Just lately it seems everyone is talking about mesh fabric. Whether I’m at the fabric store or watching TV, people are raving about it. But what is it? What is mesh fabric?
Mesh fabric is a loose-knit material that comes in a range of weights and thicknesses. Yarns are knitted together in a grid pattern to form lots of tiny holes. These holes give mesh fabric the distinctive appearance of netting. Uses range from sporting apparel, ball gowns, veils, surgical mesh, and fly screens.
In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look into what a mesh fabric is. From its fiber content to its multitude of applications. Read on to find out all you need to know about mesh and how to use the fabric in your sewing room.
What Is Mesh Fabric?
Mesh fabric is a generic term for any material with a grid-like structure made up of rows of evenly-spaced holes. The size of the holes can vary from small to large, depending on the purpose of the mesh. You can also find mesh fabric made from a variety of materials, from metal to polyester.The principle of mesh has been around for millennia. Fishermen have been using mesh in the form of fishing nets for generations. You’re probably more familiar with the terms net or netting when describing a mesh fabric. Tulle netting used for fairy dresses or bridal wear, for example, is a type of mesh fabric.
Founded by a British Mill owner called Lewis Haslam, mesh fabric has been used in apparel since the late 19th century. Originally known as Aertex, mesh didn’t become part of popular mainstream fashion until the 1980s. Its eventual rise to fame has been attributed to the stars of MTV and pop videos.
As a ubiquitous material, the mesh can be found in products ranging from tea strainers to string vests. You can also find mesh in screen doors and the flyscreens on your windows. Not only is it versatile and practical, but it can also be used as a fashion statement. Creating structure and interest in any garment from fishnet stockings to mesh pullovers.
What Is Mesh Made Of?
Polyester and nylon are the two top choices for mesh fabric. Especially when it comes to textiles, these synthetic fabrics are strong, flexible, and durable. Mesh fabric made from either nylon or polyester will have the same qualities as the fiber.
A nylon mesh is soft and smooth with incredible elasticity. At the same time, polyester gives mesh fabric higher protection against UV light and better water resistance. The characteristics of each make the resulting mesh suitable for different products. Nylon mesh is great for items that need more stretch. Polyester is perfect for items used outdoors.
You can also get mesh fabric made from lightweight stainless steel, bronze, or copper. Metal gives mesh more rigidity and structure. These types of the mesh make all sorts of metal-based items like screen doors and flyscreens. Change the size of the holes and you can make waste paper baskets and sieves.
Mesh can also be made from natural fibers like cotton, silk, wool, or hemp. Wool creates mesh when used in the popular craft of macrame. This is where yarn is knotted together to create patterns in the holes, creating a decorative mesh fabric. Similarly, hemp can be used as string or rope to form fishing or cargo nets.
These days, tulle tends to be made from synthetic fiber. Originally, this type of netting would have been made from cotton or silk. However, you can still get silk tulle. It’s rare and expensive, but it is out there.
Cotton probably isn’t one of the first fibers you think of when thinking about mesh. However, most polo shirts are made from cotton pique with a grid-like pattern made up of tiny holes. Technically, that makes it a kind of mesh.
How Is Mesh Fabric Made?
Mesh fabrics used in the textile industry are made through a process called knitting. A fabric mesh is created by loosely knitting yarns or fibers into a grid effect. The looseness of the knit is what makes the holes. Looser knits create larger open spaces in the fabric.
Depending on the type of mesh being made, the actual structure of the knit may differ. Tulle netting, for instance, uses a hexagonal pattern while the holes in the power mesh are more square-shaped.
Metal mesh fabric is made slightly differently. Intersecting wires or threads of metal are joined by welding them together in a grid pattern. The size of holes in the grid can be altered by moving the wires further apart before they are welded.
In both mesh fabric and metal mesh, the variation in the size of the open spaces is a key element in deciding what the resulting material will be used for. So too is the difference in thickness and weight. A lightweight, transparent tulle makes a perfect addition to a little girl’s fairy dress. While a heavier, closely-knit power net will work great in support wear.
Mesh Fabric: Key Points and Properties
With so many uses and applications, mesh fabric is one of the wonders of the modern textile world. Let’s take a look at some of its properties to see what makes this versatile material so popular.
