with your host, Jacqui Blakemore
What is French terry fabric?
In this blog post, I wanted to share with you some of the characteristics of a fabric that I hadn't really used until a few years ago and that is French terry fabric.
I often get asked why there are so many types of fabric and how to tell the difference or when to use particular types so in this post I'll share some of the key features that distinguish French terry from other sweater fabrics and the types of projects it is ideal for.
French Terry vs. Terry Cloth
Before we dive into the details of French terry, let's clear up a common misconception: French terry is not your typical terry cloth. Terry cloth is the fabric most commonly used for towels and bathrobes. While they share some similarities, they're not the same.
French terry gets its name from the French verb "tirer," which means to pull. Originally, it was created by pulling silk through densely woven cloth. Unlike terry cloth, which has loops on both sides, French terry has loops only on one side, and they're not as pronounced. The other side of French terry is smooth, much like jersey fabric.
This quirky YouTube video shows how the fabric is knitted and in it, you can see the extra yarn that's pulled through to create the texture on the back of the fabric (but try to ignore the odd AI-generated voiceover!)
Key characteristics of French terry
Now that we've clarified the distinction, let's explore the key characteristics of French terry fabric:
1. Unique texture
One of the standout features of French terry is its texture. It has a lovely smooth face on one side and small, textured loops on the back. These loops are not as exaggerated as in terry cloth but this texture adds a distinctive look and feel to the fabric, making it a popular choice for various garments.
2. Stretch and comfort
French terry generally has some stretch which comes from its knitted construction. Most varieties have a four-way stretch, allowing you to stretch it both horizontally and vertically. This flexibility provides greater comfort in clothing making it great for loungewear or travel.
While it might not be as soft on the wrong side as some brushed or fleece-backed fabrics, it's still a very comfortable choice for various garments.
3. Absorbency and wicking ability - breathability
Its absorbent nature makes French terry suitable for activewear and travel wear. It efficiently wicks away moisture from your skin, thanks to the looped structure, allowing for quick evaporation.
The versatility of French terry
From lounging to luxury layers
French terry is a bit of a chameleon, seamlessly transitioning from one style to another and a lot more versatile than you might give it credit for.
1. Loungewear and casual wear
Traditionally, French terry has been a favourite for loungewear and casual wear. It's perfect for creating cosy sweatshirts, comfortable joggers, and laid-back hoodies.
2. Dresses and skirts
While not commonly associated with dresses and skirts, French terry has made its way into these categories in the ready-to-wear world. While you might not reach for a French terry dress on a scorching summer day, it's an excellent choice for transitioning from autumn to winter or winter to early spring.
Consider using a modal French terry for a dress with a lovely drape.
3. Lightweight jackets and cardigans
French terry's mid-weight nature makes it ideal for layering. It's comfortable to wear under other jackets or coats without adding too much bulk. Because of its construction, French terry is warm without being too thick or bulky.
You can confidently create lightweight cardigans or jackets that keep you warm without making you overheated.
4. Luxury loungewear
Here's a trend you might not have expected: French terry is making its mark in designer collections worn by celebrities. Yes, you read that right!
This article highlights Jennifer Lopez wearing the $1,148 tracksuit that it claims every celeb owns.
Luxury loungewear designers like Olivia Van Halle are selling tracksuits for over £1000 a piece, made from silk and cashmere blend fabrics.
The addition of luxury fibres like silk, cashmere and merino wool elevates the status of garments made from French terry.
You can find these more expensive fabrics in some of the ready-to-wear designer collections but there are fewer of them available to buy by the metre.
Working with French terry: tips and tricks
Sewing techniques and considerations
Now that we've explored French terry's characteristics and versatility, let's delve into the practical aspects of working with this fabric:
1. Needle selection
Choosing the right needle can make a difference when sewing French terry, although it is a bit less temperamental than some other knitted fabrics.
As it is a knitted construction, I'd recommend opting for a jersey or ballpoint needle. This is because those needles don't pierce the fibres, they tend to slide past them so this will reduce the risk of your fabric going into holes or unravelling.
Depending on the fabrics' thickness, a size 80/12 needle should work well for most French terry varieties. If it's a heavier version, consider a 90/14 needle.
See also the tips on hemming below.
2. Stitching and stretch
To prevent distortion, avoid pulling the fabric too much as you sew. While French terry is less susceptible to this than jersey, it still requires attention particularly when sewing seams that go across the fabric horizontally (in the direction of greatest stretch).
For added stability in areas that bear weight, consider using clear elastic or stay tape. Use a zigzag or stretch stitch for seams and hems to retain some stretch in your garment.
If you have an overlocker, it's a handy tool for French terry projects both for finishing the edges of the fabric and on some projects to do the majority of the construction of the seams too.
Hemming can be a bit tricky with French terry but again it's a bit easier to work with than jersey fabric as it tends to have a bit more body to it. While you can use a zigzag or lightning stretch stitch, keep in mind that these stitches might cause distortion.
