What Is Poplin Fabric And How Easy Is It To Work With?

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Fabric names can be confusing. Some, like cotton, describe what a fabric is made from. Others, like viscose, refer to the production process. And poplin? What is poplin, anyway? The name poplin doesn’t describe either composition or a production process. Rather, it refers to the texture and arrangement of the fibres. 

What is Poplin Fabric?

poplin-fabric

What kind of fabric is poplin? And what is poplin fabric made of? 

Poplin fabric is a woven fabric like linen. Only unlike linen, which is necessarily woven from flax fibres, poplin can consist of any number of different fibres, whether natural or synthetic. Sometimes, it can even consist of more than one kind of fibre.

Poplin refers to a style of weaving, poplin weave, which produces a distinct texture, and a fabric that’s simultaneously fine and strong.

What is Poplin Weave?

Poplin weave is a plain, tight weave. Typically, the weft (vertical) fibres are thicker and/or coarser than the warp (vertical) fibres. This combination creates a fine but extremely strong corded fabric that’s excellent for upholstery, housewares, and clothing.

The History of Poplin

Poplin fabric dates back to 15th-century France, specifically in Avignon, where the Pope had a residence. The name itself derives from the word papeleine, meaning papal.

Originally, poplin consisted of silk, wool, or cotton for the warp fibres and worsted yarn for the weft fibres. Over time, however, the definition has expanded to include not only other kinds of fibres, but plain-weave fabrics consisting of a single fibre. Single-fibre poplin sometimes lacks the typical corded texture but retains the name.

Admittedly, it can be confusing, but you can think of it like this: poplin is a fabric with a tight plain weave, where the weft fibres and the warp fibres are typically of different thicknesses.

You might also see poplin fabric described as broadcloth (in the United States), tabinet, or Eolienne (a similar texture and process with a lighter end product).

Common Uses for Poplin Fabric

What is poplin fabric used for?

Poplin fabric is the best of both worlds: strong but soft, fine but durable. It’s a terrific all-purpose fabric, and its popularity comes as little surprise. Where can you find poplin today? It’s all around us.

Dresses

poplin dress

Historically, poplin has been a popular material for dresses. Its fine, soft texture gives it a luxurious feel, making some types of poplin a less expensive alternative to silk. At the same time, it is durable enough for everyday wear, especially in winter.

Fans of Louisa May Alcott’s novel Little Women might remember, for example, the impoverished main characters attending a party in poplin dresses. The characters considered the fabric acceptable for a party, though they bemoaned that it wasn’t as chic or luxurious as the silk dresses of the party’s wealthier attendees [1].

Today it’s also a popular fabric for shirts and trousers.

Winter Clothing

Poplin’s original composition, silk and wool, combined with its characteristic weave, made it a natural for winter-weight clothing. The combination of fibres with the tight weave means that it insulates well.

Uniforms

During World War II, both the British and American military discovered poplin as a fabric for uniforms. Its strength was the most obvious selling point. But poplin also proved to be an excellent all-weather fabric: cool in the heat and warm in cold weather.

Upholstery

Poplin’s durability also makes it an excellent fabric for upholstery, housewares, and home furnishings. You will find poplin seat covers, cushions, sheeting, curtains, and more. 

Crafts

Cotton poplin has a natural crispness and holds its shape well. It’s also durable and easy to work with. These qualities make it excellent for certain types of crafts like quilting and patchwork. 

What is Poplin Material Like?

Poplin material is hard-wearing yet fine. It has a natural sheen and softness that suggests luxury, but, with the exception of wool and silk poplin, doesn’t require delicate handling. It’s easy to sew and some varieties, particularly cotton and polyester poplin, resist wrinkling as well as wear.

What is Poplin Cotton?

Poplin cotton is widespread in both clothing manufacture and crafting. It’s a medium-weight fabric that’s similar to quilting cotton in both texture and ease of use. At the same time, cotton poplin’s weave makes it more wrinkle-resistant than ordinary quilting cotton.

