In today's Fabric Files post, I'm talking about my favorite woven apparel fabric. My rayon challis addiction started back when I did most of my shopping at Target. In my early 20's flowy, rayon challis sundresses were my jam and my love for this lightweight fabric has only strengthened. It's such a great fabric to wear.
If you've never heard of rayon challis, or haven't sewn with it yet, pay close attention. Rayon challis is an apparel fabric that even the adventurous beginner can sew with! There are a few considerations that every sewist should take into account, but overall I expect you'll fall in love with rayon challis after just a few projects.
Rayon Challis Characteristics
Rayon Challis (pronounced sha-lee) is a lightweight, semi synthetic woven fabric. Often this apparel fabric is referred to simply as rayon. Rayon is a man-made fiber but is comprised of natural fibers. Thus, rayon challis is the perfect fabric for warm weather clothing. Rayon challis is 100% rayon.
Rayon Challis is soft to the touch and very drapey. It’s a bit softer than both voile and lawn, but with even more drape and pliability. Thus, it can be a slightly harder fabric to sew with.
If, like me, you have ever been a Target sundress aficionado, you likely have some rayon challis hanging in your closet. The fabric is often seen sewn up into sundresses and skirts produced by big box stores. Wrinkles fall out of rayon challis after just a few minutes of wear, so it’s ideal for travel clothing.
Since I started sewing, I have had a bad habit of buying any rayon I see in fabric stores. Here are a few of my favorites in my current stash:
I found a two yard cut of this Joel Dewberry rayon in the remnant bin at Fancy Tiger Crafts. I’m not a floral or pink lover, but it’s rayon! The print has grown on me and the fabric is super high quality, so I’m considering this purchase a win all around.
I found this solid salmon colored rayon at Colorado Fabrics. I used it to underline my silk chiffon Cordyline Top and since it has worked its way into several other projects. This rayon is mid-quality and is semi sheer. It requires a lining for most sewing projects.
I bought this black and white graphic rayon on clearance at a big box sewing store. It’s mid quality and opaque so no lining is necessary.
How to Sew with Rayon Challis
Because rayon challis is so lightweight, soft and drapey it tends to be a bit more difficult to sew with than a cotton voile or lawn. But it’s easier to sew with than slippery fabrics like silk chiffon. Rayon challis is a great fabric for the advanced beginner, intermediate, or advanced sewist.
Rayon challis (depending on the quality) can tend to “grow” during and after cutting. What does this mean? Sometimes rayon challis can distort after you pull the fabric in one direction. Usually after a good steam press, the fabric will snap back to its original shape, but not always. Some ways to avoid this and other tips for sewing rayon are listed below.
- Avoid fabric shifting. Be extra mindful to layout and cut your fabric on the grain. After cutting your pattern pieces, avoid carrying them by one side or corner. When I carry my pattern pieces to my sewing machine or iron, I roll them up and carry them in the palm of my hand. I’ve also had great luck cutting my rayon challis with a layer of tissue paper underneath the fabric. The tension of the tissue paper in the scissors will prevent the fabric on top from shifting around as you cut your pattern pieces.
- Decide if you need a lining. You may come across a rayon challis that is semi-sheer. Consider lining your garment before you start your project. Make sure to test the transparency of the fabric in direct sunlight.
- Use your sharpest fabric shears. I find that Gingher Knife Edge Shears glide right through the fabric without any snags. When I’ve used crappy fabric scissors, snags and fabric shifting were more likely to happen.
- Sew with a new universal needle and all-purpose thread. Rayon challis is delicate, but not so much that a tiny needle is needed. Anna Maria Horner recommends using a brand new needle to prevent any possible fabric snags.
- Don’t stretch the fabric as you sew. Pay extra attention to how much tension you're applying to your fabric as you feed it through your machine. Because rayon can distort with extra tugging, don’t pull it through or pull back on the fabric as you sew.
- Let your item hang before you hem it. If you’ve finished your rayon challis project and found that you have a wonky hem, don’t stress. This is common. Let the item hang on a dress form or hanger for at least 24 hours and even up the hem before you finish that last satisfying step.
How to Buy Rayon Challis
Until the past few years, rayon challis was a tough fabric to source. Many small, independent fabric stores don’t carry it and few online retailers do as well. You’ll find that the rayon challis available to the consumer market is almost always a print. Rarely do you come across solid colored rayon challis.
But recently some fabric manufacturers have released designer lines printed on this soft, flowy fabric. Designer rayon challis can be quite expensive, averaging around $15 per yard. But it's possible to find non-designer rayon challis fabric for as low as $5 per yard, so be sure to shop around.
How to Care for Rayon Challis
Most, but not all, rayon challis fabric shrinks in a warm or hot wash cycle. And often it shrinks a lot. Always, without question, prewash your rayon fabric before you sew. I recommend pre-washing on a warm wash cycle and medium tumble dry cycle, twice if you’re ambitious. After your garment is sewn, continue to wash it on a cold cycle and hang dry it.
Rayon challis can withstand a medium hot iron with steam. I usually place my iron on the wool setting and use steam only when there’s a tough crease that the heat can’t take care of. In general, rayon challis irons easily and with little effort.
Garments Best Suited for Rayon Challis
Rayon challis is the perfect fabric for flowy, lightweight garments. I especially love sewing tank tops, dresses, skirts and lounge pants in this soft fabric. If rayon were more readily available, I’d guess that at least half my wardrobe would be sewn with it.
The Highlands Wrap Dress you see below was sewn in rayon challis fabric.