What is Viscose Fabric? A Brief Introduction
What is viscose fabric?
Viscose is a semi-synthetic fabric made from the cellulose or wood pulp of fast-growing, regenerative trees (such as bamboo, eucalyptus and pine). In fact, it gets its name from the solution of “viscose” wood pulp that it is derived from.
Because it feels and drapes a lot like silk fabric, viscose fabric has traditionally been used as a cheaper, and more artificial, alternative.
What is viscose fabric used for?
Viscose is a great fabric for making drapey summer dresses, soft blouses, skirts and even other types of fabric (such as synthetic velvet).
It’s also a popular fabric for use in upholstery, thanks to its softness and the fact that it's lightweight. You can often find viscose in furniture and wardrobes in the home.
What can you make with viscose fabric?
Viscose is soft and gentle on the skin and is an ideal dressmaking fabric in particular. You can make fantastically comfortable and durable shirts, long flowing dresses, blouses, trousers, jackets and gym gear with viscose, for example.
It’s also a popular choice of fabric for upholstery too — such as bedding and carpets — mainly because of its absorbency and comfort, but also because it is a low-cost material.
Viscose fibres are quite versatile and can be used to make cleaning products too.
Viscose fabric is light and breezy, making it perfect for fashionable scarves.
Viscose fabric has many different applications, and can even be used to make cleaning cloths.
What does viscose fabric feel like?
It looks like silk but feels more like cotton. It is very soft to the touch and has a rich weight to it. Viscose is a good fabric to have around on hot summer days because it is airy and feels naturally cool. It absorbs moisture (such as sweat) very well.
Characteristics, properties & advantages
With a silk-like appearance and comfortable cotton feel, viscose fabric material is very popular in the sewing community. It’s a great way to imitate the luxury of silk at only a fraction of the cost.
Viscose may not be super stretchy, but it maintains its shape well. If you want to make it stretchier, you can blend it with other textiles such as spandex or elastane.
Still, the advantages of viscose far outweigh the disadvantages.
|Lightweight||Susceptible to shrinkage in the wash|
|Breathable||May weaken when it gets wet|
|Maintains shape||Creases easily|
|Comfortable||Fabric may weaken in bright sunlight|
|Drapes||May discolour if it absorbs too much moisture|
|Soft to touch|
|Doesn't fade, even after many washes|
|Blends well with other fabrics|
Different types of viscose fabric.
There are a few different types of viscose fabric:
- Viscose twill — ‘Twill’ refers to the type of weave pattern of diagonal ridges. Viscose twill is the better choice if you want to put emphasis on the airy, flowy and draping qualities of viscose in your garments.
- Viscose crepe — ‘Crepe’ is another type of viscose with an emphasise on drape. It is also heavier than standard viscose fabric. It is popular with projects involving vintage-style tea dresses and blouses. It even has a slight stretch to it, despite not being knitted, and can help you achieve looks that are difficult to do with natural fibres like cotton.
- Viscose marocain — This type is especially soft and airy, making it ideal for summer dresses, tops and trousers. It has a medium weight and has a little bit more resistance to creasing than other types.
- Viscose satin — This viscose blend with satin is a light-to-medium weight and ideal for sewing your own luxurious garments. It’s a gorgeous fabric with a beautiful finish. Perfect for crafting your own stunning, affordable clothes.
- Viscose lawn — This is the ideal drape fabric to start off with if you’re a beginner. Viscose lawn is soft and does not move too much, making it easy to work with no matter what your skill level is.
- Javanaise viscose — The subtle sheen that this type provides has won it many admirers in the dressmaking world. The word ‘Javanese’ refers to the type of weave (a spun weft and filament warp, which gives it the sheen). It is also very cool to touch, even more so than ordinary viscose.
Viscose georgette — This versatile type is well suited for making scarves, shirts, dresses and pretty much everything else. It has a slightly grainy feel and is woven in highly twisted yarns. These qualities make it very durable, without impacting its ability to drape. Viscose georgette is also an excellent type for furnishing projects around the home.
Similar, alternative fabrics to viscose.
Viscose fabrics are similar to rayon fabrics. Both are semi-synthetic and are created via a similar wood pulp creation process. Viscose, however, generally looks more like silk, feels like cotton, and has a shiner appearance when compared to rayon. Whereas rayon looks more like cotton and feels more like silk.
If you prefer a more matte look, a little more durability and a silk-like feel, you might want to consider rayon fabrics instead.
Is viscose fabric eco-friendly?
Viscose is sourced from the cellulose of renewable plants, making it one of the more environmentally-friendly types of synthetic fibres out there. But processing the fabric often requires chemicals, some of which have been criticised for being toxic to the environment.
None of these chemicals is present by the time you’ll handle them, however.
The good news is that many manufacturers are working on cleaner processing techniques to remove the need for these chemicals in the first place. Including “closed-loop” manufacturing, in which the majority of chemicals are re-used again and again, preventing them from getting out into the environment.
The huge production of viscose worldwide is also driving concern about sustainable deforestation. An investigation in 2017 linked many big brands (including Tesco, H&M, Zara and Marks & Spencer) to polluting viscose factories in Asia (source).
Given its natural origins, however, viscose fabric is biodegradable and may even break down faster than cotton (source).
Is viscose stretchy?
Not really, not on its own. However, you can blend it with other materials (such as spandex or elastane) to make it stretcher.
Is viscose breathable?
Yes, viscose is very breathable. Which makes it ideal for long, flowing, draping summer dresses, athletic (gym) clothing, and airy bedsheets.
Is viscose soft or itchy?
No. Unlike some other synthetic fabrics, viscose fabric is great for sensitive skin and feels like cotton to the touch.
Is viscose unhealthy to wear?
No. It is derived from plant-based fibres, so is not toxic or unhealthy for you to wear.
A brief history of viscose fabric.
Viscose was first produced in 1883 and marketed as a cheaper, artificial silk. A number of European scientists from France, Germany and the UK had a hand in its development, and the modern type of viscose fabric that we know today first became commercially available in 1905.