What does cotton poplin feel like? It feels a bit stiffer than quilting cotton, and some varieties feel a bit heavier. It may also have poplin’s characteristic corded texture.

Polyester Poplin

Polyester poplin, or poly poplin fabric, is a fabric woven in the poplin style, using polyester fibres. It’s soft and, like many polyester fabrics, extremely wrinkle resistant. Unlike some other types of poplin, polyester poplin has no ribbing. 

Poly poplin fabric is widely used for table linens, backdrops, and drapes.

Poplin vs. Twill 

What’s the difference between twill vs. poplin? At first glance, it can be easy to mistake the two. Like poplin, twill also has a corded texture. Twill can also be made from a variety of fibres, both natural and synthetic. Both are used in clothing, and both are hard-wearing and easy to work with.

The difference is in the weave.

Both twill weave and poplin weave are fundamental weave types (the third is satin weave). However, while poplin’s weft fibres are vertical, twill’s weft fibres lay diagonally to the warp fibres. 

warp weft structure 3-1 twill
A typical three-up, one-down twill structure.

Also, while poplin weave takes one weft thread over one warp thread then under (and so forth), the weft fibres in a twill pass over and under more than one warp thread, with a “step” between rows.

For example, in a 2/2 twill, the weft fibres pass over two warp fibres then under two.

There are four ways to classify twill:

  • According to the “step” (2/2, 3/1, and so on)
  • By the direction of the twill line (left-hand or right-hand)
  • According to whether the warp or weft thread is the facing thread
  • By the nature of the twill line that is ultimately produced (simple twill, expanded twill, etc.)

In short, twill, like poplin, is a woven fabric with a corded texture. But with twill, the cords lay diagonally instead of vertically. 

Poplin vs. Broadcloth 

Broadcloth vs. poplin: now there’s a complicated distinction.

In some contexts, for example in United States clothing manufacture, the words have come to mean nearly the same thing: a fabric with a plain, tight weave. But there are distinctions.

Traditionally, broadcloth was made exclusively from wool. This made it sturdy like poplin, but much coarser in texture. 

Today, broadcloth is made from a variety of different fibres. Its characteristic feature is still its dense weave, which makes it a bit thicker than poplin.

Broadcloth also lends itself to unique visual effects. For example, when you interweave threads in two alternating colours, the fabric may look like one solid colour from afar, with a subtle pattern appearing only when seen close up.

Broadcloth is a popular fabric for high-end men’s shirting.

Poplin vs. Oxford 

A poplin shirt in sky blue
A poplin shirt.

What about Oxford vs. poplin?

Like poplin, Oxford refers to a type of weave. Oxford is a common shirting fabric for both men and women. Like poplin, it’s strong and easy to work with. As with twill, the difference between Oxford and poplin lies in the weave.

Oxford weave is a type of basket weave. The warp and weft fibres criss-cross in a pattern that resembles a basket. With poplin, a single weft fibre passes over and under single warp fibres at a 90 degree angle. 

With Oxford fabric, multiple weft fibres pass over the same number of warp fibres at a 90 degree angle. This makes Oxford fabric thick and warm.

Like twill, fibres in a combination of colours can provide interesting visual effects. For example, coloured weft fibres combined with a white warp fibres create a two-toned appearance.

Oxford fabric is popular in both casual and professional wear.

The Pros and Cons of Poplin

white poplin in swirl

It’s difficult to pinpoint specific advantages and disadvantages of a fabric that can come in so many different forms. The qualities of poplin can differ widely depending upon the composition of the fibers with which it is woven. 

Poplin cotton, for example, is an excellent fabric for shirting and crafts. Poly poplin fabric is better suited to housewares than to clothing. Some poplin types are better for winter wear, and others work better in warm weather.

Still, all poplin types share some standout qualities.