The fiber content of mesh fabric is what makes it so functional. Containing anything from polyester or nylon to stainless steel and even copper, mesh is incredibly adaptable.
Use the lightweight metal mesh for the punk rock or goth aesthetic. You can make a fashion statement with mesh pockets or see-through mesh sections with solid appliques for modesty.
Or how about some structure, mystery, and romance with some soft nylon tulle on a ball gown or party dress. Bothered by bugs or mosquitos? Try some practical polyester netting to keep them at bay.
Due to the overall pattern of open spaces, mesh fabric is considered to be breathable. Even when it’s made from synthetic fibers like nylon and polyester.
The breathable properties work in a slightly different way to the breathability in natural fibers, though. Heat and moisture don’t get absorbed by the material, they escape through the holes. This means mesh fabric can keep you cool, making it an ideal fabric for activewear.
Mesh fabric is full of holes, so its heat retention capabilities are low. You don’t want to be making a winter coat out of a mesh material, particularly if it has large holes. Rather than keep you warm, wind and rain will penetrate straight through to your skin, making you feel cold and uncomfortable.
This is one area where a mesh fabric is a poor choice. Although it can keep you cool by allowing heat to escape, the holes can’t trap heat next to your body to keep you warm. Especially if the mesh is synthetic. Even a small-hole mesh will make you feel chilly relatively quickly.
Care and Maintenance
Although mesh fabric is strong and durable, it can be easily damaged if treated roughly. The material is made up of holes that can snag on anything from buttons to zipper pulls. Synthetic mesh is also heat intolerant.
When caring for mesh fabrics, treat them as delicate. Infrequent washing is best as the more times you launder a mesh material, the more chance you have of damage. Washing by hand is safest, but you can use a machine on a cool wash and gentle setting.
Allowing your mesh to air dry will ensure it doesn’t get overheated in a dryer. One final thing to watch out for is to wash the mesh garments on their own, or at least with other delicates.
Mesh fabric has many uses, from garments and medical devices to net shopping bags. In all cases, its unique structure makes it strong and long-lasting. One of the reasons for this is the holes. They allow the fabric to flex under pressure, like the weight of your shopping, for instance.
Coupled with the fact that mesh fabric can be made from nylon and polyester fibers, you’re looking at fabric with incredible durability. It’s this strength that gives mesh the ability to be adaptable. Making it an important and crucial material in so many industrial and commercial settings.
There aren’t many other textiles that can be both structural and flexible at the same time. Even in the fashion industry, the amount of stretch combined with the support offered by a mesh material has revolutionized clothing. Particularly corsetry and shapewear.
The environmental impact of mesh fabric depends on what it is made from. As mesh in today’s world of fast fashion tends to be synthetic, the fabric will have the same detrimental effects on the ecology as any artificial textile.
Synthetic fibers are derived from oil and are therefore reliant on fossil fuels. As oil and other petroleum products are not renewable, they can make synthetic mesh unsustainable. Having said that, it is possible to make mesh from recycled polyester. Not only does this reduce the level of synthetic material decaying in landfills, but it also lessens the impact on the environment from making polyester from scratch.
Weight and Thickness
Mesh fabric comes in a wide variety of weights and thicknesses to match the vast array of products it is used in. From the ultra-thin mesh used in bridal veils to the heavier mesh used in plastic safety fencing, there’s a size to suit any task.
It’s important to keep the task you need the mesh for in your mind when choosing a fabric. The wrong choice can ruin your project. A mesh netting like tulle, for instance, would be a poor choice for an external pocket on a backpack. It would tear easily. Similarly, you wouldn’t want to use flyscreen mesh for a sports bra; it would be too rigid.
What Are the Different Types of Mesh Fabric?
Due to its universal nature, mesh comes in many different types. Each one has a specific purpose. Let’s take a look at some of the more popular ones.
Used in sportswear, cotton pique is known as being the original fabric for polo shirts. Developed by René Lacoste, a 1920s tennis star, cotton pique has become the go-to fabric for sporting style and sophistication.
The fabric has an all-over waffle type pattern reminiscent of mesh fabric. Albeit one with minuscule gaps that are so tiny, they are almost non-existent. It’s because of this, many believe cotton pique isn’t a true mesh.
