What Is Polyester Made Of And How Easy Is It To Work With?

what is polyester

When some people hear the word polyester, they think of scratchy synthetic clothes in garish colors. But there are a lot of different types of polyester, with a wide range of textures and thicknesses. You’ll find polyester by itself, blended with other fibers, and even disguised as more expensive materials like silk.

What is it, and what is polyester made of? The history and processes behind this ubiquitous fabric are quite interesting. So come along and learn where polyester came from and where you’ll find it today.

What is Polyester Made From?

polyester fabric

Polyester is an umbrella term that describes a wide range of synthetic and semi-synthetic materials. Most commonly, the term “polyester” refers to a compound called polyethylene terephthalate (PET). However, different polyesters may contain one or more synthetic or naturally derived ingredients, including plant cutin. [1]

Is polyester plastic, then? Yes, it is. But it’s so much more than that.

You may recognize some specific fabrics which fall into the polyester category, such as:

  • Dacron
  • Mylar
  • Terylene
  • Terycot
  • Terywool
  • PET

Although for many of us, the word brings fabrics to mind, there are different polyesters for a variety of uses. Mylar, the shiny film you might recognize from thermal blankets and foil balloons, is a polyester. PET plastics are another everyday polyester used widely for beverage bottles. And PETF (PET film) is common in packaging and other applications.

How is Polyester Made?

Where does polyester come from?

The four main ingredients of polyester material are coal, air, water, and petroleum. Long, strong polyester molecules are formed by a chemical reaction between an acid and an alcohol. 

Like rayon, polyester fabric fibers are extruded. That is, once the chemical reaction forms long molecules, the mixture is pushed out into a long ribbon. The ribbon is then dried and cut into chips. The chips are mixed and melted down, then subjected to a spinneret to form fibers.

After that, the fibers may go through additional processes. 

They may be calendered, for example. Calendering means using high pressure rollers to press fibers at high heat. This makes fibers stronger and smoother.

Polyester fibers may also undergo singeing. This makes them more pill-resistant and improves the texture.

At this point, a manufacturer may also treat the fibers to make them more resistant to stains or water.

Once treated, manufacturers can knit or weave the fibers into fabric. The fabric may consist of polyester fibers alone, or it may have a mixture of fibers. Polyester fibers add stretch, durability, and wrinkle-resistance to natural fibers like cotton.

You can even recycle some polyester products to make other polyester products, like in the video below.

When Was Polyester Invented?

Research into synthetic fibers goes back to the 1920s, and led to the first synthetic fabrics, which included nylon. This research was largely the work of W.H. Carothers, who was working for DuPont at the time. 

Meanwhile, in Britain, the International General Electric Company patented polyester. 

Chemists John Rex Whinfield and James Tennant Dixon at Imperial Chemical Industries later expanded on Carothers’ research. Their work would produce PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) in 1941, as well as the first polyester fabric, Terylene.

In 1946, DuPont purchased the legal rights to these materials from Imperial Chemical Industries.

A bit later, in 1950, DuPont produced Dacron. Dacron is a polyester fiber that incorporates the technology used to make nylon. Dupont subsequently produced Mylar, PET film, and other related products.

After that, the number and varieties of polyester materials exploded. Today you can find polyesters in hundreds of different applications, from garments to housewares and furnishings, to industrial applications that may surprise you.

The Difference Between Nylon and Polyester

Nylon and polyester are similar in a lot of ways. They’re both petroleum-based synthetic fabrics. Both are easy to wash, quick to dry, and resist both UV rays and mildew. You’ll find both in a variety of clothing, housewares, and furnishings. The two fabrics also have a wide range of industrial applications. [2]

Chemically, the difference is subtle. Polyester is a polymer. That is, it’s a chemical compound that consists of large molecules made up of smaller molecules of the same type. Nylon is a polyamide. A polyamide is one type of synthetic polymer that has molecules connected by amide bonds. [3, 4, 5]

But what are the differences that matter most to the consumer? In general, you’ll find that:

  • Nylon is stronger and more durable than polyester
  • Nylon is also more weather resistant
  • Polyester is heavier than nylon
  • Polyester is less expensive than nylon

Also, although both materials have a negative environmental impact, they each have an upside. Nylon is made from the by-products of oil refining. As for polyester, it can be recycled to make other polyester products.

Are There Different Types of Polyester Fabric?

polyester sweater

You might think there are a lot of different types, given polyester’s multitudinous forms and uses. However, all of the different varieties of polyester fabric fall into two categories: PET and PCDT.

PET Polyester

PET polyester materials are made from polyethylene terephthalate. The main ingredient of PET polyester is ethylene from petroleum. Catalysts turn the ethylene into a polymer. The polymer is then extruded and dried. The dried PET ribbon is then cut into very small pieces, blended, and spun into yarn.

PET polyester is the most widely used polyester. You no doubt know the term from beverage bottles and food containers. However, PET fabric is also widely used in garment construction.

PCDT Polyester

PCDT polyester and PET polyester both result from a similar process. The difference is in the molecule. PCDT polyester is made by combining terephthalic acid with 1,4-cyclohexane-dimethanol.

Polyester Yarns

Both PET and PCDT polyester fibers can be spun into yarn. Polyester yarns can have a variety of different diameters and staple lengths. The differences in processing at this point account for the many, many weights and textures of different polyester fabrics. [6]

PET Filament Yarns

PET fibers can be spun into either monofilament or multifilament yarn. Both types have different subtypes with different properties. 

High-tenacity PET filament yarn appears in machine belts, ropes, nets, and other industrial applications.

Regular-tenacity semi-dull PET filament yarn is common in garments, including blouses, dresses, and lingerie.

Regular-tenacity bright PET filament yarn, on the other hand, appears in sheer, lightweight fabric like tulle, voile, and organdy.

Textured Yarns

PET multifilament yarns can be processed further to give them a variety of textures.

PET or PCDT Spun Yarns

Cut or staple (short fiber) PET and PCDT fibers can be spun to make yarn. These fibers may have different levels of tenacity (regular, mid, or high) and different levels of luster (bright, semi-dull, and dull).

These yarns may be spun alone. They are also commonly blended with other fibers such as cotton, rayon, and wool, before spinning.

What is Polyester Used For?

An easier question might be what isn’t it used for? Here is a long and incomplete list of where you might find different types of polyester.

Polyester Fabric Uses

  • Clothing
  • Lingerie
  • Linens and Housewares
  • Carpeting
  • Curtains
  • Upholstery
  • Handbags and Luggage
  • Outerwear
  • Tents and sleeping bags

Polyester Film Uses

  • Packaging
  • Audio and videotape
  • Metal can lamination

Other Uses for Polyester Materials

  • Beverage bottles
  • Food storage
  • Industrial belts
  • Synthetic artery replacements
  • Filters
  • Rope
  • Microwave susceptors

What is Polyester Like?

polyester care label

That’s a very broad question. Let’s narrow it down to polyester fabric, shall we? Love it or hate it, polyester fabric has some very unique characteristics.

Is Polyester Stretchy?

Yes.

Polyester’s unique chemical properties make it naturally stretchy. This is what makes polyester clothing so figure-forgiving and comfortable. Different polyester blends, however, may have a bit less stretch.

In general, polyester fabric snaps right back into place after stretching. If this isn’t the quality you’re looking for with your project, try a blend of polyester and a natural fiber, like cotton. A blended fabric will have some stretch, but not quite as much as 100 percent polyester.

Is Polyester Soft?

Again, this depends. 100 percent polyester can be scratchy. However, some treatments produce a soft, silky texture. Also, when blended with other fibers, polyester can be softer.

Is Polyester Waterproof?

Yes and no. Polyester fibers are waterproof. In fact, they repel moisture. But the gaps between fibers in a polyester fabric may let water in. The good news is, though, that because the fibers repel water, polyester fabric dries very quickly.

Does Polyester Shrink?

Generally no. Polyester is a shrink-resistant, wrinkle-resistant fabric. For this reason, polyester fibers are often combined with fibers that shrink and wrinkle easily, like cotton and wool.

Is Polyester Breathable?

Again, generally no. Being a synthetic, petroleum-based material, polyester fibers don’t allow air to pass through them. However, a loosely woven polyester fabric may allow for some air flow.

What Does Polyester Feel Like?

This depends on several things: the type of yarn with which the fabric was created, any processing that the fibers have undergone, and whether the polyester fibers have been blended with other types of fibers.

100 percent polyester has a scratchy, plasticky feel to it. It’s also very stretchy, and not very breathable. Polyester blends may have softer, smoother textures.

Why Has Polyester Become So Popular?

Polyester is everywhere — and for good reason? Why, you might ask. Let us tell you.

Versatile

Is there any other single material that can comprise your gym bottle, the uppers of your athletic shoes, the carpet beneath your workout equipment, and the clothing on your body? Polyesters are incredibly versatile. It would be fair to say that life as we know it would hardly be the same without the different types of polyester.

Shrink Resistant

Polyester fabric is incredibly shrink resistant. Although high heat can melt 100 percent polyester, it’s safe to throw it into the washing machine. Its shrink resistance is one of the main reasons cotton/polyester blends are so popular for t-shirts and other garments.

Wrinkle Resistant

One of the reasons polyester clothing is so popular is that you don’t have to iron it. That saves both time and effort.

Abrasion Resistant

Polyester fabric resists damage caused by abrasion. Special treatments can also make it resist pilling.

Resilient

Not only does polyester hold its shape, but if you stretch it, it will snap back into that shape immediately.

Easy to Wash and Dry

There are fewer fabrics more easy to care for than stain-resistant, wrinkle-resistant, machine washable, quick-drying polyester.

Moisture Wicking

Polyester fabric isn’t waterproof, but it’s not absorbent, either. It will wick moisture from the skin and dissipate it outside of your garment.

Insulating

Although polyester isn’t particularly breathable, it can provide an excellent barrier against wind, and traps heat next to your skin. This makes it an excellent material for windbreakers and outerwear.

How Easy Is Polyester to Work With?

Once again, this depends upon how the fibers have been treated, spun, and blended. Do you want to know how to sew polyester? Then there are a few tips and tricks that you’ll need to know. 

Pre-Treat Your Polyester

Wash your polyester in cold water and press it with low heat before laying out your pattern. Pre-treating your fabric in this way will remove any excess coatings or dyes that might interfere with your sewing.

Layout is Important

It’s important to pay attention to the direction of your fabric’s stretch when laying out your pattern pieces. Make sure your pattern is designed for stretch fabrics. Follow the pattern directions when it comes to layout and cutting. 

The Right Thread

Always match synthetic fabrics with synthetic thread. Polyester thread will stretch with your polyester fabric. This will prevent both puckering and thread breakage.

The Right Needle

For any project, start with a new needle. Also, use a ballpoint needle labeled for stretch fabrics, and match the weight rating of your needle to the weight of your fabric. Check out our article on needle selection for more information.

The Right Stitch

For sewing polyester, use a zigzag or stretch stitch. For best results, use a stitch length of between 0.5 millimeters to 1.5 millimeters (0.020 inches to 0.059 inches).

Stabilize if Necessary

Polyester fabric, particularly polyester satin, can be slippery. Sew a test swatch. If your polyester slips and slides around beneath the needle, you may want to pin it to tissue paper in order to stabilize it.

Are There Downsides to Polyester?

The most significant downsides of polyester are environmental. Polyester is a petroleum product. As such, it relies on the production of fossil fuels. Also, although polyester is recyclable, it’s not biodegradable. This means that our polyester products will be with us for a very, very long time.

Fossil Fuel Derived

Two of polyester’s main ingredients are coal and petroleum. In fact, polyester can consist of up to 60 percent petroleum. Why is this a problem? [7]

First, the extraction of fossil fuels like coal and petroleum is highly polluting. Extraction releases the greenhouse gas methane, which is 20 times more destructive than CO2. In addition, oil spills pollute both land and water. Fossil fuel extraction also disrupts wildlife and leads to biodiversity loss. [8]

Pollution

The production of polyester requires the use of heavy chemicals. In polyester-producing countries with lax environmental laws, these chemicals are often discharged into the environment, polluting air, land, and water.

On top of that, washing polyester releases microfibers into wastewater. The wastewater then makes its way into lakes, oceans, and rivers, where it devastates plant and animal life. These microfibers comprise more than one third of the ocean’s plastic pollution. [9]

Is Polyester Biodegradable?

No. However, polyester products can easily be recycled into other polyester products.

Is Polyester Toxic?

Many of the chemicals used to produce polyester are toxic. Polyester fibers and the processes that lead to them are definitely toxic to the environment. 

While it goes without saying that you probably shouldn’t eat it, there’s little evidence that wearing polyester will harm you.

polyester yarn on weaving machine

Natural Alternatives to Polyester

The good news is, there are natural alternatives to polyester. The bad news is, they’re often more expensive. And, quite frankly, some fabrics are less fit for certain purposes.

