Fabric Focus – Stretch Cotton Sateen

Stretch Cotton Sateen

When I wrote my Absolute Beginners post, a couple of readers put in a plea for fabric guidance. I thought this was such a good idea and ‘Fabric Focus’ sprang immediately to mind. I’ll learn something, too. After all – what is the difference between lawn and tana lawn? Dunno. But I’d have to find out, wouldn’t I?

First, though, I’m starting with a fabric I do know about because it’s a fabric I often turned to when I started sewing – Stretch Cotton Sateen. I made two Simplicity 2591 dresses from this fabric and they turned out pretty well. (The pattern is now sadly out of print.)


Stretch cotton sateen is a heavy weight cotton with some elastic in it – a 3% stretch is typical, I believe. What does a 3% stretch mean? It means that it’s ickle bit stretchy but not very much stretchy.

The cotton usually seems to be a woven white, which is then printed. The colour saturation is pretty intense, which I love, and there’s a subtle sheen or polish to the surface of the fabric. The fabric behaves well because it is a cotton mix and because it has a slight structural quality to it. Because it behaves well and because it holds a form well, and because it’s dense enough for summer makes not to need lining, I think it is excellent for beginners to use. It’s also readily available – most stores stock it.

Are there any down sides? The structural quality means it makes great dresses and skirts, but it would be too stiff for a blouse or top, in my opinion. Be warned – the stretch means that pieces can stretch out during construction, so it’s important to follow any instructions for stay stitching. Finally, because the colours are printed rather than woven, I have noticed some slight fading after several goes in the washing machine, but nothing drastic. Generally, it’s a big thumbs up from me.

That’s everything I have to say about Stretch Cotton Sateen! Readers, do you have any more information to add? Tips for working with this fabric? Made anything great with it?

The two swatches are from Stone Fabrics. On the right is a John Kaldor stretch cotton sateen, retailing at £14.30 a metre. The fabric on the left goes for £9.95 a metre. Both are about 140cm wide.

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61 Responses to Fabric Focus – Stretch Cotton Sateen

  1. Chris Butler says:

    Thank you SO MUCH, I am definitely one of those people who will really benefit from this advice.

  2. I get confused about the different terms that are used for the same fabric, what do those who call calico muslin, call muslin? What is the batiste that Burda uses? A few months ago they had a dress in Liberty batiste which looked like tana lawn, this month they have a skirt made out of batiste which looks like it has been made up in voile, but then is voile really very different from lawn? What is the difference between dupion and dupioni?

    • Sewer From Across The Pond says:

      In the U.S., “muslin” is used for a cheap, plain woven fabric made from cotton. It’s used for test garments. I gather that in the UK, cotton muslin is called calico. I think calico is used to refer to something else in the U.S., but it’s also a cheap cotton fabric. Muslin is usually woven from cotton, but it can be made from other fibers, like silk, and used for real clothes.

      In the States, the most commonly available Liberty fabric is Tana Lawn, a kind of lawn named by Liberty after a lake in Africa, but Liberty prints come in many other fabrics. Look at the Liberty of London site or the that of Shaukkat, a Liberty stockist.

      I think dupion and dupioni are the same thing.

      • Thank you for this!

      • Yes, what you call muslin in the US is the same as we call calico, however we also have a cloth called muslin. It’s a fine loose weave cotton and was used a lot in the 19th century for clothes (Jane Austen often refers to muslin dresses), I’d be interested to know what it’s called in the US.

      • Szarka says:

        Calico, in my experience, is identical to muslin, except that calico is dyed and printed with small flowers, and muslin meant for test garments is either unbleached ecru, or bleached white. Calico here in the US seems to be most used for little girl’s sundresses or summer shirts with buttons and darts to make up for a bit of body in the plain weave.

