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18 Types of Cotton Fabric for Shirts & 58 Example Photos!

Cotton is a fiber that’s woven, knitted, or felted to create a big range of fabrics. This is part 2 of my cotton exploration (part 1 covers all the major cotton types).

In this post, I’m going to focus on 18 types of cotton fabric that are often used for shirts (defined as tops with collars, sleeves, and buttons).

In terms of visuals, I’m going to show:

  • Close-up photos of my fabric samples.
  • Photos of the fabrics made into shirts.
  • Videos, so you can see how fabrics behave differently.

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types of cotton fabric for shirts

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I’m getting my info from ‘Fabric for fashion: the swatch book’ by C. Hallett and A. Johnston (it has 125 real fabric samples inside!), Cotton Incorporated, the Britannica encyclopedia, dictionaries, and fabric stores.

To buy cotton fabrics online, check out Fabric.com (USA), Minerva (UK), or My Fabrics UK.

If you want sewing ideas and free patterns every week, join my email list.

Click a cotton type to skip to that fabric:

Cotton types:Used for these shirts:
BroadclothFormal shirts
Brushed cottonCasual shirts
ChambrayCasual
CorduroyCasual
CrossweaveCasual
DrillCasual, manual labor
FlannelCasual
GinghamCasual
HerringboneFormal
LawnSummer blouses
MadrasCasual
Organic cotton
Oxford cottonFormal
PlaidCasual
PoplinFormal
SateenFormal
Twill
WindowpaneCasual

Cotton broadcloth

navy broadcloth fabric
This photo really shows the crispness and structure of broadcloth. Featured: Mood Fabrics.

What is broadcloth? it’s a medium weight, plain weave fabric with a soft sheen and fine ribs.

Weight: medium weight.

Construction: plain weave. The fabric is tightly woven and it has very subtle small ribs.

How it feels: smooth.

Drapey? no, it’s crisp and structured.

See-through? no.

Uses: crisp shirts for work and formal events.

blue and white cotton broadcloth shirts
Cotton broadcloth shirts by Muji.

Video:


Brushed cotton

close up of white brushed cotton fabric
Here one side is fluffy (the brushed side), and the other side has small ribs.

What is brushed cotton? it’s when one or both sides of a fabric are brushed, giving it a soft and fluffy feel. This also creates warmth, making it great for cold-weather clothing.

According to this book (Amazon link), brushing is sometimes used to disguise poorer quality fabrics (defined as fabrics with a loose weave, and/or lightly spun yarns).

By brushing the fabric, it gives it extra body and fullness, which hides any quality issues. There’s a higher likelihood that this ‘trick’ has happened when the fabric is brushed on both sides.

Here’s a great example I found in my fabric stash. This medium weight cotton has been brushed on both sides and has a loose weave (ie. it has bigger gaps between each yarn):

close up of loosely woven brushed cotton fabric
A poorer quality brushed cotton. It was brushed on both sides to hide the loosely woven construction.

Weight: you can get this fabric in many weights, from light to heavy.

Construction: woven fabric. My first photo shows a twill weave (with diagonal ribs on the back), and my second photo shows a plain weave.

How it feels: soft and fluffy (on the brushed sides).

Drapey? it depends on the weight, which can vary. I made these pajamas from a lightweight, drapey brushed cotton. But the samples pictured above are stiffer and more structured.

See-through? no.

Uses: lightweight brushed cotton is often used in casual shirts and pajamas.

plaid brushed cotton shirt and grey pajamas
Featured: flannel brushed cotton shirt by Everlane and brushed cotton grey pajamas by Desmond & Dempsey.

Video:


Cotton chambray

blue and white chambray cotton fabric with ruler
This chambray from The Fabric Store has a subtle multi-colored look from the blue and white yarns used.

What is chambray? chambray fabrics have a subtle multi-colored look. This is because they’re made using two yarn colors; one yarn is normally white. When the other yarn is blue it looks like denim, but it’s much thinner and softer than real denim.

Weight: light to medium weight.

Construction: plain weave. The yarns are woven together tightly, so the gaps between each yarn are small.

How it feels: smooth.

Drapey? it varies, some are crisper than others, but they’re not drapey like chiffon, for example.

See-through? no.

Uses: casual shirts.

