8 July 2015

Five Tips for Cutting and Sewing Slippery Fabric

Five Tips for Cutting + Sewing Slippery Fabric


I bought this beautiful sunglasses polyester from Guthrie and Ghani recently. The good news is that I know it will make a lovely, floaty summer dress. The not-so-good news is that it’s one of those slippery little scamps that slips and slides all over the cutting table and sewing machine – know what I mean?

Luckily I have a strategy for handling slippery fabrics that I pull out for occasions such as these and, as I was cutting this one out, I felt inspired to share some tips with you…

Five Tips for Cutting + Sewing Slippery Fabric

1) Starch your fabric before cutting

Before you begin, hang your fabric up on a clothes dryer or rail, and give it a light going-over with some spray starch (the kind you might use to iron a shirt, if you were so inclined). This will stiffen the fabric slightly and make it behave itself much better when you lay it out ready to be cut out.

And of course it’s a good idea to test the starch out on a corner of the fabric first ☺

Five Tips for Cutting + Sewing Slippery Fabric

2) Cut with a rotary cutter

Have you ever cut out some slippery fabric, only to end up with fabric pieces that are a different shape and size to the pattern pieces? When you cut fabric with scissors, the blade underneath the fabric lifts it up slightly and, if the fabric is slippery, it can slide down the blade. The result will be pieces that aren’t quite accurate, seams that don’t match up, and possibly even clothes that end up too big or small for you.

You’ll probably find you get a more accurate result – and less frustration – by weighing the fabric and pattern down on a cutting mat, and cutting out with a rotary cutter. The blade cuts the fabric as it rolls along, without lifting it up off the mat.

3) Cut symmetrical pieces in one layer

This is one that I don’t personally do all the time, but it’s a goodie when the fabric is really hard to handle. If you’re cutting pieces on the fold, you may find you end up with a piece that isn’t quite symmetrical, as the bottom layer of fabric is sliding around and doing it’s own thing.

What you can do with pieces that are meant to be cut on the fold is open the fabric out flat and line up the fold line on the pattern piece with the grainline on the fabric. Cut around the pattern piece – but not the fold line – on one layer of fabric, and mark in the fold line, either with a chalk pencil or a little notch at either end. Then flip the pattern piece over the fold line so it’s face down on the fabric and so the fold line is lined up with the one you marked on the fabric. Now cut out the other side – so you’ll end up with a symmetrical piece of fabric, cut on one layer of fabric rather than two.

(I forgot to get a photo of this one as I was cutting it out, so I hope that makes sense!)

Five Tips for Cutting + Sewing Slippery Fabric

4) Interface pieces before cutting

Small pieces, such as neckline facings and collar pieces, can be particularly tricky to cut accurately in slippery fabric. And if they need interfacing, you may discover that the interfacing piece and the fabric piece end up looking different shapes, because the fabric has slid around when you cut it out - doh!

So what I do with small pieces that need interfacing is cut the interfacing first, as it’s less likely to slip around than the fabric, then fuse it to the (pre-cut) fabric. Then I just cut around the outside of the interfacing piece, basically using it as a template. The interfacing stabilises the fabric and makes it much easier to cut accurately. Woohoo!

Five Tips for Cutting + Sewing Slippery FabricFive Tips for Cutting + Sewing Slippery Fabric

5) Use plenty of pins

Pins are your friend when it comes to slippery fabric. Because the fabric layers will slide around, use more pins than you usually would to keep the seams together. Try to avoid positioning the pin heads over the fabric though, as they can distort the fabric.

As well as using pins, it can be helpful to tack or baste some seams – as well as darts, pleats etc – before sewing them for real, just to check they go together accurately. And when it comes to sewing them for real, take your time, have some soothing whale song playing, and you'll be just fine :)

Five Tips for Cutting + Sewing Slippery Fabric

I hope these tips remove some of the frustration you may have with slippery fabrics and help you enjoy sewing with them. Do you have any other tips for handling slippery fabrics? Do share in the comments below!

PS. If you liked this post, you may also like Tips for Speedy Sewing.

PPS. This post maaay just come in handy if you choose a slippery fabric to sew our next two sewing patterns - coming soon! (But don’t worry, you can also sew them with fabric that behaves itself if you prefer.) Join our email list if you want to be one of the first to see our new patterns. I love them to bits and am sooo excited to share them with you...

32 comments:

  1. Thank you for your always helpful tips. The spray starch really does make the fabric behave better. My problem is with the finishing - zigzag or over-locking stitch it always end up a messy ruffle. I have tried altering stitch length and tension but no better results.

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    1. I know exactly what you mean, I was overlocking the seams on this fabric last night. I find a wider stitch helps because there's less thread involved, and it does take a bit of tension tweaking to stop the seam allowances curling up. Alternatively you could try French seams - they're great for delicate fabric. Hope this helps :)

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    2. Thank you. Will have another go at tweaking the tension. French seams are wonderful and a good solution where possible. Thank you again for all your wonderful advice.

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  2. I completely relate to the frustrations of the slippery fabric. In fact I swore never to sew it again after doing battle with a really flimsy slippery fabric a year or so ago. The spray starch is a brilliant idea. In the end I had to sew this fabric sandwiched between tissue paper and then peel the paper away. What a nightmare! By some miracle, it looked good when finished.

