Winter Wardrobe Series Part 2 - Choosing Winter Fabrics

Hey guys! This is part two of the Salt&Stitch winter wardrobe series focusing on the best choices for winter fabrics - today we are looking at merino, cashmere, silk, denim, corduroy, velvet, flannel and hemp - Enjoy!

 

WINTER FABRICS

MERINO

Merino is New Zealand's natural super fibre, made primarily from wool from sheep farmed in the harsh weather conditions of the Southern Alps. As a result it is warm in winter, cool in summer, insulating and breathable. It is an odour eliminating, environmentally friendly biodegradable fiber, and much finer than traditional wool (15 – 25 microns compared with 30 – 50 microns) which makes it smooth to touch, and very comfortable to wear against the skin. It is also harder wearing that regular wool (apparently due to the large number of crimps in the fiber), does not pill, and is fire resistant. It comes in a variety of weights – perfect from making anything from light weight tank tops and t shirts through to jumpers and winter jackets.

  • Light weight 150gsm – Next to skin layers/soft and strong
  • Mid weight 200gsm – Secondary layers
  • Heavy weight 300gsm – Outer layers

(photos from NZ Merino & Fabrics )

Check out this great film made by Icebreaker explaining why merino is such a versatile fabric:

Regular sheep wool, although perhaps more coarse than merino, should not be overlooked, and has amazing insulating, breathable and durable qualities. Please visit the Seamwork Magazine "From Sheep to Steam" or "Farm to Fabric: The Story of Wool" for  more information. 

CASHMERE

Cashmere is a wool famously produced from goats which live in the Gobi Desert (from Northern China to Mongolia). The Gobi Desert is such a harsh cold environment that the goats produce layers of downy wool underneath their coarser outer coat to insulate themselves. It is this downy wool which is combed out to produce Cashmere. It is then sent to Europe (mostly) for processing, where it is spun into a fine yarn. 

Cashmere wool is well known for being extremely soft and incredibly warm (much warmer than the average wool). Cashmere, like merino, is very fine with the average thickness of fibre around 19 microns. And again, like merino, this will make it perfect for wearing against the skin. 

Also because the hair is combed out of the goat, rather than shorn, the fibres are longer and therefore less likely to pill. You can check this buy rubbing the surface of the garment and seeing if the fibres roll up or not.

(photos from Hawes & Freer )

Here's an insight about cashmere goats in Mongolia and the pressing issues for the goat herders today: 

SILK

Made from natural fibres, it is soft, extremely light weight and breathable, but provides warmth in winter and cools in summer. It can absorb 30% of its weight in moisture without feeling damp, and dries easily. It has a delicate appearance but it is relatively robust and resists staining and smell. It is also naturally flame resistant.

(photos from Hawes & Freer )

You can read more about silk from Silkbody, a company based in Dunedin NZ, dedicated to just silk clothing. Here's a fascinating clip about their story and about how silk fabric is produced, a sustainable but ever so slightly controversial process that has occurred for thousands of years.

If the process of making silk worries you, then there are alternatives  like The Ethical Silk Company which uses a special 'Peace Silk', or you could just buy your silk second hand - and not directly contribute to its production. 

DENIM

Denim is a sturdy hard wearing 'warp faced' woven cotton. The darker indigo warp running the length of the fabric is seen on top, and the white weft running horizontally through the warp is only visible on the inside.

Denim comes in many weights - the lighter best for summer and the mid - heavier weights best for winter. The medium to light weights are easier to wear softer fabrics, while the heavier weight fabrics take a bit of wearing in to become comfortable. The heavier fabric will take a lot more wear and tear in its lifetime and is also known for having more dramatic fades too.

  • Lightweight—12 oz. or under
  • Mid-weight—12 oz. to 16 oz.
  • Heavyweight—16 oz and above

(photos from Closet Case Patterns jeans kit)

Check out the film below, made by Cone Denim, one of the most famous American Denim Producers, to see how their denim is made: 

FLANNEL

Flannel is a soft cosy woven fabric, originally made from carded wool but now mostly cotton or synthetics. It is usually brushed on one or both sides to raise the fibres to form a nap, which gives it additional softness. Ideally you would look for a wool or 100% cotton flannel (keeping in mind that cotton is not good in the wet, but more breathable and durable than synthetic fibres), which is closely woven and soft to touch. For more information about flannel, pop over to Seamwork Magazine and read "The Secret Life of Flannel" (source of picture below). 

VELVET

Velvet is a beautifully soft fabric with a pile on one side. Originally it was made from silk, but now more likely synthetic or rayon (manufactured from wood pulp). Perfect for luxurious winter dresses, skirts and even trousers. For more information see Seamwork Magazines 'A Beginners Guide to Sewing Velvet'  (source of picture below). 

