Vwal, Voil, or Voiley?
The word voile originates from the French word for “veil” (source). While this seems to be up for debate, most fabric experts pronounce voile as vwal (rhymes with mall). You may have heard voile pronounced voil (rhymes with toil), and there's no firm answer on which is correct. If you walk into a fabric store and use the first or second pronunciation, you're bound to be understood. One thing we know for sure? It is not pronounced voiley.
Voile Fabric Characteristics
Voile is a lightweight, semi-sheer, woven fabric that is usually 100% cotton. Some voile produced today is a blend of cotton and polyester. Voile tends to have a higher thread count and a tighter weave than most cotton fabrics, making it soft and silky to the touch. Voile has a somewhat slippery texture and is known for its light drape. Its lightweight, breathable nature makes it great for summer tops and dresses.
Voile is often mistaken for cotton lawn or muslin. But voile is less crisp than lawn or muslin, and often more sheer, or see-through. The photo below is a solid green voile with a very loose weave and is so sheer it would need to be lined to be wearable. At $5.75 per yard I should have know that this fabric would be low-quality as its loose weave shows to the naked eye.
This brown, spotted voile was purchased on sale for about $4 per yard. While this voile is silkier than the green voile above, it's still very sheer. Higher quality than the green voile, this fabric would sew up into a lovely lined, summer tank top
The voile pictured below has outstanding quality, feeling soft and silky to the touch. Art Gallery voiles are less sheer than most voiles sold today. Also, they wash well without little degradation of the fibers over time.
Here's another Art Gallery voile, this time from the Spirodraft collection. I can't speak highly enough of these fabrics!
How to Sew with Voile
Those sewists accustomed to sewing with quilting cottons might find the foray into sewing with voile an easy one. Because voile doesn’t stretch, it’s great for beginner sewists. And because the fabric is fairly stable, creases iron out well with a steam iron.
Though not as slippery as silk, voile does tend to be a bit more slippery than quilting cottons. We recommend pinning often when sewing with voile.
Sewing with voile doesn't require too much deviation from quilting cottons. I have found using a universal needle and all-purpose thread works just fine for regular seams and topstitching. Anna Maria Horner suggests using a smaller needle when sewing with voile, due to the tighter weave. We don't recommend sewing voile with a needle larger than a universal sewing needle.
How to Buy Voile
Voile is available in a wide range of prints and colors. Most designers offer this fabric in coordinating prints that transform into beautiful garments. We’ve had difficulty finding high-quality, solid-colored voile at most independent fabric retailers.
Voile tends to cost a bit more than traditional quilting cottons, often ranging from $12 to $15 per yard for designer varieties. We’re of the opinion that high-quality designer voile deserves the steep price tag. Sewing with this silky, soft fabric will convert you into a lifetime voile lover, guaranteed.
Like all fabrics, we recommend getting your hands on some voile before you go buying several yards online, sight unseen. Take a trip to your local independent fabric store and touch the voiles they have in stock.
How to Care for Voile
Because most voiles are 100% cotton, they can be cared for in the same way that you would your quilting cottons. We recommend pre washing your voile on a warm cycle and drying on a medium setting before you sew your garment. While these fabrics are prone to some shrinkage, it tends to be less than a traditional quilting cotton.
Garments Best Suited for Voile
Because of its lightweight nature, we recommend sewing summer tops and dresses in this fine fabric. The Coram Top and Dress is an ideal design to sew in a voile fabric.
In short, voile is a great fabric for the beginner or intermediate sewist ready to deviate from quilting cottons. Its stable nature and breathability make it a great fabric for woven garments. What's even better, most textile designers are offering their designs in voile and quilting cottons, so you can buy a bit of both and find out which one you prefer.
Happy voile sewing!