3 blue chambray cotton shirts
Featured: J.Crew (left and right) and Abercrombie (middle shirt).

Video:


Cotton corduroy

textured khaki cotton corduroy fabric
The front and back of my cotton corduroy sample. It’s from Fabric for Fashion: the Swatch book (Amazon link)

What is corduroy? it’s a pile fabric with raised ribs. The ribs run vertically and are evenly spaced. “Pile” means the fabric is made from loops that are cut.

Corduroys are grouped based on how many ribs they have per inch:

  • Feathercord: 20-25 ribs per inch.
  • Pinwale: 16-23 ribs per inch.
  • Regular wale: 14 ribs per inch.
  • Wide wale: 6-10 ribs per inch.
  • Broad wale: 3-5 ribs per inch.

(source)

Weight: it varies. You can get light to heavyweight versions.

Construction: woven fabric with a pile. Pile means the fabric is made from loops that are cut.

How it feels: it has a smooth pile, but you can feel the bumpy raised ribs.

Drapey? no, corduroy is structured. Lighter weight corduroys have a bit more drape, but not as much drape as chiffon or silk charmeuse.

See-through? no.

Uses: light to medium weight corduroys are great for casual shirts.

man wearing green cotton corduroy shirt
A cotton corduroy shirt with fine ribs by Arket.

Video:


Cotton crossweave

pink and red cotton crossweave fabric samples held in hand
My samples are from the Organic Textile Company.
red cotton crossweave fabric pinched
I’m pinching the fabric here to show you that it’s quite crisp, not drapey.
close up of cotton crossweave fabric threads
Here’s a closeup of the fabric – you can see the warp and weft yarns are 2 different colors (red and white, and red and black).

What is crossweave? it’s when different colored warp and weft yarns are woven together to create a multi-colored fabric.

Weight: it varies. My samples in the photo are medium weight.

Construction: plain weave.

How it feels: my samples had a ‘dry’, slightly textured feel.

Drapey? no, it’s quite crisp.

See-through? no.

Uses: casual shirts.

2 men wearing cotton crossweave shirts
Featured: subtle crossweave shirts by JAEGER via Brand Alley (left) and John Lewis (right).

Cotton drill

white ribbed cotton drill fabric
My sample from Fabric for Fashion: the Swatch book (Amazon link)

What is drill? it’s a durable fabric with obvious diagonal ribs.

Weight: it varies.

Construction: diagonal weave. This is similar to twill weave, but the diagonal ribs are more obvious because of the coarser yarn count used. This also adds durability to the fabric. (source).

How it feels: it has some texture. You’ll feel little bumps as your hand moves over the ribbed surface.

Drapey? no, it’s quite structured.

See-through? no.

Uses: I mainly saw drill shirts being sold for casual wear and manual labor work. Drill is also used in army uniforms.

2 men wearing cotton drill shirts
Featured: blue shirt by Milo’s and green shirt by Wild Bounds.

Video:


Cotton flannel

cream, brown and green plaid cotton flannel fabric
Featured: cotton tartan flannel by Minerva.

What is flannel? a soft fabric where one or both sides have a fuzzy feel, making it ideal for cold weather. This fuzzy effect is achieved either by brushing the fabric, or through it’s loosely spun weave.

Flannel can be plain, but it’s often made with a plaid or tartan print.

Weight: it varies. Flannel button-down shirts are normally made using light to medium weight flannel.

Construction: woven fabric with a relatively loose weave (this means there are small gaps between the yarns).

How it feels: one or both sides are soft and fluffy.

Drapey? the lighter weight ones are drapey, but heavyweight ones for ‘shirt-jackets’ (aka. ‘shackets’) are less drapey.

See-through? no.

Uses: casual shirts and comfy pajamas.

man wearing navy cotton flannel shirt
A printed cotton flannel shirt by Arket.

Video:


Cotton gingham

black and white check gingham fabric
My samples from Minerva.

What is gingham? it’s a check print that’s woven or printed onto the fabric. It’s normally white and one other color.

Weight: light to medium weight.

Construction: plain weave.

How it feels: smooth.

Drapey? there’s some drape, but some cotton gingham’s are crisper.

See-through? no.

Uses: casual shirts.

4 red and blue gingham cotton shirts
Featured: blue and red shirts by T M Lewin, and women’s shirt by Everlane.

