Q&A: Sheer Fabrics

Hi! I am new to the fabric world and I was looking for some good tips on what is the best sheer or gauze fabric. I keep seeing the term voile used and organza. I want something that is really sheer and with a great color print. Any ideas where I can get this or who makes it? Thanks!!!

– Katie S.

Hi Katie! “Best” would depend on what you’re going to use it for and what kind of fiber you are after. Most sheer fabrics are going to be cotton, silk, or synthetic. Since you’re new to fabric, I assume you’re new to sewing too, in which case your best bet is going to be cotton for its ease of handling. I can’t vouch for sheer synthetics since I’ve never worked with them, but I would guess they’d be easier to handle than their silk counterparts.

Here is a rundown of the specific fabrics you asked about, as well as some other sheers and semi-sheers:
 

{ Clippings by Anna Maria Horner from the LouLouThi Voile collection }

Voile is a lightweight, semi-sheer fabric, usually made from 100% cotton. Several Freespirit/Westminster designers have beautiful voile collections (see Soul Blossoms by Amy Butler, Heirloom by Joel Dewberry, Wrenly by Valori Wells, LouLouThi by Anna Maria Horner, Prince Charming by Tula Pink, Greenfield Hill by Denyse Schmidt). FreeSpirit also has a voile solids collection. All these are new release or are still widely available in stores.
 

{ Adelajda (A Colorway) Tana Lawn from the Liberty Rocks collection }

Lawn is also a semi-sheer cotton, but it’s more opaque than voile. It is constructed with high-quality, fine yarns in a tight weave, and is very soft. Liberty of London’s signature Tana Lawn is an ultra-high quality 100% cotton lawn that is revered for its silk-like qualities. It can be purchased directly from Liberty, or see my guide for other stockists worldwide. For a more budget-friendly option, check out Timeless Treasures’ lawn. Alexander Henry has also produced some amazingly soft, fashion-forward lawns. Look for their Fulham Road and Larkspur collections, which are still available in some stores.
 

{ Plaid cotton gauze from Gorgeous Fabrics }

Gauze is very loosely woven and sheer, and sometimes has a crinkly texture. It’s most commonly made of cotton, but silk, rayon, and wool gauze is also common, as are blends. Gorgeous Fabrics has a nice selection. Also check out double gauze, which has all the softness and lightness of gauze but is opaque or near-opaque. Double Gauze comes from Japan (but is available retail from shops all over the world) — look for beautiful prints Nani Iro and Echino. Fabric Tales, who ships worldwide, has both these lines as well as traditional Japanese prints and solids.
 

{ Printed crepe georgette from Thai Silks }

Organza is silk and it’s very sheer and a bit stiff. Drapier sheer silks include georgette and chiffon, and again, Gorgeous Fabrics has a great selection. Thai Silks is another favorite. Inexpensive synthetic versions of these fabrics are commonly found at chain stores.
 

If you’re sewing apparel, you want something more drapey (flowy) like voile, lawn, gauze, chiffon, or georgette. If you’re making making something like a tutu or petticoat, you want something with more body (crispness), in which case organza is the way to go. Organza would also work well for delicate drawstring pouches for storing lingerie, holding wedding favors, and so on. Sheer fabrics are also used for window dressings, and I imagine anything goes, though my experience in this area is lacking!

In sewing sheer fabrics, you have to make nice, neat, enclosed seams and hems since they’re visible through the fabric. Here are some good guides:

I hope that helps! There’s still plenty of summer left (in my corner of the world, anyway) for sewing with these hot-weather fabrics, and there are so many gorgeous print options out there to do it with.

+++

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6 Comments

  1. Lisa P. says:

    Thanks. I’ve had the very same questions. Now if only I can keep the infromation in my head… :)

  2. Kristin says:

    Great article, Kim!

  3. Donna says:

    Thanks for the great info. I want to start sewing again & I’m always drawn to thin-as-air fabrics, but not so sure how to sew them. I’ll check the links that you have in here as well as my Vogue sewing book.
    Donna
    http://www.prettysparklythings.blogspot.com

  4. deirdre says:

    THANK YOU!!!!! I’ve been trying to wrap my head around the different light-end fabrics, and you’ve done it beautifully! Now I can purchase fabric with confidence — I’ll know what I’m looking for!

  5. Kim says:

    Woohoo! I’m so glad this is helpful!

  6. Karen says:

    I just wanted to say that, in my experience, light-weight synthetics are not actually easier to sew. I’ve had trouble with polyester chiffons and crepes where the needle didn’t seem to want to penetrate the fiber, resulting in pulled threads that ruined the project. Even though silks are very fluid and that can make them tricky to work with, I’ve never had the pulled thread experience, and — as long as I keep them moving smoothly through the machine with even tension of my hand on the front and back — they are less likely to get caught in the needle plate (because of the same problem of the needle not wanting to go through synthetic fibers).

    Just my two cents.