What is viscose fabric?
Viscose (also known as rayon) is neither a natural fabric or a synthetic fabric. It is somewhere in between because it is a regenerated cellulose fibre usually manufactured from wood pulp which has been chemically treated.
Characteristics of viscose
- Blends well with other fibres
- Drapes well
- Tends to be soft to touch
- Absorbs dye and retains colour well
- Prone to creasing
- It can shrink after washing (it's very important that you pre wash your fabric)
- Fibres weaken when wet & deteriorates with exposure to light
Types of viscose fabric
Viscose fabrics vary depending on how it has been woven.
Flat Woven Viscose - this type of viscose looks and feels similar to cotton lawn or cotton voile. It is often referred to as viscose lawn or viscose challis. It has a fluid drape, soft to touch and lightweight. Depending on its background colour and weight its opacity can vary. It is a delicate fabric and it is not very stable. It is advisable to use a microtex sewing machine needle and use fine pins. It is perfect for sewing dresses and blouses that require fabric with drape.
Viscose Satin - this viscose has been woven using a satin weave, which results in a fabric with a tightly woven look, luxurious silk like texture, and the fabric often has a slight sheen. It is perfect for sewing yourself a slip dress, bias cut skirt or a blouse.
Viscose Crepe - this type of viscose has been woven using a crepe weave which results in a classic crepe like texture (crinkled surface). Viscose crepe fabrics vary in weight and opacity. Viscose crepe fabrics are generally medium in weight and perfect for sewing yourself wide leg trousers and dresses.
Viscose Georgette - this type of viscose is a type of viscose crepe. It has a classic crepe like texture and is often lightweight and sheer. It is most suited for sewing yourself a loose fitted blouse.
Viscose Jacquard / Viscose Dobby - this type of fabric features an intricate pattern woven into the warp rather than printed on the surface of the fabric. These fabrics vary in weight and opacity. Viscose dobby is a woven fabric produced on a dobby loom resulting in a small geometric pattern.
Viscose Twill - this type of viscose has been woven using a twill weave which results in a diagonal ridge pattern on the fabric. This type of fabric is often heavier in weight compared to a viscose challis/lawn, less prone to creasing, and ideal for wearing in the cooler months. It is normally opaque, and has a good drape. It is perfect for sewing yourself wide leg trousers, shirts, dresses and lots more.
Viscose Linen - viscose blends well with other fibres including linen. This blend is perfect for the warmer months because it benefits from the breathability from the linen content but it still has a good drape due to the viscose content. This type of fabric varies in weight, drape and opacity based on the ratio of linen to viscose in the fabric.
Viscose Jersey / Bamboo Jersey - this is a type of knit fabric. It results in a soft drapey knit that is ideal for sewing yourself jersey wrap dresses, drapey cardigans and jersey tops that require drape. Bamboo jersey fabrics are viscose jersey fabrics but they are made using bamboo.
Viscose Knit - this is a type of knit jersey fabric, it has a true knit look and texture. It is often soft to touch and has a good drape. It is perfect for sewing drapey cardigans and loose fitted jumpers.
Viscose Ponte Di Roma - this type of ponte di roma contains viscose fibres and is often blended with polyester and elastane. Double knit fabric is good for those new to sewing with knit fabrics because it is more sturdy. It is essentially two layers of fabric knitted together with two sets of needles. Interlock knit fabric is a type of double knit fabric that has a smooth surface on each side. Ponte di roma is a type of interlock jersey, it is thick and has a slight horizontal ribbed appearance to it. It is perfect for sewing yourself trousers that require a knit fabric, structured cardigans and tops.
Is viscose fabric environmentally friendly / sustainable?
Viscose is often cited as sustainable because it is made from renewable plants. However, chemicals are required to produce viscose which results in toxic chemicals being released into the air and waterways surrounding the factories. Additionally, concerns have been raised that the production of viscose is contributing to the rapid depletion of the world's forests. Another issue often raised is that due to the growing fast fashion industry viscose is often manufactured cheaply which can have a negative impact on factory workers and the environment. According to The Made-By Environmental Benchmark for Fibres which compares the environmental impact of the most common used fibres in the garment fashion industry classifies viscose and bamboo viscose as a class E (the classes range from A-E - more sustainable to least sustainable).
Are there better viscose options?
Viscose may contain LENZING™ ECOVERO™ fibres, these fibres are derived from certified renewable wood sources using an eco-responsible production process by meeting high environmental standards. This type of viscose production generates up to 50% lower emissions and water impact compared to generic viscose production. Another benefit is supply chain transparency.
Lyocell is a form of rayon that contains cellulose fibres that are made from wood pulp that’s harvested typically from Eucalyptus, Oak and Birch trees. Unlike viscose Lyocell is derived from wood pulp that is dissolved using an organic solvent (Amine Oxide). The solvent and water used in the production process can be reused. TENCEL™ is actually a brand name of lyocell. For a fabric to be called "tencel" it must contain at least 30% branded TENCEL™ lyocell fibres produced by the Austrian company Lenzing AG. TENCEL™ fibres are derived from sustainable wood sources and the production is known to be environmentally responsible due to Lenzing's innovative closed loop production process where water is recycled and solvents are reused during the solvent-spinning process.
At Sew Me Sunshine we stock a lot of deadstock fabrics (ex designer fabrics), these are often made out of viscose fibres. Deadstock fabric is left over fabric from textile and garment factories. This left over fabric is often taken to landfill or disposed of in other ways. These fabrics may be left over because they were printed on the wrong substrate (type of fabric), they were dyed the wrong colour, the print scale is inaccurate, or it is just surplus fabric that is not being used. Although it is good that this fabric can be used by the sewing community, it would be more environmentally friendly if the fabric was not overproduced in the first place.
You can find all of our woven viscose fabrics, jersey viscose fabrics, viscose fabrics containing LENZING™ ECOVERO™ fibres, fabrics containing TENCEL™ lyocell fibres and our range of deadstock fabrics on our website.