In my last Textile Tuesday lesson, I shared the explosive history of artificial silk, commonly referred to today as either rayon or the trade name Modal. Today, we’re going to look at what we need to know about sewing with rayon so that we can take advantage of its benefits while avoiding its “growth edges” (a phrase I heard during a board of directors for an academic organization when the president of the organization didn’t want to use the term “negative attributes”).
- The luster (brightness), length, and diameter of rayon fibers can be controlled so that it mimics natural fibers such as cotton, flax, wool, and silk. This is especially useful when it is used as part of a blended fabric.
- Cupra rayon (manufactured as Bemberg) is the most silk like rayon.
- Rayon is a weak fiber. It loses about 50% of its strength when it gets wet and doesn’t withstand abrasion very well (every day rubbing that can result in pilling).
- It has the lowest elastic recover of any fiber which means that if it gets stretched out (like at the elbows of a blouse or the knees of slacks), it will not go back to its original shape
- In addition to being stretched out, rayon shrinks with each successful washing unless it is dry cleaned. So, it really could be the pants and not the 15 gallons of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream you ate while watching An Affair to Remember with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr.
- We love rayon because it is soft and smooth
- Because it is absorbent, rayon does not suffer from static cling
- It has low thermal retention (how well it retains heat) so it an ideal fiber for warmer weather
- Resist the urge to run it through your washer’s gentle cycle. Rayon and water just don’t get along very well.
- Rayon often has sizing and other chemicals added to the fiber during the manufacturing process to allow it to be dyed and drape a certain way. When these come in contact with water, they can leave spots or streaks.
- Because manufacturers assume you will be dry cleaning the fabric, the dyes they use may not be colorfast if you toss your fabric in the washing machine (No need to ask me how I learned this lesson…)
- It seems that silverfish and mildew love rayon so make sure you keep the fish away and avoid storing your fabric and garments in damp or moist areas such as a basement.
- Fortunately, though, you don’t have to worry about sun damage. Rayon doesn’t disintegrate from the sunlight like other fibers.
- Rayon is made from wood pulp. The environmental impact is high if the trees are harvested from old growth forests instead of from tree farms.
- The processing uses large quantities of acid and other chemicals that may contribute to air and water pollution if not disposed of or recycled properly. Bemberg rayon is no longer manufactured in the United States because producers could not meet air and water quality requirements.
- Rayon must be dry cleaned which may produce hazards depending upon the process used.
Factoid: Rayon is what makes diapers and feminine hygiene so absorbent.
I love lining my garments with Bemberg rayon because I love the feel of it against my skin (I’m in Los Angeles and apparently wearing stockings is against the law) and because I don’t have to deal with static cling when I do wear stockings.
…Plus I love the swishy sound it makes…
What about you? What is your experience sewing with rayon?