Sewing With Rayon Challis - MMF Fabric Substrate Series, Part 2

Hi there, friends!

     I am going to be honest here and tell you that I was a bit nervous about writing this installment of my fabric substrate series (click here to see part 1 on Double Gauze).  I am pretty new to rayon and did not have the deep knowledge about it that I have on many other fabric types.  But I knew I wanted to research, and learn more, so this is the perfect opportunity to share that research with all of you (plus, some gorrrrrrrgeous rayons are shipping to me for the shop next week). Well, the first thing I have to tell you before I go on is, challis is pronounced sha-lee.  Who knew?

Sewing with rayon tips
Rayon Challis Fabric

     Silky, smooth, flowy and with incredible drape, rayon is like a fancy apparel sewing dream!  The first time I got some in stock, I knew I wanted to make every beautiful dress and fancy top pattern I had been eyeing out of it.  And I wanted to do it immediately.  

     And then somehow, it all sold out in a flash, before I had a chance to sew any of those dream garments I had been planning.  I will not make that mistake this time!

    But luckily I did send some to the incredible Teri Dodds from before it was gone, and she sewed this incredible Trevi Top with it.  I have all the heart eyes and all the jealousy for this incredible piece!

                             Fasewla trevi top

     But what is it?  What is it made of? How is it made? How does it swoosh in such a lovely way?  And in the words of one of my very favorite people (who also happens to be in the coolest fabric group on facebook) - Like what the heck could I even make with Rayon?

A Quick Basics Refresher

    The first thing we should probably talk about is basic fabric types. All fabrics fit into one of two categories: woven or knit. This is dependent on how the fibers are combined to turn thread into fabric. When looked at up close, woven fabrics will have a cross hatch pattern to the threads, whereas knit fabrics are made up of a lot of little loops. These loops give knit fabric stretch (sometimes lots and sometimes just a little, but that is a topic for another post). The cross hatched threads of woven fabrics, can be thin or thick, and they can be woven tightly or loosely. These factors all play into the softness, drape, structure, opacity (or lack thereof) and overall end result of the fabric and of the sewing projects you will want to create with them.

                            Everything You Need to Know About Rayon Challis

Fabric Type:


Fiber Content:

Synthetic fabric but made with natural fibers.  

What?  How does that work? What does that even mean?  Keep reading!

How it is Made and What That Means for Your Sewing:

     Originally called imitation silk, rayon was invented in 1855 as a solution to a silk worm epidemic that was threatening the silk industry.  Rayon is produced in a factory, out of cellulose which is usually sourced from wood pulp.  

     I just nerded out for about an hour reading all about the process.  It is actually a very complex chemical process with environmental and factory working conditions that make me feel less excited about wanting to use it to sew every item in my handmade wardrobe.  These same consequences of the fast fashion industry are a large part of the reason that I feel good about sewing clothes.  I love the creativity, I love the process and I love the feeling of wearing something, or of seeing my children wear something, that I made with my own hands.  But I also love that I am not contributing quite as much to the destruction of the earth and to dangerous living and working conditions of those who were not born with the same privilege I was.  

    But there is hope for the future!  Just as the process and end product of rayon have changed quite dramatically since it was invented all those years ago, researchers have hope that soon rayon fabric will be able to be produced using only sunlight, water and carbon dioxide to manipulate the cellulose fibers.  And we are still all handmaking small quantities of clothing with these fabrics, and sewing creations that we will treasure and care for for years.  It is not the high consumption and quick disposal that is so prevalent with poorly made, cheap, fast fashion.  And I definitely will be doing more research into the exact conditions under which the rayon is produced that I stock in the shop!

    But long story short- the wood pulp is soaked in water and a chemical bath to break it down into cellulose particles.  The cellulose is first turned into a powder and then a honey-like goo.  The goo is extrudent through spinarettes into an acid bath to produce filaments.  The filaments are spun together into thread, and the threads are woven to produce fabric.  The exact size of the filaments and methods used for spinning and weaving determine the exact weight, opacity and drape of that particular rayon challis fabric.  

     But all of that incredible softness and drape can make rayon a bit of a challenge to work with at first.  It also is very easily damaged by water and heat.  The official word from Cotton + Steel is that all their rayon should be dry cleaned only, but word on the street is that machine washing cold and hanging to dry keeps your handmade goodness in great condition.  If you plan on machine washing your finished garments, definitely (DEFINITELY) prewash your fabrics on warm, maybe twice, and tumble dry low.  That way all of the initial, sometimes dramatic shrinking will happen before you put in all the work.  

    And if you are new to working with the fabric, just take it slow, be sure to press all seams, use lots of pins or wonder clips to hold everything in place, and take it slow.  Did I mention take it slow?  You can do it, I promise!  I hate hearing that people are scared to try new fabric types.  We can all do it, but the only way to learn is to try.  Don't let fear stop you from enjoying this goodness.  

Projects it is Perfect for:

    The very most perfect use of rayon challis is apparel sewing. Dresses, skirts and shirts for myself and for my children would all be perfect made from rayon, whether fitted, flowy or ruffle.  Whatever you make with it will feel like secret pajamas, but be so elegant and chic looking that you will feel comfortable and ready for any professional or social situation.

    My first plan, as soon as those bolts hit my doorstep, is to cut myself some to sew a Fringe Dress by Chalk and Notch Patterns.  I mean, look at this!

                Chalk and notch fringe

   And all that talk of secret pajamas made me realize that rayon would also make some incredible sheets or pillow cases. I would never want to get out of bed!

Who Designs it, Who Makes it, Where Can I Get Me Some:

     My absolute favorite current manufacturer of rayon on the market is Cotton + Steel and all of the incredible designers there.  Their colors are intense and gorgeous, the prints are true works of art and all one of a kind.  None of them are see through (which can sometimes be a problem when it comes to apparel sewing with some lower quality rayons).  

     And obviously, yes! You can get you some from me! As soon as they arrive I will list them in a shop section along with voiles and batistes (other incredible apparel sewing fabrics).   But if you want to make sure you do not miss out on them this time around, I offer exclusive presale of all fabrics to the members of my Facebook group, so if you want to be sure you get your hands on any of this incredible fabric as soon as I get it in stock and before it disappears, be sure to click here to join my group, then hit the "Join Group" button.

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That is it, friends, all you need to know about rayon challis! Please, let me know if you have any more questions and leave me a comment letting me know what other fabric substrates you are dying to learn more about!




  • Omisews (sandra stone)

    Finally had a moment to read this, thank you for the series. Really helps my education, and makes me confident to try new fabrics!

  • Rhonda Sparks

    Hi! Thank u so much for this article on Rayon! I made the cutest dresses from rayon challis for my girls when they were young. I just can’t seem to find it anymore in stores. I’ll def check these out you sell! Also I had read about it on C & S. Now to read ur post on double gauze! Thank u again!

  • Emi

    This was such a helpful article! Thank you so much for all the great information, and it’s so interesting to know how fabric is manufactured.

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