Hey, maker friends! I’m Mandy, with HandmadeMandy— and I’m bringing the blog along with me, today, on a rousing adventure. Ever wondered, “what’s the dill with twill?” (If you have, rest assured, you’re not the only one to find yourself in this particular pickle!). If you want to understand how to really use this fabric to its best advantage in your wardrobe, then come along with me!
It is absolutely possible that you have sewn with twill, and not even realized! Much of the sewing community is comprised of self-taught sewists (myself included). By self-taught, I mean no formal education. We’ve learned through books, the internet, friends, family and experience. Which, let’s face it, is the OG way to learn. I’m not knocking formal education here, but bootstraps is how it all started when it comes to sewing and other practical art forms.
It is no surprise that we may find some gaps here and there in our knowledge. Even accomplished sewists tend to lack some confidence when it comes to understanding fabrics and how to use them to their best advantage. There are some great resources available— but many of the available books are out of print and/or quite expensive. My personal favorite titles are “Fabrics A to Z” by Dana Willard and the eponymous “Claire Schaefer’s Fabric Sewing Guide.” Both of which I was able to acquire affordably, second-hand with some patience. With this in mind, I set out to demystify twill.
I am breaking this post down into sections so that you can skip unnecessary recaps and dig into the parts that interest you. Because of this, you’ll also find a few redundancies if you read through start to finish. I tried to balance this as a whole, as well as a quick reference that you can bookmark for later. My goal is to equip you with valuable and specific information so that you can identify this fabric in the wild and understand when and why using twills will enhance your sewing practice and wardrobe.
I’m sure I’m not the only one that equates trying new fabrics to embarking upon a new adventure. Come, dear wanderer… let’s venture…
Before we lace up, it’s going to be helpful if you understand a few technical terms:
Floats: As soon as floats are present within a weave, it’s no longer a “Plain weave.” Floats are when strands pass over and/or under more than one strand within the fabric, at any point. Floats are defining characteristics of both twill and satin weaves, and are NOT present in plain-weave fabrics.
Plain weave: The most basic of weaves, comprised of strands that go one-over, one under, forever and ever in all directions- think checkerboard. Plain weave fabrics have no floats! (sorry, Pennywise!)
Twill: Twill is a type of weave in which the floats are short (usually no more than 3 strands), and evenly staggered. The fabric contains a visible diagonal when you look closely. It is durable and can have a bit of a subtle sheen in some cases.
Satin: Satin is a type of weave with longer floats that are not staggered. It is less durable, but has a beautiful and iconic luster or shine on the right side of the fabric.
With all that in place, let’s go! We are finally ready to take big ole’ adventure steps on textile-isle.
The term “twill” refers to one of three fundamental weaving techniques found in textile creation (the other two being plain weave and satin). Twill is, therefore, a broad category— with many variations.
What sets a twill fabric apart from a traditional plain weave (one over, one under) pattern, is the short, staggered floats (“floats” are when the yarn passes over more than one row at a time within the weave). The short floats result in just enough extra space to allow the yarn to be packed more densely together. This extra density results in fantastic durability. Ergo, twill is the most durable of the three weaves.
The real magic happens from evenly staggering those floats within the weave pattern (this is what produces the diagonal ridges). By doing this, the textile doesn’t sacrifice drape to achieve durability. This approach allows for a fabric with greater density and drape than a plain weave and better strength/drape balance than a satin weave of similar thread count and composition.
I bet you didn’t realize we were actually gonna cross paths with genuine wizardry on this journey— but alas, here we are!
From textile-Isle, to the textile aisle:
Wondering how you’re gonna get started? Fear not! I’ve got your brass tacks right here…
The single defining identifiable characteristic of twill is the visible, parallel lines running diagonal to the selvedge. That’s really all you need to know to be able to spot twill fabric when you’re stranded at the store with zero reception. These lines can lean right, left, or both (think herringbone or chevron)—and can range from 15° to 75° angles (not all twills are on true bias!). BUT, rather than stripes, these lines are visible ridges woven into the textile that create physical raises or “wales.” Interestingly, the way the yarn itself is twisted, paired with the direction of the weave, can produce more or less pronounced wales— so, sometimes you have to look a little closer to see them!
Cotton and wool are traditionally popular fibers for twill- with wool being a classic choice for suiting and cotton twill being the foundation for denim. Lyocell twill is a particularly popular choice these days, and for good reason. More on that, shortly.
Specific twill-weave fabrics include (but are not limited to): Cavalry, Chino, Denim, Drill, Foulard, Gabardine and Serge. There are also “broken twills” where the angle of the twill changes within the weave. Herringbone is probably the most widely recognizable version of this variety.
At a glance:
Twill can be used in many woven patterns. Light-weight, silky/rayon versions are best suited for designs that fall and drape from the body, whereas the heavier and more densely woven varieties (such as denim) have a stability and structure that can mold close to the body (think fitted jeans).
PROS: While the content of this fabric can vary endlessly, when compared to fabrics of similar content and thread count, twill-weave textiles showcase a unique and superior balance of both drape and durability.
* less prone to wrinkling
* less prone to showing soiling/ staining.
*densely woven twills are naturally water resistant and drill, in particular, is used for chef’s uniforms because its density results in a naturally fire-resistant fabric.
* tend to be more expensive than plain weave (though the cost-per-wear and garment longevity can off-set this)
*can be prone to fraying
*while a pro is that they don’t soil as easily–once soiled, they can be more difficult to clean.
