As you browse the aisles of your local fabric store, you can touch each bolt to test its texture and eye colors to select the perfect shade for your sewing projects. But how do you test the weight and thickness of the material to see if it will suit you? To understand how to choose the right weight, check out this complete guide to fabric weight!
Fabric weight describes the weight of a 36-inch square section of fabric or the density of a single fiber. In the United States, most fabric measurements come in ounces per square yard, while other countries refer to fabric weight in grams per square yard or GSM. Other weight descriptors include the terms momme and denier.
In this article, you will learn the basic measurements used to describe fabric weight. Then, you will find an overview of popular types of material and their weight. Finally, you will discover tips for calculating the weight of fabric yourself.
What is Fabric Weight?
Fabric weight offers another way to measure material besides yardage or length. Knowing the weight of a type of cloth helps you determine what to use it for. For example, lightweight, sheer chiffon will work great for a wedding veil, but you would want a heavyweight material for a winter coat!
Understanding fabric weight helps you narrow down the perfect material for each project. That said, fabric weight does not necessarily tell you whether or not a piece of material has a loose or tight weave or if it is of good quality or not. It simply tells you how much a certain amount of cloth weighs.
The thickness of yarns and fibers in a material and the type of weave used will determine how much a piece of cloth will weigh. The measurement system simply helps you codify that.
The specific terminology used to describe fabric weight includes grams or ounces per square meter. Silk uses a special system based on the Japanese momme, while the term denier measures the density of a single fiber in microfiber.
In the general way of things, though, you will also see a lot of references to lightweight, medium-weight, or heavyweight materials. These generic terms give you a broad idea of the type of fabric based on its weight.
Lightweight fabrics usually weigh between .3 to 5 oz per square yard. This kind of fabric will feel light and airy in your hand and often has excellent breathability. Many lightweight materials have either semi-transparency or are completely sheer, such as silk, chiffon, and tulle.
Of course, many types of plain-weave cotton and muslin will also fall into the lightweight category, as will some forms of polyester. Lightweight material works great in clothing such as shirts, dresses, skirts, and formal wear. You will also find it in some types of drapery and even in some camping gear!
Medium-weight fabric usually weighs anywhere from 5.29-12 oz per square yard. This kind of cloth will drape from your hand under its own weight and often has unique textures or weaves as well. Popular medium-weight fabrics include polyester, velvet, velvet, denim, satin, and many types of cotton jersey knit.
This kind of material primarily serves in clothing, though you can also find it in curtains and bedding.
Heavyweight fabric weighs more than 12 oz per square yard. This kind of material has a serious heft to it. Flannel, tweed, suede, canvas, and upholstery materials often fall into this category.
Heavyweight material can make great clothing, such as cozy flannel shirts, thick wool coats, or canvas work overalls. This thicker, more durable material will often last longer than lighter fabrics, making it a great choice for upholstery and outdoor things such as awnings as well.
Fabric Weights Chart
While by no means a comprehensive list of every type of fabric out there, this chart will give you a quick look at how light through heavyweight materials lines up.
|Weight||Types of Fabric|
|0-1.5 oz per square yard||Tulle, netting, some types of lace|
|1.5-3 oz per square yard||Voile, chiffon, some silks|
|4-5 oz per square yard||Cotton knits, cotton shirting, muslin, linen, chambray|
|6-8 oz per square yard||Modal, bamboo, or polyester knits such as jersey knit, french terrycloth, twill weaves, and some linen|
|9-12 oz per square yard||Some velvets, denim, corduroy, jacquard, many types of woven wool or suiting material.|
|More than 12 oz per square yard||Upholstery material, outdoor fabrics, some types of denim and canvas, some heavy wools or coat fabrics.|
Different Kinds of Fabric Weight Measurements
If you need specific fabric weight measurements, you will want to understand the units of measurement commonly used, such as ounces per square yard, grams per square meter, denier, and momme. Light, medium, and heavy can only tell you so much about the cloth! However, you often need to know more specific details.
In the United States, many fabrics are described in ounces per square yard. The rest of the world, however, uses grams per square meter based on the metric system.
Certain types of cloth get their own special kind of weight description, though. For example, silk is often described in Momme, a term that defines the density of single silk fiber. Microfiber and some other types of material use the term denier to describe the weight and density of a single fiber.
Grams per square meter, or GSM, use the metric system to describe the weight of a square meter of material. Much of the world uses this system to describe fabric weight. Even in the United States, you will often see this unit of measurement used for online fabric stores.
Fabric manufacturers often set target GSM for every type of material they make. This way, they can check the cloth after production to make sure it contains the correct weight of the material and has no giant holes or missing yarns.
