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

sewing viscose

Viscose (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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82 Responses to Sewing Viscose, or is it Rayon??: Fabric Tips

  1. inge jensen says:

    thanks for a very informative article. i’ve sewn with both, but never looked any further than that i just love the feel and look.

  2. vicki2g says:

    This is the perfect fabric for me since I have Fibromyalgia. The lightweight fabric barely feels like it’s touching my skin which is a problem with Fibro. I’ve worked with it before so it’s just taking my time as I sew to keep things straight. And definitely pre-wash.

  3. Starr says:

    It’s one of many fabrics I love. I prevent shrinking by prewashing and drying lightly in the dryer, smoothing out and hanging until almost dry and then iron while still not quite dry to eliminate wrinkles. To prevent the fraying on the two cut ends, I machine baste those ends together with a really long stitch in a contrasting thread to make it easy to take out. The rule of new fabric in my house is that it lives in the laundry room until it’s been washed and dried the way I expect to treat the finished garment. Except denim, I wash and dry it three times.

  4. Caroline says:

    I like the ones I have (premanufactured, not home-sewn) and would love to get some to sew. What’s the best source (most affordable/best prints/styles)??

  5. Kelly says:

    I’m curious to know the difference between bamboo fabrics and rayon. Is it just marketing?

  6. Sabrina James says:

    I absolutely love rayon! It feels very good against my skin and is the coolest fiber I’ve found for the 5 or 6 hot and dry months we have in Bakersfield every year.

  7. Seeds to Sew says:

    Last time I have sewn with Rayon was about 15 years ago. I have been sewing a lot with Cotton and Silk. I never had any problems with Rayon/Linen blend. I might have to sew something with it again.
    Nice Article.

  8. Susan says:

    Love Rayon Chalis but all knit Rayon Spandex fabric I’ve sewn with quickly pills badly. It’s a shame because there are so many pretty prints on RS knit and it’s so comfy to wear. I wash cold delicate with like fabrics and hang dry but it still pills.

  9. Diane Hughes says:

    I have made shirts with rayon fabric many times. I love the flow and movement properties it has. I haven’t looked for viscose in particular but now I will. I normally purchase fabric by feel and I wear a lot of cotton. Thanks for the insite.

  10. moneymeasurersmatter says:

    I love rayon basically because it is light and airy and on a very ot day, it does not cling and looks good, fresh, clean,

  11. Barb Zamastil says:

    I love rayon. It drapes nicely, feels good on. Made a square dance skirt of 3 tiers after “crinkling” the material. It worked well, washed well, just twist, hang and dry.

  12. cat says:

    I love rayon! Almost everything I sew these days is rayon — mostly challis. It drapes so beautifully (and once you get used to it, the drapey wonderfulness makes it very VERY forgiving. Sew a couple of challis skirts and then you’ll get used to the slippery as you cut and sew.

    Rayon is SO breathable (which is why I use it so much) as much or more than cotton on a hot day. And doncha know, there is Ambiance, which is rayon, that you can make WONDERFUL lingerie! It’s not just for lining any more, kids!

    All this, beautiful colors, patterns, weaves, blends, at very reasonable cost. You can get wonderful challis for $6.99/yard (US dollars.)

    What’s not to like?!

  13. Lynn Maynard says:

    I love Rayon. Rayon Batik Rayon stretch, Rayon Cotton. The reason is Polyester has static. I live in a hot dry climate. Hate being shocked and have static cling.

  14. Peggy A. Riordan says:

    I have not had problems with shrinking, but I have had problems with it retaining it’s shape after washing. I find rayon combined with spandex is hot in the summer as it doesn’t seem to breath well. It’s ok in the Winter as a layering piece. Plain woven rayon is ok for me in the summer if I can find a light enough fabric weight. Has a very nice flow to it.

  15. Pamela says:

    I have never heard of viscose before and it sounds interesting. I will look for it now. Thanks for helping us learn more about fabrics.

  16. Daphne says:

    This was interesting, thank you. However I really dislike wearing rayon. I dislike the feel of the fabric on my skin so I won’t ever be sewing with it. ? I really love the feel of natural fibers. I love cotton and I love love linen ❤️

  17. Jacky Boyd says:

    I love, love, love Rayon clothes. I love the way it flows and feels on my body. My big secret is I never put it in the dryer, Never!!!

  18. 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.

  19. Ann Seabolt says:

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

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. Pauline says:

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

  23. 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.

  24. 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.

  25. 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.

  26. 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.

  27. Karen says:

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

  28. 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.

  29. 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.

  30. 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.

  31. 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!

  32. 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!

  33. 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).

  34. 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.

  35. 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.

  36. 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

  37. 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.

  38. 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.

  39. 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!

  40. 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.

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