What fabric is soft, luxurious, flowy, vivid, and affordable? If the word “affordable” was missing from the question, I would bet my sewing machine that the answer would have been silk. But, silk is pretty expensive. Well, if you don’t know the answer, it is viscose.
It is a fabric that is widely used yet many people don’t really know what it is. Is it natural or synthetic? Is it a high-quality fiber or just a cheap alternative to silk or sustainable alternative to cotton and polyester?
If you’re not sure about these questions or have any other doubts about viscose, you’ve come to the right place. We will unravel the truths about viscose. You will find out how it is made, what it is good for, and all other important facts about this material. Furthermore, you’ll get some useful tips on how to sew with viscose. So, buckle up and let’s get started.
Basic Facts About Viscose Fabric
Viscose is a man-made fiber that is neither natural nor synthetic. So, what is it, then?
Well, it is a fabric made of wood pulp which is a natural material. However, it undergoes elaborate chemical treatments before becoming fabric that we know. It includes dissolving, shredding, aging, filtering, and more. The process requires a lot of water and several chemicals. So, even though it starts as a natural material, heavy processing makes it partially artificial.
By the way, viscose is often called rayon. However, it is not completely accurate. While all viscose is rayon, all rayon is not viscose. Viscose is one of several types of rayon. Modal and lyocell are the most notable other types.
The aforementioned comparison with silk wasn’t accidental – viscose is often called “artificial silk”. It imitates some silk qualities such as texture, luster, and breathability. However, it feels more like cotton. So, basically, viscose is a more affordable alternative to silk and cotton with some similar properties.
Properties of Viscose Material
Typically, viscose is a light, soft, glossy, and semitransparent material. However, depending on processing, it can get heavier, matted, smooth, or textured. Anyway, these differences are more about looks and feel. While it has many similarities with silk and cotton, there are considerable differences as well.
Viscose blends well with other fibers. It allows creating blends that have all advantages while overriding the shortcomings of viscose fibers. But, let’s take one step at a time.
Advantages of Viscose
- Soft and light. Viscose is often used for summer wear being light and airy. It is lighter than cotton but not as light as silk.
- Breathability. It is a breathable fabric, pretty much like cotton.
- Highly absorbent. Viscose absorbs twice as much as cotton on average. Because of this, it is very convenient for hot and humid climates. However, 100% viscose dries pretty slowly.
- Drapes well. This silk-like quality makes viscose a great fabric for dresses and many other garments.
- Color retention. Viscose garments are usually vivid and vibrant. Due to dyeing technology viscose allows maximum color penetration and retention. So, you don’t have to worry that your garments will fade quickly.
- Affordable. The basic idea for the creation of this fabric was to make it affordable while preserving natural qualities similar to silk and cotton.
- Versatility. It blends well with many other fibers which allow for improved properties and very wide use. Viscose is used in all kinds of garments from activewear to wedding dresses. It is also a popular material for making carpets, curtains, blankets, and bedsheets. Furthermore, different industries use viscose extensively to make all kinds of products from tire cords to disposable wipes.
Disadvantages of Viscose
Every fabric has its downsides and so does viscose. However, most of these shortcomings are minor and can be overcome by blending with other materials. Anyway, here’s the list.
- Difficult to wash. 100% viscose usually needs dry cleaning. It may shrink every time you wash it. Blended kinds are somewhat different, but make sure to read the label before you wash it.
- Durability issues. Viscose is not the toughest material. On top of that, it deteriorates when exposed to UV radiation, or in other words, bright sunshine.
- No elasticity. It is not elastic at all, so it can’t be stretched. However, blending with spandex solves the problem.
- It wrinkles. Moreover, a hot iron is out of the question.
- Susceptible to mildew. The high absorbing ability of viscose can create good conditions for mildew to develop.
Is It Environment-Friendly?
You can hear or read all kinds of stuff about this issue, so I’ll make it clear. Some people think viscose is an eco-friendly and sustainable material. After all, it is made from renewable trees or plants and it is biodegradable. Others believe that the processing is extremely polluting.
The truth is somewhere in the middle, though. Historically, the manufacturing process of viscose used to be highly toxic and harmful. But, modern facilities can reuse the chemicals over and over. I am not saying that it is a clean process now, but it’s much safer and cleaner than it used to be.
The other issue is the use of water. The manufacturing process requires a lot of water even though modern technologies have allowed more efficient use of water.
Since many producing facilities are located in developing countries, there are also deforestation and worker safety concerns.
Altogether, it is a long and complicated story. Still, it is safe to say that viscose is more environment-friendly than synthetic materials but not as good as natural fabrics.
Viscose Fabric – Sewing Tips
Viscose is generally pretty easy to sew. However, it is quite slippery, so be very careful while cutting it. A rotary cutter is the best choice, but sharp shears will do the job as well. Use plenty of pins and weights to prevent slipping and movement.
Before you even begin, make sure to wash your fabric. Viscose shrinks, so it’s an important step. By the way, pre-washing should be done regardless of the material.
A little bit shorter stitch lengths are better for thin fabrics. Small and sharp needles such as 70/10 are the best for the job.
Finnish all raw edges. Viscose tends to fray so you don’t want to leave any loose ends. Overlocking is the best method, but you can use a simple zig-zag stitch, too. As for hemming your fabric, I recommend blind hem. The idea is to allow some movement of the material and not to make it bulky. And if you’re not in a hurry, leave the garment hanging overnight before hemming.
There’s a lot to love about viscose. Or rayon, if you prefer. It has a beautiful drape and luxurious looks. It is breezy and breathable. And above all – it is affordable.
Having said that, I still prefer natural fabrics such as silk and cotton. But if you’re looking for an affordable substitution, viscose should be your top choice. 100% viscose is okay, but I would recommend blends with other fibers to get the best from both worlds. These blends can retain viscose qualities such as draping, softness, vibrancy, and breathability while improving elasticity and durability. So, enjoy your sewing with this versatile and interesting fabric.