Suiting - A Fabric To Suit Everyone
Welcome! Here is our very own Fabworks attempt at explaining what suiting fabric actually is, what you can use it for, why it's so great & why you have to work it into your wardrobe all year round. There are no images in the document yet but between us (George & Dawn) here's what we know and what we can share with you. We hope you feel inspired. Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.
What is it?
Suiting is a general term for woven fabrics used to make suits and tailored garments for both men and women, often of wool, cotton, silk or a blend of different fibres, making it strong, firm, and hard-wearing. It can be crisp for sharp tailoring or have the handle and drape that permits softer shaping, tucks and even swirl, depending upon weight. Suiting comes in varying weights, textures, designs, colours, styles, compositions, etc. Sometimes referred to as worsted if combed wool yarns. Suitings are classic in style and usually consist of fairly uniform fabric designs/weaves, such as a repeating check or pinstripe, etc...
Traditionally, one thinks of suiting or suits and thinks smart, corporate, plain, expensive, work and formal occasion wear, but you couldn’t really be further from the truth.
Suitings are classic in style and usually consist of fairly uniform fabric designs/weaves, such as a repeating check or pinstripe rather than complex geometrics and florals. The wool worsted colours are more often blues, browns and greys, which work as foils for bright shirts or linings, but Fabworks frequently has lighter, brighter and even distinctly feminine fabrics - think of the recent Coral Blaze Fine Wool Suiting or the Super 130s that are available in a range of bright rich colours.
You can pay anything from a few pounds to thousands of pounds per metre for suiting fabric, depending on it’s construction and fibre content.
What are suits made of?
A suiting fabric isn’t defined by what fibres it is made from, whether it’s cheap polyester or the luxurious finely spun yarn of a wool mohair super 200s. The use of man-made fibres are often apparent in suiting fabrics (and heavy woollens alike) to add durability and strength to a material that will see plenty of wear from daily use. Don’t let a little polyester put you off, this is purely for strength and durability purposes.
As we already know, suitings (or worsteds) tend to be made from natural fibres, mainly wool (and wool mixes, such as mohair, cashmere, silk, etc..). In more modern times and with other materials readily available, cotton, viscose and cupro are often used. As well as the availability of cotton which is quite literally grown on trees, it’s a cheaper material to produce and can be manufactured into a fabric so similar to wool, an untrained eye wouldn’t spot it, affecting eventual prices of a suit or suiting fabric and therefore creating a range of qualities and prices.
In today’s manufacturing, there are two fabric compositions that dominate the Fabworks range of suiting; wool and cotton. (We tend to avoid polyester dominant fabrics where possible).
Cotton suitings and wool worsteds have very similar properties and in some cases can be passed off for one another, but there are a few ways that you can spot the difference. You’ll be able to tell if you have a cotton suiting immediately once you scrunch it up in your hand. Cotton will always crease, as does your favourite shirt when it’s thrown on the bedroom floor. Just because it creases easily whereas wool worsted may not, doesn’t necessarily mean that it is in any way inferior, it just means that it is suitable for different projects and its fibres are from a different source.
Think about it this way – what is wool? It’s hair that has grown on an animal and is recycled to produce long thread type yarns that are eventually (after a million and one processes) woven together to create a fabric. Cotton is a fluffy plant-like shrub that grows in fields for weeks at a time, open to the elements, cut down and treated, again to be woven into thread type yarns that are woven together to create a fabric.
Many people prefer cotton over wool because of it’s almost anti allergy properties, there are more of us whose skin reacts badly to wool or wool content fabrics, whereas generally cotton has a minimal irritant effect. Have you ever been stroking your neighbour’s dog, or worn a thick woolly jumper and just not been able to stop itching – these are the fibres in the wool (animal hair) that are reacting with your skin and causing you to itch.
In terms of overall style and aesthetic end product, there is little difference between a cotton suiting and a wool worsted, the difference comes in the wear, strength and of course the properties of a suit. You will often find that cotton has a cool initial feel too, noticeably colder than wool.
Wool is the people’s favourite, it ticks all the boxes (unless you’re allergic of course). It’s the traditional fabric that we use, the original, the best, what people want, what people expect, etc.. But in reality it isn’t all that important. It doesn’t change what you think about your fabric/garment, how you wear it, what vibe it gives, it’s simply down to cost, taste and potential allergic reactions.
I suppose that you can put it down to modernisation and the developing world that we use fabrics other than wool in today's manufacturing. Wool has always been readily available, humans lived off the land, that idea has just expanded and the cotton plant is now the main focus of our ventures. You can get a lot more cotton into a smaller physical space and giving a large yield, than you can fit sheep into a field, feed them, shear them, treat them, etc.. It makes sense.
