Everything you need to know about fabric weights

Some fabric is light and gauzy, some is thick and heavy. Every garment I sell, I specify the weight of fabric used so you know what you’re getting. But what does it all mean?

The main measure of fabric weight used in Australia is gsm, or grams per square metre. This is just what it sounds like. It’s the same as paper, which is typically 80gsm for the standard office paper you’d put in your printer, 200gsm or so for the card you’d use for a cover of a report.

In short, the fabric weight in gsm indicates how much a piece of fabric 1 metre x 1 metre would weight of you put it on the scale.

Linen fabric weights

For linen fabrics, some common gsm weights are:

  • 100-125 gsm – sheer or gauzy linen. “Handkerchief linen” is a very light, fine weave, while some specialty linens have a more open, mesh-like appearance.
  • 150 gsm – typical garment weight linen, can be used for shirts, skirts, or trousers.
  • 200 gsm – heavier garment weight, a sturdy fabric good for trousers and skirts and can also be used for bags and homewares.
  • 300 gsm – canvas weight, best for upholstery, bags, etc.

Many people enjoy the finer weaves of linen because they are smooth and delicate in appearance, and especially cool in summer. Others like the rustic appeal of the heavier weights especially for outerwear and year-round comfort.

In truth you can use almost any weight for any garment style. It’s just a matter of aesthetics, comfort, and durability.

Two different linen weights hanging in my studio. The white linen in front is lightweight - you can even see the coathanger through the sheerness of the cloth. The black one behind is heavier weight, as you can see by the stiffness where it sticks out from the hanger rather than draping down.
Two different linen weights hanging in my studio. The white linen in front is lightweight – you can even see the coathanger through the sheerness of the cloth. The black one behind is heavier weight, as you can see by the stiffness where it sticks out from the hanger rather than draping down.

Wool fabric weights

Wool fabrics are measured the same way. However, wool is an inherently heavier fabric than linen, so fabrics for comparable uses tend to be heavier by gsm.

  • 210-270 gsm – Tropical weight wool, good for lightweight year-round garments or layering
  • 280-360 gsm – Typical wool suiting used for jackets, trousers, skirts, etc.
  • 400+ gsm – Heavy wool coating, used for overcoats and other winter outerwear.

Silk fabric weights

Silk is one of the lightest weight fabrics there is. It can be woven so finely it’s almost completely transparent, because each thread is a microscopic filament straight from the silkworm’s butt. (Sorry, I tell it like it is!)

The international silk trade long predates metric measurements or even a standard Imperial system, so of course the silk industry has its own specialised measurement, “momme” (pronounced like what Americans call their mothers, just one syllable.) Annoyingly, the abbreviation for momme is “mm”, the same as for millimetre. One momme is 4.34 gsm.

Some typical silk weights include:

  • 3-8 mm – sheer silks such as chiffon and organza, or lightweight habotai or paj silk, often used for scarves
  • 10-16 mm – lightweight but opaque silk used for shirts and similar, such as georgette and charmeuse
  • 20-40 mm – heavier weight silks like satin or crepe de chine, used for jackets, evening wear, bridal, etc.

And what about thread count?

You’ve probably seen thread count mentioned in relation to bed linens, and come to understand it as a sign of quality. For instance, 600 thread count sheets have 600 threads per inch of fabric (adding the warp and weft together). If the weave is even, that means each thread takes up about 1/300 of an inch, or less than a tenth of a millimetre.

However, thread count isn’t directly related to fabric weight. A fabric of a given weight – say 150gsm linen – could have a very fine weave so that it appears very smooth, or it could have just a few thicker threads per inch and look more rustic.

This specialty linen gauze fabric has only about 25 threads per inch. It’s lightweight, but a hessian or burlap could have similar threads per inch and be much heavier.
This specialty linen gauze fabric has only about 25 threads per inch. It’s lightweight, but a hessian or burlap could have similar threads per inch and be much heavier.

I’ll also just quote Wikipedia here:

There is a common misconception that thread count is an important consideration when purchasing bedding. However, linen experts claim that beyond a thread count of 400, there is no difference in quality. The amount of thread that can fit into a square inch of fabric is limited, suggesting that bedding beyond 400 count is likely a marketing strategy. Inflated thread counts are usually the result of including the number of strands in a twisted yarn in the claimed thread count.

Fabric weight conversion table

In the US, fabric weights are more often given in “oz” meaning ounces per square yard of fabric. Handkerchief, shirt weight and heavier garment weight linen are roughly 3, 5 and 7 oz respectively.

For the convenience of anyone who’s more used to the imperial system, here’s a quick conversion chart that should help. (Note: oz to gram conversions are approximate, to maintain roughly round numbers.)

OzGsmMommeExamples
0.5174ultra-sheer silks
1338sheer silks
26716garment weight silks
3.510024bridal silks, handkerchief linen, linen gauze
5150shirt-weight linen
7.5200trouser-weight linen, tropical wool
11300linen canvas, wool suiting
14400wool coating

Fabric weights in my shop

If you’re shopping for handmade clothes, accessories or homewares in my online shop, here are the weights I use:

  • Lightweight linen: 90-130 gsm
  • Mid-weight linen: 140-190 gsm
  • Heavy weight linen: 200-300gsm

If you have any questions before buying, don’t hesitate to drop me a line!

Alex

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