The Advantages of Poplin

  • Hard-wearing and durable
  • Simultaneously fine and strong
  • Less expensive than pure wool or silk
  • Easy to work with
  • Extremely forgiving
  • Machine washable
  • Lightweight
  • Comfortable
  • Water resistant
  • Holds it shape well
  • Excellent for embroidery and applique

And the disadvantages of poplin? These come down to the fibre content. 

Polyester poplin doesn’t insulate well, so it’s not the best fabric for winter wear. However it does do well in warm weather.

Poplin made with wool or cotton fibres can be heavy and lack breathability. On the other hand, these types are well suited to protect against rain and wind.

Some poplin varieties are slippery, while others are easier to sew.

Medium-weight and heavy weight poplin types are wrinkle resistant, while thin types are less so.

Stretch poplins will have their own unique issues when it comes to sewing.

And speaking of sewing poplin fabric…

How Easy is Poplin Fabric to Sew?

Poplin in Baby Pink

Have you ever wondered how to sew poplin fabric? It’s not hard, thanks to the fabric’s tight weave. In fact, this versatile, utterly forgiving fabric is one of the easiest to work with.

But, as with all fabrics, there are tips and tricks that can make sewing with poplin even easier.

Common Issues with Sewing Poplin Fabric

Many of the issues people have sewing poplin come down to the fibre type. 

  • Some poplin types, for example poly poplin fabric, can be slippery
  • The tight weave sometimes resists the needle
  • The tight weave can also affect thread tension

Tips and Tricks for Sewing With Poplin

  • If your poplin is a slippery type, use a bit of spray starch before sewing
  • Choose a sharp, new needle that’s the right weight for your fabric
  • Make sure your scissors and rotary cutter are sharp.
  • Keep an eye on your thread tension to make sure stitches are even and uniform
  • Sew stretch poplin as you would any other stretch fabric: with stretch stitches and needles rated for stretch fabrics.

How to Care for Poplin Fabric

In general, poplin fabrics are hard wearing, machine washable, wrinkle resistant, and easy to care for. However, these qualities may differ depending upon the fibre content. Your care should always take fibre content into consideration.

Wool Poplin

The original poplin fabric contained wool fibres, and although it’s less common today, you will still find wool poplin in garments. This is especially true in high end garments.

Wool is prone to shrinkage. Many wool poplin garments are dry-clean only. Always follow the manufacturer’s care instructions, and when in doubt, dry-clean your wool poplin.

Cotton Poplin

Cotton poplin, by contrast, is delightfully easy to care for. It’s the most common type of poplin today, both in garments and in crafting.

It doesn’t stain easily, and it’s machine washable. Moreover, it releases odours easily in the wash. Some manufacturers recommend washing cotton poplin at 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit). But always follow the instructions for your specific garment or fabric.

Although cotton poplin resists wrinkles, they do sometimes happen. You can tumble-dry or iron cotton poplin with a warm iron to release them.

Polyester Poplin

Poly poplin fabric is likewise easy to care for, but the instructions are a bit different. You can machine wash polyester poplin in cold water and tumble dry in a warm, but not hot, dryer. If you need to iron your polyester poplin, use a warm, but again, not hot, iron.

Final Thoughts

Poplin is an incredibly versatile fabric. It comes in a variety of weights and fibre compositions. You’ll find different types of poplin everywhere, from garments to housewares. And most varieties are delightfully easy to work with.

The name ‘poplin’ refers to any plain-weave fabric where the warp fibres and the weft fibres are of different thicknesses. Poplin fabric may use one type of fibre, for example cotton, or a combination of fibres. The differences in fibre composition account for the unique qualities of each type of poplin.

What’s your favorite type of poplin to work with? Do you have any tips or tricks for getting the most out of this versatile fabric? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

how easy is poplin to sew

REFERENCES

  1. Louisa May Alcott | Little Women | http://www.literatureproject.com/little-women/little-women_3.htm

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