This content was originally written for Indiesew and has been adapted for this blog. It was originally published on February 18, 2016.
Chambray fabric is a hot commodity these days and the trend doesn’t appear to be leaving anytime soon. One look at this soft, versatile apparel fabric and it's clear why chambray is such a people pleaser. In this installment of Fabric Files we’ll discover why chambray is so highly regarded and how to sew with it.
The History of Chambray
While there isn’t much information on chambray's history, we do know that it was likely born in the early 19th century and may have origins in the French city of Cambrai. It’s believed that chambray was produced during the same period and by the same weavers who produced gingham fabric (source).
Chambray (pronounced sham-bray) is a plain weave fabric that features a colored yarn in the warp of the fabric and a white yarn in the weft as you can see in the photo below. The two different yarns create a muted color and a slight texture visible to the naked eye.
Chambray and lightweight denim are often confused for one another, but there is a difference. Lightweight denim is a twill weave fabric, meaning the warp thread will travel over two threads in the weft before going under one. Lightweight denim can have a similar hand to chambray, but upon closure inspection you’ll see that the weaves are quite different.
Chambray fabric is typically comprised of 100% cotton, though chambray blends do exist. Some chambray fabrics contain linen or tencel to create substrates with a varying hand or slub; others contain some polyester to achieve a desired drape.
Chambray fabric is lightweight, often weighing between 3 and 5 ounces per square yard. It's lighter in weight than a quilting cotton, but heavier than voile, with a hand and softness somewhere between those two substrates.
Chambray fabric is most recognizable as a light indigo blue color, but it’s also available in a multitude of colors and prints. Fabric manufacturers have started to expand their chambray offering due to the heavy demand from home sewists looking to emulate ready-to-wear fashion seen today.
How to Sew with Chambray
Chambray’s popularity with the home sewist is likely due to its stable nature. Similar to quilting cotton or voile, chambray requires little precaution before you start a project. Simply prewash and dry your chambray before sewing with it (more on that below).
Some chambray fabrics are so lightweight that they are semi-sheer, or see-through. Be sure to check your chambray’s opacity before sewing up your garment. Chambray skirts or dresses may require a lining.
How to Care for Chambray
Because chambray is typically 100% cotton, it will soften considerably with every wash cycle. But it’s important to maximize the fabric shrinkage before you start sewing with it. Always prewash chambray fabric on a hot or warm wash cycle and a hot tumble dry.
Once your chambray garment is sewn, wash it on a cold wash cycle and line dry. This will minimize fabric shrinkage, but will also extend the life of your garment. For more information on how to care for your handmade garments, check out this blog post.
Chambray fabric does wrinkle easily, and it should be pressed with a hot iron (on the cotton setting) and steam.
How to Buy Chambray Fabric
Due to its popularity, chambray fabric is easy to source these days. Robert Kaufman is one of the most well-known chambray manufacturers offering a multitude of a prints, dobbies, and color ways. You can’t buy from Robert many retailers carry their fabrics.
When buying chambray fabric be sure to check it’s opacity, fiber content, and hand. If you’re only interested in 100% cotton chambray fabrics, be sure that your chambray doesn’t contain a small amount of polyester.
Garments Best Suited for Chambray
Chambray fabric is perhaps one of the most versatile woven substrates because it’s ideal for many different garments. Perhaps the most popular use for chambray fabric is the button up shirt. But chambray fabric is also suitable for skirts, dresses, and blouses.