22 Mar 2023 • • by Amy

Tips for Sewing with Slippery Fabrics

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Our new Sage skirt is beautiful in all kinds of fabrics, but we designed it to highlight beautiful flowy fabrics. While these have lovely movement and drape, they can also be more difficult to work with than stable friends like cotton and linen. We want to share some of our tips for sewing with slinky, silky, slippery, drapey, and (sometimes) tricky textiles. A few adjustments to your normal process will make your life a lot easier and ensure you don't get fed up with what is sure to be a special project. Starting from the beginning with the right approach will save you time and headaches in the future so let's dig in and tackle this beast together: slippery fabrics!

(pssst... We also wrote a blog post on sewing with velvet if you'd like tips on sewing with that particularly tricky beast!)

Prepping Slippery Fabrics

Pre-washing your fabric is always recommended but especially for delicate and drapey ones. Some special fabrics like silk can be intimidating to wash, but unless it is a dry-clean-only situation, you might as well figure that out before you create a garment you're afraid to clean! If you're reluctant to wash in the machine, most things can be soaked in cool/warm water with a delicate soap like Woolite, gently squeezed damp in a towel and hung to dry. This will not only remove any chemicals left over from the manufacturing process but will also give your fabric a chance to shrink or relax (you want this to happen to your fabric before you turn it into a 3d garment so the sizing doesn't change on you after the fact). In our experience, nearly all fabrics can be washed in the machine on a gentle cycle. We're also proponents of gently tumble-drying low-lustre silks on low heat to remove wrinkles - the less preciously you treat it, the more likely you are to wear and love it!

After washing, always press your yardage using the recommended iron settings so you're cutting on a flat and smooth later. A silk organza or fine cotton pressing cloth can help prevent scorching or marking the fabric if it has a delicate surface.

Cutting Slippery Fabrics

Since slippery fabrics have a tendency to shift and move around while cutting, it's especially important to make sure you are cutting as accurately as possible. This ensures your pattern pieces aren't distorted or off grain. Here are our top tips for cutting slippery fabrics:

  • Check the selvedge of your fabric before you start. If it seems to be gathering or pulling on the fabric, cut it off with a rotary cutter so you have a nice flat canvas.
  • Next, find the grain line of the fabric. Drawing a thread is one of the most suitable techniques for loosely woven, soft or stretchy fabrics. Just cut a snip into the selvedge edge and pull one of the threads, which should make a line along the crosswise grain.
  • Use a cutting mat or a quilting ruler to line up your selvedge or grain in a straight line. This way you can make sure nothing is shifting off-grain while you're cutting.
  • For the most precision, especially with satin-faced fabrics that don't lay flat when folded, try cutting on a single layer rather than a double layer. Make sure you are mirroring any piece that needs to be cut twice! For pieces that are cut on the fold, trace the first side with chalk before flipping it along the center axis.
  • For particularly shifty fabrics, cover the cutting area with felt, cotton muslin, or fleece. Lay the fabric over the cutting area and pin the fabric directly to the underlayer to help prevent slippage. Finally, cut only through your fabric layer with shears.
  • Speaking of pins: to prevent your fabric from being marred, consider using silk pins, fork pins or clips.
  • Better yet, use a ton of pattern weights in lieu of pins to secure your fabric. Things you can use when you run out of pattern weights? Soup cans, hockey pucks, flat rocks, hardware, coffee cups, particularly lazy cats.
  • Never let the excess fabric hang off the edge of a table when cutting. The weight of the fabric will pull, stretch and skew the weave. To keep it from wrinkling you can roll it around a cardboard tube like wrapping paper, or support the excess fabric with an extra stool or chair next to your cutting table.
  • If your yardage is particularly shifty and unmanageable, try spraying your yardage with spray starch before cutting to help stabilize it. Make sure to test on a scrap of fabric first!
  • When cutting smaller pieces, block fusing is your friend. Rather than individually cutting each piece from fabric and interfacing separately, press a large piece of fusible to a section of your yardage first. Use this to cut out your (now interfaced) pattern pieces.

Let's get cutting!

Basting Options

Before you get to machine sewing, let's talk about basting and anchoring your pieces. Here are our tips:

  • Silk pins are ideal for holding together delicate layers and won't snag fabric. You can also try fork pins to reduce shifting. The more the merrier! Just make sure to pull them out as the seam goes under your presser foot!
  • Hand-basting your seams is a good way to ensure they won't slip around on you. Use a running stitch or a whip stitch to do this. We have a blog post on couture seam finishes for more ideas.
  • If you are finding you are getting wavy seams or things are shifting around, iron in fusible tape in the seam allowance only.
  • For layers that slip when together, insert a strip of tissue paper between your layers to give it some structure. Sew right over it and then pull it out when you're finished.
McCalls 7154 - Couture 1930's Evening Gown in 4 ply silk charmeuse // Handmade by Closet Core Patterns

Setting Up Your Machine for Delicate Fabrics

Now that you're ready to sew, here's what you need to know while at your machine.

  • A shorter stitch length is best. We recommend 10-15 stitches per inch, or stitches that are 1.5-2.5mm long. Try on a scrap first to find the ideal length.
  • The most important thing for tackling those tricky fabrics is SHARP needles. Choose one designed for delicate fabrics and change it out after about 8 hours of sewing. Always test your needle on a scrap to ensure it won't create snags or runs in your fabric.
  • If your layers are shifting and feeding unevenly under the needle, try lowering the pressure on the presser foot. Most machines will have a setting for this so consult your manual.
  • A walking foot can be a godsend with slippery fabrics. It acts as a top set of feed dogs to make sure both layers of fabric are feeding through at the same time and can help prevent wavy seams.
  • If your fabrics are sliding off your sewing table, cover the table with a towel to help keep it under control.
  • If your needle is pulling your fabric down into the machine plate (which tends to happen with very fine fabrics like chiffon), try covering the needle plate hole with a piece of scotch tape to "shrink" the hole size. Your machine may also come with different needle plate options with smaller openings - just keep in mind you may not be able to shift your needle width or sew zig-zag stitches with a smaller needle hole.
  • For all fine and drapey fabrics, french seams are generally the best seam finish. They are strong and best of all, totally enclose potentially fraying seams. Use them whenever possible!
Our New Pfaff Sewing Machines - Pfaff Performance Icon |Closet Core Patterns

And that's it! Do you have any tips for sewing with slippery fabrics?

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