Choosing Fabric for the Rainhaven Collection

We are so pleased that the Rainhaven Collection is here!  Fabric choice is very important when sewing waterproof outerwear, so we'd love to provide some guidance to help you get started.  

Here are some fabric suggestions for sewing rain gear, including both natural and synthetic fabrics, as well as online sources for ordering fabric.  

Navigating the world of waterproof fabrics may be new to many of us, but the good news is that there are lots of options.  When choosing a fabric, consider the following questions:

  • What level of water-proofness do you need?  Do you need something worthy of a deluge, or more of a water-resistant layer.  If looking for a highly waterproof option, consider looking for a more technical fabric - the price is higher, but the quality is better in terms of waterproofness, durability, and breathability.  
  • Do you need something lightweight, or a heavier fabric that offers some insulation?  Some fabrics are very lightweight and easily packable, a great option for popping into a backpack to layer over other clothing or use in warmer weather.  Other fabrics have an insulating layer, making them a great all-in-one option for cooler weather.  
  • Are you making gear for occasional light wear, or something durable to be used on a regular basis?  Light nylon may be perfectly sufficient if you're looking for a light-duty option.  If, however, the garments will be worn regularly for work or play, consider a heavier-weight fabric, and perhaps adding knee and seat patches in a sturdy material.     
  • Are you happy to work with synthetic materials, or do you prefer natural fabrics?  Synthetic materials are in some respects the "easier" option - they tend to be lighter weight and a high-quality technical fabric can be a very effective waterproof layer.  Natural materials are heavier, more durable, and have less environmental impact, but you have to put in some work to make them waterproof.  With maintenance, natural materials can last a long time, and are less of a "disposable" option than manmade materials.    


Natural materials 

Here at Twig + Tale, natural materials are always our first choice where suitable.

Canvas or cotton duck:  Tightly-woven, durable fabric, canvas and cotton duck are not inherently water resistant.  However, it is possible to treat garments to make them waterproof using a product such as Otter Wax or Bee Kind waterproofing bars. There is a video tutorial on how to make your own waterproof fabric here.   When purchasing fabric, the weight is listed in ounces, for example 10 oz, 12 oz (the higher the number, the heavier the fabric). 

What we like about this option:  We think that canvas or duck would make amazing utility pants or overalls for gardening, farming, or for adventurous outdoor play.  The durability of the fabric, combined with the fact that the waterproofing wax can be reapplied when necessary, make this an option that will last a long time. 


Oilskin:  Another durable, natural-fibre option made from canvas or cotton duck, oilskin comes pre-treated with oils and/or waxes to make the fabric waterproof.  Traditional oilskin may have a slightly greasy or waxy finish, which can transfer to other surfaces.  Dry oilskin has a matte finish that does not transfer, so you may wish to look for this option.  Oilskin often has a wonderful "distressed" finish with lots of texture and character.  

What we like about this option:  We love the classic look of oilskin and think it would make an amazing rain hat or utility overalls.  Like canvas, the oilskin can be re-treated with waterproofing wax if necessary, and is an environmentally-friendly option with impressive longevity.  


Synthetic fabrics

Ripstop nylon, parka nylon:  There is a wide range of nylon outerwear fabrics.  They tend to be lightweight, flexible, and are a good option for making rain garments that are easy to roll up and pop into a backpack for an outing.  Ripstop has a grid pattern in the weave, which as the name suggests, makes the fabric more durable and less prone to ripping.  Cheaper nylon fabric tends to be uncoated, but because of the tight-weave will still offer water-repellent qualities.  Coated nylon usually has a PUL (polyurethane) layer, or an aluminium backing that improves the waterproof qualities of the fabric (look for a shiny clear, white, or silver backing).  

What we like about this option: This is a great, lightweight "packable" option that is perfect to take along for a hike or pop into a child's backpack for a day of forest school.  Uncoated nylon is very economical and may be used for light-duty play pants, whereas coated nylon offers good waterproofness.  

