See Through Fabrics (Ultimate Guide)

See-through materials are something that you may not have had a chance to use if you are relatively new to dress-making. But, these translucent materials are interesting to work with because they can add new dimensions and features to pieces of clothing. They have their place where opaque options simply won’t do. So, what are some of the best see-through fabrics, what are they made from, and how can we use them in our work?

What are Some of the Most Common See-Through and Transparent Fabric Types?

There are lots of different materials that we can class as see-through in some form. One of the most popular is organza, which has a nice drape and feel. This can provide coverage while showing off skin or layers beneath the garment. Voile is similar, but has a different look and feel because of the use of cotton. Chiffon is also common as an added layer to a skirt of other garments where you don’t want anything too heavy. On the heavier end of the scale, there are the more structured tulle nets from nylon and polyester. Of course, we can’t forget about lacework and its role as a decorative see-through element of all kinds of items of clothing. Naturally, there are designers hat experiment with all kinds of effects and materials, such as clear PVC and perforated leather.

There are more kinds of transparent material than you may expect. Netting and organza are some of the more common, but there are other similar materials that could be better suited to your project. Also, don’t forget that any structured fabric with negative space is still transparent. Some of the best transparent fabrics include

– Organza

– Chiffon

– Organdie

– Muslin

– Tulle

– Gauze 

– Netting

– Georgett

– Batiste

– Lace

Transparent, Translucent, Or Sheer?

There are different terms used to describe the properties of materials. The problem with the world see-through is that it is a bit too broad and covers too many types. We aren’t talking about transparent materials here, like some fully see-through PVC coats or other items from fashion shows. Instead, we mean a soft loose weave where you can see the body, undergarments, or other layers through the material. The term sheer applies to the same fabrics and is a more common term in the fashion world. Designers and dress-makers don’t call organza translucent but, instead refer to the sheer material used when something opaque isn’t suitable.

Are See-Through Fabrics Synthetic?

Not necessarily. You might look at some of the materials on dresses and costumes and think that there is an artificial quality to them. This could be because of their structure, feel, or their bright colors. However, there is such variation in see-through fabrics that not all materials are synthetic. Some are made with nylon or rayon for durability but, you can also get some natural weaves to create softer materials for a different feel. A loose cotton or silk works brilliantly in the right situation. But, there are also polyester versions of these materials.

How Are See-Through Fabrics Created?

The majority of the time, the effect of translucency comes from the weave of the fabric. It is loose enough that there are gaps and you can see beyond the material to what’s beneath. With some forms of material like netting and organza. There is a uniform look and weave across the whole piece of material and it lays over the skin or another piece of material.

But, there are other forms of fabric where there are more deliberate gaps made where you can see through the denser sections to bare areas of fabric or skin beneath. Macrame and lacework are good examples of this. You can get intricate patterns with opaque sections and then gaps between.

There are also manufacturers and designers that will work with perforated materials. This basically means punching holes into a denser material, such as leather or PVC. This can have an interesting effect in high-end fashion but, isn’t so common with standard dress-making. With that said, there is nothing to stop you from working with cut-outs and creating something unique.

Is Cotton Transparent?

Cotton is classed more as a translucent material than transparent. However, it all depends on how it is used. Typical cotton weaves for shirts and tees aren’t transparent, but they aren’t always completely opaque either. The looser the weave and the paler the color, the more you will see through the gaps. There is also the fact that a lot of the materials mentioned above have cotton in them to some degree. The transparency comes down to the use of negative space.

You Can Find Translucent or Sheer Fabrics in Different Deniers

This is a term you may have seen if you buy stockings. The lower the number the thinner the material and the more skin you can see through the fabric. For example, you might have stockings that are 15 denier and a standard level of translucency. Friends may prefer the deeper tones of a 30 denier material. But, there are also 100 denier options that are basically opaque and 3 denier that looks like you aren’t wearing anything.

Common Uses For See-Through Materials in Dress-Making

A good piece of organza works well as a lightweight material on areas that can show a little skin. For example. You might choose to make the sleeves of a summer garment from organza to make them breathable. Netting and tule, which is more structured, is great for adding volume to dress where the layers aren’t going to be in contact with the skin. A big net ruffle with a contrasting material showing underneath can be striking for kids’ clothes and gowns. Organza and voile also have their place in undergarments and lingerie where you want to hint at what lies beneath. Depending on the denier, you can leave a little or a lot to the imagination.

Also, don’t be afraid to bring lacework into your designs. Lacework is an undervalued craft and designers can make some stunningly intricate pieces. Lace doesn’t just mean putting a net curtain up at the window to stop people staring into your home. Lace trims, especially in pure white against a colorful material, can add some vintage style and femininity to garments. You can use as little or as much as you want to enhance your pieces.

What is Acoustically Transparent Fabric? 

When talking about transparency in fabric, we tend to mean the amount of light that comes through. However, there is also the factor of acoustic transparency, which relates to the amount of sound that passes through. Again, this comes down to the weave and negative space. Dense materials like leather and PVC will block sound while lighter fabrics let it pass through unobstructed. This is important for speaker covers, outdoor screens, and when making headphones. 

What is a Thin Transparent Fabric Called?

The term transparent fabric is more of a scientific term where we can differentiate between the materials that we see through and those that are opaque. However, you won’t see this term as much when choosing fabric or buying clothes. Instead, you will see the word sheer. Some sheer materials are more transparent than others, but they all refer to fabrics where you can see some or most of the layer beneath. 

How to Make Fabric Transparent

It is a good idea to find fabrics that are naturally transparent when trying to get a sheer effect on a layer of a garment. However, there may be times where you want your fabric to be more transparent than it already is. Perhaps you have a cotton shirt that isn’t quite translucent enough for the look you are going for.

One of the best ways to make fabric transparent is to get it wet. Many of us have been in unfortunate situations where shirts or trousers have become soaked by the rain to reveal what is underneath. But, this isn’t very comfortable or practical for a long-term solution. 

A better idea is to try and manipulate the fabric and alter the weave. For example, you can work on teasing fibers apart to create a looser weave, maybe be stretching it out. Or, you could try physically removing part of the weave to create more negative space. The only problem here is that you run the risk of the material getting weaker and less protective. It is better to find a more suitable transparent material for new sewing projects. 

Don’t Be Afraid to Use See-Through Materials in Your Own Work

The piece of see-through material in the right place can have a massive impact – whether that means partially obscuring the face of a bride, showing some skin through lingerie, adding volume to a gown, or gaining privacy from the neighbors. Just make sure that it is the right type of material for the job and test out the translucency against your skin or other materials before you commit to using it. Put it against the skin of your model or recipient to see how it looks and look into alternative weaves and deniers if needed.