Cotton

When it comes to polyester vs. cotton, there are a few similarities:

  • Cotton and polyester are both durable
  • Both cotton and polyester are hypoallergenic
  • Polyester and cotton are both recyclable
  • Both fabrics are moisture wicking

But there are also some significant differences when it comes to cotton vs. polyester:

  • Cotton is natural, while polyester is synthetic
  • Polyester is insulating; cotton is breathable
  • Cotton is absorbent; polyester repels moisture
  • Polyester is stretchy; cotton is not
  • Cotton wrinkles easily; polyester is wrinkle resistant
  • Polyester is more resilient than cotton
  • Cotton shrinks easily, while polyester is shrink resistant
  • Polyester is not biodegradable; cotton is
  • Cotton is less weather resistant than polyester

Manufacturers love to pair these two fabrics. This is because they’re very different. At the same time, when blended, polyester and cotton provide some of the best qualities of both.

Linen

Linen is a fabric woven from flax fibers. It’s one of the oldest fabrics, and has been traced back to hunter-gatherer times. [10]

Linen is durable and thick, so, like polyester, it’s suitable for a variety of clothing and housewares applications. It’s also breathable and excellent for hot weather use. It’s also absorbent, heat-conducting, quick-drying and hypoallergenic like polyester.

At the same time, linen can be quite expensive. It’s also very prone to wrinkling, staining, and shrinking. And linen has no natural stretch, which may or may not be an advantage, depending on your project.

Silk

Some polyester fabrics are marketed as silk alternatives. Silk, therefore, is another natural alternative to polyester. For lingerie, blouses, and bedding, you can’t get much more luxurious than silk.

The downside, however, is that silk can be prohibitively expensive. It’s also generally not machine washable like polyester. Silk is also delicate and very vulnerable to wrinkling.

Polyester vs. Lyocell

You might see Lyocell marketed as a natural alternative to polyester. It is and it isn’t.

Lyocell is a type of rayon that’s derived from wood cellulose. It’s not a natural fabric, though. Technically it’s a semi-synthetic. That is, it’s derived from a natural product, but undergoes heavy chemical processing in order to produce its fibers. 

Some of the advantages of Lyocell include:

  • It’s naturally biodegradable
  • The cellulose comes from trees farmed without pesticides or irrigation
  • The solvents used in production are recycled
  • Production uses less water and energy than polyester production

Lyocell can be slightly more expensive than polyester, but it’s definitely less expensive than linen and silk. [11]

Polyester: Love It or Hate It?

Polyester is one of the most versatile and widely used materials today. In addition to its ubiquity in clothing manufacture, you’ll find polyester in medical supplies, electronics, and numerous machine and industrial applications.

Polyester fabric is easy to care for and relatively easy to sew. When combined with other fibers, such as cotton and wool, polyester adds strength, stretch, and wrinkle resistance.

At the same time, polyester production is resource-intensive and highly polluting. It depends upon fossil fuel extraction for its core ingredients. On top of that, it’s a prodigious source of plastic pollution.

Do polyester’s uses and benefits outweigh the environmental devastation to which it contributes? This is a question every sewist must answer for themselves.

how to sew polyester

REFERENCES

  1. Biology Online | Cutin | https://www.biologyonline.com/dictionary/cutin
  2. Diffen Authors | Nylon vs. Polyester | https://www.diffen.com/difference/Nylon_vs_Polyester
  3. Alina Bradford | What Is a Polymer? | https://www.livescience.com/60682-polymers.html
  4. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica | Polyamide | https://www.britannica.com/science/polyamide
  5. Collins Dictionary | Amide | https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/amide
  6. Rilon | What Is the Difference Between Filament and Staple Fibers? | https://rilonfibers.com/blog/difference-between-filament-and-staple-fibers
  7. Sarah Young | The real cost of your clothes: These are the fabrics with the best and worst environmental impact | https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/fashion/fabrics-environment-fast-fashion-eco-friendly-pollution-waste-polyester-cotton-fur-recycle-a8963921.html
  8. ResearchGate | Which is more potent on Global Warming, CO2 or CH4? Why do we relate Global Warming to CO2? | https://www.researchgate.net/post/Which_is_more_potent_on_Global_Warming_CO2_or_CH4_Why_do_we_relate_Global_Warming_to_CO2
  9. Ocean Clean Wash | What are microfibers? |https://www.oceancleanwash.org/the-issue/
  10. Kvavadze, Eliso, Ofer Bar-Yosef, Anna Belfer-Cohen, Elisabetta Boaretto, Nino Jakeli, Zinovi Matskevich, and Tengiz Meshveliani | 30,000 Years old wild flax fibers – Testimony for fabricating prehistoric linen | https://dash.harvard.edu/handle/1/4270521
  11. Lyocell | The lyocell, An Environmentally Sustainable Fiber | https://lyocell.info/

What Is Satin Made Of And How Easy Is It To Work With?

what is satin

We know satin by its sheen. It’s a fancy, flamboyant fabric that’s a favorite for costumes and formal wear. But what is satin made of? What gives it its unique appearance? Is it easy to work with? Grab your measuring tape. We’re going to tell you all about it.

What is Satin Made Of?

woman in satin dress

Fabric naming conventions can be frustrating. Some fabrics, like cotton, take their names from the fibers used to create them. Others, like viscose, are named for a process. Linen and twill are named for the way their fibers are arranged during weaving. And satin? What is satin fabric?

Satin, like linen and twill, is a type of weave. Satin weave is one of the fundamental weave types. Satin weave means an alternating pattern of four or more weft yarns over one warp yarn, followed by one weft yarn floating over four or more warp yarns. It looks like this:

Satin_weave_in_silk

This pattern produces satin’s unmistakable appearance: one side that’s very smooth and shiny, and the other side, which is dull.

There are different variations on the satin weave pattern, including four-harness, five-harness, and eight-harness satin. These refer to the number of fill (or weft) yarns that float over the warp: four, five, and eight, respectively.

You can weave just about any fiber using the satin weave pattern. However, it’s only true satin if those fibers are continuous filament fibers, such as silk, polyester, or nylon. 

Some consider only silk satin to be “true” satin. However, you’ll find fabrics labeled as satin that are made from other continuous filament fibers, as well.

Characteristics of Satin

teal satin

The first thing that may come to your mind is that satin is shiny. But there’s more to it than that. 

Drape

Satin’s unique weave means that it drapes beautifully, skimming the body in all the right ways. This is why it’s a favorite for bridal dresses, prom dresses, and other formal gowns.

Structure

Some types of fabric have a gorgeous drape, but don’t hold a shape well. As a result, they’re not appropriate for structured garments. Satin, on the other hand, is the best of both worlds. It can be used for both flowing and structured parts of garments.

Durable

Satin may be beautiful, but its tight weave and long filaments also make it tough.

Wrinkle-Resistant

Thicker satin fabrics are quite wrinkle resistant. Even lighter satins are less prone to wrinkling than some other fabrics.

Prone to Snagging

Unfortunately the weave type makes satin prone to snagging. Threads can get caught easily, and once a snag happens, it can ruin the entire garment.

Challenging to Work With

Because satin is so slippery, sewing satin can be very difficult indeed.

What’s the Difference Between Satin and Sateen?

So, if continuous filament fibers woven in the satin pattern make satin, what do you call satin-weave fabric made from other fibers?

We’re glad you asked that.

Short staple spun fibers like cotton, when woven in the satin pattern, produce a slightly different fabric called sateen. The weave gives sateen the same characteristics: smooth and shiny on one side and dull on the other. But the fiber length and content makes the final fabric slightly different. [1]

Manufacturers may process sateen fabric in different ways to make it resemble satin more closely. They may mercerize it, for example, bathing it in a caustic substance to increase sheen and strength. They may also calender the fabric. Calendering means pressing the fabric between high-pressure rollers at a high temperature. [2, 3]

Satin vs. Sateen

Satin and sateen may look similar, and may involve similar processes, but there are a few important differences.

  • Satin’s fiber content often makes it more expensive than sateen.
  • Satin tends to be shinier than sateen.
  • Sateen, being made most often from cotton, is more breathable than satin.
  • Sateen is machine washable; satin is not.
  • Sateen can be more easily bleached, printed, and dyed.
  • Sateen is also generally easier to work with.

Silk vs. Satin

What is the difference between silk and satin?

Silk and satin are both luxury fabrics. They’re both soft to the touch, and both can be pricey. But there are some important differences.

First and most importantly, silk is a fiber spun by silkworms, to form their cocoons. Satin, as you now know, is a weave type

Silk fibers can be woven using the satin weave. In fact, many purists will only recognize satin woven from silk fibers as actual satin. But for most of us, the definition of satin also includes other fabrics woven from continuous filament fibers. And, of course, silk fibers can be woven into different fabrics, using a variety of weave types.

Are There Different Types of Satin?

satin pink

Absolutely. Let’s break it down.

By Fiber Content

As we said, most people define satin fabric as fabric made from continuous filament fibers such as silk, polyester, and nylon, woven using a satin weave technique. You might also encounter these terms.

Baronet Satin

Baronet satin is an extremely lustrous and luxurious type of satin. It uses rayon filaments for its warp threads, and cotton fibers for its weft threads.

Polysatin

Polysatin is another name for satin woven from polyester filaments.

By Weave Type

As we mentioned, there are different types of satin weave.

Four-harness satin weave is made by floating four weft threads over a single warp thread, as in this illustration.

Five-harness satin weave floats five weft threads over a single warp thread.

Eight-harness satin weave, as you might guess, has eight weft threads floating over the warp thread.

By Weight

Some varieties of satin distinguish themselves by their weight.

Charmeuse Satin

Charmeuse satin is extremely lightweight. It’s a favorite for lingerie and blouses. Generally charmeuse is made from silk or polyester fibers. The weave is also slightly different. Instead of multiple weft fibers floating over a warp, charmeuse is woven by floating four warp fibers over a single weft fiber.

Messaline

Messaline is another lightweight satin. It’s also very, very shiny. Generally messaline is woven from rayon or silk filaments.

Slipper Satin

Slipper satin is a medium weight fabric. As the name suggests, its primary use is shoes and slippers, though you’ll also find it in clothing and accessories.

Duchess Satin

On the opposite end of the spectrum, duchess satin is a heavy, stiff fabric. It’s generally less shiny than standard satin, and comes in solid colors. 

How Easy is Satin to Sew?

red satin fabric

Yes, well, that’s the problem, isn’t it? Unfortunately, this elegant, durable, wonderfully draping fabric happens to be extremely difficult to sew. This is because the quality that we love so much — that sheen — also makes satin very, very slippery. Fortunately there are some tips and tricks that can make sewing satin a bit easier.

How to Sew Satin

It may seem daunting, but if you follow a few simple rules, it’s not that hard. You might consider making a muslin (also called a toile) — that is, a practice garment out of cheaper fabric, to work out the bugs before diving right in with your expensive satin.

Once you have the details sorted…

Mind the Grain

When laying out your pattern pieces, be super careful of the grain of your satin. It matters! Why? Because the light will hit your fabric differently, depending on how you cut it. If pieces are cut with the grain going in different directions, the color will be inconsistent across the garment, and it will ruin the garment’s appearance.

So, if you’re cutting your pieces on the bias, cut them all on the bias. If you’re cutting pieces on the straight grain, cut them all on the straight grain.

Careful With the Pins

Pins will leave large, visible holes in satin. So only pin within the seam allowance.

Stabilize

Pin tracing paper to the bottom of your fabric before you cut your pieces. This will keep your slippery satin in place while you cut. When you do cut, cut the tracing paper, too.

Mark Carefully

Mark with tailor’s chalk rather than a washable marker. Satin isn’t machine washable, remember? Also, try to avoid marking on the right side of the fabric.

Cut and Rest

Because satin likes to slide about, only cut in single layers, or you will end up with different sized pieces, no matter how careful you are. Also, use sharp scissors.

Allow your pattern pieces to “rest” into place after cutting.

A Generous Seam Allowance

Satin is prone to fraying, unfortunately. Using a wide seam allowance will allow you to trim away frayed edges. It will also help to keep your seam edges from being chewed up by your sewing machine.

Start Off on the Right Foot

A walking foot is a big help when sewing slippery fabrics. It can help your layers to stay together while moving through the machine. It can also help to reduce the chance of puckering around the stitches.

Choose the Right Needle

Selecting the right needle is essential. Use a new, very sharp needle to avoid snagging. Also, change your needle frequently.

And the Right Thread

Use natural thread when sewing with natural fibers, and synthetic thread when sewing with synthetic fabrics.

Baste

For an extra measure of protection, hand-baste your seams before sewing them. This will give you another chance to get everything just right before committing to the final sew.

Mind the Tension

Too much tension is bad for you…and for your project! But increasing and decreasing tension in the right places can increase your chances for success.

First, lower the tension of your upper thread. Next, increase the tension of the fabric itself by holding it taut as it moves through the machine.

Stitching

Speaking of stitching, use short stitches to minimize slipping and movement. Also consider stabilizing your fabric by using a soft stabilizer on the seam allowance and stitch line. Alternatively, you could use paper to stabilize the fabric, then tear it away when you’re finished.

Finish Your Seams

Remember how satin likes to fray? Finishing your seams can help. 

Pinking your edges with pinking shears can make them less vulnerable to fraying.

You could also finish with a zigzag stitch or by serging off your seam edges.

Whew! That sounds like a lot of work! It certainly can be. On the other hand, if you do it right, there’s nothing, nothing like an elegant satin item.

