Cotton Fabric is made from the cotton plant. Similar to the fuzzy part of a dandelion flower that has gone to seed, the cotton fuzz of the cotton plant helps to spread the seeds of the plant around when it gets blown around by the wind. That fuzzy part once spun into a soft yarn, and then woven, makes a wonderful, light but strong fabric that we know as cotton. Cotton is a very old fabric that has been used for thousands of years to make cloth. Today it is mostly grown in the Americas, as well as Africa and India.
It is likely that most of your clothing is made from some form of cotton. If you look on your clothing tags, they will usually show you what your garment is made from. There are many different types of cotton fabric though. Here are a few examples:
Denim – the material that jeans are made from, are made primarily from cotton. Denim is woven on a loom (a machine that weaves the cotton threads) to be thick and tough, so it wears really well and lasts a long time. Levi Strauss is the man who invented its use as jeans or coveralls designed for the hard work of the prospectors in the Gold Rush days. These days, your jeans likely have a bit of stretch to them, and have a stretchy threads (usually Lycra) interwoven with the cotton.
Quilting Cotton – Quilting Cotton is 100% woven cotton with no stretch. It is often printed with beautiful colours and patterns or artwork. It is likely the most common fabric that you will find at your local fabric store as quilting is so popular right now. The nice thing about that is that quilting cotton fabric a great beginner material. You don’t have to worry about it stretching too much as you sew and all the beautiful prints make sewing with it lots of fun.
Cotton Twill – similar to denim, but woven differently, twill is usually the material that khaki pants and skirts are made from.
Cotton Corduroy – has soft ridges and valleys of fuzzy textured threads and feels like velvet to the touch. It is also a very durable woven fabric and is often used for pants, skirts and jackets.
Cotton Velveteen – feels similar to velvet but the pile (or little fibers sticking up) are shorter. It is another very durable woven fabric that is great for making children’s pants or jumpers. It often comes in beautiful colours or prints.
Cotton Batiste – another woven cotton fabric but very soft. It is great for making light blouses, shirts, dresses, skirts, or shorts, for example. It makes wonderful baby clothes because it is so light and soft.
Cotton Knit – This type of fabric is not woven on a loom where the fibres are interlocked together. Instead, the cotton fibers are spun into yarn and then knitted on giant knitting machines in the factory. This makes the fabric stretchy and very comfy to wear. You can think of cotton knit as T-shirt fabric if you like. My favourite T-shirt material is made from 100% cotton with a bit of Lycra in it, making it that much more stretchy and soft. Cotton knit is either interlock knit (a bit thicker material) or jersey knit (softer and thinner). Though not difficult to sew with, it is best to learn a few tips on how to sew with knits as they behave differently than woven fabric when you go to sew it. Interlock knit is the easier than jersey knit to sew with as first. Because of the way that it is knitted, jersey knit tents to curl at the edges, so it takes a bit of practice in working with it.
This is just a quick overview of some of the types of fabric made of cotton out there. These types of fabrics (e.g. corderoy, twill etc.) can also be made from other fibres. These fibres can be either man-made (e.g. polyester) or natural (e.g. silk, rayon, wool etc.), or a blend of both (e.g. lycra-cotton blend). In that case they will be named by the fibre type as well as the fabric type (e.g. wool interlock knit vs cotton interlock knit).
Are you totally confused yet? I hope not. Once you get out there and start browsing at fabric, and actually handle the different types, it will get clearer. Happy Shopping!