For lovers of all things quality, you can't go past natural fibres for your handmade children's clothing. Buy the best fabric you can afford & treasure your garments. My pick every time is a natural fibre fabric above synthetics (except for the odd tutu of course). Sustainably sourced fabrics are a lot easier to source now. We've compiled a list of natural & sustainable fabrics to help you with your selection for your new garment.
I have forever been a lover of natural fibres, long before organic cotton became the new cool in babies wear & climate awareness wasn't a very real issue for us all to think about when purchasing fabric. In my mind the attributes of natural fibres far outweigh any positives the synthetic man made fibres can offer. They are warm yet breathable, cooling yet protective, they wick away moisture not suffocate your skin in unbreathable petroleum based fibres. I could go on, but I think you get the picture. I love natural fibres, & there are endless options in beautiful prints, colours & textures....what more can I say!
Cotton is my most recommended fabric for my patterns because of the variable weights & feel the fabric comes in. If you can source organic cottons, then that's all the better. Cotton ranges from light to heavy weights & the hand feel can be soft or rough. Depending on how heavy or light, coarse or soft the fabric you choose, use your imagination to picture how the fabric will fall when the garment is made up. Make sure you wash your fabric before cutting out your pattern to remove any excess shrinkage. Also beware of tumble drying cotton garments as this can cause excessive shrinkage. Avoid this where possible & line dry when you can, plus its better for the environment.
Stretch Cotton fabrics: Cotton/lycra composition
Woven with fibres from the flax plant. Linen's a great fabric for warmer weather because it breathes well. Always wash linen before cutting out pattern to deal with shrinkage. I like to hand wash or cool wash with similar colour clothing. Make sure you remove from washing machine as soon as the cycle has finished to minimise creasing. No need to iron, as creases will work out as the garment is worn. Like cotton, linen can shrink excessively, if tumble dried. Avoid where possible & line dry when you can, plus its better for the environment.
Light flowing delicate fabric made from the protein fibre of predominantly the silkworm. Highly absorbent & comfortable to wear in warm weather. Hand wash in cold water with a mild detergent.
My go to winter fabrication, I just love the technical properties of wool - it keeps you warm, breathes so isn't sweaty and just feels luxurious. Merino wool is our go to here in New Zealand when it's cold. Others include Alpaca, Wool coating, Angora & Mohair. I'm not an advocate of Angora & Mohair unless it's guaranteed from a cruelty free harvesting source.
This can't authentically be touted as a natural fibre. However, It is made from the beech tree & the processing of the fibres requires very few chemicals. Modal is used alone or with other fibres (often cotton or spandex). Drapey hand feel is great for tops.
Sustainable Fashion Fibres
If you're passionate about all things sustainable, here is a list of sustainable fibres on offer to the world at this present time.
- Abaca (banana fibre) -
- Alpaca wool - soft & luxurious in texture, it's super warm. Derived from the fleece of the South American Alpaca.
- Bamboo - silky in texture & made from the speedy growing bamboo grass originating from eastern Asia.
- Byssus - also called sea silk. Very few people make this fibre any more, however still being produced in Sardinia.
- Camel - often blended with other fibres to create a beautiful supple fabric, with excellent drape. Very breathable material.
- Cashmere - this luxurious fibre is harvested from the kashmir goat. Extremely warm & soft to wear.
- Chitin fiber - a biodegradable, hypoallergenic fibre produced from the shells of crabs & other crustaceans.
- Cork - harvested from the cork oak tree & used to make activewear that is breathable & warm.
- Corn fibre - also known as Ingeo & produced by the company Nature Works. They make corn fibre based textiles which are compostable.
- Cotton (organic) - grown from non-GMO seeds & without the use of any harmful or synthetic chemicals, pesticides or herbicides.
- Fish skin leather - fish skin leather is produced from the waste of the food industry from the skins of non-endangered fish. Boasts a similar strength to leather & can be used for clothing, accessories & home furnishings.
- Hemp - hemp fabric is a durable fabric that can be weaved on its own, or blended with other natural fibres. The inner fibers of the stalk from the hemp plant are used to make the fabric & requires no toxic chemicals or pesticides to produce 2-3 times more fiber per acre than cotton. This amazing plant even put nutrients back into the soil.
- In-vitro leather - In-vitro or test tube leather is an animal slaughter free practice. Requires less chemicals, water & time for tanning than leather animal leather.
- Kenaf - the bast fibers are spun into a very fine yarn and often blended with other natural fibres such as cotton. Growing the kenaf plant is highly beneficial to the soil as it fixes nutrients into the soil, requires little water to grow & does not require any fertilisation.
- Leather - debatable on whether leather is considered sustainable due to the toxic processing of tanning & destructive beef industry. You can find sustainably sourced leather that has gone through the tanning process using plant dyes & enviromentally friendly tanning products.
- Linen - comes in many weights. Made from flax fibre, the flax plant requires no chemicals for its production.
- Lotus flower - soft, breathable & wrinkle-free, this fabric is naturally waterproof & stain resistant. Derived from the stems of the asian lotus flower, it's woven by hand & the finished fabric is a cross between silk & linen.
- Merino wool - merino wool predominantly comes from New Zealand & Australia, but was originally from Spain. The wool is beautifully soft, warm & moisture wicking. It's lightweight & regulates body temperature so it's a great choice of fabric cooler & changable seasons.
- Milk fabric - fabric made from extracted milk protein fibers from commercial milk that doesn't meet hygiene standards. Chemical free production makes this a great fabric choice if it's available to you.
- Modal - modal is a fabric made from the cellulose found in beech tree fiber. The production process of Modal involves very few chemicals and recycles most of the water and solvents used. The fabric dyes well, resists shrinkage and fading and is extremely soft.