How to Care for Satin Fabric

For such a durable, wrinkle resistant fabric, satin needs a lot of special care. Most types are not machine washable. Satin is subject to snagging and fraying. And heat and water damage can be a huge problem.

But there are ways to keep your satin looking its best.

How to Wash Satin

First and foremostly, always follow the manufacturer’s care instructions. If the label says “dry clean only,” then to the dry cleaner that item goes.

Many types of satin are not machine washable. But if yours is, then wash it in cold water and on the delicate cycle. You can also hand wash your satin in cold water. Be sure to use a detergent that’s specially made for delicate fabrics.

Please note: by “hand washing,” we mean soaking, not scrubbing. Let your satin soak in the sudsy water for three to five minutes, then rinse with cool, clean water.

How to Dry Satin

For the love of fabric, don’t twist, wring, squeeze, or (horror!) toss it in the dryer!

Instead, use the “jelly roll” method.

First, lay down a thick, clean, dry towel. 

Next, lay your item flat on the towel.

Now, roll the towel up like a roulade.

Finally (and gently!) squeeze out the excess moisture. 

Lay it flat on another clean, dry towel to dry out.

How to Iron Satin

Ironing satin presents two concerns: water damage and heat damage.

Have you ever seen water-damaged satin? Believe me, you don’t want to. So to avoid this while ironing, do not use the steam setting.

Also, use the heat setting appropriate to the fiber content. So, for silk satin, use the silk setting. For nylon, rayon, or polyester satins, use the lower, synthetic setting.

Also, for an added measure of protection, press on the wrong side of the fabric whenever possible.

Getting Started With Satin

The term satin describes a variety of fabrics woven from continuous filament fibers, using one of the satin weave techniques. It may be a synthetic fabric or a natural fiber fabric. Fabric woven with a satin technique but made from a short-staple fiber like cotton is called sateen.

Sewing with satin (and caring for it afterward) can be a lot of work. On the other hand, if you do it right, the rewards will be more than worth it.

Do you enjoy working with satin? Do you have any impressive successes (or disasters!) that you’d like to share with our readers? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

how to sew satin fabric

REFERENCES

  1. Rilon | What Is the Difference Between Filament and Staple Fibers? | https://rilonfibers.com/blog/difference-between-filament-and-staple-fibers
  2. Various | Mercerization | https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/chemistry/mercerization
  3. Mazharul Islam Kiron | Introduction of Calendering Finishing – Working Process of Calendering Finishing | https://textilelearner.blogspot.com/2012/02/introduction-of-calendering-finishing.html

What Is Canvas Made Of And How Easy Is It To Work With?

what is canvas like to sew

Canvas is everywhere. Heavy duty canvas fabric is a traditional staple of outerwear and outdoors equipment, while lighter weight versions are popular for clothing and bags. Versatile, hard-wearing, and incredibly easy to work with, it’s no wonder canvas fabric has become part of the fabric of our lives.

What is Canvas Fabric Made of?

The name “canvas” refers to a variety of durable, heavyweight, natural woven fabrics.

Historically, canvas was made from hemp fibers. Today, you’ll find canvas made from not just hemp, but also cotton or flax fibers. Today’s manufacturers may also add a polyvinyl chloride (PVC) coating for weather proofing. You may also find waxed canvas fabric.

Canvas is a woven fabric that’s produced using a plain weave, like linen, which is portrayed in the image below:

thread crossing pattern plain weave fabric

There are numerous variations on the arrangement of fibers within the weave. These variations affect the weight and refinement of different canvas fabrics. We’ll discuss these in greater detail below.

How is Canvas Fabric Used?

Unsurprisingly, a material that is easy to make, easy to work with, sustainable, and incredibly durable will find myriad uses. Here are just a few ways we use canvas.

Clothing

womens waxed canvas jacket

Natural, sustainable cotton canvas fabric is also breathable and weather-resistant. Although it might not be the first fabric that springs to mind when you think of clothing, it excels in certain kinds of apparel, particularly hats and outerwear.

Waxed canvas coats and jackets are the original waterproofs, and they’re a staple of country life today. Canvas shirts and trousers also make durable, comfortable, and even fashionable choices for workwear and outdoor casual wear.

Canvas is also a fashionable choice for belts, hats, and watch bands.

Shoes

keds canvas shoes

Before synthetic materials became widespread in shoe construction, canvas was the go-to alternative to leather. Because it’s so durable, you’ll still find it in use today in shoes and boots. 

Timeless Keds sneakers are made from canvas. But canvas isn’t just for delicate types of shoes. It’s rugged enough for outdoors boots, as well. 

Bags and Luggage

canvas handbag

From duffel bags to handbags to backpacks, heavy-duty canvas is an excellent choice for hauling your stuff.

Upholstery

canvas furniture

Canvas upholstery fabric is durable and fashionable. Because cotton canvas takes dye well, you’ll find it in a variety of colors and patterns. Waxed or coated outdoor canvas fabric makes an excellent choice for patio furniture.

Sports Equipment

canvas martial arts uniform

Canvas fabric, especially waterproof canvas fabric, has long been the first choice for a wide variety of sports equipment, including:

  • Punching bags
  • Martial arts uniforms
  • Canoes
  • Tents
  • Gear bags
  • Vehicle covers
  • Tarpaulins
  • Sails

And more.

Painting Surfaces

art canvas

Since the 17th century, canvas has been the favorite painting surface for painters worldwide. Today, many of us will call any stretched fabric painting surface a “canvas,” regardless of what the fabric actually is.

The Pros and Cons of Canvas

We love canvas. But that doesn’t mean it’s perfect for every application. Here are the ups and downs of it.

Advantages of Canvas

What’s so great about canvas? Here are a few things.

Durable

Canvas’s tight weave makes it incredibly hard-wearing. This, in turn, makes canvas an outstanding material for tents, bags, shoes, upholstery, and other heavy duty applications.

Easy to Work With

Sewing canvas is easy, thanks to its tight weave. The weave makes canvas fray resistant and means that it will hold its shape well.

Natural

Canvas is made from natural fibers. This means that it’s more sustainable and less polluting than synthetic alternatives.

Breathable

Canvas’s natural fiber content, along with its plain weave, makes it a breathable fabric.

Water and Wind Resistant

At the same time, canvas’s tight weave makes it naturally wind-resistant. In addition, when it gets wet, the fibers swell in order to seal the fabric against the moisture. Manufacturers can augment this natural water resistance with a variety of coatings, including wax and polyvinyl chloride.

Takes and Retains Dye Well

Canvas cotton fabric takes and retains color very well (linen canvas to a lesser degree). This means your cotton canvas items will stay looking sharp for a long time to come.

Disadvantages of Canvas

Some of the qualities that make canvas so excellent for some applications may make it unsuitable for others. 

Rough

Heavier canvas, especially double-fill duck, has a very rough texture. This texture is generally too rough for clothing applications, save for outerwear.

Heavy and Bulky

Canvas can also be very heavy and bulky. Although canvas tents, for example, provide excellent protection against the elements, they’re a lot more difficult to pack in and out. This is why synthetic tents are so much more popular.

Doesn’t Drape Well

Canvas fabric tends to be stiff. This means it holds its shape well — a bit too well to provide an attractive drape.

Prone to Shrinkage

Like many natural fiber fabrics, canvas is prone to shrinking. In fact, canvas can shrink between 10 and 15 percent.

Canvas vs. Duck: What’s the Difference?

You might hear the two words used interchangeably. There is a difference, though. Granted, that difference can be subtle.

Duck is a type of cotton canvas fabric. “Cotton duck” is an industry term. Most consumers would call it simply cotton canvas. Duck tends to be a medium weight fabric, while other types of canvas are medium to heavy weight fabrics.

There are two different kinds of duck: single fill and double fill. The distinction comes down to the thread count.

Single fill duck has one weft strand for every warp strand. This makes it finer than double fill duck. Double fill duck has two weft strands for every warp. This makes it thicker, heavier, and more textured.

Manufacturers grade duck two ways. They identify single-fill duck in terms of weight, that is, ounces per square yard. Double-fill duck is graded on a numerical scale from one to 12, with #1 being the heaviest and #12 being the lightest weight duck.

Single fill duck lends itself to lighter projects such as:

  • Table cloths
  • Seat covers
  • Outerwear
  • Uniforms

Double fill duck is useful for applications like:

  • Tarps 
  • Floor cloths
  • Tents
  • Boat covers
  • Painting surfaces

There are many different kinds of canvas duck, including:

Army Cotton Duck Cloth

This is a versatile double filled type of duck commonly used for tents and similar applications.

Belting Cotton Duck

As the name suggests, this thick variety of cotton duck is used in the manufacture of machinery belts. It’s made from plied, filled yarn. 

Hose Cotton Duck

Before synthetic materials became the most popular material for garden hoses, manufacturers used this thick, waterproof type of canvas.

Boot Cotton Duck

This tough fabric is made from plied, filled yarn. Both water resistant and pliable, it’s excellent for making the uppers of boots.

Biscuit Cotton Duck

This is an ultra-heavyweight cotton duck with a variety of uses, including curtains and upholstery.

Chafer Cotton Duck

Chafer cotton duck is a lightweight duck canvas that’s great for handbags, mattress covers, and linings.

Enameling Cotton Duck

This is a delicate duck canvas. It comes in single fill and double fill varieties. You’ll find it in a range of products, from book binding to aprons and footwear, and even some industrial applications.

Flat Cotton Duck

Flat cotton duck also comes in single and double fill varieties. Most commonly you’ll find it in paint canvases, but it has a wide variety of uses.

Shelter Tent Cotton Duck

As the name suggests, this extremely thick, durable duck appears in tent construction. Double weft and warp strands make it super tough, and an excellent choice for vehicle covers and bedrolls, too.

Paper Felt Cotton Duck

This type of duck has a very specific application: for conveyor aprons in paper-making equipment.

Press Cotton Duck

Press cotton duck is a heavyweight duck made with a loose, even weave. It’s incredibly strong, as it should be for its traditional use: straining cider in a cider press.

How Easy is Canvas to Sew? 

canvas luggage

Do you want to know how to sew canvas? Working with canvas isn’t hard…in theory. 

Canvas’s tight weave means that the fabric holds its shape well, unlike some other types of fabric (ahem, chiffon). You won’t have to use a stabilizer for cutting or sewing, either. And canvas is also delightfully fray-resistant.

However, working with a heavier fabric like canvas requires some special techniques and equipment. 

A Heavy Duty Sewing Machine

There’s a difference between a regular sewing machine and a machine designed for sewing heavy fabrics. Your everyday sewing machine will probably do just fine with single layers of lightweight canvas. However, if you’re working with thicker canvas or multiple layers, then you may need a stronger machine.

A heavy duty sewing machine has a sturdy metal internal frame. It may even have all-metal construction. Some may also have an external servo motor to power through heavy work. 

You don’t need a heavy-duty sewing machine for most projects. But if you’re going to be sewing sails, tents, boat covers, or similar items, it’s definitely something to consider.

Pretreat

Most natural fabrics are subject to shrinkage. So pre-wash your canvas before sewing to avoid problems.

Choose the Right Thread

A heavy fabric needs a heavyweight thread. Choose a size 40 heavy duty thread. Also, always match natural fabrics with natural fiber threads.

The Needle Matters

The correct needle can mean the difference between success and failure for your project. When sewing canvas, use a denim-gauge needle, that is, a needle size 90/16 or 100/16.

Stitching

Sew with a straight stitch of length 3.0 to 3.5.

Getting Off on the Right Foot

A heavier-weight overlock sewing foot can handle thick fabrics like denim with ease.

Waterproofing Canvas Fabric

Canvas is naturally water-resistant. In addition, some manufacturers will augment that water resistance with wax, polyvinyl chloride, or other coatings.

But what if you want to waterproof your canvas fabric yourself?

There are numerous high quality fabric waterproofing sprays on the market. Purchase one that’s specifically made for canvas and rated for marine waterproofing. Be sure to test your spray on a small piece of fabric first, and always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

Versatile, Durable Canvas

The term “canvas” covers a variety of fabrics with different weights, textures, and uses. What unites them is this: they are all made from cotton, hemp or flax fibers, and woven in a plain weave.

Canvas fabrics are durable, breathable, and wind and water resistant. Most types hold dye well, and they’re easy to work with.

You’ll find canvas in a huge number of consumer and industrial products, including clothing, shoes, outerwear, sports equipment, and industrial belts.

Do you have a favorite project using canvas? We’d love to hear about it!

sewing with canvas

How To Sew A Seam, Either By Hand Or With A Sewing Machine

how to sew a seam

A seam is a line of stitching that joins two pieces of material. Sounds simple, right? But there are many different types of seams, and each has its own procedure, appearance, and usage. You can sew a seam by hand or by machine. Either way, it’s not hard if you have the tools and know the techniques.

Different Types of Seams

decorative seams

So you need to join your pattern pieces. Of course you want to do it in a way that’s both effective and attractive. That means it’s time to choose the type of seam that you’re going to use.

