Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Rayon Challis: Look & Feel


Here we go!  I want to explain a little about the actual fiber make up of this beautiful fabric and its history before I go on to gush about its lovely features, look and feel.  While today's post will answer only some of the really good questions that are in yesterday's comments, as the series continues this week I promise that all your questions will get answered.  I'm just trying to keep the posts on topic and organized for easy reference later!  Check.


As one smart commenter already responded yesterday, Rayon is both natural and man-made, in other words it is what is considered to be semi-synthetic.  It's made from a naturally occurring regenerated cellulose fiber often taken from wood pulp or lignin. As with any creation that mankind tinkers with, the methods by which it has been produced have changed very much since the very first attempt in the mid 1800's when the original intent was to imitate silk.  One of those methods resulted in the material be called Viscose Rayon because of its process.  While Viscose is considered Rayon, it's characteristics and content require a dry-clean only care whereas the particular Rayon that we are printing on (which is a HWM Rayon (high-wet-modulus, meaning it performs better while wet)) can actually be washed and dried.  (I'll discuss care more specifically tomorrow.)  This high-tenacity method has only been used since the 1940's and has lessened environmental impacts and also lent the fiber to being capable of mercerization (think jersey knit) where it is more often called "Modal".

Rayon overall has the ability to imitate so many materials such as cotton, linen, silk and wool.  We use the term Challis with Rayon because it refers to the soft characteristic of the material, and it's barely brushed surface texture.  Rayon by nature has a sheen to it, but this particular weave, is not highly glossy, but has an incredibly soft, touchable, non-slick surface.


Let's talk about the weight and therefore drape of these luscious fabrics.  Ever since my clothing line days I have always thought of Rayon Challis as the go-to material for making dresses, skirts and blouses.  If we were to compare the fluidity of Rayon to my Voiles, since most of us have become familiar with those, Rayon out-wiggles the Voile by far.  Rayon moves like water where Voile moves like air.  Rayon is swishier where Voile is floatier.  Most of that has to do with the fact that the Rayon is a heavier fabric, so the weight forces a drop and drape to happen.  For this reason, Rayon is what I consider a perfect "bottom-weight" material- such as perfect for dresses, skirts, wide legged trousers, etc.  Voile on the other hand only really suits a few categories of skirt and dress shapes, but of course several blouse shapes, etc.

Notice the Evening Empire Dress that I made above.  Those of you that are familiar with that pattern know that there is a lot of fabric gathered into the empire waistline, however you can see what a drop there is straight to the ground on the model.  The material doesn't even think about standing out at all (as the voile does a bit on the pattern's cover).  Same goes for ruching, pleating, elastic channels, etc. that you might be able to see in the 2nd photo from the top.


You can also see how naturally the material drapes the body as evidenced by the infinity scarf relaxing across Anna Michelle's back.  I made this infinity scarf with three different sections of material all joined by some crochet details in between.  I'll show you a closer look of that scarf soon!  But that reminds me to mention that I really consider this material to be very multi-seasonal. It is not so lightweight that it wouldn't be suitable as a blouse or dress year round and it really does not retain much heat so that is is very comfortable in warmer seasons.  It is not sheer like the Voile is, you really have to hold it up directly to the light to see anything through it.  If you were to line it, I would really just go with that standard garment lining material, that is sorta slick and swishy and usually synthetic and machine washable.

Get the flash player here: http://www.adobe.com/flashplayer

I can't wait for you to try these!  I think you'll love them.  The above is a slideshow of all ten fabrics in the collection.  The only scale change that happened in the prints is that the Specimen (raah01) print got smaller by 50% compared to the quilting cotton print.

I hope you enjoyed today's lesson!  If this brings up any more questions, just ask away.  Tomorrow I will share my washing and drying and pressing experiments with you and we'll start talking about working them into your sewing!

xo, Anna


  1. I can't wait!!! They're beautiful!

  2. Sonya Robinson6:14 PM

    You may have outdone yourself with these Anna. I can not wait to work with them...I've been dreaming about them since I saw them in your studio at Needlworks weekend. I'm hoping they will be ready in time for me to make a new frock to fashion at QuiltCon with my newly completed clutch I finished this weekend! (I was planning to send you a pic of that soon)

  3. I am so looking forward to trying your challis! Eeeee!

  4. You know, Anna Maria, I don't even have the Field Study quilting cottons yet (hanging my head in shame). But I did ask my husband for a bundle of it for Christmas so my fingers are crossed that I'll get it then. I'm sure it will be worth every moment of waiting. But here you go adding to my wish list! I've grown so much as a sewist over this year, particularly in the area of garment sewing. I'm just thrilled to be able to learn more about this particular fiber. I do want an outfit in each of the fabrics, by the way. Will you be having any rayon specific patterns coming out?