Polyester laminates:  These fabrics generally consist of a polyester "shell" outer layer, with 2- or 3-ply laminate coatings for waterproofness and breathability.  As "technical" outerwear options, these fabrics tend to be more expensive, but may be worth it if you would like lightweight, durable, and reliable rain gear that will be worn regularly.

What we like about this option:  Polyester laminates are generally highly waterproof, lightweight, and breathable.  If you're using your rain gear regularly for high-intensity activities outdoors such as hiking, this is a comfortable option due to the breathability of the fabric.  

Softshell fabric: Most commonly made of polyester or nylon, softshell has a water-shedding outer layer laminated to an inner fleece layer.  Softshell is growing in popularity - it is readily available in a wide variety of colours and prints, and is quite easy to work with.  It is fairly thick and durable, and offers a good layer of insulation.  The quality of softshell can vary quite a bit, with more technical fabrics offering spandex content for stretch, 3-layer construction, and better breathablilty.  

What we like about this option:  Softshell is readily available and comes in a variety of fun colours and prints that are very appealing.  The fabric is flexible and the fleecy layer is comfortable to wear.  It is a great option for cooler weather as it offers some extra insulation.  


Cordura: Classic Cordura fabric is a very durable, thick nylon with a canvas-like weave.  It is quite stiff, so we wouldn't be recommended for an entire garment, but it works well for knee and seat patches to increase the longevity of thinner fabrics on high wear areas. 

What we like about this option:  If you're sewing outdoor gear for a wee explorer who likes to slide down wet boulders, it may be worth reinforcing pants with Cordura patches.  We know that kids can really put outerwear to the test!  

Sources for outerwear fabric

Here are some online sources for outerwear fabric that would be suitable for sewing the garments in the Rainhaven Collection.  There is a wide range of options available, and many of these online suppliers ship internationally.  Of course, this list is by no means exhaustive, so if you have recommendations, please feel free to share!  

Active Fabrics - Located in Germany, Active Fabrics has a good selection of waterproof laminates, softshell, and Cordura-brand fabrics.  

Discovery Fabrics - Located in Canada, Discovery Fabrics specializes in technical fabrics and has a great selection of high-quality waterproof fabrics, including Polartec-brand softshell fabrics.  

Empress Mills - Located in the UK, Empress Mills offers a selection of softshell in fun child-friendly prints as well as solid colours. 

ExtremTextil - Located in Germany, ExtremTextil offers an extensive selection of breathable waterproof fabrics, including laminates and softshell, as well as a great selection of hardware and seam-sealing tape.  

l'Oiseau Fabrics - Located in Canada, l'Oiseau Fabrics has a great selection of good-quality OEKO-TEX certified softshell prints and solids.  There are many cute options that would appeal to children!  

Merchant and Mills - Located in the UK, Merchant and Mills offers canvas, oilskin, as well as dry oilskin in a beautiful selection of colours. 

Miss Maude Fabrics - Located in New Zealand, Miss Maude has a lovely selection of oilskin and canvas fabrics.  

Pennine Outdoor Fabrics - Located in the UK, Pennine Outdoor has a good selection of waterproof nylon and polyester fabric, as well as hardware and seam-sealing tape.  

Profabrics - Located in the UK, Profabrics has a good selection of technical outerwear fabric, hardware, and seam-sealing tape.

Seattle Fabrics - Located in the USA, Seattle Fabrics has a great selection of water/windproof fabric, including softshell, polyester laminates, and ripstop nylon.  They also have an excellent selection of hardware, including buckles, hook and loop tape, snaps, grommets, and seam sealing tape.  

Simplifi Fabric - Located in Canda, Simplifi Fabric stocks a good selection of oilskin and dry oilskin (Merchant and Mills brand), as well as reproofing spray and bars for treating oilskin.   

Spotlight - With many locations in Australia and New Zealand, Spotlight often stocks softshell and ripstop nylon in store.  

Are you ready to try sewing rain gear?  Feel free to join our friendly online community over at the Twig + Tale Chat Facebook group to ask questions, look for inspiration, and share your projects.  We'd love to see you there!

Read more about the Rainhaven Collection here: