Do Certain Fabrics Make You Shiver?

sewing kindness

First things first, a blog reader comment that I don’t want anyone to miss:

The nicest people read your blog, Karen. I’ll usually just skim through comments but I read every one just now because they were all kind & encouraging. Made my day. x

This came in from Kathy. Kathy’s family, if you’re reading this: she needs breakfast in bed every day for the next year. And to all of you, a huge thank you for your lovely comments on my last blog post.

And now, on to the burning question of my day. What makes a fabric warm or cold against the skin? No, no! Don’t go yet! Bear with me…

I have noticed that there are some items I’ve sewn, but hardly wear – because every time I pull them on, my skin gives a shudder of cold. It’s not a nice feeling. Other fabrics I can’t stop touching, because they’re so warm against the skin.

I’m not talking obvious warmth or coolness – wool versus cotton – I’m talking something unique to a particular bolt of fabric, almost regardless of type. Where does that come from?

velvet

This velvet has a shiny wrong side, which makes it a dream to wear with tights. But I’d never wear it against bare skin. It would just feel … wrong.

I’m not convinced this is a synthetic versus natural debate. Synthetic microfleece is lovely against the skin, so it’s not about source. Is it about thread composition? Weave? Or might it be about the finishing on the fabric? Apparently, there can be a raising process which draws out the ends of fibres and makes them warmer. Flannel, anyone?

gingham pyjamas

My perfunctory Google researching hasn’t really helped. Can you? Every day’s a school day!

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37 Responses to Do Certain Fabrics Make You Shiver?

  1. Jenny says:

    Though I’ve certainly experienced this, I haven’t a clue why! I have two vintage blouses made from the same challis fabric and while they both have the most beautiful drape, one is like a hug and the other feels almost ‘wet’ when I put it on! Perhaps labels should show not only crease resistance but hugability too!! (not sure that’s in any dictionary lol)

  2. Polyester – it can drape so beautifully but I get static shocks just looking at it. I actually love viscose…definitely not synthetic versus natural because some silks feel rubbery and cold to me.

  3. Gillian Chappell says:

    Scuba is horrible . I have to feel clothes and fabrics before I buy- my family laugh at me touching things and scuba just feels so awful it makes my flesh creep. It is every where at the moment. I love crepe but cannot do satin backed crepe it just feels wrong. I think I need therapy !

  4. Gillian Anderson says:

    Thank you Karen, I thought it was just me!
    Ive never noticed it specifically until recently when I ordered stretch velvet in three colours to make simple long sleeved tee-shirts for when I wanted something cosy but more dressed up than my usual winter sweaters. OMG, they’re hideous – not to look at you understand, but to wear. They are so cold to put on, and weirdly they don’t warm up as you wear them so every movement brings the equivalent of a trickle of cold water on your skin. They give me goose bumps just to think of them. Sadly, all three are in the charity pile already, and two have never even been worn!
    They are basically polyester in make up, so I assume it’s not fabric composition at fault, but I suspect it’s the shiny backing that makes them impossible to wear….although perhaps they’d have been great in July. Maybe I should have hung on for summer 🙄.

  5. Georganne Dipippo says:

    Ohhhh….I was soooo hoping you were going to have an answer to this! I sew a lot of knits and I haven’t figured out which ones are cold. I first noticed it when ITY knits became popular so I stayed away from them but that theory didn’t hold up….it’s one reason I don’t like ordering online…can’t hold them to my body…

    • didyoumakethat says:

      I know, it’s so frustrating! Couldn’t find anything online. I’m holding out for an expert reader answering our question for us.

  6. I don’t like slinky fabrics that slide around on my skin-the drape might be nice but I just don’t like the feeling. With me, any fabric with a shiny side makes me feel cold although I love velvet so I bite my lip when I wear that!

  7. I suspect that it may partially be that many people who sew are not neurotypical, or that we have a heightened awareness of tactile qualities that may have drawn us to sewing in the first place? I’m totally speculating, but it was the first thing that occurred to me.