Wool content suitings are beautiful cloths and are a lot more likely to cause a gasp or sharp intake of breath upon examination, ooooohhh. One defining characteristic of wool that isn’t easy to recreate with a cotton, is the beautiful lustre and sheen that a wool worsted holds. The sleekness of a wool does give you that edge of plush, almost happy, quality feeling finish. On the whole, wool fibres tend to be longer than cotton fibres, therefore there will always be slight differences in the finite details as well as other characteristics, such as the fact that it is a great natural insulator, more crease-resistant, naturally water repellent, etc...
Suiting is very similar but also very far from other fabric types, it is different from a shirting, a scuba, or a lining fabric. Let it not be forgotten that a fabric type is not defined by what fibres it is manufactured from, more what style it has been manufactured in. For example, jersey is a type of fabric, just because it is jersey does not mean that it is cotton, or wool or polyester. It is a jersey because it has been manufactured in a certain way, in this case knitted.
A twill or drill is a similar fabric type to suiting, their weights can be similar, patterns and colours too, these twills or drills and suitings have overlapping uses too, but each fabric does have it’s own ideal. A suiting fabric is woven for use in suits and other structured styles, yes you can make a T-shirt using it but there are better fabrics to use for T-shirts. Drills and twills are ideal for dungarees and trouser styles, just because you can make them into a T-shirt as well doesn’t mean that they’ll look good, wear well or be comfortable.
One of suiting’s best features and its main purpose is for tailored styles, however suitings are ever so versatile that actually they’re a lot more practical (certainly more than your cotton drill T-shirt) than just about any other fabric available. Let us explain more.
There are a few downsides to suiting fabrics such as washing/caring for them, but the wearability and versatility far outweigh anything else...We explain this more, further on.
Suiting isn’t just for suits:
First things first, this may come as a shock to you, do not be alarmed. We are talking sense, just bear with us... Ok.
SUITING FABRIC IS NOT JUST FOR SUITS!
So there you go, we’ve hit the crux of our argument. Did it come as a surprise? What are you first reactions? Do you believe us? Did you know this already? Shall we clear things up a little more for you?
We preach this phrase allover Fabworks Online and it is 100% true. All 'suiting' is, is a name, it might create thoughts and preconceived ideas of some super corporate formal world where your collar is tight and your shoelaces always have to be tied, but if you think that way then you’re overthinking far too much. Go to a fabric shop, dive into your stash, order a sample, examine a suiting fabric and you will see that it’s far from formal or uncomfortable, it’s actually quite the opposite.
It’s malleable handle, good stability, soft texture and beautiful drape will immediately demonstrate how fab these fabrics are, wool, cotton or otherwise. Forget the design for a minute, that can be whatever you want it to be (this is purely down to the weaving process). It’s actual properties give you so many options there’s not enough space on this page for us to list them all.
If the ideal fabric were to exist, what features would it have? Soft? Yes. Comfortable? Yes. Breathable? Yes. Drapey? Yes. Stable? Yes. Hard-wearing? Yes. No man-made fibres? Yes. Lustrous? Yes. Expensive look/quality feel? Yes. Ok, so suiting has all of that and we’ve already told you that it is literally the most versatile fabric you can find.
N.B. The reason that we’re writing this article is purely to demonstrate and reiterate why you need to introduce suiting fabrics to your dressmaking agenda. You’re losing a whole swathe of gorgeous fabric options if you think it is too staid, male, or the preserve of the professional tailor. You have the ideas, we have the fabrics!
Just because the word suiting has the ‘suit’ in it doesn’t mean that it’s just for suits! All it is is a name, not limiting it to any specific purpose. Stop those preconceived ideas of strangling collars and overly tight shoelaces, suiting is much more than that!
Changing the stereotype:
When you think suits you think stuffy, uncomfortable and expensive, if you don’t think this then you’re doing it right. If you do think this, let us reverse that thought.
Suits: Tailors. London. Saville Row. Expensive. Handmade. Craftsman. Elitist. Niche. Skilled. We associate these words to this area of dressmaking, simply because of the stereotypes in films, books and other such influences. But what is to stop you wearing your own hand-sewn waistcoat with a pretty matching blouse and favourite pencil skirt? Both the waistcoat and pencil skirt can be made from suiting, after all they’ll allow your skin to breathe, will be soft and comfortable against the skin and give a super smart look. Some of you reading this, when we mentioned waistcoat and favourite pencil skirt, will immediately picture a formal look, ease up a little. Dress it up or dress it down, there are no limits. Take that a step further, instead of a shirt and waistcoat combination what about a shirt dress instead? You can still incorporate a smart pinstripe affect but it doesn’t have to be a smart outfit. The flexibility and versatility is there, after all you are picking the fabric, choosing the design and creating the garment. Break the ‘rules’ (that actually don’t exist, we just think they do).
