when making your own clothes:
Lightweight cotton fabric with a trademarked name that was created by a Manchester (UK)-based clothing company. It is very breathable and so is often used for sportswear.
A lightweight and smooth weave, simliar to cambric, but made from cotton or linen. Cotton batiste fabric has a small amount of drape and is often used for summer clothing such as blouses, dresses and skirts because of how lightweight and sheer it is.
The name “broderie anglaise” comes from the French word for “English embroidery.” It is a type of Victorian needlework that originated in England and features delicate, white embroidery encircling small round holds on the fabric surface.
The holes are created by using a special needle to remove tiny stitches from the fabric and this creates an almost lacy, see-through effect which is considered perfect for summer clothing.
Because of its slight drape, broderie anglaise fabric is often used to make blouses, skirts, and dresses. It can also be used to embellish other garments, such as jackets and bags.
A dense cotton fabric with a very tight weave, broadcloth is crisp to the touch. Historically it used to be made from wool, but is now more commonly made with cotton fibre or a poly cotton blend.
Broadcloth is often used for shirts, blouses and dresses.
Brushed cotton is made from 100% cotton. It is brushed on one side to create a soft, fuzzy surface and is often used to make shirts, pajamas, and bedding. It’s also a popular choice for baby clothes due to being soft and comfortable.
Calico is an unbleached cotton fabric which is sturdy (or structured) and has a dull finish. It’s often used for making test garments – toiles or muslins – but is also used for making bags, aprons, and other utilitarian items.
Is a lightweight cotton fabric that is often confused with batiste. Cambric cotton fabric is a very fine, faultless plain weave resulting in a smooth and crisp fabric. It was originally made from linen and is used in shirts, dresses and other garments which need fabric that is soft and strong.
Chambray is a lightweight cotton fabric constructed with a plain weave. It is often striped or checked and is used in shirts, dresses and pants.
Cheesecloth is a lightweight, loosely woven fabric that is typically made from cotton. It has minimal drape and is also known as muslin or gauze.
Cotton canvas fabric is a sturdy fabric made from cotton fibre and is often used for making bags, tents, sails, and other heavy-duty items. Cotton canvas is made from tightly woven cotton threads, which makes it durable and resistant to tearing. It can also be dyed or painted easily.
Cotton jersey is a knitted fabric type made from 100% cotton. It has a soft, stretchy feel and is often used to make t-shirts, underwear, and other garments.
Cotton jersey is a very popular fabric choice for t-shirts because it is comfortable to wear and easy to care for. T-shirts made from cotton jersey are often pre-shrunk so they will keep their shape and size after being washed. This type of fabric is also less likely to pill or fade over time.
Cotton lawn fabric has a close, fine weave and is often used for making shirts, blouses, dresses, and other garments where a light-weight, smooth cotton fabric is desired.
I love cotton lawn and use it often for lightweight pants and tops.
Cotton poplin is made from 100% cotton fibres using a plain weave. The resulting fabric is lightweight and has a smooth, slightly lustrous surface.
It is used for making shirts, dresses, and other garments but is also used for quilting and crafts as it is easy to sew and press, making it great for beginners.
You can also buy cotton poplin in a variety of prints or block colors.
Denim made for 100% cotton makes for s medium weight and sturdy fabric. It is woven with a twill weave structure and while it was traditionally blue in color, it is now constructed in a variety of colors for use in garment making.
Most commonly denim is used for jeans and jackets, but it can also be used for skirts and dresses too.
Flannel is a type of fabric that is usually made from weaving 100% cotton in a plain or twill weave pattern, and has a soft, slightly napped surface on one side.
It is often used for making shirts, pajamas, and other types of clothing. It can be printed with plaid or other types of patterns, but is also available in solid colors too.
Gingham was first manufactured in the 17th century and was originally used for various garments, including children’s clothes, shirts and aprons.
