Sewing with delicate & stretch fabrics

Sewing Technical Guide

Technical sewing guide

Sewing with delicate & stretch fabrics – Essential tips for an easy sew

Dealing with those ‘awkward’ fabrics

It’s quite daunting knowing where to start when it comes to sewing with ‘difficult’ fabrics. In fact, it’s tempting to just not bother ever incorporating certain types of fabrics into your design which means you’ll always be able to avoid dealing with those materials. However, these so-called fiddly fabrics are often the most striking, beautiful designs available and sewing with them can be very rewarding as well as offering amazing results. In our handy guide, you’ll get some fantastic tips and techniques about dealing with these types of fabrics and hopefully you’ll have a stress free, easy sew.

Litmans Fabrics selection
Clockwise from top left: Beaded & sequined embroidery, jersey, lace, tulle, chiffon and Ponte Roma.

Knitted Fabrics

Fabrics such as jersey, scuba and Ponte Roma are what we class as knitted fabrics. Often stretchy, these fabrics seemingly offer a challenge due to their ‘unstable’ nature. While a solid cotton fabric will feed through the sewing machine obediently and cleanly, these fabrics present an issue because of the stretch element.

It’s ideally best to use a 3/4/5 thread overlocker which produces a neatly finished edge as well as making sure the fabric is stitched neatly together. The overlocker specifically makes allowances for the stretch in knitted fabrics.

Sewing needle types

If you don’t have access to an overlocker and you’re using a domestic machine, we advise that you use a zig zag stitch (not too tight!) which allows for the stretch in the fabric. It’s also advisable to use a ballpoint needle which is great for preventing laddering in the fabric. The rounded tip of a ballpoint needle can pass easily through the knitted fabric without breaking the yarn. Always make sure you’re using clean, sharp needles for the best results. Ensure that you start any new project this way.

Beaded Fabrics

Sewing beaded fabric presents a challenge due to needle breakage when faced with glass beads and the thickness of the fabric.  However, if you follow these instructions, there’s no reason why sewing these fabrics needs to be difficult! Don’t be tempted to cut the beads off the section you wish to sew as these threads hold other beads and sequins in the fabric in place and everything might unravel!

Sewing beaded laces

Place masking tape all along the area you wish to sew, then take a hammer and get (carefully) smashing those beads. The tape will collect the glass debris and will peel away to leave you with a flat area for sewing. Ensure your needle is super sharp and pop on your zipper foot for an easier sew.

sewing with beaded laces

Net, Mesh and Tulle

The biggest issue with these types of fabric is that they can attract static and become difficult to lay flat. The best solution is to have a water spray handy and spray the tulle with a light mist making sure not to get the tulle too wet. Also, do not iron the tulle in an attempt to get it to behave as it will likely melt! If you must use an iron, place some fabric over the tulle first and use a low setting.

To prevent the tulle from moving or snagging, you can attach a piece of transparent tape to the bottom of the presser footer. You can also attach tape to the tulle to hold sections together while you sew and this can then be pulled off afterwards.

sewing with net and tulle

Use wide zig zag stitches and avoid straight lines. It’s best to use the longest stitch length setting for tulle. The good news is that tulles and nets don’t fray so you only need to add a decorative edge if you really want to. Use a small needle (size 60/, 65/9 or 70/10) so that you don’t damage the delicate fabric.

Chiffons/Organzas

These types of fabric can be quite slippery to sew. Make a start by spraying the fabrics with a fabric stabilizer as this helps with cutting as well as stitching. You can also layer the fabric with muslim or tissue paper which will offer more stability for sewing. Use a straight stitch foot and needle plate to avoid your fabric getting pulled down into the machine. As a general rule, thicker fabrics need a longer stitch and thinner fabrics like these need a shorter stitch. Use nice, sharp needles (sizes 60/8, 65/9, 70/10) and all of this should ensure you have a stress free sew.

sewing with chiffon and organza

Enclosed French seams, narrow hems and bound edges are the best options for sheer fabrics like these. Heavy hems and unfinished seam allowances detract from the see-through look.

To ensure that your stitch work lasts, choose a stronger type of thread and after sewing, press your seams flat for the perfect finish.

Lace

Sewing lace is easy when dealing with a denser design but for more delicate laces, you will need to take steps to ensure a problem free sew. You can start by pre-washing and pressing your lace. It goes without saying that settings for both should be ‘delicate’! Check the lace carefully and pop a little sticker on to mark the right and wrong side up. Get your sewing machine prepped and use a clear presser foot so you can see through to the lace to guide it better. There isn’t a special needle for sewing lace (maybe there should be), but if you use a size 60/8, 65/9, 70/10 and make sure it’s a new needle, this will work well.

sewing with lace

There are several types of stitches that you can try with lace. We suggest testing your stitches on a scrap of the lace first, before deciding. Choose from narrow zig-zag (1), short triple straight stitch/triple zig-zag (12), or an overcasting stitch (10).

types of sewing stitches

Use a straight stitch needle plate and a straight stitch foot to prevent your lace getting pulled down into the machine. Place some clear tape above the needle plate hole to reduce its size. Consider sewing lace with other layers such as the lining fabric (satin, cotton etc), which will offer greater stability. If this isn’t possible, look at using tissue paper as a layer. This can easily be ripped away afterwards. You can also pin the lace together (with nice, sharp pins) and sew the seams this way.

sewing with lace

When it comes to edging the lace, there’s a very simple trick that will save your hours of fiddling. Just don’t edge it. Instead, select a lace that comes with a scalloped edge – these are ready made hems that are so pretty and add a great element of design to your garment. If the scallop isn’t already cut out, it will be quicker to cut it out yourself (if possible) rather than edging the hem. The only types of laces this won’t work with are ones with a continuous design and no scallops – so choose your lace carefully!

laces

We hope you found this guide useful! The best advice we can ever give when it comes to dealing with these types of fabrics is to sit and test your chosen material, thread, needle, plate and foot before you start your main project. If necessary, buy a little extra fabric specifically for this purpose. It’s got to be better to test it and get it right, rather than waste your entire fabric purchase if something goes wrong. Take your time, measure carefully, check and then re-check and then begin. Preparation is half the battle! Once that’s done you can sit back and enjoy the rest of the project and the results.

lace dresses

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