Summer Fabric Series: Tips for Sewing with Sheers

It’s summertime, so bring on all the silky, drapey, flowy fabric goodness. Silk, crepe de chine, chiffon, lawn, voile – these fabrics are among our faves, but they can be intimidating and tricky to work with. This week, we continue our summer fabric series with a focus on cutting and sewing sheers.

colorful fabrics SHEERS Summer Fabric Series: Tips for Sewing with Sheers

by Linda Reynolds

(Full article appears in Sew News June/July 2017.)

Silk charmeuse, crepe de chine, chiffon, organdy, lawn, voile and most synthetic linings are examples of fabrics that typically fall into the sheer to very lightweight category. As such, they share a long list of attributes that makes sewing with them a challenging prospect. Their soft, flowy nature means they slip and slide all, making pattern layouts, cutting, general handling and machine sewing difficult. Additionally, these types of fabrics tend to fray excessively, so raw edges must be treated and seams finished.

When working with such flimsy fabrics, you should know what to expect and have a plan for dealing with these characteristics at every stage of the construction process. That means gathering the appropriate tools to prevent damaging the fabric and employing some simple sewing techniques that will make working with these fabrics less frustrating.

Cutting Tips
The slippery, shifting nature of lightweight fabrics is most pronounced when it comes to the pattern layout and cutting stages of construction. For the most accurate cuts, it’s best to cut patterns out one layer at a time, so be prepared to draft mirror image copies of pattern pieces cut on the fold. Setting the grainlines for proper layouts and cutting are particularly challenging, as getting unruly fabrics to lay flat and square is difficult. Before laying out, choose a technique to help stabilize the fabric on the work surface.

A grid-marked cutting mat is especially effective, as the fabric’s cross grain and selvage edges can be lined up to the lines of the mat to render it square. Once square, hold the fabric in place with pattern weights or other small weighted objects. No cutting mat? Use an L-square ruler to help line up the cross grain and selvage edges.

Another way to stabilize the fabric is to sandwich a layer of tissue paper between the work surface and the fashion fabric. The pattern pieces are then pinned through the tissue paper, which helps to reduce the amount of slippage and produces more accurately cut patterns.

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Sewing Tips for Sheers
Lightweight fabrics can either bunch up or the fabric sinks into the needle plate at the start of stitching. Fortunately, there are some easy ways to prevent these problems from occurring in the first place.

Don’t backstitch to lock the start of a seam. Instead, reduce the stitch length to 1.5mm and stitch the first 1⁄4” of the seam at this setting while at the same time gently pulling the thread tails away from the machine. Once past the 1⁄4” mark, return the stitch length to the normal setting. Then reduce the stitch length again at the end of the seam to secure it in place. The tiny stitches will sufficiently secure the seam at both ends without any bunching or added bulk and will prevent the fabric from sinking into the needle plate.

Pin a small piece of tissue paper under the seam so it extends beyond the cut edge. Begin sewing on the tissue paper. Once the needle transitions to the fabric, stitch a 1⁄4” or so, then sew a few backstitches to lock the seam. Complete the rest of the seam in the usual manner. The tissue paper supports the underside of the seam, preventing it from sinking into the needle plate and any backstitching from bunching up. For added stability, consider using a tissue strip under the full length of the seam. Simply tear it away when the seam is complete.

Use a stitch starter. This is nothing more than a small piece of scrap fabric of the same weight that acts as a running board. Begin the seam by stitching on the stitch starter. When close to the edge, slide the fashion fabric against it. Continue stitching, transitioning onto the fashion fabric. Once on the fashion fabric, sew a few backstitches to lock the seam and proceed as normal. When the seam is complete, snip the stitch starter away from the fashion fabric.

Use a single-needle presser foot and/or a single-hole needle plate. One or both will reduce the risk of the fabric sinking into the needle plate. The single-hole needle plate will add stability to the underside of the fabric, which also helps produce straighter seams. Its only drawback is that the needle must always be in the center position.


 Summer Fabric Series: Tips for Sewing with Sheers
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