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

by Boris Hodakel  • October 30, 2020 • 7 min read

Fabric name Lawn cloth
Fabric also known as Lawn fiber, lawn, batiste, nansook, cotton lawn
Fabric composition Usually cotton
Fabric possible thread count variations 150-200
Fabric breathability High
Moisture-wicking abilities High
Heat retention abilities Medium
Stretchability (give) Reasonably stretchy
Prone to pilling/bubbling Low
Country where fabric was first produced France
Biggest exporting/producing country today India or Pakistan
Recommended washing temperatures Medium to hot
Commonly used in Dresses, blouses, shirts, skirts, pinafores, nightwear, handkerchiefs, lingerie, lawn suits

What is lawn cloth fabric?

Lawn cloth is a type of plain weave fabric that is commonly made with cotton. This textile has a relatively high thread count, which provides it with a silky texture. Lawn cloth is usually made using combed yarn, but it can also be made with carded yarn.

Due to the way it is woven, lawn cloth is usually semi-transparent, which provides this fabric with a sheer appearance. Lawn cloth is relatively lightweight, making it a popular fabric for spring and summer women's garments.

In most cases, lawn cloth is produced in bleached-white, and it is then often printed with attractive patterns. More rarely, lawn cloth is dyed during the production process, and it may still be printed even if it is dyed.

Lawn cloth technical specifications

Like most other natural fabrics, lawn cloth is a plain-weave textile, which means that it features weft threads that alternate over and under its warp threads. As a result, this fabric has a simple grid-like structure which makes it ideal for cutting and sewing. When sewing lawn cloth, it’s best to use a fine needle since this fabric has a relatively high thread count.

Lawn cloth weaves vary depending on the manufacturer, but this fabric generally has a warp count of around 70 and a weft count of around 100. This textile commonly has 80 ends per inch (EPI) and 80 picks per inch (EPI). As a result, the thread count of lawn cloth is usually between 150 and 200, making it one of the finest forms of cotton weave.

History of lawn cloth

The name “lawn cloth” comes from the French city of Laon, which was where this textile was first woven. At first, lawn cloth was primarily made with linen, which was more abundant in Europe at the time. As cotton imports from India became more commonplace, however, weavers of lawn cloth gradually made the shift to this alternative textile material.

At the same time that Indian cotton was making its way into France, French lawn cloth was also making its way into India. Indian weavers started making this lightweight cloth into traditional salwar kameez suits, which are also known as “lawn suits” due to their incorporation of the European lawn cloth weave.

Even today, lawn suits are highly popular throughout India, and they continue to incorporate lawn cloth. Despite the cultural divide between Hindu-dominated India and Islam-centric Pakistan, lawn suits are also highly popular in Pakistan, and during the partition of India, the majority of lawn suit production started taking place in this newly-created Muslim state.

Lawn fever

Lawn fabric is so popular in Pakistan, in fact, that every spring, a phenomenon called “lawn fever” overtakes the country as both men and women scramble to obtain the season’s trending lawn suit patterns. Wherever it is woven, either in the East or the West, lawn fabric is often printed with intricate designs, and in Pakistan, these designs have become an integral part of annual style culture.

The French artisans who originally wove lawn fabric in Laon would undoubtedly be surprised by the incredible popularity this weave has achieved in faraway Pakistan. Regardless, lawn fabric has taken a central role in Pakistani designer culture, and popular seasonal lawn suit styles can fetch absurd sums of money in this South Asian nation.

How is lawn cloth fabric made?

Lawn cloth is made using standard plain-weave production methods. Textile producers can make plain-weave garments using conventional methods that have been around for centuries, but in most cases, lawn cloth is mass-produced in textile factories using mechanized looms.

Since lawn cloth usually consists of cotton fibers these days, this fabric’s production process begins in cotton cultivation fields. Mature cotton bolls are separated from their seeds, and the resulting fibers are either carded or combed before they are spun into yarn.

Combing results in finer, softer fibers, but it is more expensive. While cotton fibers produced by carding are somewhat rougher, they are cheaper to produce.

In most cases, woven lawn is relatively crisp to the touch, but it is less crisp than certain other types of natural fabrics such as organdy. As a result, the term “lawn” is used widely within the textile industry to refer to any fabric that has a crisp hand. While lawn fabric is crisp due to the inherent quality of its materials, however, most other textiles referred to as “lawn” have been subjected to a starched finish process.

How is lawn cloth fabric used?

Traditionally, lawn fabric was primarily used to make linen women’s dresses. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, for instance, lawn cloth was commonly used to make women’s commencement gowns. Even then, this fabric was referred to as “Persian lawn,” indicating how popular this French fabric had become throughout South Asia and the Middle East.

Today, it’s likely that the primary global application of lawn fabric is in the production of salwar kameez lawn suits in Pakistan and India. The demand for this fabric weave remains steady within this population, and lawn suits have become an inextricable component of Pakistani culture.