When to wear:
Thinking of a new medium weight shirt style to wear with jeans at the weekend? Use a suiting fabric. New skater style dress? Use a suiting fabric. New pair of culottes? Use a suiting fabric. Lightweight throw-on top/poncho? Use a suiting fabric. Suiting is not a seasonal material so you’re not limited to when you can wear it either. Wear at any time of year in any climate. (Yes, tropical suitings do exist too!) Did we mention that they’re good insulators? Perfect for keeping you warm in winter and cool in summer, whilst simultaneously allowing your skin to breathe. If using a wool worsted, your suiting will also have natural temperature regulating properties too!
How to care for your suiting fabric:
The elephant in the room... When it comes to caring for your suitings, take heed but don't be scared. Fabrics generally, especially wools, do shrink once washed for the first time, all it is it the fibres shrinking and coming closer together to create a denser fabric (no visible difference whatsoever), closing up those microscopic gaps between the fibres. We always advise that you buy extra fabric anyway, simply because there may not be the option to re-stock if something were to go pear shaped as well as allowing for this natural shrinkage. Some sewists employ their own techniques for washing fabrics, or washing samples at least. To conduct your own wash test, simply cut a small swatch sized piece of fabric, measure the dimensions carefully and then wash on the setting that you plan to wash the finished garment on. Once out of the machine, leave to air / dry naturally and iron, then remeasure. If the washed swatch sized piece has changed significantly or significantly enough that it won’t give you the required finish that you’re looking for, simply start the washing process again until you’re happy with results. You have to be the scientist here to work out which washing technique is best, it's just a matter of patience and examining the fabric.
A length of fabric is just the same as a shop bought garment, only it arrives in your hands in a different shape. Would you throw your favourite suit jacket into the wash with the rest of the darks? No. So why would you do the same with your favourite suit(ing)? If you are sewing for pleasure and enjoyment, immerse yourself in the science behind it, learn and be bold. Break the ‘rules’ (that actually don’t exist, we just think they do).
N.B. Fabworks has a great range of fabrics, especially suitings. Unfortunately we don’t always have the exact compositions and hardly ever see washing instructions, it’s not through laziness, it’s just not what you see in this industry. For a full care guide, free returns, GSMs and detailed composition lists, prices would have to be much much higher.
Why the stereotype?
We’ve established that suitings (which eventually become suits) are formal. So can they be less formal too...? The answer is yes. Suitings’ versatility and ranging possibilities are endless, depending on the weight of a suiting fabric it can be turned to a variety of projects. So instead of using that medium weight linen for a new shirt dress, substitute it for a suiting and you have immediately opened the door to hundreds more designs. Then add to that all the possible fabric compositions that suitings come in. Did I hear you say super soft merino wool silky drapey dress?
We immediately associate suitings and suits with that masculine style. Using a suiting fabric in a feminine style and it will change the whole look of both you and your outfit. Redesign the fabric’s purpose. A glass table is nothing like a solid oak table, but they both serve the same purpose.
Ever lusted over something that was too far out of your price range, garment or fabric? Let’s re-address that with some easy and simple suggestions for how you can use suiting fabrics for just about anything.
The classic wool crepe dress… Did you know that classic finely woven hopsack suitings (such as these) have a similar handle, weight and feel to fine wool dress crepe? The cost is a lot lower, the variety (not just plains) extends to cover most dark colour palettes, and will give the same finish.
The Oversized Shirt Dress's suggested fabrics are mostly shirting fabrics from cool cottons and linens, through to warmer babycord and other brushed fabrics. Cottons & linens - weight? Same as suitings. Handle/texture? Same as suitings. Style? As similar or different as you like. More options, more unique to you!
We could keep going on and on…
If we have only convinced you to consider using a suiting fabric in your next dressmaking project, order a couple of samples, play with them, compare them to others (what you may think are completely different) fabrics that you already have in your stash. Go for it! We are all creative types and enjoy the satisfaction of new notions, tips, quicker methods, more alternatives, versatile clothing, etc…
Now you can consider suiting another string to your bow and best of all, you don’t have to be a tailor or have any previous experience using these fabrics to try them for yourself.
All Fabworks’ suiting fabrics come from traditional Italian mills, steeped in heritage, quality and excellence that spans generations. Without prior knowledge you’d expect to pay a premium for these first rate fabrics, but did you know that at Fabworks you can find 100% lightweight wool in a classic navy blue for £8 per metre (Ciao Bello), or a lovely soft medium weight wool flannel in charcoal grey with a classic pinstripe (Luigi’s Pinstripe Flannel) for £10 per metre.
You just don’t need to add that zero onto the price tag, like a professional tailor.