Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Rayon, Viscose, Tencel, Cupro, Modal – What Does It All Mean?

Rayon is one of our favorite fibers because it always has a beautiful drape whether it's a knit or a woven. It's often soft, usually lightweight, and relatively easy to care for – but what is it exactly? And what about those other fibers like viscose, tencel, cupro, and modal? Rayon is one of the most misunderstood fibers, so we want to demystify some of the misconceptions and confusing terms that surround this great fabric!

So What is Rayon?

Rayon is the catchall term for fabric made from regenerated cellulose fiber. Rayon is often mistaken for a synthetic fiber, but it is actually made from wood pulp and other plant materials. It was developed in the early 1900s as an alternative to silk and has since been used in all sorts of applications, from commercial to industrial.

One of the great properties of rayon is that it is cool to the touch. This and its breathability make it a perfect fabric for warm weather. A swingy rayon dress or blouse will help keep you cool and comfortable when it's the middle of July and the humidity is out of control!

Bamboo Rayon

The bamboo plant is a sustainable source of the raw materials used in the production of rayon. We love our bamboo rayon knits because they are incredibly soft, breathe wonderfully and drape beautifully!

Our favorite jersey ever! This is our Bamboo Rayon in Clay.
The Briar Tee by Megan Nielsen is so fun for summer, especially with high-waisted pants and skirts!

Rayon Crepe

Rayon crepe was a very popular choice for dresses and blouses in the 1940s and we love the vintage vibe that these textured fabrics have. Now rayon crepes come in so many colors, prints, and varying levels of "crepiness"!

This Italian designer rayon crepe is so pretty! It's called Flower Crown and we have it in both Cream and Navy.
Rayon crepe is perfect for the sweet & stylish Eve Dress by Sew Over It.

Rayon Challis

Challis is probably the most well-known type of rayon. It's lightweight and fluid, which makes it ideal for drapey blouses, dresses, and skirts. And it comes in so many amazing prints!

Love this twist on a classic stripe! This is the Scribble Stripe Rayon Challis.

A rayon challis Charlie Caftan by Closet Case Patterns is the floaty, chic summer dress of your dreams!

Other Rayons

Rayon comes in many other variations as well – it can be textured, sandwashed, sueded, and woven in different ways to change how it drapes and feels. This versatility makes it so perfect for all kinds of garment sewing – you could fill your wardrobe with rayon and not have two of the same garment!

Sandwashed Rayon in Denim Blue
Slubby Kahlo Uneven Stripe rayon
Textured Rayon - Rose Stripe


Though viscose originated as an alternative method to producing rayon, it now is considered an interchangeable term. "Viscose" is typically used in European countries, which is why our Italian designer rayons are called viscose.

This beautiful Italian viscose sateen has a soft, brushed feel and a subtle sheen.
When you're working with a print, it can be best to keep things simple. The Ogden Cami by True Bias is perfect for that! 


The word tencel is actually a trademarked term for a fiber called lyocell. The manufacturing process for lyocell is slightly different from other rayons and results in very little waste product. This makes tencel/lyocell more sustainable and eco-friendly!

Though tencel can be made into all sorts of different weaves, the type we see most often is twill. Tencel twill is a great bottomweight for making jackets and pants. One thing to note with tencel is that it tends to get shiny when pressed with a hot iron. We recommend turning down the temp and using a pressing cloth.

This Heavy Tencel Twill is the perfect weight for pants and jackets, yet is wonderfully soft and drapey!
The Burnside Bibs by Sew House Seven are one of the hottest patterns for summer! So stylish yet easy to wear.


You may know cupro by its trade name, Bemberg, which is a popular fabric for lining. Cupro (or cupromonium) is the name given to rayon fibers made through a process that uses copper and ammonium. Its slinkiness and slight sheen make it a great alternative to silk.

Just look at the lovely sheen in this Lavender Cupro!

A cupro Roberts Collection jumpsuit would look so fancy, but actually be secret pajamas!


What makes modal different from other rayons is that the fibers are designed to be stronger and more resistant to shrinkage. This makes modal easier to care for because it won't shrink as much as other rayons if it gets tumble dried. Both wovens and knits are made from modal and they're always extremely soft!

