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5 Tips For Sewing Delicate Fabrics

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Many of you have requested advice on sewing chiffon since we released our new Zinnia pattern. To help you out, we made a little list of handy things to keep in mind when sewing with any kind of delicate fabric.

  • Cutting: Treat your fabric with a spray fabric stabilizer. This makes your fabric stiff and much easier to both cut and sew. You can also layer muslin or tissue paper underneath your fabric to stop it from slipping out of your shears.
  • Needles: Use a brand new, very fine sewing machine needle. For chiffon, a 65/9 or a 70/10 is a good needle size.
  • Staystitching: Staystitch any curved or bias (diagonal) edges of each piece to prevent stretching and fraying. With Zinnia, be especially sure to stay stitch the side seams, since they’re cut on a diagonal. Also, be sure to trim your hem to even it out before you sew it. A light, loosely woven fabric has a tendency to stretch and distort.
  • Pressing: Press seams and pleats with a low setting on your iron. If you’re using silk, be careful about using moisture, since you don’t want water spots.
  • Hemming: For easy hem finishing, try using a narrow rolled hem foot. If you have a serger, you can also use that to do a rolled hem. Or use our technique for a turned hem.

And here is a bonus piece of advice for you, which we pulled out of the Snippets archive.

How To Prevent Your Machine From Eating Light Fabrics

Do you know that horrible grunting noise your sewing machine makes when it eats up your fabric as you being a seam? It makes my stomach turn just thinking about watching those lovely, light fabrics get sucked down into the machine!

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Here is how you can avoid this devastation: Place the fabric beneath the presser foot. Take up the top and bobbin threads with your left hand, then pull them to the back of the machine. At this point you can either slowly press the sewing pedal, or rotate the hand wheel a couple of times to being the stitching process.

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If your fabric is still being grabbed down in the plate, pull the threads back once more. Then, instead of holding onto the threads, gently pull the fabric and begin sewing. Don’t pull the fabric too taut as it will pucker once sewn.

A final note on lining Zinnia:

We’ve noticed a minor issue in some of the Zinnia instruction booklets, in that hemming the lining comes at the very end of the process. This isn’t ideal, due to the back seam, and requires unpicking a couple inches. Instead, it’s easier to hem the lining before installing the zipper. We’ve updated the instructions to reflect this, and will add a link to the errata on the Zinnia page. Apologies if you found this confusing.

Does anyone have any other tips to share for sewing chiffon and delicate fabrics?

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On , Meredith P said:

I’d recommend using the straight stitch throat plate if one is available. Best investment in fine sewing there is!

On , Alice said:

That was my very first thought. Big help.

On , Diane @ Vintage Zest said: | vintagezest.com

I’m definitely one of those who are worried about sewing chiffon. I love the tip about using the hand wheel to begin stitching. Thank you!

On , Michele said:

Thank You!!!!!! I appreciate all these tips. I was a little hesitant about using a spray stabilizer on my beautiful fabric but I think I will follow through. I am going to try laying it on on tissue paper too. This skirt is a dream and I have seen very pricey versions in retail. I love the way it is paired with the fisherman’s sweater to give it a more casual look.

On , Sarai said: | colettepatterns.com

You can always test the stabilizer out on a swatch if you are hesitant to try it!

On , Emileigh said: | flashbacksummer.blogspot.com

I just finished sewing a dress with a very light fabric, and I was quite frustrated with it! These suggestions are going to be hugely helpful for my next light-fabric projects!!!

On , Juli Williams said: | julispicksandstitches.blogsopt.com

Craftsy has a suggestion for a stitch starter at http://www.craftsy.com/blog/2013/09/stitch-starter/ It will keep your machine from eating your delicate fabrics too

On , Elizabeth said:

I always (almost) wash silk fabric before cutting because I want to make washable garments. Charmeuse gets a very slightly “washed” look, but I like it. Many other silks wash up without changing the fabric, except to preshrink which is what you want! Washing your yardage before cutting makes it less scary to use starch or an equivalent because you can just wash it out later.

I also use a silk organza press cloth and this allows me to use high heat even with delicate fabrics.

On , Rachel said: | raywuwei.me

Yes, an organza press cloth is a great tip.

On , Sofia Blake said: | sofiablake.wordpress.com

Shears, surely?

On , Lora said:

Another way to keep the machine from eating the edge of light fabrics is to use a small piece of scrap fabric (quilting cotton weight is perfect), sew a few stitches on it, then, lift the presser foot and needle (without clipping the threads) and move it to the beginning of the chiffon and begin sewing the seam. Hope that is clear.

On , Anna said:

I have a rather old sewing machine which does not have a lot of nifty settings for tensions etc. so I ran into some problems when I recently made a chiffon shirt. I pulled out the instructions for my machine and it suggested to put a sheet of paper underneath your fabric while sewing. I used normal printer paper and it worked like a charm. No fabric eating and picture-perfect seams were the result. Admittedly, I had to switch to a new needle after the project but it really was worth it!