It is a light-weight, plain-woven cotton fabric which originally had a striped pattern, and from the 18th century was woven with a checkered pattern.
It is typically woven in either blue and white or red and white, but as more people have developed an interest in sewing their own clothing, gingham has been created in a variety of colors.
Schools in the UK often use gingham as part of the girls uniform and it is common for it to also be used for everyday household items like tea towels!
Cotton jacquard is a type of fabric that is made using a special loom that creates intricate patterns in the fabric. It is often used for clothing as jacquard fabric is known for its beautiful patterns and designs, as well as its durability, making it a great choice for unique garments.
Muslin is a very lightweight and loosely woven fabric. It is available in different weights and it often considered to be a crisp and stiff fabric. Many people use it for making up their test garments.
Terry Toweling / Terry Cloth
Known as both terry towelling and terry cloth, it is a medium weight and highly absorbent fabric with some drape.
It is made from cotton and being super absorbent it is traditionally used for bath robes though more people are using this fabric type for casual items like shorts for the beach.
I have covered Twill already – as a weave type – but it is also the term used to describe cotton fabric that is made with a twill weave.
It is sturdy, medium-weight cotton fabric with a twill weave and can be used to make pants, shorts, shirts, and outerwear garments too.
Seersucker is a fabric that has a puckered surface and is traditionally made from cotton or linen. the surface texture is created by using different tensions in the warp and weft threads which results in the puckered effect.
It is often striped or checkered, but can also be solid color too. Due to it’s lightweight and breathable properties, seersucker is often used for summer clothing – shirts, tops, dresses, shorts and skirts are frequently made with cotton seersucker fabric.
That said it can be woven using heavier threads which results in a heavier-weight seersucker fabric.
Cotton velvet is a more ‘luxurious’ fabric (if you like velvet of course) and has a short pile. It is soft and velvety to touch, and drapes well so it is often used to make various clothing types.
It is available in a variety of colours, and has also been known to have some stretch fibre added for more body-con styles.
How To Identify Cotton
If you think you have cotton fabric in your stash that you need to identify, these tips will help:
- One hundred percent cotton feels incredibly soft against your skin. Medium to heavyweight cotton can be stiff, which means it is easy to create creases and fold lines. It also means it holds its shape well as a garment. One hundred percent cotton has a bit of give when pulled, but it doesn’t stretch.
- When wearing a 100% cotton garment, it will feel cool against your skin and doesn’t make you feel sweaty. You can tell if items such as socks are a cotton mix, as they feel clammy when you get hot.
- You can also identify 100% cotton using a burn test. If you hold a few cotton fibers to a naked flame, it will burn to ash but not curl.
Choosing A Cotton Fabric
As you can see there are many different types of cotton fabric, as well as weights, weaves and thicknesses which can make choosing the right cotton fabric for your project tricky.
I would suggest starting with the fabric that you prefer to sew with – I have my favourites and my take-them-or-leave-them options too – and cross reference it against the project that you’re planning on sewing. Is it going to be the right weight? Will the weave structure suit the garment type? Is it season appropriate?
If all else fails, I have been known to do a simple Google search for the fabric and garment type to see what comes up. Try ‘terry cloth shorts’ to see what comes up – it’s how I realised there are some high-end shorts out there selling for over $150 which are made from Terry towelling!
This kind of search often inspires me. What will you be making next using a cotton fabric? Let me know in the comments!
Eve Tokens (aka The Creative Curator) is a fashion designer, creative pattern cutter and sewing pattern designer.
Eve graduated with a 2:1 in Fashion Design from the University of The Creative Arts in the UK, has a BTEC diploma in Creative Pattern Cutting, a Foundation Degree in Art & Design from Wimbledon College of Art and gained extensive experience in the fashion industry by interning and freelancing for London based fashion brands – Hardy Amies, Roland Mouret, Peter Pilotto and others.
As well as running her own small sustainable fashion brand, Eve has more than 25 years experience sewing and making clothes for herself and family members.