Fabric Friday: Wool Challis

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I was asked recently if I have been seeing a resurgence in the apparel fabric industry – meaning, are some of those really really hard to find fabrics becoming more and more available. I do believe they are, however slowly it might be happening. Case in point: Wool Challis.

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Do you know what challis is? I see challis most commonly among the rayon family and then a couple of years ago, I purchased a gorgeous wool challis from a local fabric shop. The lady who was manning the shop at the time told me she hadn’t seen the fabric in many years. I had never seen it at all. And then, I started seeing it more and more and over the past couple of years I’ve seen this fabric become much more easy to get. Take that for what it’s worth.

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So challis. What’s challis? First of all, let’s get the pronunciation correct – pronounced sha-lee. Apparently the term challis means soft and this, I think, is a good description of challis. It’s a thin drapey sort of cloth. It’s a plainweave weave and it’s most commonly known for its pattern or design. I see great, great designs/patterns in challis and they can be woven into the cloth or printed on. Challis is usually matte, meaning it doesn’t have a shiny look to it. If it does, then it’s a french challis or a norwich crepe (and remember crepe can be differentiated because it’s woven with a twisted yarn). I find wool challis to have a somewhat rough texture to the fingers though it has very flat look to the eye.

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Rayon challis is becoming much more common as those quilting cotton manufacturers are producing some great prints. Wool challis is a bit harder to get (hopefully becoming easier though) and sometimes I see wool challis mixed with another fiber – namely cotton or silk.

Definitely worth the having. When it’s got some wool in it, I notice that the drape factor is not as drapey as rayon. This can be nice for dresses, button-up shirts, blouses, skirts – something where the lightweight factor and drape can be shown off a bit.

Do you have wool challis in your stash? This is such an interesting fabric.

For more about Wools, visit the Working with Wool Section!

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18 thoughts on “Fabric Friday: Wool Challis

  1. I love wool challis, although I don’t tend to wear a lot of drapy garments where it would really shine (well, not shine, as you say, buy you know what I mean!) I was so happy to see it featured here, and also happy to see you posting more again, I really appreciate your attention to detail and I’m enjoying the wool series. Thanks!

    1. Thank you Chloe! I’m excited to be posting more! I feel a much needed boost this year and I’m feeling great about what’s ahead for 2015. Yay!

  2. I do have challis in my stash, wool and rayon. I love it. Drapes well, sews well. You don’t see a lot of it in sewing blogland. When I’m looking for wovens, challis is always on my list.

  3. I’ve never sewn with wool challis but I have two gorgeous lengths of wool challis waiting to be sewn up. One is dark blue, another is an emerald green. I gently washed the green one by hand and I’m planning on making a blouse with it. I love it’s softness and warmth. I thought it would be perfect for a winter blouse. Thanks for the informative post!

  4. I managed to find a lovely black with ivory diamonds wool challis from a de-stasher on Craigslist. I haven’t sewn it up yet, but I have plans to make a peplum top out of it!

  5. I have a dress that I made from some vintage wool challis a couple of years ago. It’s so comfortable! I have a major weakness for challis in general though. I’m really hoping for more wool challis in my winter wardrobe future.

    1. I’m hoping I see it more and more too. I’ve seen it more and more over the past few years and I think that’s a really good sign. We shall see, eh? To any and all fabric manufacturers – WE WANT MORE WOOL CHALLIS! Yay!

  6. I have been looking for a nice challis for so long – wool or rayon – but its so hard to find. I should say that I’m not a fan of most floral challis, and that seems to be the majority of what’s out there. It would be really great to see more variety of this fabric.

    1. I agree. I do like a good floral, but I usually fall for more of the geometric prints, especially ones that look a little on the art deco or have a 1940s vibe. We need more of those. Much more!

  7. I can answer both questions with one answer: in the early 80’s, there were many fashion fabric stores in Seattle, and I had my pick to find the perfect wool challis in the most fetching shade of blue (to match my eyes) to make the wrap dress to rock my ex’s brain at his wedding. Yes, friends, I was just that evil. And I had that selection.

    A few years later, they were all gone. The chains that were left were mostly quilting fabric and craft stuff. I could have decoupaged myself a dress….and this is where I learned to alter vintage and thrift (because that’s where the fabric went).

    In the last two years, a few new shops have opened that carry ‘clothing’ fabric. And I did see a piece of wool challis this past November. But it was plaid.

    It’s all online now. And yes, there were a couple of stores here that scraped by (Nancy’s Sewing Basket for one), but it will never be the cornucopia it once was. And a wrap dress in wool challis is a gal’s best friend.

    1. SJ – you rock! I have to say from the perspective of a little fabric shop owner, it’s hard. I think it’s harder than ever because a vast majority of people (company here excluded, of course) don’t know what good fabric is from bad fabric. So when we’re up against the big box chain stores they will inevitably win in today’s economy. So sad. I’m trying to do my part of bringing better information to the masses about good fabric, but we need more! Maybe I should start a Joann and Hancock strike? Maybe we could coerce them into bringing back the fabrics they used to have – I remember when Joann or Cloth World as it used to be called where I’m from actually had good stuff. Really good stuff. Now it’s all junk. Ugh.

  8. I adore wool challis and am always on the lookout for it. A year or two ago, FabricMart Fabrics had some beautiful royal blue wool challis that I snatched up. I tend to use challis for skirts (fuller, not pencil) plus I have a number of lovely wool challis scarves. In fact, if you want to see what wool challis feels and drapes like, searching ebay, etsy, etc. for scarves is one way to acquire some of the fabric.

  9. Man, I love wool challis and wish there were more of it. One of the commenters is absolutely correct, there used to be so much more of it. I was in high school in the early 80’s. My mom made a lot of our clothes and I remember seeing bolt after bolt of it.

  10. I have a wool query! I was perusing wools and kept coming across Wool Melton. And since basically my only exposure to wool fabrics is through your blog, I haven’t a clue what it is and how it should be used. Mayhaps a Melton post?

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