Challis – doesn’t that sound like a luscious French dessert? – is a plain woven fabric, with a fine weave and very slightly napped surface. It’s not as fuzzy as fleece or flannel, but it is there.
Historically, it was made with wool, but now can be found in almost any yarn under the sun – wool blends, cotton and cotton blends, rayon and rayon blends and more.
The word challis derives from an Anglo-Indian word which means “soft to the touch” and that’s what this fabric is. It’s got a very soft hand to it and feels very nice when you wear it. It drapes well. It’s suitable for blouses, shirts, and skirts.
Rayon takes ink better than cotton, so a lot of rayon challis out there will feature a printed pattern. Crazy colorful printed patterns. Great for brash tropical-style shirts, summer dresses and the like. Because it’s so soft and drapey, it’s not good for tightly-fitted garments. Lighter challis fabrics are quite sheer and semi-transparent, so if you’re buying online, be sure to swatch, first.
It can look very luxurious, so it’s an option when you’re looking to convey a sense of, well, luxury!
It’s pretty cheap, too. Printed rayon challis starts at around $6/yard for the lighter weights, and it goes up to about $15 yard for heavier weights. It’s also pretty easy to sew – it can take a crease quite well, it’s forgiving of pinholes and it’s easy to cut.
You can machine wash challis, in cold water. But don’t put it in the dryer. Lay it flat to dry. Because it’s rayon, you don’t want to crank the iron up any higher than medium heat but – also because it’s rayon – it can take a crease well. Use a universal needle and all-purpose thread.