Clothing 101: Guide to Different Fabrics

It can be challenging to know which fabric is appropriate for what purpose. That’s why CSO’s Fabric Guide is here to make it easier for you to choose.

Whether you choose natural or synthetic fabrics, different types work better for some needs than others. Beyond knowing which material to choose when making clothing, proper fabric care can help your garments last longer, stretching your dollar.

In warmer climates or under high activity, synthetic fabrics (certain tri-blends, jersey) perform better than some natural fabrics (cotton, linen). This is because natural fabrics can cause skin irritation and chafing with lots of movement because the material doesn’t stretch easily. However, natural fabrics are more breathable and are best for low-activity, warm weather. In cooler climates, you’ll need to consider insulation and moisture retention with your clothing choices, since moisture retains cold.

To help you to choose the right fabric for your project, consider these 8 common fabrics below:


Prized for its softness and breathability, cotton is a beloved fabric. It’s often used in favorite tees, baby clothes (particularly GOTs-certified organic cotton), pajamas, and clothing used in warm weather; however, it’s less commonly used in athletic-wear because it can cause some skin types to chafe under warm weather conditions or high mobility. Screen printing on cotton can be a little tricky, but likely, your favorite tee is made of it, since it wears better over time. Cotton softens with age if it’s been cared for properly – washed on cold and dried on medium heat.


In contrast to natural fabrics, polyester is more stretchable and doesn’t wrinkle as easily. From athletic wear to fine clothing, you can find polyester in most clothing types, even in higher-end dresses and slacks. This is because unlike silk or linen, polyester is more durable and can withstand some beating, perfect for work clothes or uniforms. There are also several kinds of polyester – from polyester/cotton to polyester/viscose – which all have different challenges when screen printing on polyester.


One of the newest fabrics in this list, tri-blends, consists of a 50-25-25 mix of polyester, rayon, and spun cotton. Tri-blends are more expensive than cotton but are extra soft and wick moisture. They’re perfect for athletic clothing, particularly yoga tops, because they drape better than pure cotton. Tri-blends are also used in higher quality band t-shirts and some office clothing, particularly women’s blouses. Screen printing on tri-blends is particularly challenging because, if you choose a design that requires flash cures, the rayon in tri-blends may melt under heat. To print on tri-blends, use a wet-on-wet approach.


Fleece is ideal for cold weather, such as in sweaters and jackets, because it wicks moisture and is highly durable while providing wool-like warmth. Initially, fleece was a natural fiber derived from longhaired goats or domestic sheep. While natural fleece exists, it’s more expensive; polyester fleece has all but replaced its more labor-intensive cousin. Today, polyester fleece is used in hiking and outdoor clothing, as well as blankets, because it’s as warm as wool but much lighter. To screen print on fleece, you’ll need to budget for more ink and simpler designs.

Polyester fleece derives from polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, used in plastic bottles. Polyester fleece has contributed widely to plastic pollution in water sources. To launder polyester fleece safely, as with all synthetic fibers, make sure to use a Guppyfriend or Coraball and wash on cold. You can also retrofit your dryer with a special filter.


Since Coco Chanel introduced jersey to high fashion at a time when it was associated with underwear, jersey has become highly popular due to its stretchiness and lightweight. Jersey is most used in leisurewear, sportswear, undergarments, and even dressier clothing, such as dresses, because of its drape and softness. A type of cotton knit, jersey, was once made of wool but is now made of synthetic fibers. Jersey drapes well, like tri-blends, and resists wrinkling, making it ideal for traveling. It also tolerates hot water and ironing when laundered, so it’s not delicate like silk.


Knit fabrics, unlike those that are woven, are more flexible, making them ideal for small items like socks, scarves, hats, and mittens. It’s also still used for cool-weather dresses and light sweaters. Knits are made of either natural or synthetic yarn, which can be thick or fine, depending on how much you’d like any item of clothing to drape. While Coco Chanel elevated jersey knit in 1916, it’s still used today in elegant suits and dress, particularly in wrap dresses, cardigans, and light sweaters, which stay in place due to knit’s heavier drape.


While technically a natural fiber, rayon is chemically processed from natural fibers, or cellulose, into lyocell, viscose, and modal. Because rayon exists in so many grades, it can imitate the feel of natural fabrics such as linen, cotton, silk, or fine wool. As a result, rayon is ideal for women’s clothing, particularly dresses and tops, as well as any fine clothing that resembles artificial silk. It’s also used in scarves meant to feel like silk or stockings. Unlike its silk, rayon lacks the same delicacy and is more durable, making it also ideal for exceptional workwear.


Because it’s so strong when stretched, spandex is best used for leggings, undergarment compression wear (such as girdles), underwear, athletic wear, hosiery, dance clothing, and nightclub wear. Dupont Textiles originally conceived spandex to replace rubber in clothing. Given its strength, spandex is ideal for swimwear and bras. When laundering spandex, you should always forgo fabric softener, wash on cold, and air dry.

While choosing the right fabric for your clothing project can be difficult, consider these fabric guidelines from Clothing Shop Online!

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