    One last thing: is is exhausting being so awesome all the time? Because it doesn't seem to stop at all. :D

  5. Great explanation and info. Appreciated. Makes me want to make a top with it now. Love the butterfly fabric.

  6. Your fabric is so gorgeous, and I love the feel of challis. Will the price be comparable to quilting fabrid??

  7. They are so beautiful! I can't wait to get my hands on some. Being mainly a garment sewer, I love seeing your designs take on more and more garment friendly fabrics. Not that quilting cotton isn't garment friendly, but its not as interesting or lovely as rayon or voile. Love!

  8. So now I have a better idea of what viscose is, and also modal - thank you!
    As for the scarf, I look forward to seeing a closer view!

  9. I can't wait to sew with them. When can I buy some??They are so pretty and I am always looking for beautiful fabrics to sew clothing with.

  10. Over here in Finland all kinds of rayon is nowadays sold as viscose, and it's definitely machine washable? Hmm.. Such a lovely collection though, can't wait for it to come out! My serger is already waiting!

    1. Rosa it's the viscose that is NOT machine washable and the hwm rayon (mine) that IS washable. I cannot account however for how loosely manufacturers or shops might use the term viscose. Hope that helps! AM

  11. Anonymous8:15 AM

    Washable is very, very good! I don't buy anything requiring dry cleaning any more. I am excited to see some high quality, stylish fabric for garment sewing as I am returning to making my own clothing, and as you pointed out, the drape with rayon is great. Also, I really like your maxi dress patterns, but would you consider something with little more upper body coverage for those of us a little older, who want to be stylish, but less exposed? Just asking :) --Becky C. (p.s. Your fabric lines were some of the first I discovered when I began sewing again several years ago, and they are a joy to work with. Thank you!)

  12. yay! I've been itching to get my hands on your rayon ever since I heard you were coming out with it (I always try every substrate you come out with....)!! I loved the dress you wore at Schoolhouse. I found an awesome pattern while I was out shopping yesterday, and it calls for rayon challis, so I CAN'T wait to get some to make a dress up!! When, oh when, will it be shipping?? Oh, and I'm hoping to get my wool yarns this week. Yippee!
    Much love to you, Anna Maria!
    xxx Achaia

    PS - I've already dug into the Needleworks book I got from you at Market, and am already using one of the florals for a project of mine. It's turned out great!! xo

  13. I just finished a voile quilt top made of all of the purples and blues in your collections - for my sister and very difficult to send away! Do you think this fabric would be good in quilts as well?

  14. i'm anxious to get my hands on these. they are gorgeous!!!

  15. I absolutely can't wait to try these! And I greatly appreciate your very detailed and thoughtful reviews of the fabric, I haven't worked with it before because its usually found in such unattractive prints. I get such wonderful compliments on the dresses and blouses I make with your voile, but it will be nice to have an option that doesn't necessarily need a lining.

    Which brings me to my questions: does the challis glide over tights and such? Or does it stick at all? Also, does it hang so close to the body as to show off all the lumps and bumps one might rather keep hidden? In other words, do I need my Spanx for a rayon challis dress?

  16. I am designing a nursery. The dresser/changing table id to be MissMustardSeed's Boxwood. The walls are Perfect Greige by Sherwin-Williams. the bedding is to have 1950's pink. I need something "Girls Gone Child" for the windows with the layers of whites. TADA! Meringue and tangerine. Swoon!

  17. O an dI have been sewing long enough that I had many challis dresses in the late 90's. "everyone" in my circles wore it. and the stuf you are n't supposed to get wet? WE bought extra, washed and dried it as normal then sewed to our hearts content.

    But thanks for choosing the other version. :)

  18. Okay, I'm not seeing my favorites in your samples above ~ any chance other colorways will be made later on!!! So glad you are adding this fabric choice to your line ~ quilting cottons don't always translate as well as I would like to garments. So exciting!! Did you say also that there will be Velveteen's in this line??

  19. I'm excited! I really, really want to try and make myself some simple garments in 2013. Ones that don't require a dress form or fitted dart thingies, because that's still too scary. I love the idea of working with this fabric!

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  21. As a fabric shop interested in adding your and Westminster's fabric lines to our store. This article was very informative to the differences between Voile and Rayon Challis.
    Thank you very much

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  24. Hi Anna Marie, just found your blog as I have been looking for a fabric to try and make a top, I am a novice and was wandering which is the best web site to get rayon challis fabric from, there are so many so unsure as I am a novice and only just started sewing