What is fabric weight and does it really matter?

October 08 2021 – Caireen Brown

What is fabric weight and does it really matter?

What is fabric weight and does it really matter?

Hey there!

Long time no blog eh? My apologies for the long time since the last one. Like a lot of you I kind of kept my head down and hid from the world during the pandemic but now that restrictions have eased and the kids are back to school (hooray!) it's time to get back to the task in hand, sewing.

I don't know about you but my sewing machine has sat gathering dust for the last year or so but I'm itching to get back to it now.

One of many questions I get asked in the shop and in the Facebook group on a regular basis is "what weight is that fabric?" and while I'm always happy to give that information I want to explain why fabric weight isn't the be all and end all of fabric choice.

I'm sure you all know that different fabric types are suitable for different products and I'll go into that in more depth in a future blog, however today I want to specifically talk about jersey as this is the fabric that seems to be the centre of the whole 'weight debate'.

When I started sewing many decades ago 🙈 stretch fabrics weren't readily available to most home sewers and so when jersey flooded the market a few years ago the sewing community opened up a whole new world of possibilities. I'll admit I adore jersey as a fabric to sew clothing with. No other fabric type can help you produce a garment from start to finish in one sitting. Often it only requires a couple of seams and a hem and Bob's your uncle, new outfit ready to go! It's revolutionised the sewing community which, in todays world of fast fashion, is a welcome relief.

(https://www.mibsfabrics.co.uk/collections/jersey-cotton-elastane-patterned) 

With the advent of custom jersey facebook groups, firstly in America, then filtering over to the UK, we've seen a huge selection of brightly patterned designs appear and I love the amount of choice that is available today.

This is where I first noticed the interest in fabric weight. A lot of discussion was happening on social media sewing groups around the quality of different sellers products and the weight seemed to be the deciding factor for a lot of people, with the assumption being that heavier is always better.

Well, I'm going to go out on a limb here (and I'll likely be in the minority here) and say that, fabric weight isn't all its cracked up to be. There, I said it, don't hate me!

Now, to clarify, I'm not saying that heavy jersey is a bad thing, not by any means. Simply that weight shouldn't be your only consideration.

For example, if I'm sewing leggings for myself I want ideally 240gsm (grams per square metre) of cotton/elastane jersey. This will generally be thick enough so that my butt isn't on show to the world every time I bend over, and let's face it, nobody wants that.

For baby joggers and leggings, especially for crawlers I'd likely use the same as the thickness will help them last a little bit longer.

However, if I'm sewing a top for myself or a tee for my kids I'll always use a lighter weight cotton/elastane jersey, approx 180-200gsm. Why? Well, heavy jersey doesn't drape well and I want to have a top that drapes and flows nicely over the body.

This still doesn't tell the whole story though. While one 240gsm cotton jersey will likely have a similar thickness to another 240gsm cotton jersey it's completely incomparable with a different jersey type and this is where the confusion often arises.

Fabric gsm, as it sounds, is the weight of a piece of fabric 1 metre sq but a heavier fabric is not necessarily a thicker one.

Clear as mud right?

Let me explain - there are many different factors at play here. The fibres used can vary in weight, the weave that is used, whether its knit tightly or more loosely, the thickness of the fibre to begin with, the finish of the fabric and so on.

I know, I know, I'm making it worse and I promise I'm not trying to make it more complicated than it needs to be.

I'll give you a couple of examples from my own stock.

My bamboo jersey is 230gsm

My standard cotton/elastane jersey is 220gsm

Judging solely on weight you would assume the bamboo is thicker but quite the opposite is true. Bamboo jersey is a fine slinky jersey which makes incredible tops and dresses that flow gently over the body. It's stunning, it really is. 

The standard jersey has more structure and feels and looks thicker. The weave and the fibres have a part to play in this. 

Then there's the athletic jersey which is 190gsm and you might imagine that is a very thin fabric but because it is made of nylon and spandex its not thin at all and makes exceptional workout clothes. While I wouldn't make leggings in a 190gsm cotton jersey I absolutely would, and have, in the athletic jersey.

So as you can see, there's more to fabric weight than just the numbers and it can seem like a minefield.

The good news is, all us fabric geeks, aka fabric retailers are happy to advise and send out samples to help you make your decision and if you're lucky enough to live close by then you can always arrange to come into the shop and stroke all the pretty pretty fabric.

I hope I've gone some way to making fabric weight a bit clearer. Please do let me know what you think and what you'd like to see next on my blog.

Much love

Caireen

Image credits go to <a href='https://www.freepik.com/photos/background'>Background photo created by freepik - www.freepik.com</a>

<a href='https://pngpart.com'>https://pngpart.com</a>

Tagged: gsm, Jersey, Sewing, social, weight

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