Friday, April 15, 2011

A Couple Tips for Sewing Slippery Fabrics

I've never liked sewing with charmeuse. That stuff is a little wacky, right? But this go-around, I finally implemented a couple tips I'd heard and the results were amazing. I can honestly say I even enjoyed it! So, here they are, my two favorite tips for sewing charmeuse and other slippery fabrics:


1. Cut with weights and a rotary cutter. The biggest frustration when sewing a slippery fabric may well be the cutting. It slides all over the place, distorting the pieces and making for inaccurate results. The solution to this is to keep the fabric absolutely still while cutting. Use weights (I use an assortment of mugs and a heavy tape dispenser) to hold your pattern pieces down, and then cut around them with a VERY sharp rotary cutter. A decent-sized cutting mat is not cheap, but it's a good investment if you regularly sew slippery silks.


2. Hand baste your darts and seams before sewing. This may seem a little fussy, but the results are worth it. And it really doesn't take much time! Baste your seams together (regular thread is fine) and then try on your garment for a fitting if needed. Once you're happy with the fit, you can stitch your seams by machine. It helps to stitch just inside your line of basting, rather than catching the basting with your machine stitches. This makes the basting easier to remove. Pull out the basting and press your seams.

Please share your own tips for sewing charmeuse and other slippery fabrics!

49 comments:

  1. Yeah, I would say that both those steps are necessary when working with something like charmeuse. My question is, what sort of cutting mat are you using? The only one I've ever used is my mum's, which she uses to cut very heavy mounting card, so it's not at all suitable for something like charmeuse, which would keep catching on the cuts.

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  2. I'll add to point 1 - when cutting with a rotary cutter along longish and long cutting lines, lift the rotary cutter up every foot or so. It releases the tension on the fabric, giving you a more accurate cut.
    HTH!

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  3. A tip from my mother for those without a rotarycutter: tape the fabric to the table prior to laying out the pattern. Hmm, I wonder if that works with a cutting mat as well?

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  4. I recommend pinning the fabric between layers of tissue paper (You have to use very thin pins and remove them immediately.) or my favorite, using freezer paper as a stabilizer. You align the selvedge with the edge of the paper and lightly touch an iron to it.

    I use a rotary cutter, although it would be interesting to try a pair of shears with serrated blades, a tool recommended for cutting slippery fabrics.


    Basting is "fussy"? I thought you were a born-again baster after that sewing camp.

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  5. I also use a ruler or yardstick when cutting something straight and long - I find it helps keep the fabric even more stable and it helps with accuracy, too. Great post, as always, Gertie.

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  6. Jenny Wren:

    I assume Gertie is referring to a self-healing cutting mat. I have two, but the one I usually use is an Olfa, a popular brand. The surface is very smooth and does not catch on fabric.

    It wasn't cheap, but a good cutting mat is a necessary expense if you use a rotary cutter. My cut edges are much smoother with a rotary cutter.

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  7. Erika,

    I've seen people who are working on cork-topped work tables stretch (not excessively, but creating a certain tautness) and pin slippery fabric with push pins. They then would cut. That takes a certain skill.

    I would not tape fabrics to tables. It can be hard to remove and with a slippery fabric, some of the residue might remain, even with a low-tack tape. If you have taped down a pattern and for some reason need to remove it and reposition it, it can be hard to put it back in register. If you you use pins, you simply reorient yourself by following the holes.

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  8. The first time I sewed silk charmeuse, I did not have a cutting mat or rotary cutter yet.
    But I had a large piece of plywood covered in cotton batting and a wool army blanket and it was stapled onto the board to be very taut.

    I found it really kept the silk from moving around and I was able to cut it easily and accurately.

    I hand basted all the seams. Over time, my motor skills improved so that I no longer need to hand baste everything first. I just move the pieces VERY carefully (like a sleeping baby you don't want to wake!) and sew it up before it knows what hit it.

    Don't start the seam right on the edge- your machine might suck the fabric down into the feed dogs. There are a few tips to get past that issue, but this comment is long enough now :D

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  9. perhaps it goes without saying, but if anything is on the bias, be sure to give it a rest before your final stitching and hemming. Speaking of which, if it is cut on the bias, it should not surprise you that the two sides of your pattern do not look the same after fitting....your muslin, if made of muslin, is still going to need some work. heheh That is all I've got.

    (Although I do find that holding both threads when I start elimitates most "suck down" scenarios. A straight stitch needle plate would also limit that.) k.

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  10. pretreat with starch, then wash the final garment before wearing.

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  11. I haven't sewn much with charmeuse and other light fabrics precisely because I felt they were too fussy. But I do have some charmeuse and with all these good tips I think it's time that I get past my hesitation.

    The one tip I do have for sewing fussy fabrics is using a lightweight, tear-away stabilizer when stitching.

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  12. I also like to pin or weight it to paper to keep it on grain and cut through the sandwich.
    I too hand baste any slippery fabric but I prefer silk or rayon embroidery thread because it pulls out more easily as it's slippery.

