There’s a whole world beyond cotton, silk and the other fabrics you tend to reach for when starting a sewing project. Specialty fabrics like nylon, burlap and oil cloth can produce fun results but may be a bit challenging to work with. Read on for some specialty fabric tips!
Specialty fabric may be harder to find. Don’t count on finding it at your local big box craft store (though you might be pleasantly surprised, as well). Plan in advance so you’ll have time to place an order online or visit an independent fabric store.
Take care when ironing.
This is one of the most important specialty fabric tips because most specialty fabrics are synthetic and require a low heat setting if they will tolerate an iron at all. Always check the care instructions on the end of the bolt before you ruin your project before you even begin! If ironing isn’t an option for your fabric, try laying it out flat in a warm room for several hours to work out the wrinkles.
Always use the proper needle.
Double-check that your machine is set up with the right size needle. Fabrics like tulle will require a small needle, but if you’re working with a quilted heat-resistant fabric, you’re going to need a stronger needle.
Use sharp scissors.
While it’s always a good idea to keep your scissors and rotary cutter in top working order, it’s doubly important when working with fabric that slips or frays easily. Sharp scissors or a new rotary blade will make the cutting process go a lot smoother.
If you’re dealing with a fabric that frays like crazy (burlap is notorious for this), you might want to treat the edges with a liquid seam sealant like Fray Check.
Treat the raw edges so that fabric is more manageable to work with; just keep it mind that while sealants like Fray Check dry clear, it will still look like the fabric has been treated, so keep it on edges that won’t show when the project is finished.
If your fabric has a nap or pile to it, double check your pattern pieces before cutting to make sure the nap or pile will be going in the same direction for the whole garment.
Otherwise, you will end up with pieces that have a slightly different shade, due to the light hitting the nap or pile differently.
Depending on your sewing machine, there are likely a huge number of specialty presser feet available. While your standard presser foot can sew pretty much anything, you might find that a specialty foot, such as a walking foot (particularly helpful with slippery fabrics) makes the sewing process a lot easier. A Teflon foot is another good presser foot option to have on hand, especially if you are working with oil cloth.
Pinking shears are always a good option for finishing seams, especially when you are working with a bulky or slippery fabric.
For more tips on sewing with tricky fabrics check out Linda Lee’s Craftsy class Sewing with Silks.