Saturday, April 28, 2012

All About Fabrics Series: Rayon

Rayon was once marketed as the affordable silk. Today's rayon comes in a variety of weights, both in 100-percent rayon and in a variety of knit and woven blends. Lightweight rayon is particularly suitable for flowing dresses, skirts and blouses, while medium-weight rayon works well for non-structured pants and jackets.

  • It is the first man-made fiber, created in France in the 1880s.
  • The first commercial production of rayon fiber in the United States was in 1910 by the American Viscose Company.
  • By using two different chemicals and manufacturing techniques, two basic types of rayon were developed. They were viscose rayon and cupramonium rayon.
  • Today, only viscose rayon is being produced in the U.S.
  • It was originally meant to be a cheap alternative to silk.
  • It is heavily processed and is therefore considered a manufactured material
  • It drapes well and takes dye well in the manufacturing process. (because of the chemicals used, it is unpredictable with at-home dyes)
  • It tends to age poorly.(it pills with wear and can become dis-coloured with use)
  • It comes in both woven and knit forms
  • Wrinkles easily
  • It does not acquire static build-up
  • Resistant to moths
  • It is flammable.
  • Is not affected by household bleach
  • Stretches when wet and shrinks when washed.
  • If you pre-wash rayon fabric prior to construction of the garment, you have a washable garment.
  • Almost all rayon will shrink, typically from 3 to 10 percent.

Sewing Tips:
  1. To make clean, even lines when cutting, ensure your scissors are sharp. Because rayon can be slippery, dull scissors will make rayon hard to work with. (Or you may want to cut with pinking shears because this fabric can really ravel).
  2. Use weights to help with the slippery fabric when cutting.
  3. To avoid creating snags in your rayon fabric, don’t use pins that are dull.
  4. You can use a universal sewing machine needle when sewing with rayon, but an extra sharp needle may be preferable
  5. A good-quality polyester thread works with rayon and all rayon blends. It  is similar to rayon and so it works better with it than cotton thread does.
  6. This fabric ravels so much you may need to finish the edges before sewing a seam
  7. Use marking pens, chalk, soap slivers or tracing paper.
  8. Use fusible or sew-in. Test the effect you want on fabric scraps. Or, if on your test piece you do not like the difference in drape between the interfaced part and the non-interfaced part, use a second piece of rayon fabric instead. Baste the two pieces of the garment together and treat it as one.(This works particularly well with buttonhole plackets.)

Pattern Suggestions:
Tees, tanks, polo shirts, cardigan, unstructured jacket, dresses, loose-fitting pants, capes, ponchos, tunics, and skirts.

Types of Rayon

  1. "Regular rayon" - is viscose rayon. This fabric has all the characteristics listed above: it takes dye well, it is smooth and drapes well but it is fragile when wet and shrinks with laundering.
  2. High Wet Modulus rayon has been modified to be stronger when wet. The chemical process has changed the fabric for better performance. This rayon fabric can be machine washed and tumble dried and perform much like cotton in similar end uses. It is sometimes mercerized, like cotton, for increased strength and luster.
  3. High Tenacity Rayon is a still stronger rayon used for automotive parts.
  4. Cupramonium Rayon is another type with properties similar to those of viscose rayon. Production is not as environmentally friendly. This fabric tends to be lightweight and can be used for summer dresses and blouses.

A Note on Rayon Thread:
 Another factor to take into consideration is that rayon thread will age and become brittle. To combat this you can either only buy thread for a current project (rather than stock up), and if you are storing rayon thread, do so in the freezer. Just make sure you completely defrost it before sewing with it.It is very popular as a machine embroidery thread and hand embroidery thread. It remains an affordable alternative to silk thread. 

A Note on Rayon Fabric:
I've sewn with rayon and I own some store-bought clothes in rayon, but generally I avoid it. I'm not the best at ironing and I hate that it wrinkles so much. If I want a plant fiber, I'll choose cotton or linen before rayon. If I want sheen and good drape, I'll buy silk. But your priorities and choices may not match mine. I find that when I do buy it, it tends to be one of the components of a blend. 

Environmental Considerations:
Viscose rayon can require dry cleaning, and tends to be unstable if wet. 
Cupramonium rayons (e.g. Bemberg) have a high environmental cost. 
Tencel/lyocell, because if its closed loop manufacturing process, is less of an issue. 
Rayons tend to be dense (increasing the weight of the clothes compared to, say, cotton), tends not to be abrasion resistant nor resilient.


  1. I did a school project on rain forests last year and rayon was targeted as one of the things that is destroying the rainforests.

    1. I added the environmental impact note exactly because I came across some of te same concerns about rayon. It isn't my favourite fabric but there is no getting away from it. I looked at a lot of blends at the local fabric store and many of them contain rayon.

  2. I had a beautiful royal blue blouse that I loved and it looked great on me too. I couldn't get the damn thing ironed. I would get it drycleaned just for the pressing. I eventually gave up. I know rayon has come a long way but I don't want to throw good money down the drain again!

  3. Excellent list Nothy. We all need to know more about the fabrics we use!

  4. Rayon has become better and better over the years. Still it behaves unpredictably. Great blog Nothy.



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