2 June 2021

Five Tips for Cutting and Sewing Slippery Fabric

I know we’ve all been there, dreaming up floaty summer dresses but then our drapey fabric starts misbehaving at the sewing machine, if not before driving us crazy at the cutting table and developing a mind of its own. 

Mismatched seams, fraying fabric and all kinds of wonky cutting, there’s a reason sewing with lighter weight fabrics has a tricky reputation. But we promise it doesn’t have to be like that and sewing with lightweight fabrics can be rather lovely when you've got some tricks up your sleeve... 

Drapey fabrics make perfectly cool and floaty summer dresses and can provide some serious swish-factor. Check out our Lyra shirt dress (the interfacing tip in this blog post will be especially helpful for that collar!), the summer-ready Seren dress and our simple Lotta dress to name a couple of our patterns that can be made in lightweight fabrics like viscose & crepe.

So here’s how to stop that lovely fabric from slipping and sliding all over the cutting table and sewing machine…

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 ☺

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

If you’re cutting your fabric 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 its own thing.

One way to tackle this is to mirror your paper pattern piece to create one symmetrical pattern piece, ready to place on your fabric laid out in one flat layer. This works especially well if you’ve starched your fabric to make it more stable. You can also create a symmetrical piece by opening your fabric out flat, matching your pattern piece’s fold line with the fabrics grainline, cut around the pattern piece - but not the foldline - and mark the fold with chalk. Then flip the pattern piece over to the other side. Cutting on one layer of fabric rather than two.

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!

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 :)

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.

Author: Tilly Walnes
Photos: Abi Dyson
Video: Abi Dyson