Fabric Focus – Cotton Lawn

Cotton lawn is a beautiful fabric both to wear and work with.

Cotton fabrics are an excellent choice for dressmaking

They are a natural fibre so will keep you cool in Summer and warmer in Winter. It also helps to wick away any perspiration and can be washed at high temperatures. 

Cotton lawn is a beautiful fabric to work with and as its name suggests is made from 100% cotton. It was originally produced in the French city of Laon, which is where the term ‘lawn’ derives from. 

The yarn of a lawn fabric is much finer than a normal thread and is combed to give it a soft almost lustrous look. Because of the fineness of the yarns they can be woven together quite tightly giving the fabric a high ‘thread count’, usually between 150 and 200 threads per inch. This means it has an almost satin smooth feel and drapes very softly. 

Lawn fabric was introduced to the UK in the 16th century, but was traditionally made of linen. However by the 20th century due to the rise of the East India company and the ready availability of imported cotton production changed from linen to cotton. 

Cotton lawn is synonymous with Liberty of London who made their Tana Lawn fabrics famous in the 1920s. They used a fine, long staple cotton from Africa and named it ‘Tana Lawn’ after Lake Tana in Ethiopia.

Image from Liberty of London

As it is a natural fibre it takes up colour extremely well and colours remain true and fast, not fading. So cotton lawn makes a superb base fabric for colourful vibrant prints which companies like Liberty have made excellent use of. 


What you can make with Cotton Lawn

Because it is just a fine fabric and as such a soft feel and drape it was traditionally used for children’s dresses and undergarments. But it can be used for so many more projects. 

Cotton Lawn makes up beautifully into full summer dresses or blouses, unstructured loungewear like pyjamas mens dressing gowns. 

You can also use it as a fabulous way to add contrast to fasings or collars and cuffs. As it is a light weight fabric it will not add any bulk but will give you the splash of colour you are seeking. 

Because of its soft feel and drape it is much better suited to unstructured clothing. It will not work successfully in tailored garments unless mounted onto something that can give it the body it needs to create the structure required.  


Working With Cotton Lawn

Cotton lawn is created with a plain weave making it a lovely stable fabric to work with. This means it’s a good choice for beginners as it will not stretch and warp when you handle and sew it.

As it is such a fine fabric make sure you use the correct needle. Use a finer needle such as a 60/8  and if you are getting skipped stitches try using a Sharps or Microtex machine needle.

To avoid using large pin marks you can use finer Silk pins which are much easier to work with and won’t leave any marks in your fabric.

You can use an overlocker with Cotton lawn but to be honest the best seam finish is a French Seam where the raw edges are contained within the seam itself. Overlocking can lead to puckering because it is such a fine fabric so you may need to adjust the Differential feed. Although using the rolled hem finish in an overlocker to hem and edge cotton lawn looks amazing. 

Always do a test sample first as you may well need to adjust the tension slightly if you find the seams puckering. 

When pressing Cotton Lawn it’s a good idea to use a pressing cloth. Although cotton can take high temperatures it is such a fine fabric you don’t want to overpress or potentially scorch the fabric accidentally. 

Any interfacing you use should reflect the weight of the fabric. I love using the Vilene H180 Ultrasoft. It is also soft and lightweight so will not change the nature of the cotton lawn but just adds that bit of support. 

Using chalk to mark your fabric can be tricky as the cotton lawn is so fine. It can be quicker and easier to use a water soluble pen to make sure any marks are removed from your fabric after you’re finished.

Cotton lawn is a beautiful fabric and a delight to work with. Why not have a look at our Cotton fabrics for some inspiration.