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What is Chambray Fabric: Properties, How its Made and Where

by Boris Hodakel  • December 11, 2019 • 10 min read

Fabric nameChambray
Fabric also known asCambric, batiste
Fabric compositionCotton
Fabric possible thread count variations150-500
Fabric breathabilitynVery breathable
Moisture-wicking abilitiesHigh
Heat retention abilitiesMedium
Stretchability (give)Low
Prone to pilling/bubblingLow
Country where fabric was first producedFrance
Biggest exporting/producing country todayChina
Recommended washing temperaturesHot or warm
Commonly used inShirts, shorts, skirts, dresses, pants, shoe tops

kate embroidered chambray fabricKate embroidered chambray fabric

What Is Chambray Fabric?

Chambray is a type of natural fabric that is made from either linen or cotton. This type of fabric has been made for hundreds of years, and variants of chambray fabric are called cambric or batiste.

This type of fabric is both fine and dense, and it is similar to denim in many ways. However, a different weaving pattern is used to make chambray, and as a result, this type of fabric is significantly lighter and more breathable than denim.

The word "chambray" is an evolution of the term "cambric," which has been used for centuries to denote different types of fabrics. Cambric was originally made in the area near Cambrai in France, and its name comes from the Flemish word "kameryk." The word "cambric" has been used since at least 1530, and the French synonym "batiste" emerged starting around 1590. Some records indicate that this fabric was invented in around the year 1300 AD by a weaver named Baptiste.

denim blue chambray linen fabricDenim Blue Chambray Linen Fabric

The terms "cambric" and "batiste" originally referred to a white type of linen cloth. However, cambric has also been made with silk throughout its history, and over time, most types of cambric cloth became cotton-based. In the mid-1700s, the import of French fabrics into England became illegal, which led the British to begin calling types of Indian cotton fabric cambrics or batistes.

Over time, the terms "cambric" and "chambray" became synonymous even though these words used to denote different fabrics. The first usage of the word chambray in English dates to the mid-19th century, and over time, the term "cambric" has fallen out of use, and any fabric that follows the original style developed in Cambrai is called "chambray."

In the modern textile industry, however, "chambray" is only used to denote cotton fabrics that are manufactured with the specific weft and weave pattern that is indicative of this type of fabric. Some consumers may choose to use chambray as an alternative to denim, and this fabric is also popular in a variety of household textiles. Due to its mention in the English folk ballad "Scarborough Fair," the term "cambric" is well-known in popular culture, which has driven some interest in chambray as a fabric.

How Is Chambray Fabric Made?

how is chambray fabric made

The production process used to make chambray depends on the type of material that is used to make this fabric. Depending on the type of chambray, this fabric may be made from linen, cotton, or silk. However, this type of fabric is hardly ever made from linen in the modern age, and silk chambray has also gone out of style. Therefore, we'll discuss the production process that is commonly used to manufacture the cotton yarn from which most chambray is made.

Cotton production begins with the harvesting of the fibers that surround the cotton seed. Various types of cotton plants produce seeds surrounded by tufts of white fiber, and these seeds and fibers are often picked together with a device called a cotton gin or one of its more technologically advanced contemporary variants. In some cases, cotton seeds may also be picked by hand.

Next, the seeds are separated from the fibers, and these fibers are then compressed into large rectangular bales. These bales are then transferred to a production facility, they are opened, and their contents are dumped into mixing machines.

brookhaven chambray fabricBrookhaven Chambray Fabric

The mixed cotton fibers are then carded, which is the process of making raw fibers into rope-like strands. Carding is usually done with an automated machine, but this step can also be accomplished by hand.

These carded fibers are then combed, and they are loaded onto spools. Lastly, they are spun into yarn with an industrial or hand-powered spinning machine. At this point, the yarn is ready to be woven into chambray fabric.

While the production process used to make cotton yarn is uniform for every type of cotton, it's important to point out that the quality of chambray fabric varies depending on the type of cotton that is used. Most types of cotton are short-staple, which means that each individual cotton fiber is relatively short.

all day chambray pants pink iceAll Day Chambray Pants – Pink Ice

Cotton variants like Egyptian, Pima, and Supima cotton, however, have longer fibers, and when they are spun, they make much softer and stronger garments. The vast majority of chambray fabric is made with short-staple cotton, but chambray made with long-staple cotton is superior.

While chambray fabric shares many similarities with denim, a different weaving style is used to make this type of textile from cotton yarn. When cloth is woven, the two strands of yarn that are used are called the "warp" and the "weft," and the way in which these two strands of yarn are woven into each other determines the nature of the resulting fabric.

To make chambray fabric, the warp and the weft strands go over each other in an alternating pattern, but in the production of denim, the warp thread goes over two weft threads before going under a third weft thread. As a result, the inner side of a sheet of denim is lighter than the outer side. In the case of chambray, however, both sides of this fabric are the same color.

As is the case with denim, the weft thread is usually white or a lighter color than the warp thread. The result of this approach is an overall fabric that's lighter than the color of the warp thread; therefore, it's possible to use a very dark warp thread and end up with a fabric that is significantly lighter.

How Is Chambray Fabric Used?

how is chambray fabric used

For hundreds of years, chambray has been used as a fabric for festive or luxurious clothing. During the Middle Ages and Renaissance, most commoners wore relatively rough clothing for work, and they wore garments made from chambray to observe religious functions or dress up for festivals.