        Muslin in most stores in the US South is sold in different weights, so you can choose something close to the fashion fabric to better approximate its behavior. An important lesson for me as a beginner was always pay attention to the weight and weave of the fashion fabric and choose something similar to practice with. Sheets will not do for every situation! 😉

    • Bess says:

      Tana lawn is a tighter weave than many other cottons generically labelled as lawn which makes it particularly stable and strong, Voile is lighter weight (woven with finer threads) and more delicate than lawn (voile is semi-sheer, lawn, unless a pale colour, is more opaque). When a pattern suggests batiste, any lightweight cotton that is woven with fine threads will work (unlike a lightweight gauze cotton such as muslin which is woven more openly but with courser fibres- this type of fabric would usually be too unstable). Liberty batiste would be Liberty Tana lawn.
      Dupioni is made of polyester, a synthetic version of silk Dupion (much as habotex and various other variant spellings of Habotai are synthetic versions of silk Habotai).

    • The Dreamstress has a some great info on the geographical differences between calico, muslin, etc. The first one is here http://thedreamstress.com/2010/06/calico-muslin-gauze-a-history-of-fabric-terminology-part-i/ and the link to part 2 is at the bottom, and another series on the difference between lawn, voile and muslin is here http://thedreamstress.com/2010/07/voile-lawn-muslin-whats-the-difference-the-long-answer/

  3. Hayley says:

    Thanks for doing this Karen. I’ll have to print these out and put them in a file along with my instructions explaining FBA.

  4. macstabby says:

    I just bought some cotton sateen today (although not stretch, I don’t believe)- How timely! And YES, it’s dark blue with big pink roses- huzzah for bold colors!

  5. Karen Shaw-Jones says:

    I’d like to make a ‘mac’ out of animal print (tonal browns/black) stretch cotton sateen if you see any on your travels/interweb!
    A bit Bet Lynch i know!

  6. Amanda says:

    Great post, went fabric shopping today and was bamboozled by the options.

  7. Elena says:

    Ooh, this is so handy, thanks so much! I’ll be avidly reading them all 🙂

  8. Thea says:

    Huh, now I finally know what fabric I made a Londsdale out of last year. Thanks!

  9. Thanks! And thats ashame the pattern is out of print! Lovely dress x

  10. That’s brillant – thank you. I’ve often see cotton sateen in shops but never been 100% of it’s application. Seemed too light for trousers and as you say too heavy for tops unless you’re looking for something really structured. Thank you for the post on double gauze too – can’t wait to get my hands on some and sew something really summery (ever hopeful that the weather’ll improve!) 🙂

  11. Eilidh says:

    Hi Karen, your advice is absolutely invaluable to a newbie sewer like me! Thank you so much! 🙂

  12. Fiona says:

    I’ve just used cotton sateen for the first time to make a circle skirted Elisalex and I’m completely in love! It presses beautifully and stays where I tell it to when running it through the machine which is a big thumbs up from me! Looking forward to more fabric related posts, it’s so useful

  13. Amanda says:

    This is a great idea… Thanks. My question is…. Is poplin something like this???

    • Molly says:

      Poplin is a finer fabric than sateen but still with a slightly stiff hand and cool, smooth feel. Its pretty much the same as Cotton Broadcloth and traditionally used for quality shirts and bedding, so that probably gives you an idea of the feel and finish of it. Poplin can be “stretch” too, good for very fitted blouses and dresses. It takes starch really well and holds details nicely, so I like it for making aprons and caps, etc for maids and nurse costumes.

      • Thanks for this, Molly! I love, love, love that yet again readers are helping to make posts even more informative. (And provide knowledge that I don’t have!!!)

      • Molly says:

        You know me, you can take the teacher out of the classroom, but it won’t shut her up 😉 I learnt about poplin when I saw it selling online somewhere for £1 a meter. What is this cheap fabric, I wanted to know. Is it glorious? What shall I be making with it? Years ago you could buy Fabric Guides complete with swatches, I wish they still did them. I have Claire Schaeffer’s Fabric Sewing Guide, which is an enormous book and really useful for reference but its sometimes hard to visualise descriptions. The most informative fabric book I ever had was a dry-cleaners manual which had pictures for every fabric – and lots of behavioural information too.

