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by Elena Tran
August 31, 2020
I saw this gorgeous evening dress by Oscar de la Renta made out of silk fil coupe fabric and I got stunned by its beauty. But what is fil coupé fabric exactly and why is it so expensive? Fil coupé means "cut threads" in English and it is a type of jacquard weaving technique which involves an extra step of cutting the weft thread on the back of the fabric. Jacquard weaving means, of course, that it is computerized patterned weaving. The fabric is a plain-woven background with some special effect pattern design. After the jacquard weaving is completed, the weft threads of the patterned designs are cut to make the fabric lighter and/or to create a special effect.
To understand what this weaving technique is, let’s look closely on the wrong side of this light silk fil coupé fabric. Do you see the metallic blue threads sticking out around the edges? These are the metallic threads that were cut to make the fabric lighter.
Also notice that there is plain weave around the cut metallic threads. This is important to stabilize the weft around the pattern because if you start cutting threads everywhere, the fabric will fall apart.
And now look on the front side of the fabric that shows a smooth and beautiful flower pattern.
If the metallic threads were left uncut, the fabric will become heavier because of the extra weft metallic threads hanging in the back and you will be able to see stripes on the back side of the fabric like in brocade weaving which will show through silk and it will not look pretty.
The threads have to be cut after the weaving is complete, and the cutting process should be very precise not to pull the threads out, or to damage the fabric. It is not for a novice manufacturer, for sure. Italian silk manufacturers produce the finest fil coupé fabrics. This two-stage process makes fil coupé expensive to manufacture which explains why the overall cost of this fabric is so high.
Fil coupé is a very versatile technique used on a variety of fibers. I saw silk and cotton fil coupé and in the example above it also involved metallic threads. Although the threads are cut on the wrong side of the fabric, some designers intentionally request the threads to be pulled out to the face side of the fabric to get a particular fringed effect. You probably saw some of these fabrics without knowing that it was the fancy fil coupé.
When sourcing fil coupé fabrics for your design, make sure you allow extra fabric to match the pattern. Ask for the width of the fabric and the pattern repeat. Because the fabric is so expensive, there is very little room for error. Stick with the simple design to make the fabric shine. If you choose lightweight fabrics, like the silk we looked at above, plan for the underlining as well. Shantung organza, cotton voile, rayon or handkerchief linen are all great choices.
Fil coupé is a glamorous fabric to be used for special designs and sewing with it is not for the faint of heart. But once you learn how to work with this amazing fabric, the garments you create will stand out above all else.
Why should I make a mockup or toile when I have a pattern? Isn’t it overkill? This concern comes up often so I think it’s important to clarify the importance of making a mockup, or a test run of your garment, also known as the toile or muslin.
Your mockup should be a shell of your garment that you can actually try on complete with zipper, collar, pockets, sleeves and any relevant pieces of detail, such as marked or drawn placements of your buttons and buttonholes, and even a rough drawing of applique, embroidery or beadwork.