On , Ashley said:

I’ve found that lighter paper works even better–tissue paper, or even cash register tape, if you have old receipts you don’t need. Rips away super easily without pulling at the stitching.

As a general tip, my machine has the option to drop the feed dogs halfway for delicate fabrics, so that’s something to look for too!

On , Rachel said: | raywuwei.me

Paper works, but it will dull your shears. Muslin is more expensive, but you at least won’t have to spend on blade sharpening.

On , Jackie Feltham said:

I have two state of the art sewing machines, and I still do this. Been doing it for years. You can also use coffee filters.

Jackie

On , Alice said:

Take your time. Lots of deep breaths. When you just begin to get frustrated, step away!

zinnia skirt | notes from a mad housewife

[…] writting this up… i see colette patterns addressed this pattern error and future printings will have the correct directions. i still don’t think it’s the […]

On , Shelley said:

I’ve never sewn silk or chiffon, but if I ever decide to, I’d try the gelatin method of adding body to the fabric. The method appeared in Threads mag ( also an article online), but it was mentioned on The Sewing Space blog earlier. This is the latest installment about silks, but there’s links to the gelatin method in the prep section:

http://thesewingspace.com/2013/09/20/sewing-silk-layout-marking-and-cutting/

On , Kriti said: | sewingmachinerepairbook.com

Hi Girls, you both are doing a fantastic job with this tutorial style blog. I have learned a lot about sewing from the blog and also helping my friends with their work. Feels awesome when you are being treated as an expert.. :)

Please keep up the good work, it is definitely helping a lot of people here to learn more about sewing.

On , Elizabeth said: | american-doll-outfitters.com

My favorite method is the combination of a straight stitch throat plate and light weight tear-away stabilizer. If you do not have a straight stitch throat place, the light-weight stabilizer is a perfect choice just by itself. It keeps the fabric from being pulled down into the abyss of your sewing machine and then very nicely tears away (and it is especially helpful in the formation of lovely even stitches).

http://www.american-doll-outfitters.com/machine_eats_fabric.html

On , raye said: | deadmau5costume.blogspot.com

These tips might just convince me to try chiffon…

On , Vanessa said:

OK so what should I use if I have no fabric stabilizer. Jamaica is limited when it comes to all this stuff. I don’t know how dressmakers (the word we use for seamstress) sew with it at all.

On , Elizabeth said: | american-doll-outfitters.com

Hi Vanessa…..if you are unable to get tear-away stabilizer, wax paper is a good choice. It can tear away easily. Hopefully this is more obtainable for you. BUT you still have to take into account that it will wear out your needle more quickly than if you had used the tear-away. Still….this is a much better choice than paper or paper towels. For ease in use, you can set your iron to “warm” (or the lowest setting) and bond it to your fabric to keep it from shifting too. Chiffon can be such a shifty rascal! When you’ve torn the wax paper from the seam line you can then just peel the wax paper from the chiffon. I have never had the wax paper leave any residue on the chiffon. And you only need to bond one piece of your fabric and then lay the other one on top to sew. You don’t need to bond both pieces.

I still choose the tear-away over the wax paper because it tears away the cleanest (no fuzzies or whiskers). But where I live, I have choices and it sounds like you don’t. So this will work for you.

A tip about tearing: After sewing, fold the wax paper along the seam line and keep your thumbnail close to the stitching as you tear it away to keep pressure off of the stitches.

On , Vanessa said:

Thank you so much I will try that. I will also try finding the tear away stabiliser.

On , Barbara said: | twistguild.com

Borrow a trick from quilters: what you do is place a piece of some type of scrap fabric under the needle as is ready to sew. This could even be a scrap of the chiffon, just so you fold it a few times to give it more substance. Then butt the fashion fabric right up to the edge of the scrap fabric. You will sew right off the scrap on to the fashion fabric. Any nasty fabric eating will happen to the scrap. Then when you are done sewing, just snip the one or two stitches that will fall between the two pieces of fabric.
This method is called “chaining” in quilting and it is used for two purposes: like fashion sewing, no one wants the machine to chew up a tiny piece of quilting fabric. It is also used to save time and thread when sewing a series of small pieces. I didn’t think I would use it very often for the second purpose in fashion sewing, but was I wrong! One of my favorites is in sewing a series of small pieces, for example, collar and two cuffs. Then all three are sewn and I can take them for pressing in one step.
Hope this helps. Barbara

On , Lady ID said: | peppermintandpaisley.com

Ugh I needed this.

I was gifted some designer silk fabric and decided to make a maxi skirt. First I cut it about two inches too short with it slipping around so much. Fortunately I know I can put a border on it but meh. I was SOOOOOOO upset. I need to really learn to handle it properly.

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[…] To prevent your machine from eating the fabric, pull the bobbin and top thread together at the start of every seam. There’s an excellent description of how to do this here. […]

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