Chambray was especially popular as a garment for priests and other people involved with churches, and in some cases, it was considered to be on par with silk as a luxury textile. Silk is much softer than chambray, but it is also less durable.

People in Renaissance Europe tended to dye their chambray fabrics in bright colors, and while this fabric is often used as a substitute for denim in modern times, in the past, it was normal to see chambray dyed in colors like red, orange, green, and bright blue.

frayed chambray topFrayed Chambray Top

The predominant contemporary use of chambray is as a substitute for denim. For instance, this fabric is commonly used in pants, shorts, light jackets, and fabric-topped shoes, and it is often dyed in the same blue of shade as most denim.

In addition to apparel, chambray is also used to make a number of household textiles. For instance, this fabric may be used for upholstery on sofas and chairs, and it is also a popular fabric for bed sheets. While it is soft and breathable, chambray can also be woven in high thread counts, which makes it an ideal sheet material.

Where Is Chambray Fabric Produced?

chambray fabric in the world

Chambray fabric was originally produced in France, and the production of this type of fabric quickly spread to England. However, genuine chambray from France remained more prized than similar British fabrics, and even when Indian textiles were substituted for French chambray, this fabric was perceived to be more authentic when it was made in France.

With the dawning of the industrial era, production of chambray fabric moved to the United States to a significant degree. This country remained the global leader in textile production until the 1980s, and since then, China has gained more and more momentum as a textile producer.

China is the world leader in cotton production, and over 100,000 farms produce this crop within this nation. The number of textile factories in China that specialize in cotton is roughly commensurate with this substantial raw cotton supply, and many of these factories make chambray and denim in addition to traditional cotton weaves.

It's expected that China will remain one of the biggest chambray fabric producers for the foreseeable future, but other nations, such as Pakistan and India, are also producing more and more cotton every year, which is providing Chinese companies with stiff competition. In addition, textile production in the United States is also experiencing a rebound, and increasing amounts of chambray are made in this Western nation every year.

How Much Does Chambray Fabric Cost?

Chambray fabric is generally quite inexpensive. The cost of this type of fabric depends on the material that is used; if cotton is used to make chambray, for instance, it is relatively inexpensive, but if this fabric is made from silk, it can be more costly. It's also important to point out that chambray fabric made from organic textile yarn generally costs more than fabric that has been made with conventional cultivation and processing techniques.

In some cases, retailers may charge more for chambray due to its unique weaving pattern and high thread count. Certain types of fabrics made with chambray fabric can have thread counts as high as 500, which means that they are made from thousands of thin, dense fibers. While there is nothing inherently costly about the process used to weave this fabric, retailers may price chambray higher due to its perceived luxuriousness.

What Different Types of Chambray Fabric Are There?

different types of chambray fabric

There is only one type of chambray fabric, but there are a couple of terms that are used to refer to fabrics like chambray that should be clarified:

  • Chambray: This term refers to any type of fabric that is woven in the traditional chambray style.
  • Cambric: This type of fabric has a similar weave to chambray, but it is somewhat lighter and smoother.
  • Batiste: This term is derived from the surname "Baptiste," which is believed to be the name of the weaver who created chambray fabric in the 14th century. Baptiste fabric is identical to cambric fabric.

How Does Chambray Fabric Impact the Environment?

The impact that the production of chambray fabric has on the environment depends on the type of yarn that is used to make this textile. Since chambray is a type of weave rather than a type of textile fiber, the production of this type of fabric doesn't have any environmental impact above and beyond that of its base material.

Since cotton is the fiber that is most commonly used to make chambray fabric, we'll discuss this fiber's impact on the environment. It's certainly possible to produce cotton sustainably; unlike synthetic or semi-synthetic fabrics, this type of fiber is plant-based, and if it is grown with ethical and organic practices, it does not negatively impact the environment. In addition, cotton is biodegradable, which means that it will break up due to general environmental factors, and its constituent parts will be recycled by nature.

so juniorsso chambray popover shirtSo Juniors' SO Chambray Popover Shirt

However, a great deal of pollution is caused by the mass production of cotton. The chemical fertilizers and pesticides used to make this fiber pollute waterways and toxify soil, and this type of pollution harms both the local ecosystem and the human beings who live near an area where cotton is cultivated.

The production of cotton also causes soil degradation, and the growth of this fiber requires a great deal of water. Once cotton is transferred to a production facility, producers have the option of using non-toxic substances to process cotton and produce yarn.

However, many large producers of cotton fabrics use toxic chemicals to process cotton, and these chemicals may harm workers or end up in waterways. To ensure that your use of chambray fabric does not enable harm to the environment, always select chambray garments that are certified organic.

Chambray Fabric Certifications Available

chambray fabric certifications

It is possible to have chambray fabric that is made from cotton certified as organic by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), or a similar certification organization. To achieve this type of certification, the grower of the cotton used to make chambray fabric must only use natural pesticides or fertilizers, and the manufacturer that transforms this raw cotton into wearable fabric must avoid using any toxic processing chemicals or dangerous dyes.

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About the author:

Boris Hodakel is the founder and CEO of Sewport - an online marketplace connecting brands and manufacturers, former founder of various clothing manufacturing services. He is passionate about e-commerce, marketing and production digitisation. Connect with Boris on LinkedIn.