A higher or lower GSM does not make fabric better or worse, though. Every type of material has its own best weight.
For instance, velvet should have a plush nap and drape heavily, meaning that it needs more GSM and heavier weight. Tulle, on the other hand, practically floats in the air! This material should have a minimal GSM.
Ounces Per Yard
Ounces per yard uses the Imperial measuring system to describe how much a piece of fabric weighs. The United States has not bought into the metric system and instead typically uses Imperial measurements.
Remember that Oz/yd2 provides the weight of one square yard of material, not of the entire piece of clothing or bolt of cloth! For example, if you want to buy three yards of material, you will need to multiply the ounces per square yard by 3 to get the total fabric weight.
The Japanese term “momme” applies only to silk, as it describes how many pounds a piece of fabric 45 inches by 100 yards weighs. A single momme, or mm, equals 4.34 GSM. Just in case you did not already find the difference between grams and ounces a bit confusing, some kinds of cloth use an entirely different measurement based on the density of the material!
What does this mean? A higher momme describes thicker, denser silk. A lower momme describes looser, lighter silk.
In some ways, momme works like a thread count for silk as well as a weight measurement. A higher momme usually indicates a higher yarn count in the weave to create that higher density.
You probably do not need to know how to calculate the mm of a length of silk, but you will want to keep an eye on the higher or lower mm as you purchase real silk clothes, sheets, or fabric!
Denier measures the thickness of a single fiber to determine the density of the material. The denier of a piece of fabric equals 9,000 meters of its fiber weighed in grams. You will often see this measurement system used for types of cloth-like microfiber, silk, and outerwear such as nylon ripstop.
Silk sets the standard for denier, as it has a denier of one–9,000 meters of silk fiber weighs just one gram! Microfiber, by definition, must have a denier of 1 or even less.
You will not see the term denier, or just “D”, come up for most types of fabric aside from silk and microfiber, though.
What Weight is Heavyweight Fabric?
Heavyweight fabric weighs more than 12 oz per square yard by most systems of measurement. This means it can weigh 12.1 oz per square yard, or it can weigh 30 oz per square yard, like some types of super-thick duck cloth!
Not everyone agrees on the exact weight separating medium weight from the lightweight material, though. Some experts describe the weight of the heavyweight fabric as anything above 15 oz per square yard instead of anything above 12 oz per square yard. But the general idea is that heavyweight material has a thick weave, often feels stiffer and less pliable, and will provide a lot of warmth.
The heaviest kind of material commonly available is duck cloth or duck canvas. This material has a dense weave and uses thick cotton threads. You will see it used in workwear or place of leather for items such as bags or straps.
Many kinds of popular fabrics fall into the heavyweight category, though. Most of the material you will find in dressy coats will contain heavyweight wool, for example. However, if you have a suede or tapestry-style couch, the upholstery fabric used to cover the piece of furniture is almost certainly heavyweight.
Popular Fabric Weights
Some kinds of specialized fabric, such as suiting material, have their own unique weight measurements. Understanding these systems will help you select the best material for your clothing or sewing needs!
CottonAs one of the most popular types of apparel fabric for thousands of years, cotton comes in many different weights and serves many different functions. There is no one perfect weight for cotton, though you can follow the general rule of thumb that a higher weight will indicate a thicker, more durable type of cotton.
As you look at a specific cotton item or piece of cotton material, you may find yourself wondering, is 180 GSM cotton good? Is 300 GSM cotton good?
The answer is, it depends on what you want to use the cotton for. Cotton has so many uses that you can find it in lightweight material, medium weight material, and even heavyweight material!
Lightweight cotton material such as poplin, muslin, or even thin cotton shirting will have a fine weave and may even be semi-transparent. They will drape well and will provide excellent breathability. This type of cloth makes great blouses, dresses, and skirts.
Medium weight types of cotton fabric include most cotton shirting, such as the stiffer, starchier material you will find in most men’s dress shirts. This category can also include stretch denim and some quilting cotton, which tends to have a thicker, denser weave than apparel cotton.
Heavyweight types of cotton material include most denim and some types of canvas.
Upholstery FabricMost upholstery fabric weighs more than 12 oz per square yard, making it a heavyweight type of material. Upholstery fabric often has a dense, thick weave intended to withstand years of use. The extra weight gives it increased durability.
Popular upholstery materials include chenille, suede, velvet, microfiber, and jacquard.
Most fabric stores will have a separate section for upholstery or home decor materials. Sometimes they combine this with outdoor fabric, too.