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  13. Nancy K:

    I prefer to hand baste silk with silk thread for the reason you mentioned. In addition, cotton thread sometimes marks the fabric.

    But precisely because silk thread is slippery, I might add a backstitch to the basting line every now and then to secure it.



    a little sewing:

    To avoid the machine eating the fabric, I've started out by stitching on a scrap and stitched onto the fabric itself or left long threads and hand tacked the ends. Any other methods?

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  14. 2 tips:

    1. For pattern weights, I get really big metal washers from the hardware store. They're cheap, easy to store, and it saves me hunting through my apartment for various other heavy things to use as weights. If I ever get ambitious, I might cover them with fabric or felt to make them look really cute.

    2. This is totally cheating, but sometimes I soak my thin, slippery fabric in water and starch, hang to dry, and then press before cutting. This gives the fabric some stiffness, body, and makes it less slippery. Then, when I'm done with the project, I just hand wash the garment a few times until the starch comes out. This works best when whatever you are making doesn't need a whole lot of fitting during construction, because the fabric will behave differently when starched.

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  15. I know that it was said previously, but I pin my fabric between 2 layers of tissue paper. I think it works pretty well.

    Cutting wise, I actually just use my shears. I have a rotary cutter and hate it. I think that is because I need a better blade though.

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  16. I love using the spray stabilizer for slippery fabrics, it honestly saved my life for both cutting and sewing some shifty silk crepe de chine. and the fact that it just rinses out in water, makes it super easy to remove without damaging delicate fabrics. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't sew anything slippery without it again!

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  17. I second 'Sew Show Me's tip to sandwich any slippery fabric between tissue paper. The industry actually uses this method, and tissue sells by the rolls.
    --To start sewing a seam, stitching a small piece of fabric first works, or try manually making 2 stitches, then grabbing the 'tail' of thread with the left hand, and using this to keep tension on the line as you sew--your ends won't get caught and the seam won't pucker because you are keeping the stitch line straight out the back, never fails!
    --Iron very fine fusible tricot interfacing in a narrow 3/4" strip down the seam allowance before inserting zipper to stabilize that seamline and to keep any seam from puckering.

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  18. Great tips. I second the spray stabilizer.

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  19. A stupid question maybe...but does inside your line of basting mean between the basting and the edge of the fabric, or the other way, between the basting and the middle of the fabric? Thanks!

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  20. Spray starch is a must! I would never work with a slippery silk without it.

    For any delicate fabrics, a straight-stitch plate for your machine is a big help... the hole is much smaller so the fabric is much less likely to get sucked in. Just don't forget to only use a straight stitch when it's on!!

    Oh, and silk thread for basting changed my life... I try not to use anything else on silk fabrics if possible!

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  21. A small piece of light weight tear away stabilizer or holding the thread tails will keep fabric from being sucked into the machine. I use the tissue paper method for slippery fabrics, it works very well. I would really like to try a pair of the serrated scissors, I love new notions and gadgets!

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  22. I just did a dress for a wedding with a chiffon overlay, I learned that if you're starting out on the slippery stuff, GO SLOW. Let the fabric rest before you cut it, after you cut it, before you hem it, and always sew slowly if you're unsure. I also found pressing to be invaluable, especially when adding decorative pleats along the hem of the dress.

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  23. I pin my fabric to a grain board (made following the directions in Roberta Carr's book Couture: The Art of Fine Sewing). I use super fine pins in the seam allowance. I cut with serrated scissors recommended by Susan Khalje during an online class. Those scissors are amazing!

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  24. A very talented sample maker I know told me to put a layer of tissue paper on top of your silk before cutting. She also recommends sewing seams with the tissue paper layer on top, and then ripping it away afterward. Also, stay stitching is always a good idea

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  25. Gertie, someone mentioned cutting mats here. I would advise against a pinnable cutting mat: lightweight fabric gets trapped in a tiny ridge that the rotary cutter cuts into the mat surface. You would have to pull the fabric and this will distort the cut. So, a hard mat and a rotary cutter, or serrated scissors... And, you are absolutely right, basting, basting, basting. I just finished a charmeuse blouse made all by hand - no machine stitches - and I enjoyed the process and the result very much!

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  26. Great tips! I'm a fan of pinning to paper, both for knits and for fabrics that slither. I also use serrated shears at times. They are very precise.

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  27. Thank you for all the information. Just last week I abandoned a charmeuse skirt I was making for myself and changed it into a dress for my one year old (which does not require nearly as much accuracy). Now I won't be scared to give the charmeuse another try!

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  28. I'm with the ladies who cut slippery fabrics between paper! I was taught at uni to place the fabric between two pieces of paper, pin it at th edges to hold it in place initially, and then pin the patterns to the top and pin into the seam allowance (or weight the pattern onto the paper and draw the pattern out. Then rotary cut, or cut with scissors carefully! xx

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  29. I once ruined some lovely charmeuse making something as simple as a V-neck. The neckline kept stretching out at the bottom and nothing I did worked. Any ideas what I should have done?