Decorative Seams

Decorative seams, as you probably guessed, are there to enhance the appearance of your project. This type of seam may join pattern pieces, but in addition, they may:

  • Add shape to a garment
  • Enhance the structure of part of a garment or other item
  • Add color, texture, or other visual interest

Decorative seams are made to be seen, so technique and attention to detail are important. Some types of decorative seams include:

  • Princess seam
  • Channel seam
  • Linen seam
  • Pleated seam
  • Abutted seam

Want to seam what we’re talking about? Here’s a princess seam before, during, and after construction.

Functional Seams

Functional seams hold your item together. They’re meant to bear weight, stress, and strain. They should be strong, but they can also be decorative. Some examples of functional seams include:

  • Straight seam
  • Lapped seam
  • French seam
  • Flat felled seam

Here’s how to sew an attractive and functional French seam.

Single Seams

A single seam is a single row of stitching that joins two pieces of material. The seam edges may or may not be finished, but they will always end up on the inside (or reverse side) of your item. Depending on your fabric, you may want to finish your seam edges by pinking or serging them off, or by using a finishing technique like the Hong Kong finish, shown in the video below.

Double Seams

You’ll know double seams by their two parallel rows of stitching. The double rows make the seam very strong. They can also add a decorative touch. You can use a double row to seal off seam edges, too. This can be especially helpful if your fabric is prone to fraying. 

The flat felled seam, shown below, is a common double seam used in bluejeans.

Open Seams

Open seams leave the seam edges exposed. This is fine if the edges will end up on the inside (wrong side) of your project. It’s also acceptable if you’re working with a fray-resistant fabric.

On the other hand, if your fabric is subject to fraying, or if you simply want a tidier finish, you might want to use a closed seam.

Closed Seams

Closed seams enclose the seam edges within the seam. Some examples of closed seams include:

  • French seam
  • Lapped seam
  • Flat felled seam

Have you chosen your seam? Great! It’s time to get sewing!

How to Sew a Seam by Hand

If you don’t have access to a sewing machine, or don’t have the time to learn how to use a sewing machine right now, don’t worry! You can sew a seam by hand. 

What You’ll Need

  • The appropriate needle for your fabric
  • Your thread (remember to match synthetics with synthetic thread and natural fabrics with cotton thread)
  • Scissors or snips
  • Pins
  • Tailor’s chalk or a fabric marker (optional)
  • Ruler (optional)
  • Beeswax (optional)
  • Needle threader (optional)
  • Pinking shears (optional)
  • Iron (optional)

Step 1: Prepare Your Fabric

Mary Poppins once said, “well begun is half done.” When it comes to sewing, it’s absolutely true. By setting up your fabric and your tools, you’re setting yourself up for success.

First, if you’re working with fabric that’s prone to wrinkles, iron it to make sure it lays flat. This will ensure that your pattern pieces fit together the way they’re meant to.

Next, line up your fabric edges. Don’t be sloppy, or your finished product will be sloppy as well.

Pin your pieces together. This will keep them from slipping and sliding around while you sew.

Finally, mark your seam line with a washable fabric pen or tailor’s chalk. Use a ruler for extra precision. It’s a lot easier to sew along a line than to try to eyeball your seam while sewing. 

If you take the time to be organized and precise, your project will have a greater chance of turning out the way you want it to.

Step 2: Prepare Your Needle and Thread

Step 2 is optional, but many people find it helpful.

First, start with the right needle. For fine fabrics, use a thin, sharp needle. This will minimize damage to the fabric. For thicker fabrics, you can use a thicker needle.

Snip your thread end at an angle. This will decrease the fuzz at the end, which can make it hard to thread the needle.

Dabbing beeswax onto your thread end can make the thread stiffer, which also makes it easier to poke it through the needle’s eye.

You can also use a needle threader. This is especially helpful if you’re working with a very small, very thin needle.

Now, thread your needle. You can choose to sew with a single thread, or, for a stronger stitch, pull the thread halfway through your needle, so that your needle is sitting halfway between your thread ends. Now, knot the thread ends together.

Step 3: Choose Your Stitch

There are a number of stitches you can choose from, but often the most straightforward stitches are the best. They’ll get you where you need to go quickly and with a minimum of fuss.

The straight stitch is the most basic sewing stitch. Some people also call this stitch a running stitch. It’s easy. Up and down in a straight line, from beginning to end. Here’s how it’s done.

A backstitch is another simple stitch. You might use this one if you want a stronger row of stitches.

Step 4: Sew Your Seam

Fabric prepared? Stitch chosen? Needle threaded? Now you’re ready to sew!

Before you begin, secure your thread end. If you’ve already knotted the ends together, this will suffice. You can also use one of these techniques.

Now, using your chosen stitch, sew along the line you marked earlier.

Step 5: Tie off Your Stitch

When you’ve completed your seam, it’s time to tie off your stitch. There are a number of ways to do this, including:

  • Tying a knot
  • Using a finishing stitch
  • Making a French knot
  • Using a backstitch

For a detailed photo tutorial of these and other methods, check out our article, How to Tie Off a Stitch.

Step 6: Finish Your Edges (Optional)

If you’re working with a fray-resistant fabric, or if you’ve chosen a seam that encloses the seam allowance, then you don’t have to finish your edges. 

But if your fabric is likely to unravel, or if you simply want a tidy finish, then you might want to finish your edges. 

If you’re sewing by hand, the easiest way to do this is to trim the seam allowance with pinking shears. 

Advanced finishing techniques like a Hong Kong Finish are easier with a sewing machine. But if you have the time and patience, you can also adapt the technique to hand sewing.

Step 7: Iron Your Seam (Optional)

Ironing your seam on the right side of the fabric will help it to lie flat. This, in turn, will make your item look more professional and attractive.

How to Sew a Seam With a Sewing Machine

If you have a sewing machine, it’s easy to make a fast, strong, and precise seam.

What You’ll Need

  • Your sewing machine
  • The appropriate sewing machine needle for your fabric
  • Suitable thread for your fabric
  • Scissors
  • Pins
  • Beeswax (optional)
  • Pinking shears (optional)
  • Fabric stabilizer (optional)
  • Sewing machine needle threader (optional)
  • Iron (optional)

Step 1: Prepare Your Fabric

Preparing your fabric for machine sewing is similar to preparing it for hand sewing. You’ll need to:

  • Iron the fabric, unless it’s wrinkle-resistant
  • Line up your fabric edges
  • Pin your seam together

You might want to mark your seam line at this point. You could also use the guide on your sewing machine’s feed cover plate to eyeball your seam line.

Also, if your fabric is slippery, lightweight, or doesn’t hold its shape well, you might want to stabilize it. If your fabric is machine washable, you can use a wash-out spray stabilizer. If it’s not, you can stabilize your fabric by pinning tissue paper, tracing paper, or a commercial tear-away stabilizer to the back.

Step 2: Prepare Your Needle and Thread

Always use a new needle for every project.

In addition, there are a bewildering number of needles on the market. It’s important to choose the right sewing machine needle for your fabric.

  • Universal needles work well for many, but not all fabrics.
  • For woven fabrics, use a ballpoint needle to minimize fabric damage.
  • Use a stretch needle (jersey needle) for stretch fabrics.
  • Thick materials like denim or leather need a sharp needle rated for that material.
  • Lighter fabrics need a smaller, thinner, lighter needle.
  • Match your needle size with your thread weight.
  • Also match metallic thread with a metallic thread needle.

Regarding thread, match your thread to your fabric. Choose synthetic thread for working with synthetic fabrics, and cotton thread for natural fiber fabrics.

Also, polyester thread has a natural stretch, so use this, rather than cotton thread, if you’re working with a stretchy fabric.

Just like when threading a hand sewing needle, using beeswax on your thread end can make threading a sewing machine needle easier.

You can thread your needle using your sewing machine’s automatic needle threader. If your sewing machine doesn’t have one, however, you can use a sewing machine needle threader.

Step 3: Choose Your Stitch

A straight stitch is most people’s stitch of choice. However, if you’re working with stretchy fabrics, then choose one of your sewing machine’s stretch stitches

If your sewing machine has an overlock or serging stitch, you can also use this to simultaneously sew your seam and finish your edges.

Here are some other types of stitches and their uses.

Step 4: Sew Your Seam

Line up your fabric with the appropriate markings on your feed cover plate. Alternately, if you’ve marked your seam line, line that up with your needle and sew your seam.

To secure your row, sew a locking stitch at the beginning of the row and at the end. Here’s how.

Step 5: Finish Your Edges (Optional)

As with hand sewing, you can finish your raw edges to keep them from fraying, or to give your item a more professionally finished work.

Here are a few different ways to finish your edges.

Step 6: Iron Your Seam (Optional)

Again, ironing your seam on the wrong side will help it to lay flat, and give your project a more finished look.

It’s Easier Than it “Seams”

It might look like a lot of steps for a straightforward task. But if you use the right tools and take the time to do it right, it’s easy to make a strong, attractive seam.

What’s your favorite seam? Do you have a technique that can make it easier for our readers? Tell us all about it in the comments!

How To Sew A Seam By Hand Or Sewing Machine

How To Tie Off A Stitch: End & Finish Your Sewing Like A Pro

how to tie off a stitch

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TL;DR

To end a stitch when you’re sewing by hand, stop with several inches of thread left. Bring the needle under your last stitch and make a loop large enough to insert your finger. Now, bring the needle through the loop and pull it tight to form a knot. Finishing stitches on a sewing machine is just as easy. You can lock the stitch or tie it off. We’ll explain how.

It sounds so simple: finish your row of stitches and tie it off. You might even think about skipping that step. Don’t! The truth is, though, there are many ways to secure your stitches, whether you’re sewing by hand or by machine. Some work better than others. Confused? No worries. We’ll show you several different ways to secure your stitches.

What You’ll Need to Complete This Tutorial

If you’re sewing by hand, both the tools and the technique will be different than for machine sewing. 

Tools for Ending a Row of Hand Stitching

Tools for Ending a Row of Machine Stitching

  • Sewing machine
  • Thread
  • Scissors or snips (optional if your machine has a thread cutter)
  • Your project

6 Ways to Tie off a Stitch By Hand

The simplest way to tie off a row of hand stitching is to make a knot at the end. There are several ways to do this.

Tying off a Double Thread, Method 1

My mother taught me to always use a double thread for hand sewing. It makes the stitches stronger, and it’s easier to tie off when you’re finished. There are actually a few ways of tying off a double thread. Here’s the first.

Step 1

Make the final stitch in your row. Make sure to leave a few inches of thread at the end. You’ll need this to make your knot.

Step 2

Now, separate the two threads. Bring one of the threads over the other then under. Pull just enough to bring the threads to the edge of the fabric. Don’t pull too tightly, or it will pucker the stitches. This is the first part of your first knot.

Step 3

Repeat Step 3, pulling the knot tight.

Step 4 (optional)

I like to make at least one more knot after this. Some people even make two more.

Step 5

Snip off your thread end.

Tying Off a Double Thread, Method 2 (Finishing Stitch)

Here’s a third method to tie off your double thread sewing and keep your stitches secure.

Step 1

Finish your row of stitches, leaving a few inches of thread at the end.

Step 2

Bring your needle down through the fabric near the end of your final stitch. Don’t pull it tight. Rather, leave a loop.

Step 3

Now bring your needle back up, very close to where you brought it down. 

Step 4

Insert your needle through the loop and gently pull it down to the fabric. Don’t pull too tightly! Leave a smaller loop.

Step 5

Now bring your needle through the loop again and give it a final pull.

Step 6

Snip off your thread end.

Watch this method in action below.

Tying Off a Double Thread, Method 3 (Back Stitch)

With this method, you’ll be using the previous stitch to secure your finishing stitch.

Step 1

Sew the final stitch in your row, making sure to leave a few inches of extra thread at the end.

Step 2

Bring your needle back under the last stitch, forming a loop.

Step 3

Now, pass your needle through the loop. Pull gently until the knot settles onto the fabric.

Step 4

To secure the row, repeat steps 2 and 3 to make a second knot.

Step 5

Now, snip your thread ends.

Confused? This is how it’s done.

Tying Off a Double Thread, Method 4 (End-Off Backstitch)

An end-off backstitch, or back tack, is an easy and secure way of tying off a row of hand stitching. 

Step 1

Finish your stitching, leaving several inches of extra thread at the end.

Step 2

Now, bring your needle around, inserting it back into the fabric just after the end of your last completed stitch.

Step 3

Bring the needle back up through the fabric, very close to where you brought it up at the end of your row of stitches. Now you have a loop. Pull the thread gently until it sits against your fabric.

Step 4

Repeat steps 2 and 3 twice more. But do not pull your last loop tight.

Step 5

Finally, bring your needle through the final loop. Now pull it tight.

Step 6

Snip your thread ends.

This is how it’s done.

Tying Off a Double Thread, Method 5

This is a quick and dirty way of tying off your thread. It may take a bit of practice to get the knot to sit perfectly on your fabric, though.

Step 1

Stitch until the end of your row, leaving a few inches of thread at the end.

Step 2

Bring the needle around to form a loop large enough to insert your finger.

Step 3

Now, holding the loop to your fabric with your finger, double back with the needle. Bring the needle through the loop and pull gently. Use your finger to keep the knot snug against your fabric.

Step 4

Repeat the knot if you like. This part is optional.

Step 5

Snip off your thread end.

