Sewing Viscose, or is it Rayon??: Fabric Tips

sewing viscoseViscose (known in the US as Rayon) often elicits very strong feelings. Some sewists hate this material, while others see its benefits.  I remember back in the late 1980's and early 1990's when this fabric started to be popular and it was used for numerous garments that you would see on the racks in the store. The material does not crease much and was, therefore, a big draw for clothing stores. However, the first time the garment gets washed, it tends to shrink. This often meant a big waste of money, so after a while, viscose clothes went right back on the rack when the shopper saw a label saying viscose or rayon.

Today, however, viscose standards are significantly different and many sewists are turning to viscose more often. While the fabric should always be pre-washed before you start a sewing project, that's usually advisable for any material you will be using.

sewing viscose

Interestingly enough, viscose is made from wood!  It's considered a manufactured fiber, but it isn't synthetic –if that makes any sense.  The fibers are made of wood pulp which is a naturally-occurring, cellulose-based raw material.  Rayon was created to be an “artificial silk.” While that day has yet to arrive, the appeal of viscose has increased in recent years. That may not be the opinion of everyone, however.

Viscose is used a lot in blends. In a viscose/linen blend, an owner can be confident they won't have to deal with creases. Meanwhile, a viscose/jersey blend is popular despite having few obvious benefits.

sewing viscose

Viscose Linen Blend

For the pro column on viscose, it is available almost everywhere and it's also usually reasonably priced. It drapes very well and looks great and is useful in certain blouse styles. When it comes to the downside of this fabric, it can be hard to cut and sew for those just getting into sewing. Pins fall out easily. Also, the fabric does not work well for a piece of clothing with structure. For that, try another fabric or plan on using an underliner in a different fabric if you do use viscose.

If you are planning to use viscose for projects, be prepared for the challenge of sewing viscose.

Comparison of Viscose to Cotton and Polyester

Measurement Cotton Viscose Polyester
Softness Good Very good Poor
Smoothness Poor Good Very good
Moisture Regain Good Very good Poor
Thermal Protection Good Very good Poor
Drape Good Very good Poor
Luster Poor Very good Very good
Crease Recovery Poor Poor Very good
Antipilling Good Very good Poor
Wash & Wear Good Poor Very good

Some sewing enthusiasts are still a bit confused on the difference between viscose and rayon. Below is an effort to point out differences (hint: there really aren't any…)

What is Viscose?

According to Wikipedia, Viscose is defined as “a fiber made from regenerated wood cellulose.” It is also called viscose rayon. The fabric specifically comes from the cellulose of the bamboo plant. This is used to create rayon, which is a popular form of viscose. Rayon is then popular for use in furniture, bed sheets, slip covers and tablecloths, just to name a few. Cellophane is also made using viscose. The first thing people think of when they consider cellophane is plastic wrap commonly used in the home. Viscose has become more valuable and is used in the creation of many products.

sewing viscose

What is Rayon?

Rayon, meanwhile, is defined by Wikipedia as “manufactured regenerated cellulose fiber.” Rayon is a manufactured fiber, but it is not considered either manufactured or natural. Instead, it is considered “regenerated,” because a chemical change occurs and the cellulose fiber is reformed or reconstructed.

Rayon was originally made for use in home furnishings. It takes dye very easily because it is very absorbent. However, it does not withstand the heavy wear that furniture faces in the home or a business. It is currently woven or knitted to create items of clothing. Viscose rayon or modulus rayon are the two most common types of rayon.

Therefore, as you can see, it is hard to determine significant differences between viscose and rayon. Instead, you can consider these two types of fabric interchangeable.

Your thoughts on sewing viscose or rayon?

What are your thoughts and feelings about sewing viscose?  Have you had any huge successes or abject failures with viscose or rayon?  Please share in the comments below.  We'd love to hear about it.

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32 Responses to Sewing Viscose, or is it Rayon??: Fabric Tips

  1. gayle rush says:

    Hi! Does rayon breathe? I roast in polyester even in winter in Wyoming! Is that the same with viscose? Could you please send me your answer? (have a brain injury and will forget to find the answer here). thanks so much!