The color of this Thistle Sueded Modal is so pretty!

A modal Kielo by Named Clothing would be the perfect dress for date night or lazy Sunday brunch!

Sewing with Rayon

Many beginning sewists shy away from rayon because it has a reputation for being difficult to work with. Though it's true that the liquid drape of rayon can make it trickier than cotton, it just takes a little more care. Try Flatter (a starch alternative) to make your rayon easier to handle before cutting. Use weights and a rotary cutter to cut out your pattern, rather than pins and scissors. And don't forget to staystitch your curves after cutting to keep them from getting misshapen!

We know that rayon is super easy to wear, but how easy is it to care for? Rayon used to have a reputation for being dry clean-only, but nearly all modern rayon can be machine washed. However, we recommend keeping it away from the dryer. Rayon tends to shrink and you don't want your lovely summer sun dress to become a micro-mini! If you're not sure how your fabric will react to washing, just test a swatch before throwing your full yardage in the washer.

What do you think about rayon and all its cousins? If you've never sewn with it before, we hope that after reading this you will give rayon a try!


  1. Thank you for the explanations of all the various forms of rayon.
    It is truly an all-purpose fabric.

  2. If you are searching for sustainable fabrics, tayon migjt not be the right one. Rayon, though made from natural materials, goes through a very chemical process to be woven/knit into fabric. It is made in omcojntried that might. It have strict safety standard, meaning workers might be exposed to very caustic chemicals. And where are those chemicals being disposed? Rayon can also splinter in the wash like polyester and has been found in our oceans.

    1. Thank you for sharing that info- I'm trying to be more responsible with my clothing and fabric. In the past, I haven't thought much about where my FABRIC comes from... just the conditions behind how my clothing is made!

    2. There are some environmental advantages to lyocell in particular, though. There is no perfect fiber. See, for example: https://www.yesitsorganic.com/rayon-modal-tencel-environmental-friends-or-foes.html

  3. I am curious about the quality. All my garments made with any Rayon content have pilled horribly in a short amount of time. Is there something to watch for or do to prevent this?

    1. The quality of rayon fabric can vary, especially when it comes to ready-to-wear. Keeping your rayon garments away from the dryer will help with pilling. Additionally, some detergents can contribute to pilling, as they are harsher on the fibers. If you're unsure about a fabric, we always recommend testing a sample piece in your washer!

  4. I have been using 100%rayon in my quilts for years! I make large pieces of chenille by layering 3 layers of rayon onto muslin, stitching 45 degree channels and cutting the channels with my electric scissors, not cutting through the muslin. I make quilts with the large pieces...like 2 yards finished chenille pieces and make jackets, scarves and coats with it also. Some of my makes are 10 years old and have washed been washed and dried more times than I can count. It only gets softer and softer, never pilling at all. I love the stuff!

    1. That sounds very beautiful! Do you have any pictures online of your work?

  5. I once bought a (rather expensive) dress made of modal. It developed two very obvious snags the first day I wore it. As someone who takes very good care of her clothes and usually maintains them for years, I found this garment to be a waste of money, resources, enthusiasm, emotional attachment, etc., and I've steered clear of modal ever since.

  6. Any knit fabric with a more open gauge could react that way. It was the quality of the fabric production (knit) rather than the fiber (modal) at fault. As I learned to create fabric, it helped me differentiate between characteristics of the fiber used and the production quality of the resulting fabric

  7. I love rayon and always make a few summer blouses usually of Challis for the Austin heat. I also like "Mu Mu" style dresses for around the house wear. I'm so glad to see prints back in Rayon. For awhile there, it was pretty tough to find. Sooo much more breathable than polyester. I machine wash, hand cycle, then hang to dry this quick drying fabric. Sometimes I starch and iron if I want a crisper hand, or just a quick steam and touch up. I've never had a rayon pill... but then, I rarely put my clothes in the dryer... only polyesters seem to pill... just stay away from the dryer and all your clothes will last sooo much longer!

  8. Maybe a Circular Sample Cutter can help your work in cutting.