You need to know all about fabric weights for sewing if you’re going to use the correct fabric for an item.

We’re going to start with the fact that fabric weights have nothing whatsoever to do with pattern weights, which have to do with sewing patterns. We will then explain the importance of the weight of a fabric when choosing a material for your product.

To help you, we've put together a simple guide on why what a fabric weighs is so vital when choosing material for sewing or manufacturing an article, how you measure the different weights of each fabric, and which weights work best for different products. Take a look...

What are fabric weights?

How much a fabric weighs tells you many things about it: how it was created, for starters. This involves whether it’s woven or knit, even whether it’s made from natural or synthetic yarns, or a mix of both and also what it feels like – is it smooth or textured, for instance. 

You should have an idea of what a material weighs before you decide whether it will be suitable for your product or not. That’s a long time ahead of you actually sewing the piece.

Why are fabric weights so important?

It’s not just about how much the fabric actually weighs; you also need to consider whether the actual material is suitable for what you’re hoping to make. Say you’re going to be sewing dresses or skirts – then you need a material with drape, right?

Let’s go through the different ways of defining how much fabrics weigh and then work out suitability, too.

The definition of a fabric’s GSM

We use this measurement to determine how much a fabric weighs. GSM stands for ‘grams per square metre’. This metric measurement tells you how much the fabric weighs and how dense it is.

Remember: the higher the GSM number, the thicker, or more dense, the material will be.

Once you know the GSM of a fabric, it’s easy to work out whether the material will be suitable for sewing an article or not, because GSM not only determines the weight, but also the suitability. 

Rule of thumb: The heavier the fabric, the more likely it is to be a thicker material. And the thicker the fabric, the more likely it is to be long-wearing and durable. Look at your trusty denim jeans – they’re thick and heavy and last for years. Your cotton T-shirt is thinner, lighter and won’t last as long. See what we’re getting at? 

This doesn’t always apply – so be aware of that. And also note that the quality of the material you’re looking at isn’t determined by how heavy it is. Thin materials like silk and cotton are of an extremely high quality. So be careful how you judge the material you’re considering for a sewing project.

Different weights of fabrics and their uses for sewing

·       Lightweight: GSM: 1-150; type of material: Chiffon, cheesecloth, lace, linen, mesh, organza, voile. Perfect for: Warm weather garments including dresses, leggings, T-shirts and undergarments.

·      Medium weight: GSM: 150-350; type of material: Nylon, polyester, sateen, taffeta, velvet. Best for: Durable garments and clothes that are ideal for in-between seasons. We're talking about shirts, sweatshirts, pants, tracksuits and homeware (cushions, table linen, bed throws).

·      Heavyweight: GSM: 350+; type of material: Brocade, canvas, denim, poplin, suede, wool. Best for: Outerwear like coats and jackets, plus furniture upholstery (for indoors and outdoors).

Working out the fabric’s weight

When you’re not sure what category a fabric falls into, here’s what you should do:

1.     Check for the GSM weight or rating when you buy fabric stock.

2.     Do you have spare or leftover fabric, or returns of previous pieces? Perhaps you’ve taken up maake’s offer of free upcycling bags of different sizes of plain material offcuts, which is part of our great maakelesswaste initiative? 

Let's simplify it...

If you don’t know how much a fabric weighs, here’s how to work it out:

·      You’ll need a ruler to measure straight lines and a scissors and a precision digital scale to weigh the fabric. Cut a small rectangle out of the fabric you’ve ordered for sewing.

·      Measure its length and width.

·      Now weigh a scrap of material on your precision scale.

·      Work out the following mathematical formula: 10,000 divided by (area cm2.X weight in grams).

Consider these facts when you shop for a sewing fabric

1.   Is it for indoors or outdoors? If it’s to be used to sew garments to be worn outdoors or to protect you from the rain, wind or cold, the fabric needs to be heavier and have waterproof or other warming properties.

2.   Will it keep you cool? If you’re going to make something to wear on the beach, it needs to be light, cool and breathable.

3.   Are you going to wear it for comfort? If you’re sewing something to wear for exercise, it needs to be lightweight, breathable, have stretch and be hard wearing. Heavyweight fabric for denim jeans isn’t always comfortable and soft the first time you wear it. But if you wash your jeans a few times, the fabric will be softer and the garment will feel far more comfortable.

4.   Does it need drape? Or does it need to be stiff? These conditions will determine whether you choose a light, dreamy material for sewing a dress or skirt, or are looking for something heavier and long-wearing to wear as outerwear, for example or accessories like bags.

5.   If you’re comparing 2 similar fabrics... Let’s take an example of 2 heavyweight denim materials with different GMS’s. Which is better? It depends, of course, on what you’re sewing. If you’re making a denim shirt, it doesn’t need to be as hard-wearing or stiff as jeans. It should have a little drape and higher GSM if you’re sewing a pair of jeans. 

Don’t confuse material and fabric pattern weights

We’ve discussed fabric weights UK at length, but sometimes people confuse this with fabric pattern weights, which are used for sewing patterns.

Let’s get this straight: pattern weights fabric are something else entirely. They relate to sewing pattern weights, which are weights that keep your patterns flat so you can trace or cut them accurately before you start sewing.

They are far better to use than pins pattern weights, which make holes on the patterns and can even warp the material or make it misshapen when you cut it. These, by the way, are available in a weights multi-set for ease of sewing use.

Help is at hand!

If you’re confused about which particular fabric to use for a particular sewing product,why not give us a call? Our team of experts will be happy to assist you in your material choices.

At maake, we offer a wide selection of quality, sustainable base textiles for you to print on – a total of 80, to be exact. Some are natural materials, others are synthetic and there are quite a few that are a blend of both.

We give full descriptions of each fabric, often mentioning weights, usually talking about whether it is a light-, medium- or heavy-weight material as well as what it’s made of and whether it’s eco-friendly. We also give an idea of what you can use the material for.

But if you’re unsure about how much the material you’ve chosen weighs, please feel free to contact us and we’ll give you all the information you require.

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April 04, 2023 — Alexander Wills