The term netting can be used to cover a whole range of mesh fabrics, from fishing nets to tulle. Although they have different functions, netting fabrics all have similar qualities.
Normally transparent with visible open spaces, netting or nets are fabrics that come in a range of weights and thicknesses depending on the job they were made for. The finer the net is, the more sheer and delicate the fabric will be.
Tulle is a type of netting. Made up of a pattern of hexagons, tulle is a fine net fabric used in bridal gowns, veils, and party dresses. A stiff material, tulle doesn’t stretch like other mesh fabrics. Because of its rigidity, it can be used to create shape in a garment, particularly ball gowns, where it can add volume to long, billowing circle skirts. Delicate yet practical, tulle can also add structure and a hint of delicacy to wings on a girl’s ballet costume.
Probably one of the better known forms of mesh fabric, tulle is a great material for crafts and sewing projects. Not only does it create interest in the external parts of a garment, but you can also use it as a lining or as interfacing.
Made from a blend of nylon and spandex, power mesh is a stretchy synthetic fabric with the look of sheer netting. Another term for power mesh is compression mesh because of its intense elasticity. It has the power to hold you in, shaping your body, so it looks good under close-fitting clothing.
It’s also known as stretch mesh and power net, this mesh fabric has an amazing recovery. The nylon fiber content ensures it can return to its original shape and size once you’ve finished wearing your sports bra or shapewear.
This one can be a bit confusing. Metal mesh can refer to the type of netting you use in screen doors and flyscreens, but it can also refer to metallic effect mesh. The latter is the glittery mesh adding sparkle and pizazz to your party frocks.
Although mesh made from metal will make perfect chain mail for a history bounding knight or a medieval cosplay outfit, you might find it’s a little dull and inflexible for a ballet tutu. Be careful when purchasing this mesh. Make sure you read any descriptions carefully to get the right one for your project.
Popular in screen printing, polyester mesh gives accuracy and precision to industrial and commercial applications. Its durability and water-repelling properties make it a perfect mesh for outdoor equipment and apparel.
You’ll find this mesh in the stretchy mesh pockets on backpacks. As well as safety netting, temporary plastic fencing, and netting designed to protect produce from bugs.
When mixed with spandex, nylon mesh makes an incredibly stretchy power mesh. It’s the nylon and spandex blend that gives power mesh its unbeatable recovery. On its own, nylon mesh can be used in beekeeping equipment and screens in tents.
Used anywhere you need durability and strength; nylon mesh is resistant to bending and stretching and has greater elasticity than polyester mesh. Smoother and with a softer feel, nylon mesh is better at keeping you cool due to its water-absorbing qualities.
What Is the Strongest Mesh Material?
The answer to this question depends on whether we are looking at fabric mesh or metal mesh and the task or function it is going to perform. If it’s a mesh being used for everyday items, then polyester is the strongest mesh material.
Polyester mesh is 100% stronger than fiberglass in comparisons on screens made from both products. It has a tensile strength of around 112 pounds and a tear strength of 31 pounds.
That probably doesn’t mean a lot to you, but, to put it in perspective, a polyester mesh covering your pool will withstand a battering from some of the strongest hurricane winds you can imagine. Not only that but, polyester mesh can survive rigorous and extreme conditions for around 20 years. Compared to fiberglass, which only lasts around 7 years, that’s pretty impressive.
There is a new kid on the block for strength though. Unlikely to be used for day-to-day items anytime soon, it’s still worth a mention. A company called Boeing is working with a metal product known as Microlattice.
They intend to make planes of the future a lot lighter than they are now. Microlattice is a mesh fabric thought to be 100 times lighter than styrofoam. It has the capability of squishing to half its size, meaning it can withstand extreme pressure.
Its open-cell structure makes it 1000 times thinner than human hair, with an overall weight made up of 99.9% air. So not only does it have the potential to be the strongest mesh material, but it could also be the lightest.
What Are the Uses of Mesh Fabric?
Mesh fabric comes in various shapes, sizes, and materials because it has so many uses. In this section, we’ll take a look at the more well-known applications.
From activewear to football shirts, sports bras, and swimsuits, you’ll find a mesh fabric in almost all forms of sporting apparel. Regardless of the sporting activity, mesh can be found everywhere, from fencing through to endurance marathons.
