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What Is Plain Weave Fabric?
Plain weave, also known as a calico weave, tabby weave, or basic weave, is a woven fabric in which the threads all run in a simple perpendicular weaving pattern. When you look closely at the weave structure, plain woven fabric will look like a checkerboard pattern of straight interlacing threads going under and over each other in right angles, similar to a woven basket. Examples of plain weave fabric include flannel, chiffon, organdy, and seersucker. Plain weave fabric is a very sturdy, reliable fabric for everything from clothing to upholstery. Slight modifications of plain weave fabric include basket weave (monk’s cloth) and rib weave.
What Are the 3 Basic Types of Weaving Structures for Woven Fabric?
Every type of woven fabric is made using one of the following three textile weaves:
- Plain weave: The threads in this type of woven fabric all run in a simple perpendicular weaving pattern that resembles a simple checkerboard pattern. Chiffon and organza are popular types of plain weave fabrics.
- Twill weave: Also known as twill fabric, the threads in a twill weave run in a ribbed diagonal pattern. When weaving twill, the weft thread (the horizontal thread) is woven over one or more warp threads (the vertical thread held taught on a loom) and then under one or more warp threads. Corduroy, chevron, gabardine, and zigzag weaving like herringbone are popular examples of twill weave fabric.
- Satin weave: Satin weave features four or more weft threads going over one warp thread, or the opposite: four or more warp threads going over a weft thread. This type of woven fabric has four or more weft yarns floating over a warp yarn, or vice versa. Brocade and duchess satin are examples of this weave type.
14 Common Types of Plain Weave Fabric
Common types of plain weave fabric include:
- Flannel: This loosely woven fabric can be made using plain or twill weaves. Flannel is often brushed on one or both sides (called “napping”) to raise fine fibers and make it feel even softer.
- Chiffon: Chiffon is a plain weave fabric that is thin, airy, and sheer. The sheer fabric can be woven from various textile types, both synthetic and natural, like silk, nylon, rayon, or polyester. Learn more about chiffon in our comprehensive guide here.
- Organdy: Organdy is a fine, sheer plain weave fabric that is woven from cotton. The crisp, lightweight material is often used to line bridal gown, evening attire, curtains, and aprons.
- Muslin: Muslin is a loosely-woven cotton fabric. It’s made using the plain weave technique, which means that a single weft thread alternates over and under a single warp thread. Muslin is known as the material used in fashion prototypes to test patterns before cutting and stitching the final product. Learn more about muslin in our guide here.
- Buckram: Buckram is a plain-weave fabric that can be loosely woven or tightly woven. The stiff, coarse material is most commonly used inside of baseball caps.
- Cheesecloth: Cheesecloth fabric is a plain-weave fabric that chefs use as a tool in the making of cheese. The fabric’s loose weave allows liquid to strain easily through it.
- Poplin: Poplin fabric is a plain weave fabric with very fine warp yarns and coarser weft yarns. This fabric is also very lightweight, with a light, airy drape.
- Chambray: Chambray is a plain-weave fabric in which the warp threads are usually dyed indigo while the weft is left undyed, giving it a blue appearance similar to denim.
- Velvet: Velvet is made on a special loom known as a double cloth, which simultaneously produces two velvet pieces. This luxurious fabric can be woven in any weave structure (plain, satin, or twill) with an extra set of warp threads that are sheared to create a soft feel. Find our guide to velvet here.
- Taffeta: Taffeta is made using the plain-weave technique, which has a single weft thread going over and under a single warp thread, creating a checkerboard pattern. In making taffeta, threads are twisted as they are woven, which creates the resulting fabric’s stiffness and structure.
- Organza: Organza is a lightweight, sheer, plain-woven fabric that was originally made from silk. The material can also be made from synthetic fibers, primarily polyester and nylon. Find our comprehensive guide to organza here.
- Crêpe: This fabric can be woven from any weave structure (plain, satin, or twill). Crêpe has a rough, irregular texture due to specially twisted or crimped yarns. The materials used to make crêpe and the method used to achieve the texture define the different types of crêpe. Find out more about crêpe fabric here.
- Georgette: Georgette is typically a plain weave fabric woven using tightly twisted s-twist and z-twist yarns, which are yarns twisted in opposite directions. These twists create slight puckers on the fabric’s surface, which gives Georgette its signature crinkled finish.
- Cambric: Cambric is a finely woven plain-weave fabric rolled and flattened at high temperatures to create a smooth finish.
What Are the Characteristics of Plain Weave Fabrics?
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In general, plain weave fabric is:
- Durable. Plain woven fabric is very durable, maintaining its shape after many washes and resisting pilling.
- Structured. Plain weave fabric usually has a lot of structure, retaining its shape rather than a soft drape around things. It’s also not very stretchy and will remain rigid if you tug on it.
- Creases easily. Due to its structure, plain weave fabric will hold wrinkles and creases easily, so it needs frequent ironing to look smooth and pristine.
- Easy to sew. Since plain woven fabric usually isn’t very stretchy, it’s easy to sew without getting gathers or puckers.
- Often coarse. Plain weave fabric is often made with strands that aren’t as soft as knits, resulting in a slight coarse fabric.
- Identical on both sides. With knit fabrics or other types of weaves, one side is the “right” side, which refers to the pattern or texture that is designed to be seen. The other side is the “wrong” side, which refers to the backside that was designed to be hidden. However, since plain weave fabric is a simple criss-cross pattern, both sides look identical and result in no “wrong” side (unless the fabric is printed on one side).
- More expensive than knit. Weaving fabric together is usually a more time-intensive process than knitting. As a result, all woven fabrics tend to be more expensive to buy than knit fabrics, whether as fabric or pre-made into clothing.
How Is Plain Weave Fabric Made?
Manufacturers make plain weave fabric using the weaving process on a loom, whether an industrial loom or a personal handloom. To make plain weave fabric:
- Warp yarns are stretched on a loom. The warp yarns are the vertical threads in the loom, running from the top of the loom to the bottom (where, if it’s a handloom, the weaver sits).
- Weft yarns are woven through the warp. The weft yarns (also called filling yarns) are the horizontal threads, which are brought over and under through the taut warp yarns and bunched at the bottom of the machine. With each weft yarn that is woven into the warp, the fabric becomes just a little taller.
5 Uses for Plain Weave Fabric
Plain weave fabric is most often used for items that need a more structured or heavy look, including:
- Shirting: While many shirts are made out of drapey or stretchy knit fabric, most shirts you see that are a little more structured (like button-ups or business shirts) are made of plain weave fabric them a bit more shape and definition.
- Suits: Thin suits are commonly made from plain weave fabric because the garment needs to be more structured and doesn’t have to be soft against the skin.
- Blazers: Similar to suits, thin blazers are often made of plain weave fabric, since they need more structure than knit and don’t need to be soft like T-shirts or other pieces of clothing right against the skin.
- Coats: While many nice coats are made with twill weave fabric (like tweed), smooth coats like trenches are made of plain weave fabric.
- Upholstery: Many pieces of furniture, including chairs and couches, are upholstered in plain weave fabric, since it’s durable and structured, as well as cheaper than more heavy-duty fabrics like Jacquard.
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