- Mohair - mohair is made from the hair of the Angora goat, which has a lustrous and soft coat. Mohair goats are typically shorn twice a year, with no harm done to the animal. The finished material is very durable, takes dyes well, is very warm and has excellent insulating properties. Mohair is often blended with other fibers to add strength and warmth to a particular fabric.
- Nettle - a beautifully soft fabric & produced far more sustainably than cotton. Cultivating nettles for textiles is a much more sustainable alternative to cotton, as it is low-maintenance, requires minimal amounts of water and no pesticides, attracts copious amounts of wildlife and thrives even in the poorest of soil unsuitable for other crops, also fixing nutrients back into the soil it grows in.
- Pineapple silk - slightly stiff, glossy fabric made from the fibers of pineapple leaves, which are processed and woven entirely by hand. The resultant fabric is a glossy but slightly stiff, ivory-colored material that is diaphanous, breathable, softer than hemp, better in quality than raw silk and has excellent cooling properties. The fiber takes natural dyes very well, and the glossy surface of the material eliminates the need for toxic treating agents since it acts as a protective layer for the fabric.
- PLA fabric - is made form dextrose obtained mostly from corn as well as sugar beets, wheat or sugar cane. Ingeo corn fibers are essentially PLA fibers, & so considered part of the plant-based synthetics fabric group.
- Qiviut - made from hairs gathered from the ox. The inner coat hairs are spun into a yarn which is soft like cashmere & warmer than wool.
- Ramie - a linen-like, soft to the touch, silky lustrous fibre that is 8 x stronger than cotton & even more stronger when wet. Search for hand processed ramie as your sustainable option.
- Recycled polyester - made from recycled water bottles, containers & used polyester garments. The polyester in these items is broken down and re-spun into virgin quality polyester fiber. Using recycled polyester reduces dependency on oil, utilizes waste, creates less air, soil and water contamination, and cuts out the need for a virgin polyester manufacturing industry.
- Soy - soy is a durable fabric & is similar to silk in the way the fabric falls. Soy is a natural fibre, but requires chemicals to produce the fabric.
- Seacell - made from the fiber of the eucalyptus trees & blended with organic, 'knotted wrack' seaweed. The fabric is produced through predominantly sustainable processes.
- Silk - silk is made from the cocoons of silkworms, which are often killed in order to obtain the silk of their cocoon. This ancient method of fiber production began in China more than 3,500 years ago, & renders a fabric that is lustrous, manages moisture & is completely natural.
- Peace/wild silk - this silk is different from conventional silk since the silkworm is allowed to live out its full life cycle. The silk is harvested from the gathered cocoons from the wild that moths have naturally left behind.
- Tencel/lyocell- produced from the rapidly growing eucalyptus trees. A biodegradable, high quality yarn that is breathable, soft, drapey, wrinkle-resistant & moisture wicking. Great for producing denim, jersey fabrics & sheeting.
- Vegan leather - many leathers under this heading are petroleum based & chemically toxic. There are sustainable options available made from waxed cotton, wood fiber, kelp, cork & paper made to create a leather looking fabric.
- Vicuna - thought to be the finest wool available globally sourced from the Peruvian vicuna. This wool is durable & warm. If you're looking for a rare & unique fibre, this might be your go to. The wool is gathered only every other year from wild roaming vicuna.
- Wool (organic) - for wool to be labelled organic, farmers cannot use chemicals on their feed crops or fields & no insecticides or pesticides can be used on the animals. These strict regulations extend to the mills processing the fibres to be synthetic chemical free & use water conscious processing methods.
You've chosen your fabric & you're ready to sew. However before you dive in & get cutting you'll need to do these 3 steps to prepare your fabric first.
Step 1. Pre-shrink fabric by washing & drying the fabric as you would if it was made up into its finished garment.
Step 2. Press/iron fabric with the iron at the recommended temperature on your irons temperature dial.
Step 3. Cut fabric on cross grain. Meaning your fabric is cut on a perfect right angle to the fabrics salvedge. (Salvedge is the factory finished edges of the fabric) & must be done before you cut your pattern out of your fabric. You can achieve this in the following 4 ways.
How to get your Fabric on Grain
Below are the 4 methods you can use to make sure your fabric is on grain. Work your way starting at method 1 through to method 4 until you find the method that best works for your fabric.
Method 1 - Tear fabric across grain
Cut just across your selvedge. Then tear your fabric from one selvedge all the way to the next selvedge to ensure fabric has torn across the crosswise grain. You need to take out 1 or 2 threads near the first selvedge & pull them all the way to the other selvedge. If the threads pull out all the way across your torn edge of fabric, then you know your fabric is on grain. If not, cut across selvedge again & try this method once more before moving onto trying method 2.
Method 2 - Gather fabric across grain
If your fabric doesn't tear as in method 1. Cut just across the selvedge. Hold onto 1 or 2 of the crosswise grain threads & gently work your fabric across threads from one selvedge to the next until your can see a small gather & a line which will indicate your cross wise grain. Cut along this line from one selvedge to the next to make your fabric on grain.
Method 3 - Cut across visible grain
If you're working with a fabric that has a visible crosswise grain like a check, tartan or plaid. Then you can cut along the visible crosswise grain. Make sure the plaid, check etc. has been woven into the fabric & not printed on. If it has been printed it could possibly have been printed off grain.
Method 4 - Drape fabric to find cross grain
Line up selvedges with right sides together. Drape fabric until fabric drapes straight up & down, & does not twist. Once the fabric is draping with no twists, lay it down on a flat surface. Mark right angles to the selvedge or fold. This will give you your crosswise grain to cut along to make your fabric on grain.