Lightweight and incredibly flexible, mesh gives breathability and freedom of movement to sportswear that’s essential for high-level athletes to perform at their best.
We all like to look great in our clothes. When turned into control and shapewear, mesh fabric helps us do that. Holding the parts we want to keep hidden while smoothing out and accentuating curves we want on show.
Hiding our less attractive parts isn’t new. Corsetry has been around for generations, but it’s never felt as comfortable and form-fitting as it does with today’s mesh fabrics.
Fishing communities across the globe have been using fishing nets to catch fish for millennia. Originally, they would have used ropes made from plant materials like grasses and cotton. These days their nets are usually made from synthetic materials.
One thing has stayed the same throughout time. Their nets are always made using a mesh pattern. Most fishing nets tend to have a diamond design to the holes in the mesh as this gives greater strength and flexibility.
The classic voluminous skirt style of the 1950s was created by the use of petticoats. Those petticoats were made from netting. Mesh fabrics like tulle would have been worn under the skirts to give body and poofiness.
Even today, tulle is still used to add volume to evening gowns and prom dresses. It isn’t restricted to the underneath of garments though. Tulle can also give interest to the external surface of dresses. Particularly in princess or fairy dresses for little girls.
Bridal Wear and Accessories
If there’s one area that is synonymous with mesh or netting, it’s bridalwear. From the lacy, voluptuous wedding gowns to the sexy appeal of the wedding veil, mesh fabric and brides go hand in hand.
Even wedding guests get in on the act with mesh fabric. Some wear hats to church decorated with tulle or fascinators adorned with netting. It’s safe to say, mesh is the go-to fabric for wedding paraphernalia.
Screen Doors and Window Screens
Not limited to the fashion industry, mesh has its uses around the home too! One such use is in your screen door. Designed to keep bugs, insects, and general flying beasties out of your home, a mesh panel in your outer door will stop the little nasties in their tracks.
In the same way, a handy mesh window screen will allow you to open your window to let in the fresh air. Without letting in the neighborhood bug population in the process.
Beekeeping Safety Equipment
Talking about bugs, there is one type of insect humans like to get up close and personal with. Bees make honey and we all like a bit of the sweet stuff now and then. Getting close to bees can be dicey and requires the use of protective clothing.
The most important place to protect is the face. Specially designed beekeeping hats with an all-over covering of mesh fabric have been in use for years. The mesh allows the user to see the bees but keeps the bees and their stings at bay.
Although it’s no secret mesh fabrics are used in commercial settings, medical uses often get overlooked. Probably because you don’t always know about the different medical gadgets available unless you need to use them.
Surgical mesh is used in hernia operations or in cases where there has been a prolapse. The mesh holds the hernia or body organ in place. Sometimes the mesh is temporary and dissolves over time. More usually, the mesh is permanent.
Can You Buy Mesh Fabric by the Yard?
Yes, you can buy mesh fabric by the yard. Where you buy it from depends on the type of mesh you need. Fabric mesh for clothing or bag making can be purchased at any fabric store either online or on your local high street. Mesh designed for screen doors, vegetable netting, or flyscreens can be found at your local hardware store.
The cost of the mesh will vary and is usually determined by fiber content, quality, and the location you are buying it from. For instance, a high-end retail store may charge more for mesh than an online retailer.
How to Sew With Mesh FabricSewing with mesh is straightforward. Mesh material designed for apparel is classified as a knit fabric. You should treat it as a knit when you sew with it.
If at all possible, use an overlocker or serger for best results. Don’t worry if you don’t have one; you can sew mesh fabric with an ordinary domestic sewing machine. Just remember to use a ballpoint needle and a zigzag stitch. Check to see if your machine has a 3-step zigzag setting s that will give a better seam. A standard zigzag will do the trick if it hasn’t.
Polyester thread will have the flexibility to cope with the knit qualities of mesh fabric. Steer clear of cotton or silk threads when sewing with any knit fabric, not just mesh. Neither of the natural fiber options will have the ability to move with the mesh. Natural threads will be too rigid and will break under strain.
Mesh fabric is an adaptable and versatile material. It’s one of the most useful fabrics available today. With so many different options, you’re bound to find the perfect match for your next project.
Let me know in the comments if you liked the article. Have you ever worked with mesh fabric? How did you get on?