These kinds of fabric may come in much wider sections than apparel fabrics, and you may even see them stored in long round bolts rather than the short, square cardboard bolts used for apparel and quilting fabric.
Most online fabric stores will also have a separate page for upholstery material. In this case, you will not have the luxury of feeling the thickness and weight of the fabric in your hand. You will have to depend on reading the weight in the product description to find out if the material will suit your needs.
Suit FabricSuiting fabric comes in a wide range of weights ranging from about 7 oz per square yard to as much as 19 oz per square yard in some rare cases. This huge variation stems from the many different ways fabric manufacturers can weave wool. This allows clothing lines to offer suits for very hot or very cold weather and everything in between!
Most traditional suiting material does contain wool. Today, you will find some cheaper alternatives made out of polyester. You will still want to check the weight on the polyester fabric, though, to determine whether or not you will feel comfortable in the suit!
While your personal preference will help determine the heaviness of your suiting fabric, in general, you can go by these guidelines:
- 7-9 oz suiting material provides a light, summery suit with high breathability
- 9-12 oz suits are the most popular and work well indoors in an office setting. They will feel medium weight but still somewhat breathable.
- 12-13 oz suiting fabric will start feeling more like an outerwear jacket but will still feel comfortable during most of the year.
- 14-19 oz suiting fabric does not have as much popularity, but you will see this in heavy tweed jackets and some winter suits.
WoolWool weight can have several different meanings, depending on whether you want to know the fabric’s intended use or the weight of the yarn itself. For knitting or crocheting purposes, you will find wool describes in terms of the thickness of the yarn. These come in everything from superfine to sports weight to worsted weight.
Choosing the correct weight or thickness of yarn will make a huge difference. This is because you can make the same stitching patterns with a fine or a heavy yarn, but the fine yarn will create a light, thin knitted object, while a thick yarn will make a thick, puffy object!
Most wool fabric, such as many twill weaves or suiting materials, will have an ounce per square yard or GSM measurement. You will want to pay close attention to this, as the wool fabric can vary in weight dramatically depending on many factors such as the thread count, the density of the yarns, and even the kind of weaving pattern used.
Shirting fabric usually comes in a weight of 3.5-7 oz per square yard (or 100-200 GSM). Most dress shirts, or traditional button-down shirts, contain either cotton or linen fabric. Formal shirts tend to have a slightly stiffer, shaped look to them, making a medium-weight material the best choice.
Of course, you can buy quality dress shirts in lightweight cotton or linen better suited to hot weather, as well. These shirts tend to breathe well but cling to the frame a bit more. They will also wrinkle quite easily.
Cotton twill, classic oxford, or chambray weaves fall into the medium-weight category that comprises most shirting fabric. This material has enough thickness to help it hold a nice shape when ironed. However, it still provides some breathability, and it will not wrinkle as easily as a light material.
Polyester fabric comes in every weight. Polyester is a synthetic fabric made out of a polymer or plastic. It costs much less to produce than many natural types of fabric, which has led to its extreme popularity in ready-made clothing and fabric by the yard.
Fabric manufacturers can turn polyester fibers into almost any type of cloth by using different weaving techniques. For instance, you can buy polyester satin, polyester velvet, polyester tulle, polyester chiffon, and even polyester canvas.
The weight of any individual piece of polyester fabric will depend on the kind of weave used, the thickness of the polyester yarns, and the density of the weave.
You may find it helpful to keep in mind that polyester fibers weigh less than cotton fibers. This means that a square yard of cotton will weigh more than a square yard of polyester because of the material they contain.
How Do I Calculate the Weight of Fabric?
You can calculate the weight of fabric using a simple measuring test or several different formulas.
To weigh your fabric, all you have to do is place a square yard on a scale and find out how many ounces or grams it weighs.
Sometimes you need to convert the ounces into grams, or vice versa. In this case, you may need to try a conversion formula. These look a bit scary, but really, all you have to do is plug in some numbers!
For example, the formula used to convert GSM to oz per square yard is (g/m2) / 33.906.
In fairness, though, unless you loved algebra and geometry in high school, you may find it easiest to plug your information into a free online calculator, like this one.
The most common systems of measurement used to describe fabric weight are GSM and oz per square yard. The metric system uses grams per square meter, or GSM, to describe how much a single square meter of fabric weighs. The Imperial system uses ounces per square yard to describe how much a single yard of fabric weighs.
Certain types of fabric use special measurement systems as well. For example, silk uses the momme, or mm, to indicate its thickness and weight. Microfiber uses the term denier to describe its fiber density.
What kind of fabric do you plan to use for your next project? Is it lightweight, medium weight or heavyweight?