Tying off a Single Thread

There are occasions when you’ll want to use a single thread instead of a double thread. You can tie off your single thread stitching using the finishing stitch, backstitch or end-off backstitch methods above. You can also try this.

Step 1

End your row of stitches, leaving several inches of thread at the end with which to make your knot.

Step 2

Bring your needle back over the last stitch, like you would for a backstitch or end-off backstitch. 

Step 3

Insert your needle behind your last stitch and gently pull to form a loop.

Step 4

Run your needle through the loop. Now do it again.

Step 5

Pull your knot tight and snip your thread ends.

Watch how it’s done here.

How to End a Row of Machine Stitches

If you’re using a sewing machine, there are a few ways to secure your stitches. 

Method 1: Making a Lockstitch

A lockstitch is an easy way to secure a row of stitches using a sewing machine.

Step 1

Sew three to five stitches forward. Stop.

Step 2

Reverse over those three to five stitches. Stop.

Step 3

Sew back over the stitches one more time. 

Step 4

Now you can snip your threads with confidence.

Want to see how it’s done? Check this out.

Method 2: Using the Auto-Finish Function

Some sewing machines have a lockstitch button. This button makes a lockstitch for you, automatically, so that you don’t have to manually sew, reverse, and sew again. Some even fancier machines, like in the video below, will allow you to program lockstitches into sequences of stitches.

Method 3: Tying Off by Hand

Can you tie off a row of machine stitches by hand? Absolutely! We would use Method 5, above.

Specialty Tie-Off Techniques

Sometimes a regular tie-off isn’t exactly the right thing. Here are a few specialized tie-off techniques for tricky situations.

Hiding Your Knot Between Layers

With a lot of hand sewing projects, it’s fine to leave the starting and finishing knots on the wrong side of your project. But some projects, for example quilts, don’t have a wrong side. Hand quilting takes a lot of effort, and you don’t want to ruin that effort by leaving unsightly knots on either surface.

Here’s how you hide a finishing knot between fabric layers.

Step 1

As always, leave four to six inches of thread after the final stitch in your row.

Step 2

Loop your needle around to the end of the previous stitch, as if you were making a backstitch.

Step 3

Now, bring your needle through the loop and pull it snug but not tight.

Step 4

Now, loop your needle again, going the opposite direction, that is, from the end of the stitch you just made to the beginning.

Step 5

Bring your needle through the loop and pull snug.

Step 6

Now, insert your needle through the middle of the stitch and bring it under the top layer of fabric only. Gently pull.

Step 7

Finally, snip off your thread end and smooth your fabric so that the attached thread end is hidden underneath the top fabric layer.

Watch the process here.

Another Way to Hide a Knot

Here’s another way to hide an end knot. You don’t have to have multiple layers of fabric, but it helps.

This method uses a quilter’s knot to secure the row of stitches. Quilters use this knot at the beginning of a row of hand quilted stitches. You can also use it at the end.

Step 1

Finish your row of stitches, leaving several inches of extra thread.

Step 2

Wrap the thread three times around the needle.

Step 3

Now, while holding the knot, reinsert the needle back into the fabric close to where it came out, and pull it tight. It may take a bit of practice to make the knot, but keep working at it.

Pull it until the knot disappears back beneath the top fabric layer. 

Step 4

Now snip your thread end and gently pull the fabric until the thread end disappears.

Here’s how it’s done.

Hiding Your Finish in a Seam

If your row of stitching finishes in a seam, you can use any of the above finishing methods then hide the knot and thread ends inside the seam.

Final Thoughts

If a job is worth doing, it’s doing right. And there are a lot of right ways to finish off a row of stitching! Whether you’re sewing by hand or sewing by machine, the right technique can keep your stitches secure and attractive.

Did you enjoy our tutorial? Do you have a favorite technique that might help our readers? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

how to end a stitch

What Is Jersey Fabric And How Easy Is It To Work With?

what is jersey fabric

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which may result in You Sew And Sew receiving a small commission if you make a purchase. This will not affect the price you pay, but it does help us maintain the site and keep the information you’re reading free of charge (learn more). Any quoted prices, features, specifications etc. are correct at the time of writing, but please do check for yourself before buying. Thank you so much for supporting You Sew And Sew!

What is jersey fabric, anyway? Is it what athletic jerseys are made from? Yes, but the name goes back a lot farther than that. Modern jersey fabric is one of the most loved and most used clothing fabrics on the market. It’s also great for a variety of projects. Want to know more? Check it out.

What is Jersey Fabric?

jersey fabric close up

Jersey fabric is a knit fabric that’s used primarily in garments. The name has a complicated history. You’ve probably heard of sports jerseys — that is, knit tops that some athletes wear. No doubt you’ve also heard of the isle of Jersey in the Channel Islands. So, how does the fabric name fit in?

The name actually comes from the island, where people first produced the fabric in the Middle Ages. At that time, manufacturers made jersey fabric from wool. They used it exclusively for making underwear and men’s clothing. But jersey fabric had a larger destiny to fill.

In 1916 revolutionary designer Coco Chanel introduced jersey to women’s wear. She used it to create attractive, and, most importantly, comfortable coats and dresses for women. Since then, the fabric has only increased in popularity. [1]

You might know modern jersey fabric by another name: t-shirt material. But t-shirts are only part of the story. Today’s jersey is made from a variety of fibers. The most common is a combination of cotton and a synthetic fabric like polyester. Today you’ll find jersey in an extensive range of garments, housewares, and other items.

There are two primary types of jersey fabric, as well as a few subtypes. We’ll have a look at these below.

The Two Main Types of Jersey Fabric

Modern jersey fabric comes in two types: standard and double knit.

Standard jersey, sometimes called single knit or plain knit, is smooth on one side and piled, or textured, on the other. The texture comes from a raised nap, that is, raised loops of thread, like the pile of a carpet. Standard jersey is made using one set of needles, as in the video below.

Double knit jersey is smooth on both sides, and thicker. This is because double knit jersey is two pieces of standard jersey knit together, with the pile on the inside. Double knit jersey is also called interlock because of the interlocking loops on the inside. Double knit jersey is created with two sets of needles: one to knit the layers, and another to knit them together.

The different types have different purposes. You’ll find standard jersey in athletic and athleisure wear, t-shirts, underwear, and bedding. Double knit jersey is more stable and less stretchy than standard jersey. This makes it better for more structured garments, like blazers, coats, and trousers.

You may also encounter a few subtypes of jersey fabric.

Jacquard jersey is a patterned double knit jersey fabric with designs woven in different colours using the jacquard technique. [2]

Cloque jersey is a textured jersey fabric, with a specific design, such as cabling, knit into the fabric.

A wide range of fibers can be used to make jersey, including:

  • Wool
  • Cotton
  • Polyester
  • Hemp
  • Silk
  • Spandex
  • Modal
  • Rayon
  • Viscose
  • And more

Common Uses for Jersey Fabric

man dancing in yellow jersey fabric sweatshirt

Jersey is an incredibly versatile fabric. You’ll find it in a huge variety of products. You’ll probably recognize most of them, but some of them may surprise you.

Single Knit Jersey

Single knit jersey is a light, stretchy, absorbent material that you’ll find most often in garments. It drapes nicely, so it’s popular for women’s tops and dresses. You will also find it in light housewares. Here are some of the more common uses.

  • T-shirts
  • Sweatshirts and sweatpants
  • Dresses
  • Women’s tops
  • Leggings
  • Underwear
  • Spring and summer sports uniforms, especially tops
  • Sheets and bedding

Double Knit Jersey

Double knit jersey is also popular for garments. But because of its greater weight and firmer structure, you’ll find it in different types of garments and products. These include:

  • Blazers
  • Jackets
  • Trousers
  • Polo shirts

Jersey Fabric Characteristics

jersey fabric sweatshirt

What does jersey feel like? Is jersey fabric stretchy? And is jersey fabric good for summer? Once you’ve felt that jersey fabric texture, it’s hard to forget it. 

Smooth

All jersey fabric is smooth. Single knit jersey is smooth on one side and piled on the other. Double knit jersey is smooth on both sides.

Soft

Jersey is soft and comfortable.

Piled on One Side

Single knit jersey is piled on one side. This can make one size fuzzy, like the inside of a sweatshirt.

Stretchy

Jersey fabric is a knit fabric, which means that all varieties have some stretch. The amount of stretch depends upon the fiber content. Cotton jersey fabric will have less stretch than cotton mixed with synthetic fibers. Double knit jersey is also less stretchy than standard jersey.

Opaque

Jersey fabric is opaque. That is, you can’t see through it. A single knit jersey made from fine fibers will allow some light through, however.

Absorbent

Jersey fabric tends to be highly absorbent, which makes it excellent for athletic wear. This quality, too, depends upon the fiber content.

Range of Firmness

Jersey fabric is soft and stretchy. However, double knit jersey has a firmer shape than single knit, and is better suited to structured types of garments. Fiber content will affect firmness as well.

The Pros and Cons of Jersey Fabric 

woman wearing jersey sweatshirt

What’s so great about jersey? A lot of things! But it’s not perfect for every project, and sewing jersey fabric can present some challenges. Let’s have a look.

Advantages of Jersey

Here are some of the reasons people love to wear and work with jersey:

Versatile 👍🏻

Jersey fabric is incredibly versatile. Its unique qualities lend themselves to a wide range of applications, from garments to crafts to housewares and beyond.

Soft 👍🏻

Coco Chanel was really on to something when she introduced jersey fabric to women’s fashion. Jersey fabric is so soft and wearable. Once you put it on, you might wonder why you’d ever want to take it off.

Absorbent 👍🏻

The pile on the reverse side of jersey fabric (or on the inside of double knit jersey) makes it highly absorbent. This is why it’s such an excellent material for athletic wear — and also why, when you’re finished with a jersey garment, it recycles so well into cleaning rags.

Stretchy 👍🏻

Jersey’s built-in stretch means that the fabric moves with you, cradling, rather than restricting your body. Another reason it works so well for casual and athleisure wear.

Drapes Well 👍🏻

Lighter weight jersey drapes beautifully and skims the figure, making it a natural for women’s tops and dresses.

Wrinkle Resistant 👍🏻

Many types of jersey are wrinkle resistant, especially if the fiber content includes synthetic fibers.

Durable 👍🏻

Many types of jersey are hard-wearing, which is yet another reason that this fabric is well suited to athletic wear.

Comfortable 👍🏻

Is it any wonder that t-shirts are many people’s weekend uniform? Not a lot of fabrics can boast the all-day comfort of jersey.

Easy to Care For 👍🏻

Most jersey garments are super easy to care for. Just pop them in the wash and go.

Disadvantages of Jersey

Are there any disadvantages to such a versatile and useful fabric? Not many. Still, they can make a difference to your project:

It Can be Tricky to Sew 👎🏻

Because it’s a knit fabric, jersey has a stretch. And stretchy fabrics can be tricky to sew. Make sure to check out our tips and tricks for working with jersey, in order to make the most of your project.

Prone to Pilling 👎🏻

Abrasion can cause little balls of fiber, or “pills” to form on the surface of jersey. This can make your garment start to look shabby after a while.

Holes, Snags, and Runs 👎🏻

Jersey is also susceptible to holes, snags, and runs, which can easily ruin the look of a garment.

Not Ideal for All Types of Garments 👎🏻

Jersey tends to work best for items that drape and skim the figure, or which are made to move with you. Double knit jersey fabric can be used for more structured garments, but single knit doesn’t hold its shape well enough to be used for rigid items.

How to Sew Jersey Fabric

Is jersey fabric easy to sew? There’s the rub, or so to speak. Like any knit fabric, jersey can fray easily, and many types don’t hold their shape well. But don’t worry! There are tips and tricks for working with jersey. 

Use a Fabric Stabilizer

If you’re using a lighter jersey type and worried that it might not hold its shape while you sew, try stabilising it.

For washable fabrics, you can use a spray-on fabric stabilizer. You could also use a wash-away stabilizer, a tear-away stabilizer or tissue paper. 

Choose the Right Needle

Yes, choosing the correct needle can make a world of difference to any sewing project. For knits like jersey fabric, choose a ballpoint needle. This comparatively blunt needle can pass through knit fabrics like jersey without damaging them. 

Use the Right Thread

Stretchy fabrics need a thread that also has a bit of stretch. That means polyester thread rather than 100 percent cotton thread. Polyester thread will stretch with your jersey fabric, rather than puckering it.

Sew With a Walking Foot

Quilters may already be familiar with the walking foot, which enables layers of fabric to stay in place as they travel through the sewing machine. But a walking foot can also help with sewing stretchy fabrics like jersey. A walking foot helps your fabric to move through the sewing machine evenly so that you don’t get randomly stretched-out spots in your sewing.

Use Zigzag Stitch

The zigzag stitch on your sewing machine is made for sewing stretchy knits like jersey. If you use a straight stitch, the fabric may stretch while the stitches remain straight. This will cause puckering and possibly even ripped stitches. Using a zigzag stitch will keep your stitches even.

A Twin Needle for Hems

When hemming your jersey, a twin needle can accommodate the stretch in a fabric. It also gives it a pretty, professional-looking finish. 

Looking After Jersey Fabric

Fortunately, most jersey fabric is pretty easy to care for. Here’s how.

