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My next project is Grainline’s Archer Button Up Shirt using this awesome Marc Jacobs sheer plaid cotton shirting from Mood with a “gauzy texture and feel”. It had been too long since I had sewn along with the rest of the online sewing community, so I signed up for Grainline’s Sew-Along. But, life has gotten so hectic that I’ve fallen way behind. For one, I’m in Seattle right now. Earlier this week I bought a same day ticket thinking that my husband and I had finally closed a deal on a house. It turns out the seller changed his mind and decided to go with another offer – an investor who wants to turn the property into “cash cow” – while we were in the air. Lesson learned: make sure everything is in writing! Funny, I always thought buying a home would be fun. At least I’m getting to spend some quality time with family and friends while I’m here!

While I’m away from my sewing machine, I figured I’d fill you guys in on what I’m learning on the side about working with cotton from Susan Khalje’s book Linen and Cotton. In fact, cotton is going to be this month’s theme. A whole month of Susan and cotton! I can just see you guys waiting with bated breath!

I will start by admitting that I was amazed at all of the different kinds of cotton there were. I should have known. In my short time sewing, I’ve used muslin, cotton duck, Japanese cotton, batiste, denim, quilting cotton, and more. Susan’s list is much more thorough:


Batiste – A sheer, smooth, fine plain-weave cotton that has usually been mercerized.

Dotted Swiss – Similar to lawn and decorated with evenly placed dots, which can be woven in or applied with an adhesive.

Gauze – A thin, sheer fabric with an open weave.

Lawn – A fine, soft, relatively sheet, plain-weave fabric.

Organdy – A sheer lightweight fabric with a very crisp hand. It may be starched, or its fibers may be treated to make it permanently crisp.

Percale – A plain-weave lightweight cotton with a firm hand.

Voile – A lightweight sheer fabric whose filling yarns are tightly twisted, giving it a crisp hand.


Batik – A fabric treated with a resist-dye technique that uses wax as the resisting agent. The technique originated in Bali.

Broadcloth – Similar to poplin, broadcloth is a plain-weave fabric whose filling yarns are heavier than its warp yarns. It was originally woven on broad looms, hence its name.

Calico – Although calico has come to mean cotton fabrics printed with small, busy patterns, it originally referred to hand-blocked fabrics imported from Calicut (Calcutta, India) in the 17th century.

Challis – A soft, plain-weave fabric, usually printed with flowers.

Chambray – A plain-weave, yarn dyed fabric in which the warp is colored and the weft, or filling, yarns are white. It is often used for shirts.

Chintz – Printed of plain fabric that has been treated to give it a temporary or permanent glazed finish. The term originally referred to block-printed fabric from India.

Gingham – A yarn-dyed, plain-weave fabric that can be woven in two colors (checks) or more (plaid).

Muslin – A plain-weave fabric with a firm hand, woven in a variety of weights. It may be bleached or unbleached.

Ottoman – A lustrous plain-weave fabric with large, round horizontal ribs.

Plissé – A cotton fabric in which part of the cloth has been treated with caustic soda, causing it to shrink. A puckered, or blistered, effect is produced.

Poplin – A durable plain-weave fabric whose warp yarns are finer than its filling yarns, giving it a ribbed appearance.

Seersucker – A cotton fabric in which the tension of the warp threads has been varied to produce crinkled stripes and taut stripes.


Canvas – Its name often used interchangeably with duck, canvas is a firm, closely woven fabric. Canvas generally refers to the heavier weights of the weave.

Denim – a sturdy twill-woven fabric. The warp is generally blue with white filling.

Drill – A densely constructed fabric similar to denim, woven with coarse yarns in a twill (diagonal) weave.

Duck – A very sturdy plain-weave fabric that can range from firm to pliable. Its use is often industrial: sails, awnings, and tents.

Twill – A fabric woven with a twill weave, which is characterized by a diagonal rib. Twills are firm, strong, and durable, and often used for menswear.

Specialty Weaves

Brocade – A fabric woven on a jacquard loom, often with floral designs, which uses a combination of twill, plain, and/or satin weaves to create raised patterns. Filling yarns are sometimes used to add thickness to certain parts of the design, and metallic yarns are often used as well.

Chenille – Chenille is woven from yarns in which the fibers protrude on all sides from a twisted base yarn. The term comes from the French word for caterpillar.

Damask – A jacquard-woven fabric, in which the pattern appears to have been embossed. Different weaves are alternated to distinguish the patterns; a design may be in a satin weave, it background may be in a twill weave. True damasks are flat and reversible.

Faille – A sturdy, flat-ribbed, plain-weave fabric, in which the filling yarns are heavier than the warp yarns.

Flannel – A soft plain- or twill-weave fabric in which the filling yarns are napped (brushed). Flannel can be napped on one side or both sides.

Jacquard – A figured pattern made possible by the development and refinement of the jacquard loom by the Frenchman Jean-Marie Jacquard in 1801. The loom allows very elaborate designs to be woven. Brocade and damask are jacquard fabrics.

Matelassé – A fabric in which crepe yarns and ordinary yarns are interlaced. In the finishing process, the crepe yarns shrink, giving the fabric its puckered appearance.

Piqué – A double cloth in which there are two sets of warp yarns and two sets of filling yarns, produced in a variety of patterns.

Whew! Still here?! If so, I’d like to hear how many of these cottons you’ve worked with!

14 thoughts on “Cotton.

  1. Wow! What an extensive list! Gosh, I think I’ve worked with muslin, lawn, voile, gingham, swiss dot, denim, and drill…. hmm… anything else? I don’t know! Oh, and quilting cotton of course – and I don’t see ‘vintage sheets’ on the list…

  2. I’ve been teaching two children to sew recently, and chose a printed cotton poplin for the task as it is so easy to work with. It is a fibre we so often take for granted!

    I have been trying to get hold of pique here after seeing the corset-style top in the latest Burda Style, but no one seems to sell it. It seems there isn’t a lot of demand for the more interesting weaves, so I’ll have to search online.

    Where do you get all these books from?

    1. I get the books online mostly. I look for deals. This one was a steal because it has a teeny tiny blemish on the cover. I was quite excited when I found it for so cheap!

  3. Is the Susan K book new? I got to get my hands on that. I’m working with linen right now and it’s not quite what I expected as far as drape goes. I’m looking for some answers to a problem I had with it. I didn’t know there were so many different types and they all can perform differently.

  4. This is a fantastic list! I will have to keep a lookout for the book. I’m so sorry to hear about the deal falling through, how stressful! I hope your house hunting goes a bit more smoothly moving forward.

  5. Hurrah for cotton! It’s definitely a favorite to sew with (and also knit with for me, since I can’t use wool.) I’m still not entirely certain what the difference between batiste and lawn is, but thanks for sharing such a comprehensive list! I’ve used quite a few of the medium-weight ones, as well as voile and (of course) denim and twill, but it sounds like it could be really fun to try out some of those specialty ones in particular!

  6. thank you for all this information! I recognize a lot of these but sadly a few I don’t and I would love to get my hands on a sample of those I’m not familiar with. One of these days maybe…

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