  14. Molly says:

    I would only add to pre-shrink before use, preferably by hot water and tumble-drier since cottons like to shrink. A cup of vinegar in the wash will make it a bit softer if desired (I sometimes soak stiff cottons in dilute white vinegar to get them to soften up) and apparently that helps prevent fading too.

    I would also say, stay stitch every curve no matter the fabric content. Curves fall on the bias so they stretch out with just handling alone, which can mean lank necklines and puckered seams, its something I’m very insistent about when teaching. (Its also why skirts should be sewn from hem to waistband, but that’s one I often ignore, shhh!).

    • I never knew that skirts should be sewn from hem to waistband – thank you!

      • Molly says:

        I pretend not to know 😉 Because of the way I cut (the Susan Khalje way) my hems rarely meet up so its easier from the other direction. I just sing “la, la, la, la, la” in my head as I do it.

    • Kristen says:

      I read somewhere (maybe Susan Kahlje in Threads?) that you’re supposed to sew seams from the widest part to the narrowest – so on a skirt, hem to waistband. I wasn’t clear on the reasoning behind it, though!

  15. Philipppa says:

    Any information on fabric gratefully received. I might have to make a resolution to take more notice of fabric suggestions on packets as I tend to go with what I fancy and it doesn’t always work!

  16. livebird says:

    Excellent advice – stretch cotton sateen is brilliant for beginners. Another great thing is the stretch allows you to fudge the fit just the littlest bit!

  17. Teri says:

    I agree, cotton sateen is wonderful and fun to sew on. I made my Easter dress this year out of a cotton sateen border print.

  18. Amie M says:

    There must be a cheat sheet out there with great table on fabric types, fibre thickness, weave, dyeing stage etc…

  19. Thank you. I might just go and hunt some out

  20. hedgewick says:

    Fabric Focus…FAB-ulous idea! Some additional suggestions: a photo of the result from a burn test and comments about specific companies’ particular fabrics. For instance rayon poly spandex from fabric.com and from Joann’s is different in weight and drape. Maybe comments could be elicited about this or swatches could be compared?

  21. sewbusylizzy says:

    I adore sateen. I agree it needs a structured design as it doesn’t drape, although I gifted some soft drapey sateen to Rachel of House of Pinheiro. It was almost like sateen lawn.
    I used sateen for my McCalls 6611 jacket and it worked beautifully

  22. I love stretch cotton sateen. I have a sewaholic cambie (a-line version) in progress right now! It’s very forgiving for the seams I keep having to pick put and re-sew! Plus easy to cut and comfy.

  23. The sateen refers to the weave, which as I understand it is the same as satin (when in a different fibre!) and means that the weft covers several warp threads in each pass before going under only one warp thread. This results in the smooth shiny surface we associate with sateen and satin.

    Stretch cotton sateen is one of my favourite fabrics to work with, it sews so well and is so easy to manipulate, and the slightly structural nature to it gives some great effects. I have tonnes of it in my stash!

  24. sewsable says:

    There is one downside to stretch cotton sateen, because the pattern is printed on it when your cat needles you and pulls a thread it shows! My favourite skirt shows quite a lot of this attention, I wear it regardless, but it’s something to be aware of.

  25. Leisl says:

    Stretch cotton sateen is such a fabulous fabric. I have (ahem) quite a bit of it hiding out in my stash. Love your dress, my dear! And congrats on the Guardian blogger position!

  26. JacqC says:

    This is a really helpful thread (sorry, sorry, pun absolutely intended!). I am pretty clueless about fabrics although I am getting better at what will or won’t work for different garments. So, we’ve had GBSB and now your fabulous Guardian gig (so well deserved and exciting), how about a sewing quiz show? The panel could be blindfolded and have to identify fabric types from swatches … and another round could be identifying and demonstrating obscure sewing techniques and terminology. OK, it might need work but I think it’s a goer – I’d watch it! 🙂

  27. Susie says:

    Remember to use a ball point needle, so it doesn’t cut the spandex/Lycra/elastic, it will slide between the fibers.

