This content was originally written for Indiesew and has been adapted for this blog. It was originally published on June 4, 2015.
Writing these fabric files posts has been a crash course in fabric 101. Before starting Indiesew, admittedly I knew only if a fabric was a knit or a woven. And back then I referred to all knit fabrics as jersey. I had no idea what words like slub, hand, or weft meant. I didn’t know a thing about how fiber breakdown of a certain fabric would affect how comfortable or durable a garment would be.
Thank goodness for friends who own fabric stores and mothers who have sewn for 40 years.
This month’s installment of Fabric Files is focusing on a fabric type that, until a few weeks ago, was still rather mysterious to me. This fabric called crepe. There’s not much written about crepe fabric, but I’ll do my best here to cover the types of crepe you’ll see in fabric stores.
Crepe (often spelled crêpe) is a woven fabric that varies in weight and opacity. Crepe has a flowy drape that works especially well for garment sewing. Crepe fabric often features a sort of crinkled or granular surface, that’s a bit rough to the touch. This is due to the type of yarn that crepe fabric is woven with. Crepe yarn is twisted tightly, resulting in a rough texture to the finished fabric (source). Sometimes the crinkled texture is quite pronounced and visible to the naked eye at a distance. For example, the two georgette fabrics pictured below are noticeably rough or crinkly.
But not all crepe fabric is rough to the touch. Flat crepe fabric, usually woven from polyester fiber, is soft and smooth to the touch. In fact, this Cornflower Blue Dotted Crepe feels smooth and uniform along its entire surface. See it pictured below with a similar navy blue polka dot crepe.
Crepe fabric can be woven from fibers like silk, wool, and polyester. Popular crepe fabrics include crepe de chine and georgette.
How to Sew With Crepe
In my experience, crepe is a relatively stable fabric. Georgettes and poly crepes are especially stable and easy to sew with.
That being said, the more lightweight the fabric, the more “shape-shifting” you’re bound to see. Silk crepe de chine or other lightweight crepes may “grow” or change shape after you’ve cut them. In this case, you may want to cut your fabric with a piece of tissue paper underneath the bottom layer of fabric.
There are just a few extra precautions I take before I start sewing. Near the selvage on crepe fabric, I place a pin through the fabric to ensure it won’t snag the fabric. Some crepe fabric will allow a pin to slide through easily. Other crepe fabrics may snag. Consider buying fine sewing pins for delicate fabric as these will slide easier through the fabric without snagging the individual threads.
I cut my crepe fabric with my sharpest dressmakers shears, as this fabric can tend to snag. I also use a brand new universal sewing needle before sewing with this fabric.
When I’m ready to start sewing any lightweight, drapey fabric I install my walking foot. I find that my sewing machine is less likely to suck the fabric into the bobbin case when using this special foot.
Then I test a few stitches on a scrap piece of fabric. Your stitch should look like this:
Because crepe fabric frays, be sure to finish the edges of your garment with a serger or a zig-zag stitch.
How to Care for Crepe
The proper way to care for crepe depends on the fiber breakdown of your fabric. Silk or wool crepes should be handled carefully as the fibers are delicate. I recommend hand washing or dry-cleaning these types of crepe only.
Polyester crepe, on the other hand, is as easy to care for as a cotton fabric. You can wash a poly crepe on a warm or cold cycle. And tumble dry low or line dry. Press your your crepe fabric using low heat and a little steam. You’ll find that creases press out easily.
How to Buy Crepe
Because crepe fabric comes in so many varying textures and fibers, it can be hard to know what you’re buying. To be honest, I rarely come across a crepe fabric that I don’t love. But there are a few characteristics that may make your crepe garments wear and wash differently.
If you find a 100% polyester crepe fabric that’s completely opaque, keep in mind that it won’t be as breathable as a silk or wool crepe.
For those that prefer the breathability of natural fabrics, look for crepe fabric that is 100% silk or wool. Crepe de chine is a silk crepe that wears beautifully. Remember that silk or wool crepe fabric can only be hand washed or dry cleaned.
Garments Best Suited for Crepe
In my opinion, crepe fabric is well suited for any garment that requires a flowing, drapey fabric. This means that blouses, skirts, and dresses all look great sewn with crepe fabric.
If you've never sewn with crepe fabric, I recommend you give a georgette or poly crepe a shot. These varieties of crepe are easier to work with you you’ll find that the drape is ideal for garments.
Have you sewn one of our patterns in a crepe fabric? We want to see it! Tag us on Instagram!