Follow the Care Instructions

With any garment or fabric, it’s important to follow the manufacturer’s care instructions. This is especially true for fabrics like jersey, which come in many different varieties, each of which may require a slightly different type of care.

Be Mindful of Fiber Content

The fiber content of various jersey fabrics can differ, from cotton jersey fabric to wool to synthetics and synthetic blends. Check the fiber content of your fabric or garment carefully and wash it accordingly.

Pre-Wash

Some jersey types, especially cotton, are prone to shrinkage. To be safe, pre-wash your jersey fabric before sewing with it.

Machine Wash

Many types of jersey fabric are machine washable. Always check the care instructions first, though. Failing this, it’s generally safe to machine wash your jersey fabric in cool water and tumble it dry.

Ironing?

Because jersey is wrinkle-resistant, you often don’t have to iron it if you remove it from the dryer right away. If you do want to iron it, make sure to use the proper setting for your fabric’s fiber content. [3]

Wonderful Jersey

Jersey is an incredibly versatile fabric with a wide range of applications. Soft, absorbent, breathable, and stretchy, jersey is at the heart of many of our favorite garment types.

Although it’s easy to care for, jersey, like most knit fabrics, can be challenging to work with. But you can meet those challenges with a few well-planned techniques.

Do you enjoy sewing jersey? Do you have any tips or tricks to share with our readers? Please tell us about them in the comments.

how easy is jersey fabric to sew

REFERENCES

  1. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica | Coco Chanel | https://www.britannica.com/biography/Coco-Chanel
  2. wikiHow Staff | How to Use an Iron | https://www.wikihow.com/Use-an-Iron
  3. The Free Dictionary | Jacquard | https://www.thefreedictionary.com/Jacquard

What Is Linen Made Of And How Easy Is It To Work With?

what is linen made from

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which may result in You Sew And Sew receiving a small commission if you make a purchase. This will not affect the price you pay, but it does help us maintain the site and keep the information you’re reading free of charge (learn more). Any quoted prices, features, specifications etc. are correct at the time of writing, but please do check for yourself before buying. Thank you so much for supporting You Sew And Sew!

What is flax linen fabric? Many people think of linen as a luxury material. It’s strong, attractive, comfortable…and expensive. But before cotton became king, linen was the go-to fabric for clothing, housewares, and more. What is linen made of, anyway? What do people use it for today? And how do you sew linen fabric? We’re going to tell you.

What is Linen Made Of?

Some types of fabric, like microfiber, can be made using a variety of different fibers. Linen, however, is made exclusively from plant fiber. What plant is linen made from, then? Linen comes from the flax plant.

flax field
Flax field in harvest

In fact, the fabric takes its name from the latin word linum (and the Greek word, linon), which means flax. Interestingly, the word line also comes from linum, as the ancients often used a taut flax thread to measure a straight line.

Archaeologists have found evidence of linen fabric dating back 30,000 years and spanning many different parts of the world. Cultures in ancient Mesopotamia, Georgia, Egypt and Greece all made linen fabric. The manufacture and processing of linen was also an important part of the economy in medieval Europe. [1]

Linen is a woven fabric. What weave is linen? The linen weave, of course. Linen weave is a type of plain weave.

thread crossing pattern plain weave fabric

What is the Difference Between Cotton and Linen?

Confused? It’s understandable. Cotton and linen are similar fabrics used for similar purposes. They’re both natural fibers. Also, cotton, like linen, is widely used in clothing and household items. But there are quite a few differences, too.

Here are a few:

  • Linen is made from flax fibers, while cotton is made from cotton fibers.
  • Cotton is less expensive than linen.
  • Linen fabric is more textured than cotton fabric.
  • Cotton holds dye better than linen.
  • Linen is more durable than cotton.
  • Cotton is more wrinkle-resistant than linen.

Which is better? It depends on your purpose…and on your budget.

What Color is Natural Linen?

linen fabric

Natural linen comes in a variety of shades. The shade of the fibers stems from the conditions under which an individual plant grows. The most common colors are shades of off-white and grey, which include:

  • Ecru
  • Oatmeal
  • Taupe
  • Beige
  • Gray

It can be difficult to get flax fibers to hold a dye. For this reason, you’ll most often see linen in its natural color.

What is the Highest Quality Linen?

woman dressed in linen

Many people judge cotton by its thread count, that is, how many threads there are in a square inch of fabric. The more threads, the softer and finer the cotton. [2]

Thread count is inaccurate for judging linen. Rather, it’s important to look at:

  • Where the flax was grown
  • The conditions under which it grew
  • How it was handled and processed

The finest linen today comes from Belgium and from Normandy, France. Both places have a cool climate, which is the best climate for growing high quality flax. Flax fibers should be spun close to the time they were harvested. And the most skilled flax weavers today are in Italy. [3]

What is Flax Linen Used For?

Any fabric that has been part of our lives from the time of the hunter-gatherers has to be special. And one of the things that makes linen special is its incredible versatility. There’s a reason that we refer to different classes of household products as “linens.” Though it’s a luxury fabric today, it used to be ubiquitous.

Clothing

couple in linen clothing

Before cotton became widespread, linen was the fabric from which many items of clothing were made. Breathable and absorbent, it will keep you cool in warm weather, which was probably why it was so popular in Ancient Egypt. 

Today you’ll find linen in high-end shirts, blazers, trousers, and dresses.

Upholstery

Linen’s strength and durability make it an excellent choice for upholstery and furniture coverings. Its price can put it out of reach for some, but if price is no object, linen upholstery is an elegant, long-lasting choice.

Bedding

Soft and absorbent, linen is a popular choice for sheets, pillowcases, and bedspreads, especially in warm climates. 

Towels

When many of us think about bath towels, thick, fluffy cotton comes to mind. Linen bath towels are different: comparatively flat and rough, with a waffle texture. However, many high-end hotels use linen for their towels and bathrobes. That’s because it’s incredibly absorbent, quick drying, durable, and odor-resistant.

Linen dish towels are very popular for the same reasons.

Handbags and Backpacks

Because linen is so durable and hard-wearing, it’s an excellent fabric for handbags and even backpacks.

Table Linens

There it is again: an entire class of housewares grouped under the name “linens.” Linen tablecloths and napkins add a touch of elegance to any table, and, if cared for properly, will do so for a very long time.

Food Preparation and Storage

linen bag

Linen bread bags are hot right now, but people have used them for food storage for a very long time.

Bakers also use a linen cloth called a couche to help a ball of bread dough to keep its shape while rising.

Art Supplies

Linen is a traditional surface for oil painting. Canvas, cotton, and other fabrics are currently less expensive for painting canvases today, however.

Linen Characteristics

What is linen like? What are the characteristics that make linen what it is? Take a look.

Natural

Linen is a natural fiber. It’s woven from the spun fibers of the flax plant.

Woven

Linen is a woven fabric, rather than a knit fabric. Linen is woven using a plain weave. That is, weft fibers are woven through the same number of warp fibers at a 90 degree angle.

Slubbed

Linen often has a slubbed texture. That is, it has spots that may feel rough or uneven when compared to the rest of the fabric. This comes from the fact that some flax fibers are thicker than others.

Stiff

Flax fibers are stiff and thick. This gives linen fabric its slubbed texture, as well as its strength and durability.

Porous

Linen’s thick, stiff fibers limit how tightly linen can be woven. As a result, linen is fairly porous. This means that it’s delightfully breathable and can conduct heat away from your body.

Pros and Cons of Linen Fabric

There’s a lot to love about linen fabric. There are also some distinct disadvantages.

The Good

Why do we love linen? Let us count the ways.

Durable

Linen is one of the strongest fibers. It’s 30 percent stronger than cotton, for example. 

Absorbent

Linen is highly absorbent. It can hold 20 percent of its own weight in water.

Lint-Free

Linen doesn’t leave lint behind.

Pill-Resistant

In addition to being hard wearing, linen doesn’t pill like some other fabrics.

Heat Conductive

Linen’s porous texture means that it guides heat away from your body. This makes it ideal for hot climates.

Breathable

Linen is also highly breathable. Linen sheets and clothing are great for keeping cool.

Hypoallergenic

Linen is hypoallergenic. So allergy sufferers will find a friend in this fabric.

Moth Resistant

Worried about moths eating your clothes? Not if those clothes are made from linen!

Quick Drying

Its porosity, combined with the natural qualities of flax fibers, means that linen products dry quickly. This makes it an excellent material for towels, bathrobes, and more.

Sustainable and Eco-Friendly

Linen is made from natural fibers. Flax plants grow across a variety of climates. They’re hardy, and can grow with rainwater alone. 

Different industries use different parts of the flax plant, so flax production results in very little waste.

Processing flax requires very little in the way of chemicals, irrigation, or energy.

Finally, because linen is a natural fabric, when you’re through with it, it biodegrades. Linen is also recyclable.

The Not So Good

No fabric is perfect. Here are some of the problems with linen.

Wrinkles Easily

Linen wrinkles easily. And it won’t easily let go of those wrinkles. If you like linen, you should learn to like ironing, as well.

Holds on to Stains

Although linen doesn’t take dye very easily, it loves to hold on to stains. So be careful.

Can be Expensive

Before there were cheaper alternatives, linen was ubiquitous. Now, though, it’s something of a specialty fabric. And that means it’s often expensive.

Can Shrink

Linen is also prone to shrinking. Wash your linens in cool water to prevent this from happening.

Fibers Weaken in Sunlight and Hard Water

Hard water and sunlight can weaken flax fibers. So store your linens carefully.

How Easy is Linen to Sew?

Do you want to know how to sew linen? Sewing linen isn’t hard, but there are a few tips and tricks for getting it just right.

Pre-wash linen fabric to avoid shrinking. Pre-wash it in hot water to minimize shrinking after the garment is finished. Hang dry.

Steam-press or damp-press your linen before you lay it out

Because linen stains easily, use tailor’s chalk for marking, rather than a marking pen, even a washable one.

Follow your pattern’s grain line carefully because linen has a large, visible, napped grain.

Use a rotary cutter to cut thicker linen fabrics. It’s easier.

Use a regular point needle, and make sure to match the size of the needle to the weight of your fabric. Choose needle size 11/80 for lightweight linen and 14/90 for medium weight linen.

Choose a cotton thread. It’s a good idea in general to match the fiber content of your fabric and thread: synthetic thread for synthetic fabrics and natural thread for natural fabrics.

To prevent fraying, you might want to clean finish your seam edges. You could also use seam tape or double bias tape

You could also pink your seam edges.

Looking after Linen 

Although it’s not necessary to treat linen as a delicate while sewing it, linen items do require some special care.

First, always check the manufacturer’s care instructions. This can save you money and aggravation. Also, if your item is a linen blend, the fibers with which it’s blended may change its care needs. If your item is dry clean only, do not attempt to toss it into the washing machine.

If your item is machine washable, wash it in the short or delicate cycle. Does linen shrink? You bet it does. So use cold water.

Use a mild detergent for delicate fabrics.

You can also hand wash your linen in cold water.

As we said, linen is prone to shrinking, so it’s best to avoid the dryer. Instead, hang linen items to dry on a padded hanger, or lay flat on a drying rack. Don’t wring your linen to remove water. Instead, roll it gently in a clean towel and press extra water out before hanging your item to dry.

Because linen isn’t great at holding dye, dyed linen items can bleed. So wash them separately.

Try to remove stains with club soda. Never bleach a linen item. Better yet, in case of resistant stains, consult a professional.

If you need to iron your linen, set your iron to the linen setting, and iron while the item is still damp. If your item is already dry, use your iron’s steam setting or spritz the item with water before ironing.

Lovely Linen

Linen has been part of the fabric of our lives for over 30,000 years. It’s durable, sustainable, attractive, and easy to work with. Over time, cheaper fabrics have supplanted it for many of its original purposes. But it’s difficult to top linen’s luxurious appearance and feel.

Sewing linen is easy. Caring for it requires a bit of work, but it’s well worth it.

Do you enjoy working with linen? Do you have any linen care tips you’d like to share? Leave them below!

linen fabric

REFERENCES:

  1. Kvavadze, Eliso, Ofer Bar-Yosef, Anna Belfer-Cohen, Elisabetta Boaretto, Nino Jakeli, Zinovi Matskevich, and Tengiz Meshveliani | 30,000 Years old wild flax fibers – Testimony for fabricating prehistoric linen. Science 325(5946): 1359 | https://dash.harvard.edu/handle/1/4270521
  2.  Kathy Price-Robinson | What does thread count really mean? | https://home.howstuffworks.com/home-decor/bedroom/thread-count.htm
  3. Truth About Thread Count | Pure Linen, The World’s Strongest Natural Fibre | http://www.truthaboutthreadcount.com/pure-linen.html

What Is A Seam? Different Types & How To Use Them Correctly

what is a seam

What is a seam? The answer might “seam” simple at first. It’s a row of stitching that joins two pieces of fabric or material. But there’s a lot more to it than that. There are different seams for different purposes. There are also a variety of techniques for joining fabric in different ways. Knowing which seam to use and how to form it can help you to make the most of your project.

What is a Seam, Exactly?

The simplest definition is this: a seam is a row of stitching that joins two pieces of fabric or material. But after that, things get a bit more complicated.

