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Sewing Delicate, fragile fabrics : 10 tricks to success

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Sagging, stretching, fraying, puckering – just some of the problems you face when sewing with fragile, delicate, loosely woven but beautiful fabrics. Looking at them is a delight, but sewing, not so. Soft thin see-through fabrics, fragile fabrics made of delicate novelty yarn, handwoven fabrics with a loose structure are all included in this term “delicate fabric”.

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1. Choose the right pattern

Choose a pattern with fewer seams than you would choose for a normal fabric. Because the more seams you sew, the more you damage the fabric.

The pattern should not be for a very tight-fitting garment. Tight-fitting garments will strain the seams and the fabric may start to fray, especially if it is not lined. The seams may start to look puckered/frayed. Pants, tightfitting jackets are not the right garment choices for these fabrics. Loose fitting clothes are.

When the seam line start to fray in these fine fabrics it can be heartbreaking. You can underline the garment to make the fabric stronger and more able to handle seam pressure. Or use seam tape. Learn more about the different tapes used in sewing.

If you see that your pattern calls for rolled edges this is another problem. The pressure of the rolled edging may fray the fabric. You can choose to hand stitch the rolled edge with hand sewn ship stitches – but this may take a long time incase the edge is a long one. Never pull the fabric as you use the rolled hemmer foot.

Related post : Hand sewn overcast stitch.

2. Handle with care

After you cut the fabric, and sew it, your delicate fabric can look a lot different than it was before you did all that. If you are not careful you may even ruin the whole fabric. So at all steps of handling it, take utmost care.

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3 Cut fabric carefully

Cut fabric as a single layer, especially those fabrics which look thick but are made of delicate yarns. You may want to edge stitch (stay stitch) the pattern edges to ensure that the edges do not fray or come apart.

Use a very sharp cutting tools. If your scissors is not sharp enough, sharpen them.

Relatd post : How to sharpen scissors.

4. Do not forget to stabilize

You will want to stabilize the whole pattern pieces. Lining, underlining etc works very well with these fabrics.

You can cut underlining for each of the pattern pieces and this will support your delicate fabric like anything.

But sometimes you do not want to underline as underlining can change the drape, color, and feel of the fabric. Then you can just stabilize the cut edges of the pattern pieces. Use a fusible stay tape for this.

You can use a thin lightweight knit sew-in interfacing to underline your delicate fabric – this will almost retain the drape of the main fabric.

Fusible interfacing will change the feel of the fabric. Heat and pressure needed to fuse the fusible interfacing also can be damaging

Related posts: Choosing interfacing. ; How to apply fusible interfacing

5. Be careful in pressing

Sewing is said in the same breath as pressing. Usually the rule is “You press as you sew”. Facings, collars, cuffs, may need to be interfaced (fused) with fusible interfacing for them to look good.

But when you press thin delicate fabrics, the fibers may be damaged, if wrongly done. Use press cloth and use the correct temperature.

6. Use correct stitch length 

There is no hard and fast rule as to what constitutes the correct stitch length for delicate material. You have to test this. Do not make the seam length too long or too short. Too short means the needle pierces the fabric that many times more, and this can strain the material.

You can test this on a test fabric piece before trying it on your main fabric.

You can use a narrow fusible stay tape on the seam stitching line to prevent damage there.

7. Use a new needle

Change the needle to a new sharp one for every new project with delicate fabrics – this will ensure that there is no snagging of thread.

And do not forget to hold the top thread and the bobbin thread as you sew to the back of the needle and start stitching extra carefully to ensure that you have a good start.

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8. Use a walking foot

Irony is that the same walking foot that you use to sew thick fabrics is used to sew thin delicate fabrics too. This is for getting an even feed. More on walking foot here.

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9. Handstitch whenever possible

Handstitching means delicate handling. You handstitch the hems of delicate fabrics so that the fabric is handled carefully. Check out the invisible stitches you can use here.

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10. Finish the inner fabric edges neatly

Fabric edges of delicate fabrics are difficult to finish – the usual fabric edge finishes may cause the cloth to stretch out of shape.

For thin delicate fragile loosely woven fabrics, the best is to use a mock french seam. This involves sewing the seam as usual (with 1/2 inch seam allowance)

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and then trim one seam allowance to 1/8 inch and turning the other seam allowance over the trimmed one

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and sew this in place with a zig zag stitch-You will be making this stitch just outside of your seam line.

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This will neatly finish the seam allowance without any bulk or any fraying of cut edges.  

You can also bind the edges with a Hong Kong finish using fabric strips or bias tape or go the whole way for a french seam. Check out the post on sewing a french seam.

Related posts : Sewing tips for satin fabrics; Sewing tips for rayon fabrics; Tips to prevent puckering while sewing;  Learning the basics of sewing clothes

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Author: Sarina Tariq
Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.
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