Cotton herringbone

blue cotton herringbone fabric sample
My jacket-weight samples are from the Organic Textile Company. Shirt-weight herringbone fabrics have a much smaller and subtler pattern.

What is herringbone? it describes a fishbone pattern woven into the fabric.

Weight: it varies. I have seen lightweight herringbone shirts and heavyweight herringbone upholstery fabric.

Construction: broken twill weave.

How it feels: slightly textured.

Drapey? generally no, it’s quite structured, especially the heavier weight versions.

See-through? no.

Uses: I saw some premium brands use cotton herringbone for their formal shirts, but the herringbone print is very subtle.

man wearing blue cotton herringbone shirt
Featured: herringbone cotton shirt by Charles Tyrwhitt.

Cotton lawn

white cotton lawn fabric sample
My sample from Fabric for Fashion: the Swatch book (Amazon link)

What is cotton lawn? it’s a lightweight, semi-transparent fabric with some crispness.

The word lawn might also refer to a starched crisp finish used on many fabrics.

Weight: lightweight.

Construction: plain weave. It uses a fine, high thread count yarn that’s either carded or combed.

Carded cotton only goes through the basic process of brushing raw/washed fibers before it’s spun, giving the fabric a more ‘raw’ feel. Combed cotton has been through more processing (combing) giving it a smoother finish.

How it feels: smooth.

Drapey? there’s some structure.

See-through? yes. The transparency can range from being see-through to almost non-see-through.

Uses: this fabric is light and slightly see-through, so I mainly saw it used in women’s summer blouses. Lightweight cotton lawn isn’t very durable so it suits loose and unstructured styles.

2 cotton lawn shirts with white and blue stripes
Featured: Everlane shirts.

Video:


Cotton madras

blue, green, and red madras cotton shirting fabric

What is madras? a handwoven cotton fabric with plaid, checks, or stripes. The pattern is made using semi-permanent vegetable dyes that bleed to create soft and muted colors. A fabric can only be called madras if it comes from the Madras region in India (source).

Weight: light to medium weight.

Construction: woven fabric.

How it feels: smooth.

Drapey? there’s some drape and some body/structure.

See-through? no.

Uses: casual shirts.

man wearing red cotton madras shirt, and blue madras shirt on hanger.
Featured: left shirt by Crew Clothing, and right shirt by Gant.

Organic cotton

What is organic cotton? it’s when cotton is grown using methods that have a low impact on the environment. This includes banning the use of toxic pesticides and fertilizers that harm the soil, water, and farmers. Fabric can only be called organic if a third-party organization has checked the producers are following federal rules. (source)


Oxford cotton

white oxford cotton fabric swirl
White oxford cotton from Fabric.com.

What is oxford cotton? according to shirtmaker Emma Willis, “oxford cotton is created by weaving the cotton yarn in a certain way giving a textured rather than smooth finish”.

“There are different types, starting with the classic Oxford, then the finer Prince Oxford, which has a slight sheen and more conspicuous weave.” (source). Note: conspicuous means clearly visible.

Weight: light to medium weight.

Construction: woven fabric.

How it feels: quite smooth with a bit of texture in some types.

Drapey? no, it’s quite structured, but not stiff.

See-through? no.

Uses: crisp shirts for formal events and work. You can also get cotton poplin pajamas.

man wearing white shirt, man wearing check pajamas, and a pink oxford cotton shirt
Featured: white shirt by Todd Shelton. Pink shirt and pajamas by Saville Row Company.

Plaid cotton

black and white cotton check fabric, and plaid fabric

What is plaid? Clain, a Scottish fabric retailer, explains:

“Plaids are any crisscross patterns of two or more colours;
Tartans are plaids with a name to identify a community;
Checks are plaids with a regular pattern, usually of only two colours.”

“Flannel” is sometimes confused with plaid prints, but flannel is actually a type of fabric. It’s a soft, woven material with a fluffy side. It’s often made with a plaid pattern which causes the confusion.

PS. I have a whole post on plaid and tartan sewing ideas.


Cotton poplin

green and orange cotton poplin fabric
I’m pinching the poplin here to show you that it’s a crisp and structured fabric. My samples are from the Organic Textile Company.
white cotton poplin fabric samples
close up of cotton poplin's tight weave
In the light you can see the tight weave better.

