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Learning to Sew with Slippery Fabrics

Quilting weight cottons are such a fantastic place to start out dressmaking, and I still get sucked in by the gorgeous array of prints that they come in. But fairly quickly you start to see what else is out there and that sticking to this type of fabric can actually become kind of restrictive.

My absolute favourite fabric to work with at the moment is viscose/rayon and jersey. They are so wearable and work great as part of an everyday wardrobe.

But it’s great to start experimenting with tricker fabrics in order to broaden your horizons.

Part of what I want to achieve with SewHayleyJane is to encourage you, and if I’m honest, myself, to start having a go with fabrics you might steer clear of when you go fabric shopping and to hopefully discover something new that you love.

I’m going to tell you a secret, I have never sewn with a fabric as slippery as the georgette that I sent in April’s Classic and Mini boxes so I’m right there, learning along with you.

I have been browsing the internet for tips and tricks and have put together a little round up for you to use to get you started. But the most important thing to remember is that we’re learning something new and if it doesn’t go right the first time that’s ok, it’s a journey.

I do have one tip of my own to start us off, and that is if you are brand new to sewing with a slippery fabric, to choose a simple pattern to start with. Something like a simple cami top or vest that has minimal seams and no fiddly closures like buttonholes or zips. The Sorbetto Top by Colette might be a good place to start, and even better it’s free! I was tempted to try a dress but I’m going to stick to the KISS rule… ‘keep it simple, stupid’ and have instead chosen to make the ‘Simple T-Shirt’ from The Great British Sewing Bee’s Sew Your Own Wardrobe book.

  1. Prepping your fabric

    We all know that we need to pre-wash our fabric to take care of any shrinkage that may occur. I stuck my georgette into the washing machine on a gentle cycle which was completely fine and then I hung it out to dry on the washing line outside. This fabric is dry in a matter of seconds by the way.

    When you are ready to start using your fabric hang it up on a clothes rail and give it a spritz with spray starch which will stiffen the fabric and make it easier to handle when you come to cutting out. Test on a little corner first.

  2. Cutting your fabric

    If you have a rotary cutter and self healing cutting mat they are going to be the best tools to use with slippery fabrics. Creative Grids have some great starter packs that include the mat, rotary cutter and ruler.

    Using scissors will lift up the fabric underneath causing it to distort so it’s best to weigh down your pattern pieces with anything you have to hand to make the process easier.

    Now I don’t have one of those massive, table sized, cutting mats, which means I will be doing all my cutting in small chunks. If you have a space where you can lay down your fabric and place all your pattern pieces on top you’ll be able to see where you can roughly cut your fabric into smaller pieces. Not only will this make it much more manageable, it also reduces the risk of all the fabric you’re not currently cutting sliding off the table and distorting the piece you’ve just started cutting.

    Remember though, you need to keep your grainline straight so cut your fabric so that you still have selvedges to work with and in order to help keep them nice and straight you could pin them together or even tape them down using masking tape.

    If you do want to use fabric scissors The Thrifty Stitcher recommends layering your fabric between two pieces of tissue paper, which stabilises the fabric and cutting it out as one.

    If you have smaller pieces to cut out like neckline facings they will likely need interfacing. This can be really tricky to do with small pieces of slippery fabric so a good idea is to cut out enough fabric for those pieces and interface the fabric first, making sure to test out your iron on a scrap before you do so. Use a pressing cloth between the iron and the interfacing to stop it getting stuck to the iron!

  3. Sewing your fabric

    First up, make yourself a cup of tea in celebration that we’ve got this far.

    Now we’re going to start pinning the fabric pieces together. Use all of the pins! Lots and lots of pins to keep those edges together. It’s also a good idea to hand baste some of the seams including darts and pleats before you use the sewing machine.

    Talking of the sewing machine, now is a good time to put in a brand new shiny needle. Anything a size 70 or smaller should be fine. Test out on a scrap piece of fabric to make sure the needle and machine tension are in the right place.

    Once you have your fabric pinned together and ready to sew, find a piece of tissue paper and pin it under the first couple of inches of fabric, leaving another two inches on which you will start sewing. This will stop the fabric from being swallowed up by the machine. You can just tear it away afterwards

  4. Finishing your seams
    Slippery fabrics like to fray, a lot! So it’s really important to finish your seams well to extend the life of your garment. I personally would steer clear of the overlocker in this case and instead would use french seams to neatly encase the raw edges of the fabric, plus it makes the inside of your garment look just as beautiful as the outside.

    When pressing your seams flat, make sure to test out your iron first to make sure the temperature is right and to check that it won’t leave any water marks. If you’re worried use a pressing cloth/tea towel between the fabric and the iron.

So there you have a few, what I hope are, helpful tips for using that beautiful fabric. Take your time with it, don’t be scared and keep yourself in good supply of tea!

Now I had hoped to have a finished garment to show you, but… Although the sewing of the slippery fabric has gone very well indeed and I feel very comfortable using it again in the future, the pattern tells you to finish the neck, armholes and hem with bias binding. I even successfully made my own bias binding and was feeling pretty smug about it until it came to sewing it on.

I’ve done the neck and one armhole before I decided it was time to put it down and come back to it another time. For some reason it’s just not working for me. I think part of the problem might be that I need to wash out the spray starch, but there’s no way I’m putting this top in the washing machine until all the edges are finished.

Have you tried working with slippery fabrics yet? Do you have any other tips to add?