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I'm new to sewing and have not handled fabric before. When I go to store pages on the internet, the shop keepers and reviewers often post a picture of a big piece of fabric swirled with assumable two fingers. Since they wouldn't do extra effort for naught, I assume pictures like the following summarize several qualities of the fabric type in question.

Example of a swirled piece of fabric.

I can only think of a few:

  • Bendability, does it form sharp corners or does it stay rigid
  • How does it look like under different lighting, since the curvature and spiral form show many different angles

Is there a specific keyword that I can use to google further?

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  • "Is there a specific keyword that I can use to google further" for what exactly? Are you asking us what one can tell from these pictures or how you can find that out yourself (the first is fine, the second is off-topic here)?
    – Joachim
    Aug 23 at 13:02
  • Honestly I am grasping at straws here because it seems so puzzling to me. Fair point, I shouldn't be asking two questions in one, but surely it must have some kind of name, since so many people are doing it, or it may not. Should I edit the question to only include one of the two? Aug 23 at 13:39
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What you're supposed to see in those pictures is how the fabric drapes. From a flat piece of fabric you can only see the weave (if zoomed in), the pattern and the color. From the product page you should also see the weight of the fabric, what you don't see is the drape of the fabric (how it flows and molds itself to the body), that can determine if it's suited for a specific purpose.

There's a summary and some links to further articles at the end of this answer.

The most information can be derived from the very edge of the picture (how much fabric lays flat on the table and how much stands away from it).

This is a random one from stoffe.de:

enter image description here

property value
Material: 100% Cotton
weight (g/m²): 145,0

You see a swirl and thick wrinkles spreading out like sunrays. The wrinkles stay intact all the way to the outer edge of the image and the fabric never flattens out much. There's roughly 50% fabric touching the table and 50% standing up at the very edge. You also see that the material is rather matte from all angles.

You can conclude that this fabric is very heavy, will fall in thick, heavy waves and won't flow much in breeze. If made into a wide skirt, it would probably stand awkwardly from your body like a cone. If made into a pencil skirt, it would hold its shape very well. It's not at all suited for a shirt or evening dress, but suited for trousers, jackets, bags or curtains.

Next random example from stoffe.de:

enter image description here

property value
Material: 100% Polyester
weight (g/m²): 145,0

This fabric has the exact same weight as the first example, but look at the difference! The wrinkles are extremely pronounced and the fabric seems to cling to the table underneath. I estimate that only 10% of the fabric stands up. In combination with the material (polyester) you can conclude that this fabric will statically charge up and cling to your body. On the page it's listed as lining for things like blazers or suits, but my personal advice is to just not buy it, because it will make the item very uncomfortable to wear.

Next, another example from stoffe.de:

enter image description here

property value
Material: 100% Polyester
weight (g/m²): 130,0

You see that the fabric is glossy and reflects different colors from different angles. Less obvious is that the wrinkles are far less pronounced and less straight and regular than in the first example, although the weight is comparable. Several wrinkles even collapse and flatten out towards the edge. I'd estimate that 25% of the fabric stands up from the table at the edge of the picture.

You can conclude that this fabric is still slightly heavy, but will drape so much better than the first example. If made into an elegant dress, it would probably fall in soft waves and emphasize your body shape. If made into a pencil skirt, it would cling too much to your body (especially your behind) and look awkward. This is well suited for things like flowy evening blouses, dresses or skirts, where the drape of the fabric will be visually appealing. You could also use it as a fancy curtain, but it would make a tote bag look bulging and baggy, and it probably won't be comfortable in a summer dress (due to its material and weight).

Next example, also from stoffe.de:

enter image description here

property value
Material: 80% Cotton, 20% Linon
weight (g/m²): 107,0

This one is much lighter than all above, but it has 50% of the fabric standing up (comparable to the first example). That means it's a very crisp fabric, well suited for "traditional" dress shirts and blouses. If made into a wide summer dress, you risk creating some unflattering shapes due to it's crispness, but it would behave well in a pencil skirt (might be too much see-through, though). The light weight makes it unsuited for furniture or bags because it probably won't last long.


Summary:

  • The pictures alone cannot tell you all you need to know about the fabric. They are meant as a somewhat standardized substitute for actually handling and feeling the fabric.
  • In combination with other information like the weight, material and weave, they can give you an idea about how the fabric drapes.
  • For some applications like dress shirts or furniture, you want a stiff fabric. For other applications like summer or evening dresses, you want a fabric that drapes well.

Read more about drape:

Why fabric drape is so important in your sewing
One pattern, many fabrics. Understanding fabric drape
Fabric 101: drape includes a very short video demonstration with fabric examples

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