What is poplin? a crisp fabric with very fine ribs and a subtle sheen.

Weight: light to medium weight.

Construction: plain weave. It has very subtle horizontal ribs because the warp yarns are closer together and finer than the weft yarns.

How it feels: smooth and crisp.

Drapey? no, it’s structured and crisp.

See-through? no.

Uses: lightweight poplins are often used to make formal and workwear shirts.

4 cotton poplin shirts in white, navy, and beige.
Featured: top left shirt by H&M, women’s shirt from Net-a-porter, and bottom shirts from Mr Porter. These were all made using cotton poplin.

Video:


Cotton sateen

white cotton sateen fabric sample
My sample from Fabric for Fashion: the Swatch book (Amazon link)

What is cotton sateen? cotton that’s woven with a sateen-weave has a smooth surface and a dull sheen. Sometimes the yarns are immersed in a solution to increase the sheen (this process is called mercerization).

Weight: it varies.

Construction: sateen weave, giving it a subtle shine in the light. It normally uses finer yarn counts and a high thread count (which means more threads per inch/cm).

How it feels: smooth and structured.

Drapey? no, it’s structured.

See-through? no.

Uses: crisp shirts for workwear and formal events.

cotton sateen shirts worn by man and woman
Featured: cotton sateen shirts from Gant and Mr Porter.

Videos:

Here’s a medium weight stretchy cotton sateen with 3% spandex.


Cotton twill

cream and white cotton twill fabric
My samples are from the Organic Textile Company.

What is twill? it’s a type of weave. All twill fabrics have diagonal lines (called ribs or wales) on the front. On heavyweight fabrics the lines are clear to see, but on some lightweight fabrics they’re very subtle.

Twill weaves are normally harder-wearing than plain weaves made using the same yarn and thread count, so they suit high-use utility and casualwear. They also tend to recover from wrinkles better.

Examples of twill weave fabrics are denim, gabardine, drill, and chino. I cover these in my main types of cotton post with example photos.

Herringbone, houndstooth, and Scottish tartan designs are made using a twill-weave construction too.

Weight: you can get this fabric in many weights, from light to heavy.

How it feels: Heavyweight fabrics with a more obvious twill weave feel more textured as your hand moves over the bigger, thicker ribs. Lightweight twill weaves have finer ribs, so they’re smoother.

Uses: lightweight versions are used for shirts, and heavyweight versions are used for trousers, traditional trench coats, etc.


Windowpane cotton

cream and black windowpane cotton fabric
Windowpane cotton from Fabric.com.

What is windowpane cotton? it describes fabrics with a box pattern.

Uses: shirts with a big windowpane print are often used for casual wear. Subtle windowpane prints can be seen on formal shirts for the office.

4 cotton windowpane shirts
Featured: top 2 shirts by Original Penguin, bottom left shirt by Rael Brook, and bottom right shirt by Banana Republic.

Sources

C. Hallett and A. Johnston (2014). ‘Fabric for fashion: the swatch book’ 2016 edition. Laurence King Publishing, London.

Cotton Incorporated. ‘Types of cotton fabric’. [online] Available at: https://thefabricofourlives.com/cotton-fabrics [accessed: 25 Oct 2020]

Organic Trade Association. ‘Get the facts about Organic Cotton’. [online] Available at: https://ota.com/advocacy/organic-standards/fiber-and-textiles/get-facts-about-organic-cotton [accessed: 21 Nov 2020]

The Drapers Daughter (2016). ‘Crossweave Fabrics Explained’. [online] Available at: https://drapersdaughter.com/blogs/news/105234758-crossweave-fabrics-explained [accessed: 25 Oct 2020]

Charles S. Whewell and Edward Noah Abrahart (2020). ‘Conversion to yarn’ [online] Available at: https://www.britannica.com/topic/textile/Conversion-to-yarn [accessed: 26 Oct 2020]

Charu Creation Pvt. Ltd. (2020). ‘What is the difference between Cotton Poplin, Cotton Cambric and Cotton Voile?’. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v_2-_twQBtg

fashionbeans.com. ‘The best oxford shirt (ocbd) guide you’ll ever read’. [online] Available at: https://www.fashionbeans.com/article/ocbd-oxford-shirt-guide/ [accessed: 1 Nov 2020]