    • didyoumakethat says:

      Interestingly, someone on twitter told me that fabric touch is incredibly important to her visually impaired daughter.

    • Exactly what I though too. I have only personally experienced this with one or two fabrics [yes, shiny sided poly types usually] but get completely creeped out by the feel [and sound] of polystyrene packaging. I can’t bear the stuff!
      I’m completely ‘normal’ of course [ahem] but my wife insists I’m distinctly ‘aspy’. I blame the maths…

  8. JenL says:

    Some online fabric shops will describe a fabric as “cool to the touch.” It’s interesting. I wonder if some fabric weaves are like cucumbers – cooler than the outside air?

  9. Teresa says:

    Ah this is so interesting. I worked for some years with young people on the autistic spectrum, some of whom had quite strong dislike of certain fabrics, and often I found I agreed with them. Mostly the dislike on my part was difficult to figure out – too cold (they weren’t cold to colleagues); too damp (they weren’t damp). I just put it down to me being over fussy/imaginative/empathetic with the pupils.

  10. LinB says:

    Might have something to do with the nap. Flannel, fleece, the right side of velvets, any “brushed” fabrics are warmer to wear than smooth, flat fabrics. The tiny bit of elevation helps to trap air between the fabric and your skin, and thus insulates the warmth from your body.

    Slick, shiny fabrics can have the opposite effect. They tend to wick away moisture from your skin, and cool you by evaporation. That’s why a lightweight silk, a loose linen, an unstarched cotton is so cool to wear in the summertime.

    Or, maybe it’s just the Devil. I blame a lot of things on the Devil.

    • Jeanette says:

      I had the same thought about brushed fabrics versus smooth fabrics. A sheet versus a blanket, for example. The blanket feels warmer as soon as it touches your skin. The sheet feels cold. A smooth blouse usually feels colder to me than a sweater when I first put it on.

      Some of the other things mentioned in these comments, however, don’t seem to relate to my comment; maybe something else is going on.

  11. It’s all about texture for me. I don’t like anything rough against my skin, and as others have mentioned, slinky, slippery fabrics don’t always feel right. (One exception, slinky fabrics against freshly shaved legs …) But I’m also hypersensitive to texture in food and there are plenty of things I simply will not eat because of the way it feels in my mouth (soup, for example). It’s difficult to put it into words, but some things just feel right and other things make my skin crawl.

  12. B-rouchka says:

    Easy answer: do not use anything poly…. I line most of my makes with silk, and once you get used to that, you just hate anything else 😃

  13. Susan Snyder says:

    Ability to transfer heat is part of it. All pile fabrics (velvet, fleece) have less ability to transfer heat than do smooth fabrics. That is why silk satin can feel cool, even though it is natural fiber and polyester fleece feels warm.

    There is also hydrophilic (absorbs moisture) and hydrophobic (does not absorb moisture) at work. Wool, cotton, linen, rayon, silk absorb water easily. Polyester, nylon, etc, do not. That is why the synthetics tend to feel cool or static-y in cold weather but hot (keep your body moisture and heat in between you and your clothing) in warm weather.

    There is more to it than that but it’s a start.

  14. Clare says:

    To change topic slightly does anyone else feel overcome with the temptation to touch some fabrics? This is not good if it’s just an item worn by a stranger in a busy bus I’m not really that odd. I think it’s just the lure of fabric isn’t it? I have very occasionally asked about a garment 🤣. I do understand spatial and social boundaries etc Tell me it’s not just me.

    • didyoumakethat says:

      The worst for me is when someone is stood in front of me on the escalator and I find my hand reaching out…

      • Clare says:

        Totally. I did once ask a lady on the bus back from the plane if I could touch her jacket. Either she was a kindred spirit or just too polite to refuse and said yes -so I did! It was really delightful to touch but I held back from stroking

  15. Robin says:

    Rayon jersey, and rayon generally, is cool to the touch. Not universally perhaps, but most of the time you can make that assumption. I ordered many yards of it, made a few pieces into turtleneck jumpers. I can’t wear them on cold days. A friend of mine will benefit from the remainder of my stash, as I make her summer dresses from it, which she loves.