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  3. Thank you, great tips! Great looking fabric, I wish it weren't polyester.

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  4. All of these tips are just wonderful! I prefer lighter, airier fabrics to stiff cotton but struggle when they want to slip and slide. I especially enjoyed the chalk-mark-the-fold tip and the advice about applying interfacing BEFORE cutting from fabric. Why didn't I think of that?!

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  5. I don't recall who to attribute this tip. Cut out on your carpet. The carpet fiber holds things in place.

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    1. That's such a brilliant idea, I haven't heard that one before!

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    2. I always cut my slippy fabric out on the carpet but there are two slight problems with this method 1) if you have a dog it always wants to walk over the pattern, 2) trying to stand up after crawling round. The interfacing idea is brilliant so simple but it has never crossed my mind.

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  6. I'd add: use a Microtex / Sharp needle in your machine. When I was starting out I used a Universal needle for everything because it's called "universal"! But universal is not really the best for everything - on fine, tightly woven, delicate fabrics a microtex sharp needle works wonders. And usually a shorter stitch length looks better, but I always test and check the tension on a scrap first. :)

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  7. Tip 4! Brilliant. I found some lovely peach skin fabric recently that seems to be the best of both worlds; light and drapey, but it had a bit more grip and clung to itself a bit. A slippy fabric with stabilisers! X

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  8. Is there a particular size of rotary blade you recommend? I use 45mm, primarily for cutting fabrics for quilting, but I've heard the smaller sizes are better at handling curves.

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    1. I use a 45mm blade - it's a good size for cutting out both large and small pieces. If you're making something with lots of teeny curves, you could definitely try a smaller blade, that's a good idea.

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  9. great tips - starch is essential! when i had to cut layers of silky (years ago -apprenctice in factory cutting) we had to use clamps along the selvedge to make sure it stayed straight. I have done similar since by making sure the selvedge was paralled to table edge and then I bulldog clipped it, weighted it well and i could cut successfully on the fold- for me the main thing is not lettling the grain go - this would probably work with large sheets of cartridge paper. I made some 70s lounge pjs in slippy fabric recently and i french seamed throughout

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  10. I just bought some silky knits and have been scared to cut and sew. Your tips sound great and ease my fears. Thanks.

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  11. How about using a walking foot?

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  12. I'm planning on making a chiffon skirt as soon as the fabric arrives, so I will definitely use these tips!

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  13. I would like to urge EVERYONE who sews to get some nice big hefty pattern weights . I have some which are about 8 inches long and made of steel . I have 2 of them and they are fantastic for cutting difficult fabrics .also use a single hole foot and even better a single hole needle plate in your sewing machine. One of my sewing machines is an old straight stitch singer and it is fantastic for sewing fine silky chiffon ,silk etc .

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  14. I have never heard of spray starch before! Some great tips in this post!

    Martina
    http://fashi0nstudentlife.blogspot.co.uk/

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  15. Thanks for the tips on managing slippery fabric. The concept of stabilizing with the interfacing BEFORE cutting makes such great sense. I am a quilter and that is done with small pieces for applique and makes everything more managable. Thanks to everyone for their brilliant comments. I learned a lot about garment sewing here. Maybe I will take that blouse back out of the project bin that I started 3 or more years ago. I could not get the sleeves to stop rolling while I was trying to pin to hem them. Might be able to tackle it again!~!

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  16. Thank you so much for the tips. I'm going to make me some pattern weights out of washers!

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    1. I went to the local hardware store and bought Number 10 round metal washers. They work great and stack together when Iʻm not using them (saves space).

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  17. Would you recommend using French seams on those curvy underarm seams? I'm on my first Bettine, and I'm making it in very shifty light viscose. I've used French seams on the bodice side seams and they do not look good at all. The seams pull on the fabric too much (I'm not sure how else to explain it). I have enough fabric to recut the bodice, but I'm not sure what I should do to fix those seams. Should I may be use serger to finish the seam allowances?

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    1. French seams can be tricky on curves because of the difference in the raw edge measurement of the seam allowances that you're sewing and folding over. After you've sewn the first step, wrong sides together, you could trim down the curve before folding it over for the second step. If that doesn't help, I'd stick to another seam finishing method for Bettine, such as serging or zigzag stitching. Good luck!

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    2. Thank you so much for getting back to me, Tilly, and confirming my suspitions :)
      I'll try serging the seam allowances. Let's hope it works!

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  18. Finishing a slippery (like wonderful rayon!) edge is tough, but easier if you use a small zig-zag stitch and an overcast foot that has a small finger in it to hold the zig-zag flat.

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  19. Also, fork pins hold fabric more securely than regular ones.

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  20. Would using the starch spray eliminate the need for a walking foot? I can't afford a genuine one and didn't have any luck with a cheap one, so the only way I've found is to sew between tissue paper, but that's hard for long seams. I really want to make a skater skirt but without a walking foot I think it'll turn out looking messy.

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  21. I bought some beautiful silk in Hong Kong almost 30 years ago and have never dared to use it. With these tips I'll give it a go.

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  22. Brilliant comments - I've to make memory things for a friend from her Mum's underskirt and nightie, both very slippy! and was fretting about how to do it - interfacing will be the way forward I think! Thanks everyone.

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