Weight and Drape
Most of us understand the concept of fabric weight. Even neophyte seamsters can tell the difference between a heavy fabric like denim or a wool coating vs a light fabric like silk crepe or chiffon. You can feel the weight of a fabric easily by the thickness when you feel the fabric in your hand: it feels either light or heavy.
I think the concept of drape is a little more elusive. The drape of a fabric is the way it flows over things. Stiff fabrics have less drape, and fluid fabrics have more.
But drape is often confused with weight. This makes sense, because the two are highly correlated. In other words, heavy fabrics often have less drape and light fabrics often have more drape. BUT (1) this is not always the case and (2) the relationship may not be proportional. It’s often the case that a light fabric can be stiffer than a heavier fabric. So when choosing a fabric, be sure to consider both drape and weight.
To illustrate, I made the chart above of several natural fiber fabrics. It is admittedly unscientific*, but I think it illustrates the concept. You can see that fabrics like organza and organdy, even though they are light and sheer, are quite stiff, whereas a light fabric like chiffon has a great deal of drape. Denim is usually both stiff and heavy. There aren’t many heavy, fluid fabrics, but wool crepes and suitings can be.
Choosing Drape and Weight
When you choose a fabric for your sewing project, ask yourself these questions to decide on an appropriate weight:
- Should my fabric be sheer or opaque?
- Will a light fabric be difficult to sew for this project?
- Will the fabric be sturdy enough to tolerate stress on the seams?
- Will the heaviness of the fabric cause bulky seams?
And to decide on an appropriate amount of drape:
- Will the fabric have enough drape to flow the way I want?
- Will the fabric have enough stiffness to have the structure and crispness I want?
Test for Drape
To test for drape, unroll a little fabric from the bolt and gently drape it over something (other bolts of fabric work, or you can drape a little around your neck or waist if your fabric store has a mirror). Examine the way it flows (or stands out), how the folds of the fabric lie, and the general appearance to get an idea of how it will look in garment form.
I’m interested to hear whether drape is a big concern in your sewing already. Are there other questions about drape and weight you ask yourself before deciding on a fabric ?
* The placement of the bubbles in the chart isn’t exact, so no need to quibble! I placed things based on their most common weight/drape in my experience, but some of them vary considerably.