What Is Broadcloth?

There are plenty of materials around where it isn’t too difficult to understand what we are dealing with. Many of the most popular fabrics are named after the fiber that creates them. We have wool sweaters, cotton undergarments, and linen shirts. Then we have the synthetics like nylon and polyester. But where does something like broadcloth come into play? What is broadcloth – not just in terms of its material composition but its potential use in dress-making?

What is broadcloth?

When you see the word broadcloth, you might think that it is just a piece of cloth, wider than the average, in any material. That isn’t quite true. It is wide, but it is also a specific material. Simply put, modern broadcloth is a practical and versatile material that makes its way into clothing and other applications with ease. The material has developed over centuries from wool to cotton as it took on new purposes and brought new benefits to dress-makers and wearers. You should find that you can find a light, soft piece of broadcloth that is a great option for shirts and skirts. The piece shouldn’t be too difficult to sew or to find the best pattern for because of the range of options and the construction of the material.

What is the difference between broadcloth and poplin?

Depending on where you source your material and garments, you may see the term Poplin used instead of broadcloth. This is what it is known as in the UK, so may be seen on descriptions from some international suppliers. The name was changed when it came over to the US because it was believed that consumers wouldn’t want to buy old-fashioned poplin. There was an association between poplin and a heavier feel that was wanted at the time. Broadcloth was the same thing, just a new name.

Broadcloth is perhaps the most generic name they could have chosen and there was never going to be many objections to it. The name broadcloth actually comes from the creation of this material on a broader loom. It is broad because it is wide and was made on 45-60 inch looms rather than any standard ones in the past.

What is broadcloth made from? There isn’t a standard answer for this because you can find broadcloth material made from different weaves and blends. There will be lots of examples of broadcloth fabric where the material is cotton, and you end up with a nice denser material than typical cotton for a lighter shift. Or, you might find that there are other materials like wool or polyester in there. It should be clear when buying a piece of broadcloth to work with what the material composition is. In the past, wool was common and there is no reason why we shouldn’t still use traditional wool poplin. But, cotton broadcloth is more popular now.

It makes more sense to get a similar effect with cotton. That doesn’t mean that broadcloth is 100% cotton, however, as many manufactures create blends that are predominantly cotton but also have some additional materials in them, such as polyester. The alterations in composition could affect the way that the material responds when sewn, worn, or washed. So, it helps to know exactly what you are dealing with.

How has broadcloth changed over the years?

The material used for broadcloth has changed over the years to allow for modernization and innovation that led to the material we use today. At first, these materials would have been even denser and softer than they are today with the use of wool. There is a felting process at play where thick and tightly woven materials are created and shrunk with water to create something a bit more stiff and perfect for handling bad weather. There was also the benefit that the material was so stiff that it didn’t need to be hemmed, making things a lot easier for any dress-makers at the time.

Of course, in modern times, there isn’t the same need for these wool materials or something quite so substantial. American designers and manufacturers began importing poplin from the British in the 1920s. At this point, the process had changed to create a more modernized fabric that was more practical and attractive.

Why is broadcloth so popular?

The appeal of broadcloth comes from its structure. It is one of the denser materials because of its tight weave. This is great for any garment or piece of upholstery where you need some with a good structure and some durability. But, the use of cotton in the weave also means that it is typically very soft. Therefore, it has great potential for use in clothing.

The popularity of broadcloth is also largely due to the changes made when the manufacturing process changed. These alterations led to a more durable weave that could take on any dye without structural damage. There was also a nice luster to the surface. Today, there is a nice range of fabric options and patterns – thanks to that improved ability to hold dye. This means that it is a great option for a splash of color and a more practical material for the job.

What do we use broadcloth for?

Broadcloth quickly became a common material for shirts and other items in the US and is also great for some home furnishings. If you have a set of drapes at home that you perceive to be cotton in feel, but are quite stiff and thick to block out the light, they may well be broadcloth. You can also make your own curtains with ease using broadcloth.

Is broadcloth a good addition to your sewing basket?

You may have come into this with no idea what broadcloth is, but maybe now you are interested in using the material in a future project. There are certainly benefits in doing so and you might find that you get to create some fun and durable pieces for various members of the family. You won’t know what you really think of broadcloth until you try it. So, why not give it a go!