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What is Viscose?

viscose dressmaking fabric, natural viscose fabric

Natural? Synthetic? What is viscose exactly?

Viscose is a beautiful dressmaking fabric. It feels soft and drapes beautifully, but what is it actually made of? We get asked this a lot in the shop, so read on to find out more!

What is viscose fabric?

Viscose fabric is made from natural materials, but it is classed as a semi-synthetic fabric because of the industrial manufacturing process.

Cellulose fibre are used to make viscose; these come from fast-growing trees like eucalyptus and pine or plants like bamboo. Although it is manufactured from these natural materials, viscose needs an intensive manufacturing process.

How is it made?

Created as a cheap alternative to silk, viscose is a product of the industrial age. It takes extensive processing to turn trees into lovely soft fabric! The harvested wood is first dissolved into pulp. Next it is washed and bleached and then further treated to create fibres. These fibres are then processed and spun into a thread, and the finished fabric is made from this thread.

It’s natural, but is it sustainable?

Although it is made from plants, whether viscose is sustainable or not is a thorny issue. It is a plant-based product, but needs extensive chemical processing to turn it into fibre. Mature forests have been destroyed to make way for wood pulp plantations, damaging local people, animal populations and to biodiversity.

This artificial silk is cheaper than other natural fibres with a similar feel, but there is a downside; the lower cost means that it is widely used for ‘fast fashion’. The huge amounts of disposable clothing being produced add enormously to the ecological impact of the production of this fabric.

pine trees, which can be harvested to make viscose. Viscose a natural material

can viscose be sustainable?

More sustainable production processes are being developed, and organisations like Canopy are working to protect vulnerable forests from felling and to stop destructive farming practices by promoting newer production processes that create much less toxic chemical waste.

Viscose for dressmaking

With its soft feel, beautiful drape and smooth finish, viscose does feel a lot like silk or cotton lawn to wear and to work with. Luckily for the cost-conscious dressmaker, it usually comes with a much smaller price tag.

Although it does not have quite the same longevity and strength as a fine cotton or silk, for the home dressmaker viscose fabrics like this gingko print fabric, or stretch jersey like this grey rope jersey are great choices for creating light, breathable, wearable clothes. You can also visit our fabrics page and use the drop down for Material to select viscose fabrics and narrow your search with the other filters.

As fabric sellers we’re actively working to choose more sustainable fabrics to stock on our shelves, and prefer to choose viscose that fits our sustainable values. We are also choosing to stock more and more sustainable BCI cotton for the same reasons.


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