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      It does, however, be careful if buying a blend. The blend of rayon/polyester will have great drape ability but poor breathability. rayon/linen or rayon/cotton is my preferred option. I notice today that clothing manufacturers do not want to use the word polyester so much rather use just Viscose instead. The more breathable fabric you will find it sold as simply Rayon. The only way to test if you are using rayon/polyester is to do a burn test.

  2. Ann Seabolt says:

    I absolutely love rayon & don’t have a problem with wrinkles. Love the flow & feel of the fabric

  3. Shirley Gambero says:

    Thanks for the info. I teach sewing and this was a topic of conversation recently. I will be sharing on my Facebook page for my students to see. Thanks again.

  4. Jill Paxton says:

    I love Rayon. but you do have to make sure you you use a 1.5cm (5/8ins) seam or french seams as it frays easily and seams often, on bought garments, pull apart.. I love it for travel as long as you drip dry and don’t wring it out too vigorously.

  5. Pauline says:

    Am I the only one that has problem with it pilling? Otherwise I love sewing with rayon/lycra.

  6. Vireya says:

    Surprised you didn’t mention bamboo fabric, which is very popular these days, but is just viscose made from bamboo wood instead of trees.

  7. I’ve grown to like it a lot. My latest piece has a twill weave so it is beautifully stable but with a lovely drape. Gorgeous italian fabric. Can’t wait to sew with it.

  8. Lisa says:

    In my experience viscose and rayon only appear to shrink in the wash. Once they hang they stretch back out (lengthwise). For this reason, it is really important to let your garment hang for about 24 hrs before hemming or your hem will be too long after a little bit of wear.

  9. notconvincedgranny says:

    I love rayon. It takes dye like a dream and drapes beautifully. I think of it as “a natural product put through an synthetic process.” As long as you pre-wash it’s easy to handle and you can make just about anything with it. But…I always use French, flat fell or serged seams.

  10. Karen says:

    I love wearing and sewing with rayon and have for many years.

  11. Rosemary says:

    I love sewing with challis, it drapes so well , it does need to be preshrunk but once that is doneeded I find it washes and wears extremely well with minimum ironing.

  12. trifles says:

    Love rayon, viscose, linen, cotton – all the naturally derived,breathable fibers. I will not wear plastic polyester which is uncomfortable and pollutes. And I do not fear wrinkles – I’ve got better things to worry about.

    • TerriSue says:

      Here, here!!! You just stated exactly what I state all the time. When I go into a fabric store and see all of the space taken up with polyester fleece I want to scream. It’s yucky, doesn’t breathe and is using up our oil resources. My four grandchildren sleep under it. I can talk until I am blue in the face but my daughter and DIL don’t see the problem. I also don’t mind ironing. It can be relaxing! Keep spreading the word…I sure try.

  13. Jean says:

    One thing that wasn’t brought up in the article that might be useful to others is that rayon is the most delicate when wet, so you want to handle it carefully. Once dried, however, the fibers are very strong. I have found that it doesn’t wrinkle badly if you either line dry it or pull it out of a low-heat dryer immediately after the cycle ends. By letting it sit in the dryer, the fabric tends to “set” any wrinkles.

  14. Mary Huiatt says:

    Thank you for this article and introduction to Viscose. I didn’t know it was the same asRayon. I don’t like sewing with Rayon, so probably wouldn’t like Viscose. But I have several scarves that are made of Viscose and are labled “do not wash”. I now will try hand washing in cool water; even if there is some shrinkage they are large scarves so it won’t matter. Thank you again!

  15. verna bohnert says:

    I think rayon/viscose is a beautiful fabric and I am currently shopping on line for some. I would like to purchase a small print and a coordinating larger print in the same or colors that would blend, I am having a hard time achieving this! I saw a blouse recently that had a smaller print for the inset (yokes) and parts of the sleeve and the larger print for the body of the blouse, very cute but didn’t want to spend $45.00 on it since I sew, any suggestions? Do any online fabric stores sell fabrics that coordinate with each other? Thanks. I have noticed that if the fabric has a somewhat “busy” print, wrinkles do not show!

  16. pennyhammack says:

    Viscose/Rayon was first introduced back in the 1920’s and 1930’s as a substitute for silk. It was then and is now a very poor substitute. It wrinkles and has to be ironed, doesn’t wear well, and as noted, shrinks. At age 77 I do not iron so that leaves me out of the rayon market as well as the 100% cotton market. A small percentage of polyester will make cotton virtually no iron so that is what I look for in clothing as well as sewing fabric. Unfortunately the blend is getting ever more difficult to find so I’m thankful for my fabric stash purchased fifteen to twenty-five years ago.

    • Crystal Plummer says:

      Pennyhammack – I would recommend looking in the Amish and Mennonite areas (Lancaster, PA, for an example) for nice Poly/Cotton mixes. The Amish and Mennonites typically use “Tropical Breeze” fabric which is a lovely poly/cotton blend. I have shopped fabric stores in those areas and found hundreds of designs and colors at very reasonable prices (I typically pay $5.99-$6.99 a yard for poly/cotton).

  17. Dottie says:

    I find rayon to be so lovely to look at and wear. It’s soft, comfortable and flowy. Very feminine. A quick iron is all that’s needed.

  18. Janice says:

    I love to wear and sew with rayon. In the summer it breathes and is cool to the touch. I wear it all year around. You did not mention that rayon fabrics vary in weight just like any other fiber content. Challis weight is perfect for blouses, dresses, fullish skirts. Look for a heavier weight or a blend for pants.

  19. Brenda says:

    I agree with the creasing. Looks good first ironed and then creases immediately I thought it was being used more now by clothing manufacturers because cotton has got so expensive

  20. Irene Valle // Serger Pepper Designs says:

    Is no one experiencing viscose smelling bad? Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t wear blouses or tops (anything going under my armpits) made in viscose or rayon, even in blends. They stink in no time and it’s hard to be washed away! ?
    So for me viscose is a huge no no…

    • Petra A says:

      Sooo true!!! I was just thinking “why don’t I buy clothes made with viscose anymore?” – thanks for reminding me why I stay away from those pretty tops and blouses…

    • Jill Paxton says:

      Try washing the garment with baking soda in the wash. It usually removes stains and smells from fabric.

  21. In the past any garments that I had made of rayon or a rayon blend were impossible for me to keep from wrinkling. I would iron and wear the garment and 30 minutes or so later it would be full of wrinkles from sitting, driving, holding the baby,etc. For this reason I have stayed away from rayon. Is today’s rayon less prone to wrinkling? You mentioned that it is crease resistant.

  22. Eileen Carey says:

    Back in the 80’s rayon was my go to fabric, and did not find it difficult to sew. I’m happy to see that it’s becoming more readily available. Flows skirts, non structured tops and loose fitting pants are lovely made with rayon!

  23. Faye A Egger says:

    I find the drape a feel of Rayon Viscose to be great for many of today’s styles. i am concerned that you use the term Rayon/Jersey blend as Jersey is a type of knit not a fiber blend.when sewing with Rayon you should pre treat the fabric as you wish to treat the garment after construction. In the case of Rayon subsequent launderings will produce a false shrink which can be corrected by ironing.

    • Royce Ellen Hettler says:

      In my experience, it does “shrink” when wet, but it returns to its normal size when dried. I have a spaghetti strap jumper that is at least 25 years old, no signs of wear after all of these years. When it’s wet, out of the washer, it is heavy, tight and much smaller than when it went in. Always comes out of the dryer in its original condition. Clothing that I find labeled Viscose in the last few years, isn’t anything like what rayon was back in the day. It was a woven fabric, great drape, wonderful for clothing, curtains. What I see labeled as viscose now is a knit, of varied weight, and quality, from very sheer to quite heavy.

What do you think?