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  30. Oh, these are great tips, thanks a lot :) I'll read all the comments for other tips as well...

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  31. Thanks for the tips! I'm planning on sewing a cocktail dress soon using a slippery fabric - I'm approaching it with trepidation!

    Glad to hear I'm not the only one who uses tape dispensers & mugs as weights ;)

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  32. What wonderful comments. Thank you for all the wonderful tips you provide on your blog.

    I found a store in the LA garment district that sells silk for $3.00 a yard so I now have a bunch of practice fabric including charmeuse and twill. Since I am coming back to fashion sewing, these tips are really going to come in handy.

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  33. Thank you for all your informative posts. You are much more advanced than me, but your posts have taught me a great deal.

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  34. Great tips! It took me WAY too long to learn the cutting mat thing, but once I tried it, I'm pretty sure I slapped my forehead and said "doh". It makes a world of difference.

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  35. I sew silk charmeuse with weights (ceramic ones my dad gave me -- I think they are from an old fashioned kitchen scale). I also use baby powder on my hands to prevent moisture/ sweat from transfering on the silk. I place a cotton sheet over my kitchen island, and cut the silk (which has the weights on it), while it is on top of the cotton sheet.

    I love sewing with silk, but I just have to go slower than with cotton. I also use a satin stitch to finish off the bias hems.

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  36. I love the Gingher silk shears for cutting slippery fabrics. The shears have a serrated edge that helps keep the fabric from slipping.

    Annamarie

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  37. Thanks for the tips! I've also heard about placing the fabric on tissue and cutting through the tissue.

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  38. My Mum's method of sewing with slippery fabrics is to put a roll of loo paper on a knitting needle which you hold between your knees and you place the tissue under or over the seam you're sewing (no pinning required) and just feed the fabric and tissue through the machine as you sew to stop it slipping. You can then tear off the tissue once you're done.

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  39. I am a fan of tissue paper between the layers, weights not pins and the absolute must of the Gingher serrated shears. Also, here is a tip for sewfashionista about that stretching neckline. I learned this from Kenneth King. before you even cut the piece, mark the neckline on the fabric. Then using 1inch strips of silk organza baste it into the neckline. This will stabilize it and keep it from stretching. Then lay out your pattern and cut. Do not remove the organza but leave as an interfacing. You can experiment with the width of the strips so they don't interfere with the finished product.

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  40. Great GREAT tips everyone - I love the starch tips - so totally NOT cheating if it works!

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  41. A word of caution about the starch. Do a test sample first to make sure that it won't stain/damage your silk. A friend showed me his fabric that had been ruined by special "sewing starch." The entire yardage was covered with spots.

    Slippery fabrics will win the power struggle if you attempt to work with them when you are anything less than refreshed and focused. But they are so worth the effort of learning how to work with them. I love them!

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  42. I learned this tip from a pro. When cutting a slippery fabric I first pin it (outside the seam allowance) to a piece of tissue paper. Use pattern weights to secure the fabric/tissue paper to the cutting surface. I keep one rotary cutter and one scissor just for this purpose. I mark them with a dot of nail polish to discern them from my good cutters, Revlon Red to be exact.

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  43. I bought some beautiful, flowing silk possibly charmeuse in the most stunning colour (soft red) and at such a fab price just looking at it makes me weep! Thanks for all the super tips. Toria - adore the toilet roll idea!

    Sorry - just can't do the rotary cutter - I hate mine too - so with you on that Sarah C ! xxx

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  44. Yes, rotary cutters may work for slippery fabrics, but have you ever tried a really good pair of serrated scissors. KAI makes the 7240AS that has serrated teeth on the lower blade that elimate fabric slippage. They're excellent for light to heavy weight fabrics which includes silks and sheers. These sicssors will give you much more intricate control than a rotary cutter.

    Happy Scissoring!

    Scissorman
    Online scissor store www.scissormanusa.com

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  45. Thank you for this post and for the tips. I'm a moderately confident person when it comes to sewing but am nervous about my first foray in to charmeuse (this one is just satin, not silk). Reading everyone's tips has really helped me in terms of how to stop slippy stuff happening. Thanks again!

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  46. I will be making a blouse in the nest couple of days and am so glad to find that someone has provided these useful tips. ''

    I will post photos of the completed project on my blog.

    STYLE DRUM

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  47. I meant " next"
    /\/\/\

    STYLE DRUM

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  48. Today I started a Charmeuse flower girl dress for my grandaughter. I struggled to find the right stitch, needle, presser foot setting and needle tension. puckers puckers.... Then I remembered I have an Acufeed foot on my Janome. It works just like a walking quilt foot. And sucess... well 99% anyway. I just pin in the seam allowance.

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  49. Make a full size pattern and cut out of a single layer. Much more accurate! PS - I love my rotary cutter for silk :)

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Thanks for your comments; I read each and every one! xo Gertie

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