The Difference Between Poplin Cotton And Lawn Cotton

poplin cotton left lawn cotton right

Left: Poplin Cotton, Right: Lawn Cotton

If you’re anything like me, you’ll often struggle to discern between poplin and lawn cotton. I believe people often buy poplin, believing it’s lawn cotton. But there are some distinct differences that can make all the difference to your dressmaking.

lawn cotton versus poplin cotton

Poplin is a durable, lightweight cotton. It’s not dissimilar to quilting cotton, though of a lighter heft and less prone to creasing. It has a tight weave, which in my experience can make it surprisingly tricky to sew with: it often seems to resist a needle. I use a fine, microtex needle – and even then my stitching can be uneven in tension with lots of ‘bounce’ on the rear.

FUN FACT Poplin’s name is inspired by a 15th-century pope, based in Avignon where the fabric was once made.

Lawn cotton also uses a tight weave but a finer thread, giving it a buttery smooth surface texture. (You can see a full run down on Liberty Tana Lawn here.) It’s finer than poplin, with a crisp hand. Don’t buy lawn cotton if you’re looking for drape. It needs careful finishing because of the lightness of fabric. When I made my M6885 in lawn cotton, I avoided the overlocker and chose French seams.

My acid test is to hold both fabrics up to a strong light. Lawn will show more translucency. Very difficult to photograph, but discernible to the eye.

light shining through fabric

If you’re buying online, remember to check the fabric description. If you’re buying in person, don’t be embarrassed to check with a member of staff. Is this lawn or poplin? Either way, a decent shop should accurately label.

You can’t go that far wrong. Both are really nice, high quality fabrics. But a lightweight lawn feels like a breeze against your skin. You may need to wear layers beneath, but it’s worth it. Poplin is beautiful in its own way, and possibly a tad more practical. It all depends on the project.

Which do you prefer? Any tips for choosing cottons?

“When the evening for the small party came, she found that the poplin wouldn’t do at all, for the other girls were putting on thin dresses and making themselves very fine indeed.” Little Women, Louisa May Alcott

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22 Responses to The Difference Between Poplin Cotton And Lawn Cotton

  1. Elaine says:

    Thanks very much for this Karen. I am sewing with Liberty poplin at the moment. I sewed it into a top yesterday and today I’m going to sew a dress from the same fabric. This post was really useful as I found it difficult to get even stitches and the right tension. I’m going to change to a Microtex needle as you recommend. I found it much trickier to work with than expected, having used tana lawn with no problem. The poplin seemed to have a bounce to it and didn’t press well. The top did turn out wearable, through not as neat as I’d like. My topstitching on the binding looks a bit iffy!
    I love your blog Karen. I started sewing a year ago, self taught, and couldn’t have done it without the guidance and inspiration I have found on sewing blogs. Thank you so much.
    Best wishes. Elaine. X

  2. Anne Frances says:

    This is very helpful. Thank you. I tend to expect poplin (but not necessarily lawn) to be made of a mercerised cotton, or at least to have a degree of permanent shine. I was quite disappointed recently when I bought (over the internet, so sight unseen) some fabric that was described as poplin, but turned out when pre-washed to have a slightly fuzzy look and feel much more akin to quilting cotton, though that is also often more loosely woven. I see that some dictionaries define poplin as a fabric with a corded weave, which I am puzzled by, though the Cambridge dictionary agrees with me that it is ” a slightly shiny cotton fabric”. I think that since (like satin) the reference is to the weave, you can have blends – well at least poly-cotton blends – in both lawn and poplin. I believe the American for poplin is “broadcloth”. I know Tana Lawn does not have much drape, but some lawns ( for example those used for heirloom sewing) can surely be quite “floaty”. I shall be interested to see what other people think.

    • Jen (NY) says:

      Poplin and broadcloth are sometimes confused over here. I think of poplin as being like crisp men’s shirting fabric, but I think of broadcloth as being closer to quilting cotton. Not sure if that’s right, but that’s been my understanding.

  3. Perfect quote for this interesting post!

  4. racurac2 says:

    Thanks! Very interesting post. In Spanish (at least in my country) poplin is “popelina” so, it mantains the origins of the word! I found that adjusting the tension of the presser foot helps with the stitches. My Viking husqvarna (unlike my old singer) has a feature that tells you what tension to use with each type of fabric.

