What is rayon? Is it a fabric that you should buy and sew or is it a new fangled one that can be ignored? Does rayon have any sustainability credentials or is it another ‘modern’ fabric with no benefit to the environment?
Today, you’ll learn all about rayon including how to work with it at the sewing machine!
What Is Rayon Made Of?
Rayon is a cellulosic fiber made from wood pulp, so although it starts life as a natural product – trees being natural of course! – the processing that rayon goes through to turn the wood pulp into the fibre makes it a man made fibre!
In the UK and Europe, rayon fabric is also known as viscose fabric or modal!
The first patent issued for the creation of rayon was back in 1855, to a Georges Audemars. Further accidental development saw Hilaire Chardonnet issued a patent in 1884 for ‘artificial silk’ which rayon was originally known as, so it has now been around for almost 130 years.
It is only in the last 20 or so years that rayon has become more recognised as an alternative fabric to cotton, linen and silk.
Do check out my guide on man made vs natural fibres, where I explain more about the type of fabric that rayon is!
What Does Rayon Feel Like?
To the touch, rayon feels similar to cotton – it is soft on the skin and drapes nicely rather than being structure and stiff, which makes it very comfortable to wear.
It’s also quite cool, so works well in warmer weather.
Is Rayon Breathable?
Yes rayon is breathable, being made from thin man made fibres! It’s also a light fabric, whether woven or knitted, which makes it great for the hot summer months!
Is Rayon Stretchy Like Spandex?
While rayon in a jersey knit form is stretchy, it is simply because knit fabrics generally have a stretch element to them – the fibre itself has no stretch, and any woven fabric created from just rayon will have no stretch to it.
Of course, if you were to blend rayon with spandex – which is an elastic material – than you would have a stretchy rayon spandex fabric.
Will 100% Rayon Shrink When Washed?
Yes. Rayon is a fibre that will shrink whether immersed in hot or cold water – it will just vary depending on which temperature the water is.
To prevent your new rayon from shrinking, it is best to have it dry cleaned, but if that is not an option, a quick hand wash in cold water is the least destructive way to wash it.
Is Rayon Biodegradable?
Although rayon is a man made fibre, it is made from wood pulp, and so will biodegrade slightly faster than synthetic fibres like polyester and nylon.
How Long Does Rayon Take To Decompose?
It is said that rayon takes beween 20 and 200 years to decompose in landfill. It could decompose faster in a home composting environment, but with the checmicals used in the production of rayon, I for one would not be wanting it in my compost bin which gets used for growing veggies!
Is Rayon Environmentally Friendly?
One of the chemicals used in the production of rayon is carbon disulfide (also spelled as carbon disulphide), which is very toxic, and it is noted that for every kilo of rayon produced, approximately 250g of carbon disulfide is emmitted.
This makes rayon not as clean as it is often portrayed to be, and with production now being undertaken in the developing world since the 1980s, the risk of harm to human and environment is not only greater because of increased production, but also lesser known due to less stringent regulations being in place in these countries.
On top of this, there’s also the question of sustainability. Chopping down trees to harvest the softwood needed for the wood pulp is clearly not sustainable either!
Rayon Fabric vs Cotton
So, if rayon is bad for the environment, how does it compare to cotton?
Rayon is more absorbent than cotton, making it a good summer weather fabric, but it also requires more careful caring – it does not handle being washed and the tumble drier is an absolute no-no.
Cotton on the other hand can be washed and dried throughout the colder months of the year, and works well layered up in the winter or worn as a single layer in the summer.
Environmental credentials for both are sketchy. I’ve mentioned the way that rayon is produced above, but how cotton fabric is made is also quite harmful to the environment too.
A key consideration for many may be the cost of buying rayon fabric vs cotton fabric.
Final consideration should be given to the end product. If you’re using either cotton or viscose to make clothing, then the garment type that you plan to make is important – both rayon and cotton come as knit and woven fabrics just like cotton, but you’ll want to choose the right fabric type and weight for the garment you’re making.
7 Tips On How To Sew Rayon
Sewing rayon fabric into a garment is no different from sewing other fabrics. Here are seven tips for sewing with rayon fabric!
- You’ll want to choose the right needle based on whether the rayon is knitted or woven, because it does come in both fabric types. When I recently sewed up a rayon skirt, I chose a a universal sewing machine needle, which was perfect for the woven rayon I used.
- Also important is choosing the right needle size. A smaller needle is better for rayon due to its lightweight nature.
- Make sure to use a sheer lightweight interfacing with rayon fabrics – it will allow the fabric to drape.
- Use fine pins when pinning your rayon fabric pieces together. It can be easily snagged with pins that are too heavy.
- Make sure the rayon you’ll be sewing has been treated beforehand to prevent shrinkage. This article of preshrinking fabric without washing is suitable for pre-shrinking rayon fabrics.
- I use a slightly smaller stitch length when sewing rayon to keep my stitch lines looking nice. My preferred length is 2.5 – 3 on my Bernina 1008.
- My final tip is to leave your rayon fabric to ‘hang’ when sewn and prior to hemming. similar to chiffon and and other sheer fabric types, rayon can ‘drop’ a little if it is a lighter, more drapier type.
I hope you found this guide about rayon fabric helpful. I’ve just finished a rayon skirt – stay tuned for the tutorial on that, it looks amazing!
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.