There are functional seams, which make up the construction of a garment. There are also decorative seams, which shape and decorate that garment.

Flat seams sit, well, flat, while ridge seams form a ridge or bump. Inconspicuous seams hide on the inside of the garment, while conspicuous seams are meant for the world to see.

And on top of that, each of these categories contains a number of different seams, each with their own purpose and technique. 

How are Seams Used in Garments?

The first division is functional and decorative seams. It’s a bit of a misnomer, as decorative seams, too, serve a function. Let’s have a look.

Garment Construction

Most clothing consists of fabric pieces joined together with seams. 

Side seams go up the side of a garment, attaching front and back pieces. Back seams (and sometimes front seams) join left and right pieces. A shoulder seam holds a top together at the shoulders. An inseam runs along the insides of trouser legs, joining the pieces there.

Decoration

“Decoration” sounds frivolous, but it’s not. Decorative seams don’t just add visual appeal to a garment. They also give the garment shape and help to shape it to the body.

One type of decorative seam that does a lot of heavy lifting is the Princess seam. Princess seams are most often seen in women’s wear. They shape the bodice of a garment to a curved bust and waistline, eliminating the need for darts.

The linen seam joins two pieces of material at the edges using a decorative or embroidery stitch. It’s not particularly strong, but it is pretty.

A channel seam forms an open channel over a contrasting piece of material, so that when the wearer moves, the seam opens to reveal a flash of color or pattern.

These are but a few examples.

Pleats

Pleats are folds sewn into a garment, for example a skirt. They add fullness to the garment, as well as shape and movement. It’s a clever way to add space to a garment without increasing its width.

pleated hem

Pleats can be vertical or horizontal. They may be crucial to the structure, or they may be primarily decorative. Either way, though, a seam is crucial for securing the pleated piece and attaching to the garment.

Seam Guide: Different Types of Seams

We’ve examined seams by function, and seen some of their applications as far as garment making. Let’s have a look at specific seam designs.

Single Seams

Single seams involve, you guessed it: a single row of stitches. Here are some common ones.

Plain Seam

A plain seam is exactly what it sounds like: the simplest possible joining of two pieces of fabric or material. 

Plain seams typically use a straight stitch or tight zigzag stitch, and leave a seam allowance of one-quarter, three-eighths, or half an inch. 

To make a plain seam, place your fabric pieces together with the right sides facing.

flat seam

Line up your fabric edges with the seam guard markings on your needle plate. Stitch, and then press your seam flat.

Clipping your seam allowance after stitching will reduce the seam’s bulk. If you’re sewing on a curve, clip wedge-shaped pieces from the seam allowance along the curve.

seam flat

Lapped Seam

A lapped seam is both decorative and functional. On the surface, it looks similar to a flat felled seam. However, it’s a single seam rather than a double one. Also, a lapped seam doesn’t enclose the seam edges. Rather, you serge off the seam edges on the wrong side of the fabric once you’re finished.

Lapped seams are excellent for:

  • Non-fraying fabrics and materials, such as vinyl
  • Reducing bulk (unlike a French or felled seam)
  • Adding a decorative touch

Here’s how to make a lapped seam.

  1. Lay your first piece of material flat, right side up.
lapped seam 1
  1. Decide on your seam allowance.
  2. Lay the second piece of fabric on top of the first, wrong side up, lining up the edges. Right sides should be together.
lapped seam 2
  1. Fold the top fabric back along the seam allowance so that the right side of the top fabric is showing. 
lapped seam 3
  1. Press if you desire.
  2. Stitch along the folded edge.
lapped seam 4
  1. Turn your work over and serge or overlock the seam edges.
lapped seam 5

Confused? Don’t be. This video will make it clear.

Double Seams

Double seams use two rows of stitches. They tend to be very strong. Many also hide raw seam edges.

Welt Seam

To make a welt seam, first make a plain seam, as above. Then on the back of the fabric, press the seam allowance to one side, and secure it to the fabric with a second row of stitches.

French Seam

A French seam is a double seam that encloses the rough edges of both pieces of fabric. It’s a great seam to use when:

  • The fabric edges fray easily
  • You don’t want the fabric edges or your seam to show

French seams protect the edges, keep them out of sight, and provide a double-strong seam. 

They’re not difficult to make, either, though the setup is a bit different from a plain seam. You may also have to adjust your pattern’s seam allowance.

Here’s how to sew a French seam.

  1. Start with the wrong sides of your fabric pieces together (rather than the right sides).
  2. Stitch the first seam. The video below recommends a half-inch seam allowance, though you might prefer a different allowance.
French seam 1
  1. Trim the seam allowance to around one-quarter inch.
  2. Press the seam flat.
  3. Fold the fabric over so that the right sides are now facing.
French seam 2
  1. Press flat again.
French seam 3
French seam 4
  1. Sew the second seam to encase the raw edges.
French seam 5
  1. Press the new seam to one side.
French seam 6
French seam 7

Watch the entire process below.

Flat Felled Seam

A flat felled seam is a double seam that encloses the raw fabric edges. It’s very strong and durable. For this reason, it’s a favorite on garments meant for heavy wear, such as denim trousers and jackets.

A flat felled seam is similar to a French seam, however there are a few extra steps. The topstitching at the end gives the flat felled seam its very recognizable appearance.

Felled seam 1

Here’s how to make a flat felled seam.

  1. Start with the wrong sides, rather than the right sides, of your fabric pieces together. You will be working on the right side of the fabric.
  2. Stitch the first seam using the seam allowance of your choice.
Felled seam 2
  1. Decide which way your seam will lie. The seam allowance that will be on top is the top. The part of the seam allowance that will lie against the garment unseen is the bottom.
  2. Trim the bottom seam allowance by half.
Felled seam 3
  1. Fold the top  seam allowance over the bottom one to enclose the edges.
  2. Press again to form a sharp crease.
Felled seam 4
Felled seam 5
  1. Now press the entire enclosed seam against the face of the garment.
Felled seam 6
  1. Finally, topstitch the seam down, as close to the folded edge as you can.
Felled seam 7

Want to see the process from start to finish? Check this out.

Slot (Channel) Seam

The slot, or channel seam is a way of adding a pop of color to your project. Structurally, it’s like a double lap stitch, with the laps facing one another.

channel slot seam

The slot seam is both decorative and functional. Here’s how to make it.

  1. Place your two fabric pieces together, right sides touching.
  2. Baste along the seam allowance. You’ll be removing this row of stitches later.
channel slot seam 1
  1. Turn your fabric over and press your seam open.
channel slot seam 2
  1. Now, pin your contrasting strip over the open seam edges.
channel slot seam 3
  1. Turn your work over, and sew two rows of stitches, one on each side of the basted row. How far apart you sew them is your choice, but they should be equidistant from the center.
slot channel seam 4
  1. Take your seam ripper and remove the basted center row.
channel slot seam 5

Here’s another video showing you how it’s done:

Shaping Seams

These are a few types of seams that you can use to add shape to your garment.

Princess Seam

A Princess seam is a way of shaping a top, bodice, dress, or coat to complement a curved bustline and waist. The seam begins at the shoulder, curves slightly inward over the bust, coming back out again at the waist. 

The Princess seam is both structural and decorative. It connects the front panels of a garment, and also adds shape.

Viennese Seam

A Viennese seam is similar to a Princess seam. It’s a curved seam that connects the front panels of a garment, and accentuates a curved waist and bustline. 

Unlike the Princess seam, however, the Viennese seam begins at the armhole, rather than at the shoulder.

Decorative Seams/Seam Finishes

Decorative seams add visual appeal to a garment or project. They may be structural, also. However, many of them are not very strong.

Abutted (Butt) Seam

An abbutted seam joins two pieces of fabric together without overlapping them. There is no seam allowance. Instead, you sew a zigzag stitch over the fabric edges, joining them this way.

abutted seam

It’s not a very strong stitch. However, it’s a good stitch for when you want to reduce bulk, such as when sewing lingerie.

Sheet Seam or Linen Seam

A Sheet Seam, or Linen Seam is a type of abutted seam. Instead of a zigzag stitch, however, you join the pieces together with a decorative stitch.

linen seam

Hong Kong Seam

A Hong Kong seam isn’t so much a seam as the way to finish one. It’s often called a Hong Kong finish.

To add a Hong Kong finish to your seams, you either serge off the seam edges or bind them with seam tape. Using a seam tape of a contrasting pattern or color can add a luxurious touch to the inside of your garment.

This technique is most often used in unlined jackets and garments.

Here’s how to do it:

Knowing What Type of Seam to Use

So now that you have an idea of some of the many seam types out there, how do you know which one you should be using? A good way to tell is to think about what you’re trying to accomplish.

Shaping Your Garment

If you want to shape your garments for a curved body type, think about these.

  • Princess seam
  • Viennese seam

When You Want to Hide the Edges

If you want to hide your raw seam edges, try these.

  • French seam
  • Flat felled seam
  • Hong Kong finish

Securing Fabrics that Fray

If you’re working with a fabric that’s prone to fraying, and you want to secure the edges, these are the seams to think about.

  • French seam
  • Flat felled seam
  • Welt seam 
  • Hong Kong finish

Heavy Duty Seams

For seams that will take a beating and stay strong, you want one of these.

  • Flat felled seam
  • French seam

Decorative Seams

To add some flair to your project, check these out.

  • Channel seam
  • Linen seam
  • Abutted seam
  • Lapped seam
  • Hong Kong finish

Seam Finishes

The “finish” of a seam refers to how you deal with the raw edges of the seam allowance. When using non-fray materials such as vinyl, you can leave the edges raw. However, if you have a fabric that frays easily, you will definitely want to finish those edges. Finishing your seam edges can also add a professional touch to your project.

Pinked Edges

Pinking shears cut the edges of your fabric in a zigzag pattern.

pinking shears in use

You can pink your seam edges for a neat finish, if:

  • The fabric is not overly prone to fraying
  • Your garment will not be worn a lot
  • You won’t be washing the garment often

Zigzag Finish

You can finish most seam edges with a zigzag stitch, as long as the fabric is relatively strong and stable.

Serging Off

If you have a serger or an overlock stitch, you can also serge off your seam edges. You can even do this before sewing your seam.

Clean Finish

If you have a generous seam allowance, you can use this technique to give your seams a professional touch.

On the wrong side of your garment, press your seam flat. Now fold each side of the seam allowance in half, so that the raw edge is on the underside. Press and secure with a straight stitch. Then finish the other side. You can also finish your edges before you sew the seam.

What is Seam Allowance?

When you look at many patterns, you’ll notice that the pattern pieces are larger than you might expect from the measurements of the finished garment. This comes down to seam allowance. Seam allowance is extra width which will accommodate your stitching.

After you’ve stitched your seam, the seam allowance will not figure into the measurement of the garment. You might finish off your seam allowance using one of the finishes we discussed above. You might also trim it.

Seam allowances vary from pattern to pattern. Here are some different standards and when you might use them.

  • A ⅜ inch or half-inch seam allowance is a good general standard.
  • A ¼ inch seam allowance is good for curves, as it doesn’t add a lot of bulk.
  • If you’re serging or overlocking your seams, many experts recommend a ⅜ inch or ½ inch seam allowance.
  • If you’ll be adjusting the fit of your garment, a ⅝ inch seam allowance will give you room to do that.
  • Use a ⅝ inch seam allowance for French or Flat felled seams also.

Seam Sewing Tips

So, now that you know how to choose your seam, and the basics of how to produce it, how can you get the best possible results?

Choose Wisely

Choose the right seam type for your purpose. Do you:

  • Want to hide your edges?
  • Need a strong seam?
  • Plan to sew structure into your garment?
  • Want to add a decorative touch?

If so, there’s a seam for that. So find it.

Stabilize

If you’re working with a fabric that doesn’t like to hold its shape — think chiffon or similar — consider using a stabilizer, such as:

  • A spray-on, wash-out stabilizer
  • Iron-on interfacing
  • Tissue paper pinned to the back of the fabric and removed later

Make Friends with Your Guide Lines

sewing machine seam guide lines

The guide lines are those measurements marked on the needle plate of your sewing machine. Line your fabric edge up with the appropriate line and keep it there while you sew. This will ensure that your seam is straight, and that the measurements of the garment will match the pattern measurement when you’re done.

Take Your Time

It’s just a straight line, right? Wrong! Don’t hurry through your seams, especially if you’re using a complicated or decorative design. Slow down and take the time to do it right.

  • Dial down your sewing machine speed to ensure consistent, high-quality stitching.
  • Remember the old saying, “measure twice, cut once” — or, in this case, stitch once.
  • Check and double check your guide lines.
  • Press your seams and creases.

Clip Your Allowance

If you want to reduce bulk once you’ve sewn your seam, you can clip your seam allowance closer to your line of stitches. If your seam is curved, you’ll want to cut notches along the seam allowance in order to facilitate the curve.

Finish Your Seams

In a lot of cases, you can leave your seam edges raw. After all, they’re on the inside of the garment. No one’s going to see them. 

On the other hand, why not take that extra step and give those edges a nice finish? It doesn’t take that long. It can help your garment to last a bit longer, and to look more professional, too.

