Designers, know your fabrics

4 min read
08 Jan 2018
4 min read
1481 words
Fabrics are the canvas for your art, so you have to internalise everything to do with them

Manufacturers create fabrics by interlacing networks of natural or synthetic fibres--via weaving, knitting, knotting, crocheting or felting. This is done to make any flexible material ready for the production of goods or garments.

All fabrics can be categorised into two genres: natural fabric and man-made fabric. They can be further divided into four categories: animal-based (hair, fur, skin, silk), plant-based (grass, rush, hemp, sisal), mineral-based (basalt fiber, glass fiber, teflon) and synthetic (polyester fiber, acrylic, nylon, spandex).

For a designer, it is not only important, but also absolutely necessary, to know everything about fabrics. But in this modern era of textile, where there are thousands of fabric-production factories, how can one possibly keep track of the many fabrics that are being manufactured? Let's find that out, first.

Know what your fabric is made of

The first thing you need to know about fabrics is its composition. You have to be able to identify your fabrics. Over time, as you use different fabrics on different designs, you will learn how to differentiate between different types of fabrics on the basis of the feel, the flexibility, the heat resistance, the waterproof-ness, the windproof-ness, the crease stability and other qualities of the fabric. One of the most time-tested and efficient ways of finding out which type of fabric you are dealing with (in cases where there are no care labels) is trying a 'burn test'. This is a very easy test, whereby you can use your sense of smell to differentiate fabrics from their different burning smells. I won't go into details here, but do look up websites and other sources to see how the burn test works.

Know what type of fabric to pick for your design

Currently, there is a large variety of hybrid fabrics that blend natural fibres and synthetic yarn together. Many fabric swatches look the same but differ vastly in quality. If you are a designer, you should be able to walk into a 'fabric madhouse' and choose your fabric, your subject, confidently. But before a designer picks her fabric, she must know her design. So how do you pair your fabric with your design?

Sports wear

While picking out fabrics for this type of clothing, a designer has to keep in mind that this group of people are extremely physically active people who regularly hit the gym, lift weights, and engage in cardio and other forms of exercise. Sportswear needs to be made from stretchable, body-hugging, durable and sweat-absorbent material: materials such as lycra, neoprene, various microfibres, wadding and sports fleece. In Kathmandu, the Fabric House, in Kuleshwor, is one place that houses fabrics of this sort.

Trekking gear

Athletes and mountaineers would be your target group if you are designing trekking gear. This means you have to design clothes for people who are 'stinky to the extreme' by the end of their treks. These people enjoy their adventure, and would rather be warm and comfortable than trendy while climbing mountains. There are many local brands that are doing outstandingly well in this segment, like Sherpa Adventure Gear, Sonam Gear, etc. These outlets sell synthetic underwear, trekking wind/waterproof pants, coolmax t-shirts, shell jackets, fleece coat/vests, down jackets, insulated gloves, sun hat and neck warmers. If  you want to get into the trekking-gear market, you have to be able to produce these types of items.

Conceptual pieces

Conceptual pieces are a product of a designerís inspiration and muse. Designers usually make these conceptual pieces to showcase their artistic side. These pieces are not ëready to wearí; they are just runway ready. These pieces could be made out of anything and everything. For example, a designer can, when working with the theme of ërecyclingí, make attires using plastic bottles, sim cards, wires, soda bottle caps or other items that fit the recycling theme. Designers like Iris van Herpen, Yohji Yamamoto, Neri Oxman, Issey Miyake have great collections of conceptual designs.  You could try your hand at this genre too, but remember, this is a high-risk high-reward game.


Avant-garde designs are different. They are edgy. But these designs have to be wearable, unlike conceptual designs, and should be able to be pulled off by any buyer who wants to make a statement. Experimentation, so essential to avant-garde, is the only way designers can create innovative designs and achieve bold, inventive style combinations. Alexander McQueen, Viktor & Rolf, Paco Rabanne, Comme Des Garcons, Vivienne Westwood are some of the best avant-garde designers.

For this kind of design, I would say go crazy with your fabrics and come up with techniques that create textures within the fabric itself. You can use velvet, leather, cotton, polyester, nylon, jersey--anything really--with prints or embroideries or embellishments, whatever floats your boat. If you need inspiration, I would recommend that you visit fabric stores and warehouses in Chetrapati and Paknajol.

Basic casual wear

From jeans to a basic T-shirt, from a slip-on dress to leggings, from hoodies to skirts--anything you wear on a daily basis, without your needing to be loud or making a statement, is known as basic wear. For this genre, a designer can work with various fabrics: cotton voile, cotton lawn, jersey cotton, chambray, denim, knit, double gauze, flannel and others. In Kathmandu, you can find these fabrics in places such as Kalimati, Kuleshwor, Chetrapatti and Thamel.

Making basic casual wear might seem like an easy task, but it can be quite a challenge to make something that is different, for there is already an excessive number of commercial clothing lines available in the market. To come up with great basic designs, a designer must keep in mind that she shouldn't go overboard with her creativity but she can't also re-create basics that have already been created.

Haute couture

Haute couture means 'high sewing' or 'high fashion'. A high-end fashion item is constructed by hand, from start to finish, and is made from high-quality, expensive--often unusual-- fabric. It is sewn with extreme attention to detail and finished by the most experienced and capable sewers, often using time-consuming, hand-executed techniques. These designs are expensive pieces and are to be worn by iconic figures, celebrities, public figures and so on. Designers don't compromise with fabrics while making these designs because the products are one of a kind (seriously!). If you are a designer and you are sending your assistant or seamstress to buy the fabric for this project of yours then you must be crazy! Haute-couture demands attention. Laminated velvet, embroidered tulle, stoned trim, lanvin ties silk, dutch satin, modal spandex jersey solid and bamboo knits are some of the best options for these type of designs. It can be quite challenging to find luxurious fabrics in Kathmandu, but do try the shops at New Road.

Manandhar, a graduate of the Raffles College of Design and Commerce, Australia, is the founder of CHUPLAG STUDIO. This column is the second in a series on fashion