Sewing Viscose, or is it Rayon??: Fabric Tips

Viscose (known in the US as Rayon) often elicits very strong feelings. Some sewists hate this material, while others see its benefits. I remember back in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s when this fabric started to be popular and it was used for numerous garments that you would see on the racks in the store. The material does not crease much and was, therefore, a big draw for clothing stores. However, the first time the garment gets washed, it tends to shrink. This often meant a big waste of money, so after a while, viscose clothes went right back on the rack when the shopper saw a label saying viscose or rayon.

Today, however, viscose standards are significantly different and many sewists are turning into viscose more often. While the fabric should always be pre-washed before you start a sewing project, that’s usually advisable for any material you will be using.

sewing viscose

Interestingly enough, viscose is made from wood! It’s considered a manufactured fiber, but it isn’t synthetic -if that makes any sense. The fibers are made of wood pulp which is a naturally-occurring, cellulose-based raw material. Rayon was created to be an “artificial silk.” While that day has yet to arrive, the appeal of viscose has increased in recent years. That may not be the opinion of everyone, however.

Viscose is used a lot in blends. In a viscose/linen blend, an owner can be confident they won’t have to deal with creases. Meanwhile, a viscose/jersey blend is popular despite having few obvious benefits.

sewing viscose
Viscose Linen Blend

For the pro column on viscose, it is available almost everywhere and it’s also usually reasonably priced. It drapes very well and looks great and is useful in certain blouse styles. When it comes to the downside of this fabric, it can be hard to cut and sew for those just getting into sewing. Pins fall out easily. Also, the fabric does not work well for a piece of clothing with structure. For that, try another fabric or plan on using an underliner in a different fabric if you do use viscose.

If you are planning to use viscose for projects, be prepared for the challenge of sewing viscose.

Comparison of Viscose to Cotton and Polyester

Measurement Cotton Viscose Polyester
Softness Good Very good Poor
Smoothness Poor Good Very good
Moisture Regain Good Very good Poor
Thermal Protection Good Very good Poor
Drape Good Very good Poor
Luster Poor Very good Very good
Crease Recovery Poor Poor Very good
Antipilling Good Very good Poor
Wash & Wear Good Poor Very good

Some sewing enthusiasts are still a bit confused on the difference between viscose and rayon. Below is an effort to point out differences (hint: there really aren’t any…)

What is Viscose?

According to Wikipedia, Viscose is defined as “a fiber made from regenerated wood cellulose.” It is also called viscose rayon. The fabric specifically comes from the cellulose of the bamboo plant. This is used to create rayon, which is a popular form of viscose. Rayon is then popular for use in furniture, bed sheets, slip covers and tablecloths, just to name a few. Cellophane is also made using viscose. The first thing people think of when they consider cellophane is plastic wrap commonly used in the home. Viscose has become more valuable and is used in the creation of many products.

sewing viscose

What is Rayon?

Rayon, meanwhile, is defined by Wikipedia as “manufactured regenerated cellulose fibre.” Rayon is a manufactured fiber, but it is not considered either manufactured or natural. Instead, it is considered “regenerated,” because a chemical change occurs and the cellulose fiber is reformed or reconstructed.

Rayon was originally made for use in home furnishings. It takes dye very easily because it is very absorbent. However, it does not withstand the heavy wear that furniture faces in the home or a business. It is currently woven or knitted to create items of clothing. Viscose rayon or modulus rayon are the two most common types of rayon.

Therefore, as you can see, it is hard to determine significant differences between viscose and rayon. Instead, you can consider these two types of fabric interchangeable.

Your thoughts on sewing viscose or rayon?

What are your thoughts and feelings about sewing viscose? Have you had any huge successes or abject failures with viscose or rayon? Please share in the comments below. We’d love to hear about it.


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