Western designers also use this fabric, but likely to a lesser degree in terms of sheer volume. While the Pakistanis and Indians primarily restrict their use of lawn cloth to salwar kameez suits, however, this fabric has much wider applications within the Western garment industry.

For instance, Western designers commonly use this cloth to make sheer, lightweight blouses and shirts for women. This fabric is also used to make Western-style skirts and dresses, but this application is not currently as common as it once was.

While lawn fabric used in Pakistan and India is almost always printed, this practice is less common in Western lawn fabric production. Instead, designers in Europe and North America more commonly dye this fabric or simply bleach it white.

Due to its softness, Western designers commonly make lawn fabric into lingerie and undergarments, and in the past, this weave was the most sought-after textile for handkerchief production. These days, one of the most intriguing applications of lawn fabric is in pinafores, which are lightweight overall-like garments that young girls wear over their dresses.

Where is lawn cloth fabric produced?

India is currently the world’s largest producer of cotton fiber, but Pakistan appears to be the biggest global producer of finished lawn fabric garments. Western designers who use this fabric most likely source it from China or India, but in Pakistan, famous designers work around the clock to create each year’s beautiful lawn suit designs.

While it was the largest cotton producer and exporter for more than two decades, a recent economic downturn in China has dramatically reduced this nation’s cotton production capacity. In the aftermath of this global economic shift, the United States has risen up the ranks to become a major cotton producer and exporter once again.

China remains, however, the world’s largest producer of textile products. It’s likely that much of the lawn cloth used to make salwar kameez is produced in India or Pakistan, but lawn cloth used for other purposes was most likely produced in China.

How much does lawn cloth fabric cost?

Like most cotton fabrics, lawn cloth is generally relatively inexpensive. Combed lawn cloth will be more costly than carded lawn cloth, and printed or dyed lawn fabric will also fetch a premium price. Lawn cloth with certifications from GOTS or other respected organic textile certifiers will also be more expensive.

What different types of lawn cloth fabric are there?

Lawn cloth varies widely regarding the dyes, prints, and other augmentations that might be applied to this type of textile. In addition, there are a variety of fabrics that, while distinct, are closely related to lawn fabric. Let’s explore a few of these lawn cloth variations and alternatives:

1. Batiste

Batiste fabric is sometimes considered to be equivalent to lawn cloth, but these fabrics have subtle dissimilarities. While lawn fabric is already highly fine and sheer, batiste is even finer, and it is commonly used for ecclesiastical purposes.

2. Voile

Voile is also similar to lawn fabric, but it’s so thin and soft that it is reminiscent of silk. Compared to voile, lawn fabric has a lower thread count, and it is slightly crisper to the touch.

3. Organdy

Organdy is considered to have the most crispness of any type of cotton fabric. It is both thinner and more transparent than lawn cloth, and it has a remarkably crisp hand.

4. Nainsook

Rather than being a fabric of its own, nainsook is a subtype of lawn cloth. When textile producers make lawn cloth using only combed yarn, the resulting ultra-soft fabric is sometimes called nainsook.

5. Cambric

Cambric and batiste are essentially the same fabric, but they have different histories. As Indian cotton poured into Europe starting in the 17th century, linen cambric was this new fabric’s main competitor.

How does lawn cloth fabric impact the environment?

Lawn cloth is made from cotton, which can have an overall negative or neutral impact on the environment. Cotton is a natural material, so it is highly biodegradable, and it does not release any toxins into the environment as it degrades. At the same time, however, the processes used to cultivate and process cotton are not always environmentally friendly.

In many parts of the world, cotton is produced as a monocrop using chemical pesticides and fertilizers. As a result, the cultivation of this fiber harms soil and releases toxic substances into the surrounding biosphere.

In addition, the cotton cultivation industries in India, China, and other poverty-stricken nations are rife with worker exploitation, and cotton cultivators in these nations are more likely to use unsustainable agricultural processes. Cotton cultivation in these areas is often significantly harmful to both human communities and local ecosystems.

Cotton cultivation doesn’t have to be harmful, however. Using sustainable, organic processes, cotton cultivators and lawn cloth producers around the world are showing respect to their communities and the environment by avoiding the use of agricultural toxins and exploitative labor practices.

Lawn cloth fabric certifications available

Lawn cloth is generally eligible for the same certifications as other cotton products. The most prominent certifier of organic textiles is the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), which encourages the use of organic cultivation practices both in the developed and developing worlds. OEKO TEX is a popular alternative to GOTS that commands a similar degree of respect.

Producers of lawn cloth in the European Union or the United States can avail of the organic certification processes offered by their governments. It’s incredibly rare to find lawn cloth products made with pima cotton, but if this fabric is made in the USA, it may be eligible for certification by the American Supima Association (ASA).

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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.