Substrate Series: Rayon

Cotton+Steel is partnering with Colette Patterns for a fun and informative Substrate Series! Learn all about a specific fabric substrate here on the Cotton+Steel blog, then pop over to the Colette Patterns blog to see how it sews up into garments. Yay knowledge!

So what's a substrate, anyway? In the fabric world, the word "substrate" refers to the material that a design is applied to. I can mean fiber content (cotton? linen? rayon?) but also refers to weave structure and weight.

Today’s featured substrate is rayon.

When you’re wearing a rayon dress, we’re not gonna lie, you feel pretty great. Rayon has a cool hand and a smooth touch. It shimmers and ripples in the breeze, and the ink colors are deep and richly saturated. It’s ok if you imagine that you’re walking in slow motion everywhere you go. You might even pretend there’s a Beyonce fan in front of you. It’s ok. We get it. It’s the rayon.

rayon explained

Rayon is a plant based fabric, and a fairly new one in the grand history of textile production. It began in the mid-1800’s as an attempt to create ‘artificial silk,’ though at the time the methods used proved too expensive and unpredictable to apply to a larger scale. Over the next 50 years the process was added to and refined by a number of different chemists, and by the early 20th century rayon was being manufactured for a variety of purposes.

Rayon starts out as plant cellulose. It undergoes a series of chemical processes that essentially break the cellulose down into a solution. The solution is then extruded (pushed through tiny holes) into another solution that causes it to turn into fibers. The fibers are collected, trimmed and spun into thread.

Rayon fibers are extremely absorbent because of their plant cell makeup. That’s why rayon fabric feels stiff when it’s wet - it absorbs so much water that the fibers become less flexible. Because of this quality, they respond very well to ink and dye. A deeper level of saturation is possible than on cotton, so it’s always extra fun to see our designs printed on rayon.

For Cotton+Steel, rayon is (at the moment) our only exclusively-garment fabric that we create, which is something that definitely affects the design process. We carefully consider colors to make sure that they are garment-friendly, and we “test” all the rayons by illustrating garment mockups and filling them with the prints to ensure that the scale and general look make sense for clothing.

(Side note: did you catch the video in our canvas post about how our fabric is made in Japan? If not, watch it here!)

working with rayon

As for care, we recommend dry cleaning rayon. When rayon is wet, it is extra fragile from all the water it has absorbed, so exposing it to the heat and agitation of a washer and dryer will cause it to break down faster. Iron on medium heat and on the wrong side of the fabric, or use a handheld steamer for wrinkles. For light wrinkles, try hanging the garment in the bathroom while you take a shower - sometimes that’s all it takes to relax the fabric!

Rayon is more slippery and fluid than quilting cotton, so take your time when cutting and make sure you have ample space. Cotton+Steel rayon specifically has a firmer hand and thickness than other rayons, making it easier to work with and less clingy when wearing. If you’ve been intimidated by working with rayon in the past, Cotton+Steel rayon is a great one to start with!

The Colette team stitched up their Myrtle pattern in a rayon from the just-released Rifle Paper Co. Les Fleurs collection. Les Fleurs, designed by Rifle Paper Co.’s Anna Bond, is Cotton+Steel’s first-ever guest designed collection. Check out their post for more pictures and tons of amazing tips for sewing with rayon!