So much in sewing comes down to the fabric. You always want to make sure you have the right material for the project at hand, but there are so many options, and all of them behave differently. This means, of course, that, you’re bound to encounter some unexpected issues when working with something new for the first time. For most materials, there’s a bit of a learning curve, but they’re easy enough to get the hang of. There are three, however, that tend to give sewists fits: leather, sheer fabrics, and knits. Even experienced sewists can struggle with these materials from time to time, but with a bit of practise, the right tools to hand, and these handy tips, you’ll be conquering even these tough materials in no time.
One of the toughest things about working with leather is that it is. Well, tough. Leather, of course, isn’t a fabric at all, so there’s no weave to take into account, but a few modifications to your sewing techniques are still necessary:
Let it slide: Stay sharp: Take it easy:
• Let it slide: The rough texture of some leathers (and the “wrong side” of many others) can cause your project to get hung up on the presser foot of your machine. To avoid this issue, use a “walking foot, ” which uses a second set of feed dogs (those little toothed feet that feed the fabric forward from below your presser foot) to drive the top layer through your machine at the same rate as the lower layer. Another option is a Teflon-coated foot, which will slide easily over the leather’s rough surface. In a pinch and lacking either a walking or Teflon foot? Place a piece of cellophane tape over the bottom of the presser foot, so the non-stick surface of the tape will be against the leather. Presto! An instant non-stick foot.
• Stay sharp: You should always change your sewing machine needle regularly (a good rule of thumb is ‘new project, new needle’), but it’s even more crucial when working with leather. Leather needles, unlike other types, are designed to punch lasting holes through the material to draw the thread through. They’re very sharp and robust, but because they’re so pointed (and leather is so tough), make sure to replace them as they dull, and immediately replace any needle that appears bent or warped.
• Take it easy: You can’t be in a hurry when you’re working with leather. Remember that it takes a lot of force to drive the needle through, especially if you’re working with heavy-duty materials, and going too quickly will dull your needles faster than necessary. At times, you may even need to use the hand wheel on your machine to get started or work through tricky areas. Remember, needle marks can’t be removed from leather, so it pays to get it right the first time!
In sharp contrast to leather, sheer fabrics like chiffon, georgette, voile, organdy, and organza are tricky to work with because they’re so soft and delicate. They tend to fray and can easily be ripped with rough handling. Once again, though, there are a few simple tricks to mastering these beautifully delicate materials:
Start with a stable foundation: Remember the lessons of leather:
• Start with a stable foundation: For everything from creating tiny rolled hems to setting a simple seam, it can be helpful to provide a bit of extra support for flimsy fabrics. At the beginning and ends of seams, the needle can often drag the edge of the fabric down into the mechanism of your machine, which is, at the very least, annoying, and can cause serious problems. Avoid this by simply placing a piece of tissue paper beneath your seam. The paper backing easily pulls away once you’ve finished your seam, and provides the extra support you need to create consistent seams.
• Remember the lessons of leather: It might seem counter-intuitive to apply the same kinds of techniques you used for leather to sheer fabrics like chiffon, but they can be just as effective! Just as with leather, needle marks are all but impossible to remove from sheer fabrics, so make sure you’re using a new, sharp needle for your project. Because sheers are slippery and often want to slide around on your sewing table, make sure your presser foot can handle a bit of readjustment as you go; a Teflon foot or a walking foot is just as useful with sheer fabric as it is with leather.
All too often, sewists think they can’t handle knits without a serger or overlock machine. While there’s no denying these devices come in handy when working with knits and other stretch fabrics, you don’t need one to get started. Just keep these simple tips in mind:
Just be blunt: Table the motion:
• Just be blunt: Unlike with sheers and leather, when working with knit fabrics, you want to use a blunt-tipped needle, often known as a ballpoint or jersey needle. These push aside the loops of thread that make up knit materials without snagging them as pointed needles might.
• Table the motion: Make sure when you’re working with knit fabric that there’s enough room on your sewing table that your entire project is supported. Letting it spill off the back of the table wouldn’t be a problem for woven fabrics, but it can cause stretching in knits that lead to puckered seams. This will also help you keep a steady, even feed through your machine that will help minimise stretching; once again, a walking foot comes in handy for jobs like this as well!
Though there are innumerable tips for working with tricky fabrics, one of the best ways to learn is by doing! Save up small scraps of different fabrics, or pick up inexpensive remnants to try out different techniques. With just a little practise, you’ll soon have mastered even the most difficult materials.