  5. Thank you for this! Very helpful.

  6. helen says:

    I have just made a lawn shirt and you are right, against your skin if feels wonderful. I much prefer lawn to poplin but do tend to buy poplin more often as it is easier to come buy and less expensive.

  7. Lois says:

    Anne – how interesting to me that you comment that the American for poplin is broadcloth. I have been puzzled by lightweight poplin shirts. In my American childhood, poplin was a heavier, maybe corded, bottom weight fabric. Perhaps the dictionary you cite that says it is a corded weave uses an American definition? I am always amused by the differences in the ways British and American English use the same terms for different meanings. 😉

  8. This was a great post! When ordering online I always check to make sure it’s lawn but I forget to ask about that in my local fabric shop. They will identify “quilt cotton” but often not put labels to identify whether is poplin or lawn. Actually it’s almost impossible to get lawn here (I’m in Victoria BC Canada) from our in person OR online Canadian shops – I buy it all online from the UK 🙂

    • Jeanette says:

      PsychicSewer Kathleen: There is beautiful lawn (including Liberty) available through Fabric.com in the USA. It might be less expensive to order it from the US instead of from the UK (except for Liberty). I think Liberty costs more in the US because it’s imported from England.

    • Lydia says:

      I live in vancouver BC, and Fabricana imports in Richmond andCoquitlam have silk and cotton blend lawn in some sections…usually mixed up with wedding fabrics or silks. Their store are huge…over fifteen twenty thousand square feet, so it takes a while to find. Spool of thread I vancouver is a small sewing lounge that sells liberty lawns, and some other types– not too many…so if you are visiting Vancouver from the island, check it out!

      • Fabricana has lovely fabrics and I hadn’t thought to look in among the wedding fabrics. I also wasn’t aware that Spool of Thread sells liberty lawns {I’ve only been there twice.} Thanks for sharing!

  9. Jeanette says:

    I was also surprised by the comment that poplin in America is called broadcloth. I have lived most of my life in America, and to me, poplin was heavy enough to be used for light-weight jackets, maybe pants, but not for shirts. Maybe a shirt in America would be made from broadcloth. It’s interesting, and confusing sometimes, how we think that the English and the American speak the same language, when there are actually a lot of differences.

  10. I tend to stick to rayon–specifically challis–as my woven of choice, but for shirtmaking, you can’t beat cotton. I think I end up with “batiste” or broadcloth most of the time though, because all the labeled poplin I’ve ever found is more like a medium to bottom weight. I don’t know this for sure though, because all the shirting fabric I’ve bought has been labeled “shirting” and is made of cotton or poly/cotton blend.

  11. craftysurf says:

    Excellent info! Thank you 🤙

  12. Helpful information! Thank you Karen.

    Question…is there a cotton that you would consider drapey and floaty?

  13. Mary E.Dadds says:

    I had never heard of lawn,until recently.I am reading a lot about it.I think I purchased a small piece last summer.Dont know how great of quality it is-it was bought from Joannes fabrics here in the States.Thank you for you post on these fabrics.

  14. LinB says:

    Dictionary definition of “poplin” states that it is a corded fabric. I’ve never seen any poplin that was all-cotton. It’s always a cotton-polyester blend.

    But I live in the provinces.

  15. Our local fabric Store called The Fabric Store (!) now stocks a wide range of Liberty fabrics, and for mens shirts I prefer poplin as it has a heavier hand. But oh my gosh i love wearing Liberty Tana lawn and my new favourite dress, as yet unblogged, is made from Alma in the warm colourway. Different fabrics for different garments, simples 🙂
    Poplin feels as if it has some nylon in it, it feels glossier. I know it doesn’t but that is how it feels to me.

  16. kk says:

    There is nothing like lawn available here in Finland. For me poplin is something most of the cheap everyday shirts are made of. I buy my lawn from UK and I love its softness. The only problem really is its see-throughness. I have 3 metres of white Liberty tana lawn that I don’t know what to do with since it is so thin. I haven’t seen any projects that use that kind of fabric besides nighties and I don’t really need one.

  17. Interesting post. Thank you.

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