All About Denim and Chambray Fabrics

All About Denim and Chambray Fabrics

Denim and chambray are both versatile fabrics that appear similar. They are typically made with one blue thread and one white thread, giving that almost heathered look that a solid colored fabric does not have. Sometimes the blue thread is replaced with a different color. But the way denim and chambray are woven and the way they function in garments is different. Read on for more information about denim and chambray.

Two different denim fabrics

What is Denim Fabric?

Denim fabric is typically made from cotton, though it can also be a blend with spandex/lycra/elastane (a synthetic added for stretch and recovery), polyester, nylon, or even hemp. Denim has a rich history and you can read more about it on the Levi Strauss website. High quality denim is dyed with indigo rather than a synthetic dye, which is why it fades and breaks in with such magic.

Denim is a woven fabric that has a special weave. Rather than a plain weave, where each thread is under/over at a 90 degree angle, denim is a twill weave. With a twill weave, one thread is passed over and under at an angle. Close inspection will reveal a diagonal pattern on the fabric. A twill weave is more durable, which is why it is used to create denim.

An assortment of chambray

What is Chambray Fabric?

Chambray may look similar to denim, but it is different. It is almost always cotton. Like denim, the warp thread (vertical thread) is colored (typically blue) and the weft thread (horizontal thread) is white. But unlike denim, chambray is a plain weave. There is no diagonal.

Because it is a plain weave, chambray is less durable than denim. It is softer, thinner, and easier to use with lighter weight sewing projects such as button-up tops.

Chambray is dyed with synthetic dyes and typically comes in light colors such as sky blue, light green, and light pink.

How to Wash Denim and Chambray

Denim and chambray wash the same when they are both made from cotton. The cut edges will fray so they should be finished with a zig-zag stitch, serger, or pinking shears before washing. Shrinkage does occur, and often color bleeding as well. Pre-wash your denims and chambrays with hot water, alone, to remove excess dye before cutting.

How to Cut Denim and Chambray

Be mindful of handling cut fabric too much due to the potential fraying. Denim may be heavy and needs a sharp rotary cutter or scissors. Chambray is more lightweight so use thin, sharp pins or pattern weights.

How to Sew Denim and Chambray

Heavy denim needs a larger needle, 90/14 or even 100/16. Chambray should be treated according to its weight, typically a light one will be fine with a 70/10 or 80/12.

Beginner sewing machines can have trouble sewing thick denim. It is important to use the right needle and test layers of fabric. If you are having trouble going over a thick seam, use a hammer and hit the wrong side of the seam. It will soften the fibers and make it easier to sew.

Hammer thick seams like belt loops for easier sewing

Famous Maker Denim (sold out)

How to Care for Denim and Chambray garments

After your garments are finished, wash on cold. It's a good idea to continue washing denim either alone or with other denims until you're certain there is no excess dye left that can bleed on other clothing.

Denim and chambray can wrinkle, so remove promptly from the dryer. Chambray wrinkles more than denim due to the plain weave.

Chambray weight can vary from tissue to shirting

Choosing Denim vs. Chambray for a Project

Before choosing a denim or chambray for a project, be aware that price does not always reflect quality. Deadstock fabric in particular can vary in price depending on where it came from, how much the shop purchased, and the original designer.

Also take note of the width of the fabric. Japanese selvedge denim, for example, can come in narrower widths than you may expect. Take the time to calculate how much yardage you might need with a narrower fabric.

In general, chambray can be thought of as a lightweight top or dress-weight fabric, and denim is used for bottoms/pants/skirts/jackets. Rules are, of course, made to be broken! A chambray that is not sheer would make an excellent pair of elastic waist pants. A lightweight denim could be used for a boxy top.

Pay attention to the drape of the intended garment. Neither of these fabrics have the liquid drape of a knit, but chambray certainly has more drape than denim.

Denim is rigid and works well for structured pieces. Chambray can be reinforced with interfacing to make it more rigid, such as when you need strength in a button placket or cuff. Denim will make a stiff collar but not a soft pleat.

Chambray is a classic choice for button-up shirts. Denim is the go-to for jeans.

Ash Jeans in 8oz Cone Mills Denim

Shop Cone Mills denims


Despite their similar appearance, denim and chambray are not interchangeable. It's important to consider the exact weight of each fabric and imagine how the stiffness will affect your final project.

Pattern Suggestions for Denim:

True Bias Lander Pants (non-stretch)

Megan Nielsen Ash Jeans (stretch)

Chalk and Notch Den Jacket

Grainline Maritime Shorts

Pattern Suggestions for Chambray:

Madswick Studios Raida Blouse

Love Notions Lyric Dress and Peplum Top

Helen's Closet March Top and Dress

Hey June Cheyenne Tunic and Shirt

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