    Different times in life I react physically and emotionally to different textures as well. Going through menopause, I thought I would never be able to wear any non-organic materials ever again, but here I am on the other side, loving polyesters of all stripes. I’m glad, because avoiding specific fabrics seems like such a creative waste.

    Now I take delight in ordering mystery bundles, so I can sample all different kinds and colors without a bias I might have otherwise given into, if sight was seen.

  16. rosearbor says:

    Oh so many factors enter into this! Thermodynamics for one thing, how efficient something is at conducting heat. Body heat is in the infrared range, and there are materials which do not absorb infrared very easily (nylon, or spandex, is one if those materials. Some silks also are like this). Cotton and polyester do tend to absorb in the 10 micron infrared wavelength and so will not transmit heat away from the body as effectively. Mechanics also comes into it, especially at the earliest stages of spinning the yarns, whether they are natural fibers or synthetics. There is a whole industry built around spinning of yarns, especially synthetics, and the technology that goes into performance fabrics is mind boggling. All you have to do is think of polyesters of 10 years ago vs what you can get today. Then there are the finishes, as well as the weaves. Knits are pretty standard, in that a knit stich is a knit stitch, but you can have bonded knits and layered knits. All of these factors can affect how fabric feels.

  17. I always wondered if I was the only one with fabric hyper sensitivity : I cannot wear wool, even merino is a tad itchy for me, sequin, some thick seams and raw silk make my skin raw, any acrylic feels icky squeaky (at the store I am often tempted to buy it, those sweater seems so soft, but after one wash, I can’t stand it!), polyester feels like quantum velcro hooks on my finger tips… I was super disapointed when I sewn a bra with a duoplex with sheer stripes because the underbust edge of the fabric feels like a micro serated knife on my skin from the tiny bump after each sheer line… But I love rayon, tencel, modal, cotton, linen… even with spandex or nylon. I can wear some polar fleece, but some are icky squeaky too! But I love my poly velvet shirt and do not feel cold in it even if the inside is slick…

    • Ann S says:

      That is it exactly, icky squeaky, both my mother and I touch clothes in shops and have the same response, like silver paper in your fillings, weird isn’t it ?

      • YES! But most people just look at me funny when I try to explain the feeling some fabrics have for me… I am glad to find fabric touchy-feely people like me in the sewing community!

  18. Denim is the one that makes me shudder Flat hard and cold. I’m the person who changes out of their jeans when they get home rather than into them. Perhaps if I had some that had been washed a zillion times but mine never get to that point.

  19. Kathy Lynch says:

    I’m so touchy/feel-y in the fabric store for this very reason; SUCH an interesting topic! (Also, I feel very honoured to have been quoted at the beginning of this post – thank you Karen! Needless to say, I have insisted my family read & TAKE NOTE of your most excellent recommendation! Teehee.) 🙂

  20. Connie says:

    There are some fabrics that actually cause me to feel revulsion. I want to rub my fingers after touching because they just feel disgusting to me. Some poly fabrics I cannot wear because they immediately make me feel to hot.

  21. Terry Baker says:

    This post and relies are so brilliant. I’ve sewn for 55 years and my feelings about ‘feel’ get stronger!
    My daughter doesn’t sew but if we go shopping together we almost always have the same response to touching clothing – she reckons I’ve infected her!

  22. Bobbi Antonucci says:

    I agree with you. I have a beautiful RTW velvet top that was given to me as a gift. I rarely wear it. It is cold to the touch and I have to wear a long sleeve tshirt under it. And, if that is not enough, they sewed it with the nap going the wrong way!!! Nap should lie flatter/smoother going down and they made it so the nap stands when brushed down. Maybe that was on purpose to give it a richer color but it drives me nuts. I so want a velvet top, but haven’t found fabric that feels right.

  23. Jenny says:

    As a cyclist I’ve noticed the difference between some 100% polyester cycling tops and others of the same composition: they appear much the same but one can be icky squeaky and really sweaty to wear, whereas the other will be comfortable.

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