  28. Leila says:

    This is a great series! Have you seen the #FabricChat on Fridays on Twitter? I’ll mention your series. Very cool.

  29. Helen Johnstone says:

    I do like the idea of this series. I have avoided stretch cotton especially after watching problems with stretch material on GBSB but that is just ignorance. I will now look at it different and a little stretch in a dress/skirt is always a good thing especially in the summer

  30. Kristen says:

    I’d add that any printed fabric, not just sateen, can be extra tricky if you’re trying to match up stripes or plaids. If you’re concerned about being able to match those lines, make sure it’s a woven pattern not a printed one, or that you can handle it in person and check how close the stripes match the grain. I bought a piece of plaid flannel one time that was printed instead of woven, and the plaid was SOOOO off-grain that I couldn’t use it, at least not for the shirt dress I had planned. It’s been relegated to becoming part of a blanket (someday!)

  31. Tiffany says:

    I love that dress the several shades of purple are gorgeous. It’s usually best and a pretty standard technique so you probably already know this but there is a technique I use to avoid pieces stretching out of shape. baste stitch around all edges before I do anything else to the piece. This helps it keep its shape while it is waiting to be sewn. I use this on all of my designs, not having instructions to follow to refer to, as I make my own patterns. (Another thing to keep in mind is that stretching tends to happen more around curved edges) When you design for curvy figures than this tends to help with the issue of pieces stretching out of place.


  32. Nay says:

    Can’t wait for more Fabric Focus posts 🙂

  33. Gjeometry says:

    Ah-ha! The very first project I ever made (a 2 rectangle, dirndl skirt), I used stretch cotton sateen. I actually didn’t know that’s what it was when I purchased it, but it sewed up so nicely and really made the very simple skirt look a tad more upscale and fall much nicer. Definitely highly recommended for a new sewist working on that famous first dirndl skirt project.

  34. meggameuf says:

    I haven’t tried it myself (yet), but if trousers are more your thing, I think cotton sateen would be a great match for the Colette Clover pattern. She calls for something with a bit of drape and about 3% stretch; yes, cotton sateen can be a bit thin, but with a large print it might not matter (if you know what I mean). You’d have such a lot of fun prints to choose from, and as patterned trousers are all the rage at the mo, you’d be well in fashion.

  35. emily says:

    An excellent idea for a set of posts – I often find I struggle with US/UK equivalents of fabrics and can’t work out whether I’m using something sensible or not (so just trust my gut). Looking forward to learning lots 🙂

  36. Rachel says:

    What a wonderful series idea! Although my sewing skills are getting better, I still struggle with fabric decisions and moving away from cotton, particularly because the fabric stores around me don’t label anything, so I never know what I’m looking at.

  37. SpinningAnna says:

    I think I got sold a piece of cotton stretch sateen when I went for a good fabric for a simple lined dress. It’s quite sturdy fabric and doesn’t need lining. But now I’m stuck because I’m using an old treadle sewing machine that has no zig zag stitch. Stretchy fabric doesn’t do wel with a straight stitch does it? Does this fabric needs a zig zag stich to make the sideseam? (I’m such a beginner)

  38. dibbles2014 says:

    Hi, great post. I just bought a cotton sateen top from a chain store – you’re right the fabric is quite stiff so I had to go up a size. I’m having to get the top altered though as it’s a little big in some parts. Should this fabric be prewashed prior to alterations? Does it shrink? Thanks

  39. Hilary says:

    Would you wash the fabric before sewing a garment?

  40. meandershine says:

    Hi! thanks for your write up. I bought some cotton/elastane fabric because I just loved it, but did not know what to do with it. I have 4 yards, plenty for a dress, but am wondering if I could make long sleeves out of it, or if I should stick with short sleeves. Do you have any thoughts on this? will it drape properly? it is a little stiff, so I do not want to feel like I am wearing armor!

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