If you have a walking foot, that can really help to minimise the hem stretching out. I also tend to use an overlocker or serger on the raw edge before I turn up the hem. This gives it a bit of body and can help minimise the distortion.
An alternative is using a twin needle for hems, which can provide a professional finish without compromising the fabric's integrity.
4. Grainline and thread
Remember that even though it's a knitted fabric, French terry has a grainline. Align your pattern pieces with the selvedge of the fabric, ensuring the greatest stretch goes around the body.
When it comes to thread, all-purpose polyester thread works well for sewing stretch or knit garments. While there is stretch thread available, it may not be necessary if you're using the right stitches and techniques.
5. Neckbands and cuffs
Consider the amount of stretch if your pattern has neckbands and cuffs, as French terry fabrics can vary in this aspect.
For higher-stretch requirements, if your French terry fabric doesn't have a lot of stretch (less than 25%), consider making the neckbands and cuffs from rib knit, which is readily available in lots of colours.
Rib knits' ribbed construction gives it a lot of stretch usually with really good recovery making it ideal for stretching around the neck while lying flat.
Making sustainable choices
Mindful fabric selection
If I've intrigued you enough to consider adding French terry to your fabric stash, then as with all fabric purchases an increasingly important consideration is sustainability.
French terry can be made from both natural and synthetic fibres or blends of the two.
Look for organic cotton versions with certifications like GOTS (Global Organic Textiles Standard) or OEKO TEX (environmentally friendly and socially responsible production) for textiles and for a more sustainable choice.
Additionally, French terry fabrics made from bamboo and Lyocell fibres are gaining popularity as these are considered more sustainable crops and production methods than cotton.
Choosing the right French terry
Variations and considerations
One of the challenges with French terry is that it comes in various types regarding fibres and weights. This means that not all fabrics labelled "French terry" are created equal.
If you find a French terry fabric that you adore, make sure to note its composition for future reference. Knowing the types of fibres used, like the percentage of cotton and elastane, can be invaluable when you want to replicate a successful project.
Price and durability
When it comes to the price range, French terry fabrics can vary widely depending on their fibre composition. You can find options starting from £10 a meter and going up to £30 a metre for organic choices.
French terry is generally durable, ensuring you'll get a good lifespan from your creations, especially if you take care of them when washing. Many sites also recommend not putting French terry fabrics into the tumble dryer particularly if they are made from bamboo or Lyocell
While there are reports of some synthetic fibre-based French terries experiencing more pilling or bobbling, the fabric's overall longevity remains impressive.
Starting your French terry journey
Are you ready to start using this versatile fabric in your sewing projects? Here are some steps to get started:
1. Download Your French Terry Cheat Sheet
To get you started, I've prepared a downloadable PDF cheat sheet for you.
It's a two-pager that includes an overview of French terry's features, suggested patterns, and useful tips. The second page provides space to attach fabric samples with details of their sources.
2. Order Fabric Samples
After downloading your cheat sheet, take the next step by finding and ordering at least one sample of French terry fabric. Attach it to your cheat sheet with all the necessary information. This way, you can assess whether you like the fabric and if it suits your future projects.
3. Share Your Thoughts and Questions
I'm eager to hear about your French terry adventures. Let me know if you plan to use this fabric or if you have any questions. Feel free to reach out via email or social media on Facebook or Instagram. Just search for @sewmuchmorefun to connect with me.
4. Bonus Action
If you haven't already done so, remember to grab your cheat sheet from the bamboo fabric episode. Future episodes will also provide cheat sheets and additional resources to expand your fabric knowledge and sewing skills.
Whilst I found French terry fabric relatively late in my sewing experiences, I am glad I tried it and it has definitely taken on a new level of versatility in recent years with new luxury blends taking it from its humble loungewear origins.
French terry fabric is a treasure trove of possibilities for dressmakers of all levels. Its comfort, versatility, and sustainability make it an excellent choice for a wide range of garments. So, unleash your creativity and embark on a French terry sewing journey that will add comfort and style to your wardrobe!
I will be doing more of these fabric introductions on upcoming podcasts on other fabrics. And they'll all come with cheat sheets to help you create your own library of cheat sheets and swatches. So I hope that you find that useful.
Each cheat sheet also has links to a few other resources that you might find helpful.
To listen to the podcast version of this topic click on your favourite podcast app below:
And if you would like more help with any of the aspects mentioned in this article or this podcast episode then I would love to hear from you so do please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for taking the time to read this article and I hope you find some useful tips that you can apply.
Sharing is caring - reviews
If you found this article helpful then please click the heart icon below to let me know and I'll create more content like this. And you can also use the icons in the footer if you want to share this with other sewing friends.
If you enjoy this podcast episode please be sure to share it and to leave a review in your favourite podcast app to help others find us.
Get in touch
I always love to hear about you trying out what you pick up from these articles and episodes so do let me know:
by email to email@example.com
by DM on Instagram @sewmuchmorefun.co.uk
on the Sew Much More Fun Facebook Group
Thank you so much for listening and for all your support. x