8 Tips for Sewing Light Fabrics
Most beginning sewers start by working with quilting cotton fabric. It’s a good choice because it’s sturdy, presses easily, takes pins well and stays where you put it. But now that you’re at a point where you want to venture into light airy fashion fabrics with a lovely drape for a prettier look, you’ll need a few more sewing skills. Light fabrics like chiffon, rayon, or organza need some special techniques.
- Cut One Layer at a Time
When it comes to cutting light fabrics, you can sometimes feel like you’re working with slippery eels. They slide all over your cutting table and never stay put! With cotton, you can fold it in half and you know it won’t move. So you can cut our two pattern pieces at one time.
But with light fashion fabrics you’re better off to cut one layer at a time. Lay the fabric out in a single layer on your table. Gently smooth out the wrinkles with your hands and place one pattern piece on top. Cut that out. Then move the fabric so you have enough room to cut the same pattern piece again. Smooth the fabric out and lay the pattern piece on the fabric. This time, flip the pattern piece to the mirror image. This will end up giving you the two pieces (front and back) just as if you had cut it in a double folded layer. If you have a piece that needs to be cut on the fold, you can still cut it in one layer. Just make sure you have enough room on the table to flip the pattern piece without moving the fabric.
Proceed to follow these steps for all your pattern pieces. It takes a little longer, but it does prevent you from ending up with pattern pieces that are not quite the right shape due to shifting fabric layers.
- Cool Off the Iron
The main thing to remember on this point is “Turn the iron down!!” Light fabrics are often made of synthetic fibers and they can and do melt. Here’s a true story. A mom was once working on a fancy dress made of crepe-back satin for her daughter. Zooming along trying to finish quickly, she forgot to adjust the iron temperature and went to press the back of the dress that had already been sewn. All it took was one little touch and there was an ugly splotch of dull melted satin in the middle of the glossy shiny dress. Good thing it was on the back and the little girl was too young to notice the problem. The mom finished the dress and the child wore it once to the special occasion and thankfully nobody said anything about it. But the mom learned a lesson about taking care to turn down the iron and use a cotton pressing cloth whenever she sewed with light fancy fabrics. You can learn from her mistake and save yourself the trouble.
- Use French Seams
Light fabrics will almost never be secure with seam finishes using pinking shears or zig-zag stitching. So when you work with light fabrics you need to add a few more steps and use French seams. If the fabric is very light, the seams can often be seen through the fabric, so you want them to be nicely finished. Take a look at high end expensive chiffon blouses and you’ll see this for yourself.
- Change the Needle
You’ll want to change the needle to a brand new very fine size like a #70. Any nicks in a used needle will catch in light fabric for sure, and a larger needle size will pierce over-sized holes.
- Get a Running Start
Starting the seam is the hardest part. If you begin at the very edge the delicate fabric can bunch up or get pushed down into the throat plate. To help you get a smoother start, pin a piece of tissue paper where the seam begins with about two inches hanging off the edge of the fabric. Put the presser foot down on the paper and start sewing as usual. You should be able to glide right on to the fabric without any trouble.
- Tie the Ends by Hand
Tying off the ends of the stitching is another tricky area. Instead of backstitching as usual, leave the ends free. After you’re finished with the seam and take the project off the machine, hand-tie knots in the threads instead.
- Glue Instead of Pin
If the fabric is really light and delicate, pins could also cause damage to it. So you may want to try applying a little washable fabric gluestick to the fabric edges to hold it together while you sew.
- Loosen Up the Foot
Light fabric can also pucker easily as you’re sewing. To solve this, loosen the pressure on the presser foot a little. (Your manual will show you how to do this on your machine.) Try a test run on some scrap fabric to find just the right amount that provides enough traction to sew the seam but lightly enough to prevent puckering. If you’re going to do a lot of sewing with light fabric, you may want to invest in a Teflon presser foot.