Up Close With Woven Fabrics, Part I

Welcome to another edition of Sewing Science! Today I am taking a very close look at some different types of non-stretch, cotton woven fabrics: canvas, corduroy, cotton flannel, and cotton muslin.
First up, cotton canvas. This is a 12 oz. Carhartt canvas that I recently purchased from Califabrics.com.
Canvas on the left

You can see the very dense weave.
Here is a close up of the individual fibers.  This week we're looking at natural cotton fibers, but in the future we'll look at synthetics, and you will be able to see the difference in the fibers at very high magnifications.

As seen in the thread, natural fibers have a lot more texture, they are 'rougher' than synthetics.

Next up - corduroy!! I have some awesome 8-wale corduroy from Califabrics that I've made into men's pants and shorts (because nothing says shorts weather like some fat wale corduroy).
Corduroy, center and right (on edge)

If you read Threads magazine you may have seen their recent feature on corduroy, which included an interesting cross-section diagram of the structure of the fabric. Here it is under the microscope:

In the above images, you are basically looking into the 'valley' between two wales, that are on top of the base fibers.
Here is the corduroy looking down onto the surface of the fabric:

Next up: cotton flannel.
Cotton flannel, left, and Cotton muslin, right

Why does cotton flannel feel so smooth compared to a canvas, which we saw above, or a muslin?
Maybe because the surface of the flannel fabric is mayhem!
The fibers are not organized into a tight weave, there is just disorder on the uppermost layer.  I didn't look at this in cross-section, but I believe there is a tighter, more organized weave in the base layer (for a single nap flannel) or the middle layer (for a double nap flannel).
The last stop on our fabric tour is good old cotton muslin.   I took a snip from a piece that I had already sewn into a muslin and then had ripped the stitches out:
It has a relatively loose weave compared to the canvas.
I deliberately chose a piece where I could see holes from where I had removed stitches - in the regular camera photo above, they are right across the center of the square of muslin.  Highly visible to the eye, but surprisingly difficult to find under the scope! I had to go back and put a piece of tape above it so I could find it.
Can you see the three holes just below the solid edge?

Now there are just two at either end of the image.  Not as obvious as they seem while the fabric is in your hand.
Close up of a 'hole' made by sewing a stitch.  The hole is actually just a small displacement of the weave and fibers.  In a future post, I'll show some needle holes made in pleather and we'll see the difference.

Thanks for reading!  I will return with Wovens, Part II (Revenge of the rayon!) next week - there are some really interesting fabrics/photos coming up. Happy Sewing!


  1. Love love love this. Thank you so much for this series!


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