As a rule, twill isn’t too tricky to handle, with the caveat that the fabric will reflect the characteristics of its weight, weave density and content fabric. Some varieties (lightweight lyocell twill) can be shifty, whereas heavier selvedge denim, for instance, is going to be quite stable to work with— but have the added challenge of needing to manage potential bulkiness.
1) Serge/finish edges before pre-washing to minimize fraying. Pre-wash following the fabric material’s best practices. When in doubt, test it out!
2) Be aware that there IS a discern-able right and wrong side of any twill-weave fabric. The right side will showcase the more pronounced wales (or raises) in the diagonal pattern and is often a bit darker in color. It’s advisable to make sure you’re using the desired side, consistently. It’s also often helpful to follow nap-specific layouts to get the most visual consistency in your final garment.
3) Needle choice is going to be determined by the weight and fabric content. Universal needles will almost always do the job. For heavier-weight twills, specialty denim needles are available and advisable. I tend to choose the smallest/sharpest needle I can that’s still appropriate for the heft of the project.
4) Densely woven varieties, like gabardine, can be difficult to ease, and so choose patterns that don’t have intense ease curves (ie sleeve caps). The Cambria Duster by Friday Pattern Company is a good example of a sleeve without a curved sleeve cap.
5) Because twill can be prone to fraying, choose patterns that are appropriate for woven fabrics and don’t have small, detailed pieces or techniques. For this reason, it is also important to pay attention to potential stress points on garments. In a pinch, you can stabilize/interface small pieces (I’m thinking belt loops, here). If your fabric is very fray-prone, you can increase your seam allowance and be sure to finish the seams using your preferred method. In most cases, a serger or zig zag stitch is just fine—but a French seam can be an extremely helpful option when dealing with the tricksters in the category.
6) I couldn’t find any specifics regarding cutting twill on the cross-grain. I generally try to avoid it due to the nap-layout tip (see #2). Follow conventional woven-fabric wisdom. Cross grain cuts are not going to be as stable as those that are on grainline, and should specifically be avoided in garments that are worn close to the body. That being said, I HAVE cut pieces that will be interfaced on the cross grain (pattern Tetris can lead to rule breaking… what can I say?) and, I am happy to report, the sewing police haven’t caught up with me… yet… Proceed with caution, but do proceed.
Common types of twill by weight:
Bear in mind that fabric types can cross multiple weight classes. Denim is a good example—and can even be found in lightweight varieties. These are general categorizations to aid in understanding.
Special considerations: If your fabric is slippery, I always recommend a walking foot. In general, twill fabrics are stable—but the lighter-weight, silkier fibered fabrics in the family can be shifty. In general, these should not be used for patterns that sit tight to the body.
Common Materials: Cotton, Wool, Lyocell
Types: Chino, Denim, Gabardine, Suiting Weights
Perfect Projects: Cambria Duster, Miller Trousers, Zadie Jumpsuit, Hughes Dress
Special considerations: This fabric, overall, is going to be stable and easy to work with, though when densely woven—it can be difficult to ease.
A note on lyocell twill: While this refers to the combination of lyocell yarn (from the rayon family) paired with the twill weave— I think this fabric is popular enough that it warrants a bit of coverage on its own. All of the garments sewn for this article are made of this particular variety. It has drape from both the fiber and the weave, producing luxurious and lasting fabric. Though it comes in a variety of weights, I find mid-weight/bottom-weight options uniquely useful for producing flowy garments that hold-up well.
Common Materials: Cotton, Wool
Types: Denim, Drill, Serge
Needles: Denim or heavy needles 80/12-100/16
Perfect Projects: Kelly Anorak
Sewing with: It may be helpful to lengthen your stitch length. Sewing with these materials can get very bulky, so tools like a hump-jumper can be extremely helpful.
Let’s talk denim—perhaps the most popular fabric in the twill fabric family! The defining characteristic of denim is that it is densely woven– using indigo-dyed yarn in the warp (parallel to the selvedge) and white/natural yarn in the fill/weft (yarn running perpendicular to the selvedge). The difference between denim and chambray is that denim is a twill weave, and chambray is a plain weave textile.
Choose your own adventure:
Twill fabrics are fantastic for transitional weather, and so now is a great time to add them to your sewing plans.
The Maker Studio has a beautiful selection of lyocell twills and appropriate patterns in stock. I’ve created a three-piece ensemble that I’m absolutely in love with! I used the bottom weight/mid-weight Horizon Twill (200 gsm) in Rust for the Friday Pattern Company: Cambria Duster and Closet Core: Pietra Pants. These two, size inclusive patterns have the added shared element of a princess seamed front and whole-panel back. They are a match made in heaven. To complete the look, I used the light-weight Olivia Print Pink to make a Closet Core: Cielo Top. If you’re looking to dip your toe in the water, the Cielo top is accessible, low fuss and requires minimal yardage, start here!
I must remark on the quality of these fabrics. They are sublime. The fraying was entirely manageable and, indeed, some of the least troublesome I’ve worked with. The weight and drape of the Horizon is both substantial and light enough to feel season-less. The Olivia is lighter weight (125 gsm) with a bit of a crisper hand-feel, it makes me think of a slightly drapey-er cotton lawn with beautiful prints.
On a personal note, I have worked with low quality twills that disintegrated with serging… so frustrating! It is worth investing in well-woven, quality versions of this fabric for both long-wearing, sustainable garments— and sanity-saving sewing experiences.
Let’s not make a mountain, out of a mole-twill…
I hope this journey has replaced intimidation with courage and confidence— because you CAN enjoy this fabric, both to sew and wear.
I hope that you “twill” add this magical textile to your sewing queue with confidence, and give it a go! Let us know what you want to make with it in the comments below!