CORDUROY

Corduroy or 'cord' is essentially a ribbed velvet but commonly made from cotton or a cotton/synthetic mix.  The ribs or ridges are called Wales and the fineness of the fabric is measured by the number of ridges per inch i.e the higher the number = the finer the cord. Pincord or needle cord is the finest cord with around 16 wales per inch. It is a soft hard wearing fabric - good for keeping warm, but because it is made from cotton, not the best to get wet! It can be used for trousers, jackets, dresses, or even shirts. 

MOLESKIN

Moleskin is a heavy cotton densely woven fabric with a beautifully soft and cosy pile on one side, named after the soft silky fur of a mole. It is known well to be hard wearing and durable. A good weight moleskin will retain heat nicely in winter, and because its 100% cotton it should still be relatively breathable. 

(Mole pic source: A-Z Animals)

HEMP

Hemp is one of the most sustainable produced and strongest most durable fabrics in the world. In combination with other excellent organic natural fibres it can be used to make fabrics that resist and insulate from cold wintry weather.  Maybe the next big up and coming fabric? Check out Hoodlamb for more information on hemp clothing. 

TECHNICAL SYNTHETICS

For raincoats and other technical outer wear you may look at using a specially designed synthetic or mixed fibre fabric such as a hydralite nylon, wind blocking fleece or a laminated cotton. Check out this Sewaholic post on 'Sewing Waterproof Outerwear' or this Rei Coop post on 'Rainwear: How To Choose'. Here's a great tutorial by Handmade by Freya about sewing with waterproof fabric too. 

Photo from Icomarket - Etsy 

Photo from Icomarket - Etsy 

What are your favourite winter fabrics? 

I've asked a few NZ based fabric companies what their favourite winter fabrics are and heres what they had to say: 

Hawes and Freer

"Our favourite winter fabrics from Hawes & Freer would have to be our Londra, Moleskin and Silk Crepe de Chine. Our Londra is a wool cashmere melton, which will keep you warm for the colder months and is perfect for your winter coat. The Moleskin is a new fabric we have brought in and is 100% cotton, making it light and breathable. We have this in two weights so it is trans seasonal. Lastly, our Silk Crepe de Chine will take you from day to night as it is such a soft, elegant fabric. It is ideal for any occasion and we provide them in the more winter like colours (black, navy, khaki and even a bright purple!). You can pair it with your Londra or Moleskin coat to keep you warm and snug."

Miss Maude Sewing

"Winter fabrics – my favourites?   For me winter is all about warmth, comfort and a little luxe.  My all time favourite is cashmere – you really can’t get any softer, cozier, and it always feels just that little bit special.   I have been collecting cashmere scarves, shawls and sweaters for years – and each winter they all get a workout.  In fact I really should discard some that have just too many holes......but it’s always hard to part with old friends right?  Cashmere comes from the underbelly of goats (typically from Mongolia and China) and is very fine with a high loft – making it lightweight and warm.  It is a relatively scarce fibre that is labour intensive comparative to sheeps wool processing, thus when you can get your hands on it you will also be paying for it.    Because of this, merino is a great alternative – and an easier fabric to find on these shores.  I’m planning on making a few sweaters (Apollonle 504, and Cupidon) this year using merino sweatshirting and boiled wool....I have some in my stash from at least ten years ago!!    But I am also planning to get a little cashmere into the store this winter....

Winter is all about layering for me and I love mixing textures where I can – it is a great way to break up the often drab winter palette.  One of my favourite winter outfits is a laundered linen maxi skirt, paired with a rayon shirt dress, merino knit tee, a cotton sateen blazer and a cashmere scarf.   I love that each layer can be seen giving depth and interest to the overall look.  The laundered linen looks better with each extra crease and when worn with a pair of tights it’s as warm as toast – linen really is a year round favourite for me.    Rayon has a fabulous drape and is light weight making it perfect for layering under/over warmer pieces – and it gives you the opportunity to wear something a little bit sophisticated, fancy or just plain sexy.....you know, for when you’re supping a nice Bordeaux fireside....  This season I’ll be making a long sleeve Melilot Shirt in a gorgeous modal (type of rayon) from the store.

Last, but not least is denim.  Jeans, need I say more? "

Haralds Fabric Warehouse

  • " NZ superfine merino knits for tops and dresses
  • Australian fine merino gaberdine suitings for skirts, dresses and jackets
  • German and Japanese Wind Block fleece for great outdoor jackets
  • Hydralite waterproof breathable nylon for parkas and over trousers. "

Thanks for coming - see you next week for my favourite picks for winter sewing patterns :)