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Fabric Choices, and What to Look for When Buying a Niqab
By Umm Abdullah
Now onto the second part of my guide; this part is all about fabrics used for niqabs; those that are ideal and those that should be avoided like the plague; and also what to look for when buying a niqab so that it is the best design for you InshaAllaah.
Good Niqab Fabric and Design Choices- Now I am aware not everyone knows the names typically used for fabrics; and also many times retailers are not aware of the terminology either; how many times have I seen polyester satin called silk; or cheapo smooth-textured polyester fabric called georgette.
So I will give you the fabric names; and how to recognize these fabrics if they are not named or named incorrectly for some reason. In a nutshell, you’re looking for a fabric with a fairly loose weave and some type of texture to the actual weave of the fabric. Some fabrics have a texture stamped into them but are not actually porous. I am talking those fabrics that when you hold them up to the light you can see a definite weave or some other texture and small bits of light coming through. This is how you know the fabric will be breathable InshaAllaah.
Polyester, silk and rayon georgette are all good choices as far as breathability goes. Rayon georgette can begin to look crumpled or saggy after a few hours wear though and needs ironing often. You can also get pure cotton niqabs though these tend to be better for moderately warm; dry climates; in extremely hot or humid climates they are a lot less breathable and also tend to become soggy. Mid-weight crepes such as double georgette, koshiba or something similar are also ok; but only in a single layer. There is also a really nice fabric that I have only seen used for niqabs from the UAE; it is a rayon-blend I believe; with a very loose grid type weave to it. It has a matt texture and is very breathable.
Many a time I am asked which are better; the niqabs with a ‘cotton’ backing or those without it? Well that really depends on a number of things. Firstly, a lot of supposedly cotton backed niqabs are backed in rayon or poly-cotton blend or even nasty polyester with a cotton type finish. Sometimes you can only tell the difference when the fabric is wet; rayon will stiffen up when wet but cotton will become a lot softer than when it is dry, poly-cotton will stay about the same and it does not absorb much water so will not appear very wet and will dry incredibly quickly. The rayon is breathable but some find it itchy against the face; also it can tend to sag during wear so that by the end of the day the ‘cotton’ underlayer is hanging down several inches under the bottom edge of the niqab. Poly-cotton or pure polyester masquerading as the same is NOT breathable and when it is tacked onto another fabric it is even less so. One brand that is well known to use poly-cotton as a backing is Al-Karam, while their other stuff is nice and good quality I’d avoid their niqabs as they simply are not breathable.
Another question is should a good headband niqab have some type of stiffening or interfacing in the headband or not? Again this depends; I have many perfectly good niqabs that do not have any type of interfacing; but they are made of durable fabrics that keep their shape well; anything more delicate would start to lose its shape and fall apart without something in the headband, Allaahu Alim. Some Kuwaiti and Egyptian niqabs go overboard with the interfacing in the headband and some even have a hard mesh type fabric in there, which means the headband doesn’t sit comfortably or evenly against the forehead. Usually this effect can only be diminished by washing the niqab a lot of times; which ends up shortening its lifespan.
Bad Niqab Fabric and Design Choices– When it comes to half-niqabs the main type you want to avoid are those with elastic actually threaded through the whole of the hem that rests against your nose; it is very uncomfortable and seems to pull the niqab down during wear as well. When it comes to fabrics used for niqabs generally, please avoid the following if you don’t want to collapse in a heap due to overheating or lack of oxygen! I’m serious; I know many sisters who were having mysterious migraines, dizzy spells or nausea and wearing niqab made from a totally unbreathable fabric was the culprit. Peachskin, Sheeting type poly-cotton fabrics, really any type of fabric that has a completely smooth weave and texture will NOT be breathable no matter how thin and lightweight it is. I once had a niqab in featherweight and sheer microfibre type fabric; which you could scrunch up in the palm of your hand, it was still completely impossible to breathe through. Most chiffon varieties are not suitable as the composition is just too smooth, despite them being commonly used in the mass market.
Be aware that most Yemeni khimars and niqabs actually from yemen are made from this chiffon fabric similar to that used for some of the plain coloured square hijabs in Turkey; it is lightweight and holds its shape well but is not breathable; however Yemeni style stuff made in Saudi tends to be made of far more suitable fabrics for some reason. Mustaqbal/Internet crepe is passable in a single layer because it has a slight crepe texture, but it really depends on the quality and variety used. Suiting type fabrics are a definite no-no no matter how loose the weave.
Most jersey/knit fabrics are a no-no also the only exception would be rayon knit. Don’t think because a fabric is used for niqabs sold commercially that it is automatically a good choice. I have seen niqabs on sale made in the thickest peachskin ever and then they have peachskin ‘eye’ veils (which would be impossible to see through even in a single layer!). Same with tweedy suiting type fabric.
The reality is most niqab manufacturers and retailers are men; or at best sisters who do not wear niqab and thus don’t have a clue as to how wearable what they are selling is.
What to look for when buying a niqab-Aside from the fabric and trims used; there are some other personal concerns you may have when buying a niqab.If you wear eyeglasses for example you need to look for a niqab with a wider eyehole; and it is possible sometimes to get hold of a type of niqab which has the face veil attached to the headband with small pieces of elastic thus is fits more loosely and more flexibly; if you see one of these they are pretty rare so it is worth snapping up. Some of the very long Saudi style niqabs also have a very generous eyehole; I got one from my visit to the US; which has an eyehole probably twice the width of normal but due to the style it does not sag or open more than you want it to. If you eat out a lot and need to eat under your niqab due to there being nowhere private; you may want to wear a shorter niqab on those occasions. While Bangladeshi and Pakistani manufactured niqabs I wouldn’t usually recommend as the fabrics are not that breathable; the fact they are shorter than is typical means they are great as an ‘eating niqab’. If you’re looking at colours other than black; realise that they do stain quite easily, so you need them to be in fabrics that wash easily and if needed can be treated with a mild bleach or stain removal product without wrecking the fabric.
If you have the opportunity to buy the niqab in person; rather than purchasing online or mail order make sure you check the niqab before buying. Sometimes the quality control is just horrific. The first thing to check is that the eyehole is not crooked and fabric from elsewhere has not got caught in stitching where it is not supposed to; as these are two very common problems with mass produced niqabs. Then check that all stitching is done properly, that there are no marks or stains on the fabric and that the niqab hangs evenly at the bottom. If possible try the niqab on to check it is breathable and feels comfortable; and if you cannot find one with a tie-fastening that the Velcro or snaps fit to your head comfortably.
Also be aware that some niqabs can appear see-through in certain lights and with certain skin-tones so look out for any sign of that; you can usually only get an idea if you try it on.
InshaAllaah the next part will cover some of the niqabs I recommend in more detail; fabric care; and stockists both online and off….