From diaper fabric to heavy-duty nylon to ironing board covering, get acquainted with these useful fabrics.
Tucked away in an obscure corner of many fabric stores are the utility fabrics. They may be near the decorating fabrics, or hidden behind the pillow stuffing and upholstery foam. Something about the area seems to say, “Great grandmothers only—the rest won’t have a clue!” Indeed, a couple of generations ago, many ladies made their own ironing board covers, hot pads, and clothespin bags. Much of that know-how has been lost.
Yet, many today are seeing a need to stretch family budgets. Many of these do-it-yourselfers could benefit from knowing how and when to use some of these little-understood fabrics. So, here are descriptions and some tips for using some common utility fabrics.
Utility is in the Eye of the Beholder
First, there is no perfectly agreed-upon definition of utility fabrics. Some retailers include upholstery fabrics; others have an upholstery or “home dec” department and utility fabrics are elsewhere. “Utility” always means special purpose—not for apparel or quilting.
Heavy Natural Fiber Fabrics
Many retailers place heavy natural fiber fabrics, such as cotton duck, burlap, and possibly heavy denim in the utility section. Cotton duck is a very heavy fabric—heavier than denim used for common apparel. Cotton duck is most often used for tote bags, duffle bags, or cushions for furniture. To some extent, its place as the fabric of choice for camping gear has been replaced by nylon, but it is still a very sturdy fabric.
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Burlap is a very rough fabric, traditionally used for grain bags. It is sometimes used to cover cork boards, or in decorating when a rustic look is desired.
Cloth Diaper Fabric
Many retailers are stocking diaper fabric. Surprisingly enough, diapers have come a long way. It is still quite possible to use the old fashioned simple folded squares, but there are extra nice patterns available from Kwik Sew, as well as online sources of free patterns and sewing instructions.
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Crinoline and Buckram
Crinoline was originally made from horsehair and either linen or cotton. In the 19th century, it was used for ladies petticoats and hoop skirts. It is still stiff and scratchy! There are times when an industrious do-it-yourselfer needs something stiff. Those who make bags, travel cases and other projects might find a use for crinoline.
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Buckram is similar, but a little stiffer. Both are very lightweight. Buckram is generally specified in hat patterns, especially for bills, and is used in pleated draperies.
Neither should be machine-washed.
For those who might wish to make ironing board covers, oven mitts, or potholders, these heat-reflecting aluminized fabrics are very useful. The shiny metallic coating is designed to reflect heat.
Nylon Outdoor Fabrics
Water and wind-resistant nylon fabrics are indispensable for outdoor gear. Lighter weight nylon fabrics, such as ripstop and nylon taffeta can work well for windbreakers and jackets as well as stuff bags and other protective gear. Heavier nylons such as pack cloth can be used for backpacks or bicycle bags. Some nylons are coated to be completely waterproof. Read the labels carefully.
Heavy jackets and coats might require a layer of insulation between the outer fabric and lining. Needle punch insulation or similar fabric might be located in the utility section.
Many embroiderers or cross-stitchers purchase kits for their projects. For those who might wish to design their own, various types of fabric are available for cross-stitch, needlepoint, and embroidery. These are often grouped with the utility fabrics. These can be made from cotton, linen, or polyester. Read labels and note care instructions.
For those who wish to make children’s sleepers, pajama pants with built-in feet, or house shoes or slippers, non-skid fabrics are a necessity. These are most often located in the utility section. These fabrics can be machine washed if sewn into a garment, but there are uses beyond pajamas and house shoes. Non-skid fabrics are sometimes applied to the back of area rugs or doormats, and crafters find other uses as well. Anytime one wishes to prevent an object from sliding on a slick surface, non-slip fabric might just do the trick.
Other Specialty Fabrics and So Many Projects!
There are many other specialty fabrics, so a perusal through the back corners of a fabric shop might just turn up something interesting. Also, the more specialized the use, the narrower the potential customer base will be for a given fabric. Thus, some really terrific specialty fabrics are only available by mail order. The right specialty fabric can make the difference so that a project turns out just right. Some projects are simply impossible to make at home without certain specialty fabrics. So, it’s worth the time to investigate the utility fabrics section in any fabric shop.