For more advice about specific techniques, don’t miss our upcoming article, How to Sew a Seam.

Final Thoughts

If you’ve made it this far, you’ve probably learned more about seams than you thought there was to know. And this article only scratches the surface!

Seams play a variety of different roles in project construction. From assembling the pieces of a garment, to giving it shape, to adding strength or decorative flair, seams are at the heart of any project. 

What’s your favorite seam to use? Do you have any tips or tricks for people who might want to learn it? We’d love to hear about it in the comments. And if you enjoyed this article, please share it!

different types of sewing seams

Sewing Machine Tension Tips: How To Set Yours Perfectly Every Time

how to set sewing machine tension

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which may result in You Sew And Sew receiving a small commission if you make a purchase. This will not affect the price you pay, but it does help us maintain the site and keep the information you’re reading free of charge (learn more). Any quoted prices, features, specifications etc. are correct at the time of writing, but please do check for yourself before buying. Thank you so much for supporting You Sew And Sew!

It’s probably happened to you: skipped stitches, breaking thread, puckering fabric around your sewing line, or even thread nests on the back of your fabric. As diverse as these problems might seem, they all come down to thread tension. Do you know how to adjust tension on a sewing machine? It’s easy, and it can save you a lot of aggravation.

Why Sewing Machine Tension is Important

Your sewing machine has two threads: a top thread and a bottom, or bobbin thread. When you sew, your machine interlocks these two threads to form a chain.

Machine Case GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Your sewing machine holds each of these threads taut as it pulls them through the machine. This helps them to work together to form tight, even, consistent stitches. But if the tension of either thread is off, it can cause problems with your stitching.

When it comes to tension problems, the top thread is usually, though not always, to blame. But many sewing machines allow you to adjust the tension of both threads. We’ll show you how to do that in a little while.

Some sewing machines have an automatic thread tension feature. This feature sets the tension for the type of sewing you’re doing at any given time. However, there will be times when you want to do that fine tuning yourself. Specifically, certain fabrics and thread types may require a bit of manual adjustment to get your stitches just right.

Fabric Type and Thread Tension

The thickness, texture, and fibre composition of a fabric give that fabric its specific qualities. They determine how a fabric feels to the touch, how it drapes, whether it stretches, and how it moves through the sewing machine. They also determine how a given fabric will interact with the thread. Different fabrics, therefore, will work best with different thread tensions.

In general, lightweight fabrics will require finer threads and tighter tension. Conversely, you’ll need to sew heavier fabrics with thicker thread, using looser tension.

Thread Type and Thread Tension

Many kinds of thread are made to work at a variety of tensions. The important thing, however, is matching.

Always match your top thread and bottom thread in terms of weight and fibre composition. Use polyester thread with polyester thread, cotton with cotton, lightweight with lightweight, and so forth.

Likewise, match your thread to your fabric. Lightweight fabric needs lightweight thread; heavier fabric needs heavier thread. Also, sew synthetic fabrics with synthetic thread and match natural to natural.

Also, please note that poor quality thread can damage your sewing machine’s tension disks in a number of ways. It can leave dust and debris on your disks. It can also knot in the tension mechanism and cause wear and tear on your disks.

A Few Words About Needles

The wrong needle can cause problems with your sewing machine tension. 

How?

Well, the needle pokes a hole in the fabric then guides the thread through. If the needle is too large, the hole it creates will be too large to hold the thread optimally. This, in turn, can affect the top thread tension. It may cause puckering or other problems related to unbalanced stitches.

To Sum Up

  • Use only high quality thread
  • Use the same thread for top and bottom
  • Match your thread to your fabric type
  • Use the right needle
  • Lighter fabrics require tighter tension; heavier fabrics need looser tension

What Number Should the Tension Be on a Sewing Machine? 

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. First, different types of sewing require different tension settings. Also, not every sewing machine manufacturer follows the same labeling convention for its tension adjustment mechanisms.

However, there are a few guidelines that may help.

Most sewing machine tension dials will be numbered 0 to 9 or 1 to 10. As you might guess, lower numbers mean lower tension. Likewise, a number in the middle, like 5, means a medium tension, which is a good, general-purpose tension setting. 

sewing machine tension dial

If your tension dial has an “A,”, that’s the automatic setting. This can mean a few different things. 

Higher end sewing machines have sensors that measure your fabric thickness and other variables so that your machine can select the correct tension. 

Other machines may adjust the thread tension to fit the stitch type. These adjustments don’t take into account fabric type or thickness, however, so you may still need to make manual adjustments.

Mechanical and lower-end computerized machines may have one universal or “automatic” tension that works well for a variety of different kinds of sewing. But again, you may still have to adjust for fabric type and thickness.

When in doubt, do a series of test stitches. If your fabric puckers, the tension is too high. If the stitches are loose, the tension is too low.

Incorrect tension can cause other problems, too, and we’ll discuss them in detail in our troubleshooting guide. Because knowing how to fix sewing machine tension can eliminate a whole range of problems.

How to Adjust Upper Thread Tension

If you’re having problems with thread tension, most of the time, the problem will be with the top thread. Fortunately, most sewing machines make adjusting the top thread tension easy.

First, check to see that your tension mechanism is working correctly. Lower your presser foot and give the upper thread a gentle tug. If the thread is tight, the mechanism is doing its job. If not, then it may be time to consult a sewing machine repair professional.

Next, determine whether your problem is stemming from too much tension or too little. 

Now, use your sewing machine’s dial or knob to adjust the tension. Remember: the larger the number, the higher the tension.

Sew a few test stitches after each adjustment to gauge whether further adjustments are needed.

Your stitches should be even, with no looping or nesting on either side. There should be no puckering around your line of stitches. The bottom thread should not show through on top, nor vice versa.

How to Adjust Bobbin Tension 

As we said before, the majority of tension problems will come from the upper thread. Even when the problem appears to be with the lower thread, such as loops on the fabric surface or the bottom thread showing through on top, the problem may not be the bobbin thread, but the relative tightness of the threads to one another.

The top thread is easier to adjust, so start there. Also make sure that:

  • Your bobbin is wound correctly
  • You have threaded your sewing machine the right way
  • The tension mechanism is clean and free of debris
  • You’re using the right needle for your thread and fabric
  • The thread matches both the fabric and the bobbin thread

If you’ve determined that the lower thread really does need to be adjusted, here’s how to adjust tension on a sewing machine bobbin.

How to Adjust Tension on a Side-Loading Bobbin

Remove the bobbin case. You will find a small screw on the side. With the bobbin still in the case, tighten or loosen the screw very gradually. Start with a quarter-turn at a time.

How to Adjust Tension on a Drop-In Bobbin

The bobbin case on a drop-in bobbin sewing machine looks a bit different from the metal bobbin case of a side-loading bobbin. However, this is also the place where you’ll be making the adjustment.

Take the bobbin case out of your sewing machine. With the bobbin removed from the case, find the screw. It will be in the front, near the spring that holds the thread. Adjust slowly and gradually, between one quarter-turn and one half-turn at a time. 

Are Tension Adjustments the Same for Every Make and Model?

Unfortunately, no. Different sewing machine makes and models will often have slight differences when it comes to thread tension regulation. However, the general principles are the same. And if you understand these general principles, then you’ll be able to understand how to adjust thread tension for your sewing machine.

Thread Guides

The top thread of everysewing machine travels along a path of obstacles from spool to needle. The path is different for different sewing machines. However, the purpose is always the same: to keep your upper thread from tangling, and to regulate that thread’s tension.

Most sewing machines mark the path between thread guides with arrows and numbers. If you’re having tension-related issues, double check your thread diagram to make sure you’ve followed the thread guides properly.

Tension Assembly

Your sewing machine’s tension assembly consists of tension disks and a tension regulator. 

Tension disks are small metal disks through which the thread passes before coming to the needle. The disks squeeze the thread to create tension. The tension regulator controls the amount of pressure that the disks exert on the thread. You can adjust this pressure using your sewing machine’s tension knob or dial.

The principle is the same for all sewing machines, though some machines may have a knob for adjustments, while others have a dial. Also, the numbering may differ on the knob or dial. And some sewing machines may also have an automatic or universal setting that others lack.

If you’re experiencing tension problems, first make sure that your regulator is set to the correct number for the type of sewing you’re doing. Also, check your disks, and, if necessary clean out any dust or debris.

Sewing Machine Tension Troubleshooting

Now that you understand a bit about thread tension and how your sewing machine regulates it, it’s time to consider specific tension-related problems.

First, Make Sure That Tension Really Is the Problem

Before you reach for the tension dial, it’s worth considering whether the problem really lies with thread tension regulation. Thread and stitches can go wrong for a number of other reasons. So consider a few of these first.

Sewing Machine Needle

You should always start every new project with a new needle of the appropriate size and type. Make sure that your needle is not bent or damaged in any way, and that you have installed it correctly. Several problems can stem from a bent, damaged, inappropriate, or wrongly-installed needle, including:

  • Broken threads
  • Loose stitches
  • Uneven stitches
  • Fabric damage
  • Skipped stitches
  • Thread shredding

Check Your Thread

Are you using the appropriate weight thread for your project? Are you matching synthetic thread with synthetic fabric, and natural thread with natural fabric? Do the upper and bobbin threads match? And, importantly, are you using a high quality thread? If not, then you might experience problems like these:

  • Broken threads
  • Fabric puckering
  • Fabric damage

Double Check Your Threading Diagram

Have you threaded your machine correctly? Are you sure? Go back and check. We’ll wait. If you’ve missed out one of your thread guides, not threaded the tension disks correctly, or mixed up the threading steps (it happens!) you might see the following problems:

  • Breaking threads
  • Thread bunching
  • Machine jamming
  • Loose stitches

What About Your Bobbin Thread?

If your bobbin thread isn’t drawing, it’s possible that the bobbin is sitting incorrectly in the case. Have a look and re-insert your bobbin if necessary.

An incorrectly wound bobbin can also cause problems, such as fabric puckering.

Check the Spool Cap

The spool cap holds your thread on the spool pin. If it’s too tight, it may cause your thread to jam or break. If it’s too loose, that can cause problems, too.

sewing machine tension

Is Your Presser Foot Down?

We all forget to lower the presser foot from time to time. The presser foot activates the tension disks, so you can imagine what will happen if you try to sew with it up. That’s right: no upper thread tension. This is what it looks like.

incorrect sewing machine tension

Is Your Machine Clean?

Over time lint, dust, and grease can gather in parts of your machine, including the tension disks and tension regulator. This can impede the flow of thread through your tension assembly. If the thread isn’t feeding correctly, give your tension assembly a good cleaning. Here’s how.

If you’ve gone through these steps and nothing has helped, now it’s worth looking at the thread tension.

Diagnosing Tension Related Problems

So, you’re certain that tension is causing your difficulties. It’s time to narrow that diagnosis down.

Is it the Top Thread or the Bobbin Thread?

Once you’ve figured out that your problem is tension-related, it’s time to decide if the problem lies with the upper thread or the lower one.

Generally speaking, the problem will appear on the opposite side of the fabric from the problem thread. So if the symptom appears on the fabric surface, the bottom thread may be to blame. Likewise, if you see an issue on the underside of the fabric, the cause probably lies with the top thread.

Again, most of the time the top thread will be the culprit. Even when it looks like the lower thread is to blame, it’s worth checking to see if you can remedy the situation by adjusting the tension of the upper thread relative to that of the lower.

Too Tight or Too Loose?

Thread tension requires a Goldilocks solution: not too tight and not too loose. Here’s how to tell which adjustment to make.

Signs that one or both threads are too tight:

  • Bottom thread coming through to the surface (top thread too tight)
  • Top thread pulling through to the underside (bottom thread too tight)
  • Fabric bunching
  • Fabric puckering
  • Broken thread
  • Stitches breaking when stretched
  • Machine jamming

If your top thread is too tight, for example, your bottom stitches may look like this:

sewing machine tension too tight

Signs that one or both threads are too loose:

  • Loops
  • Nests
  • Gaps in the seam
  • Skipped stitches
  • Uneven stitches

If your top thread is too loose, for example, your stitches may turn out this way.

sewing machine tension too loose

10 Sewing Machine Problems and What They Might Mean

A quick guide to common symptoms and what might be causing them.

Fabric Puckering 

Top or bottom thread tension too tight, thread mismatched to fabric, incorrectly wound bobbin

Broken Threads or Stitches

Damaged, incorrect, or incorrectly installed needle, top or bottom thread too tight, machine not threaded correctly, dirty tension assembly, poor quality thread, spool cap too tight

Skipped Stitches

Top or bottom thread too loose, spool cap too loose, machine not threaded correctly, presser foot up; wrong, damaged, or incorrectly installed sewing machine needle

Uneven Stitches

Top or bottom thread too loose; wrong, incorrectly installed, or damaged sewing machine needle, sewing machine not threaded correctly

Gaps in the Seam

Top or bottom thread too loose, spool cap too loose

Loops and Nests

Top or bottom thread too loose, spool cap too loose, sewing machine not threaded correctly, presser foot up

Bottom Thread Showing on the Surface

Top thread tension too tight, or too tight relative to bottom thread

Top Thread Showing on the Bottom

Bottom thread tension too tight, or too tight relative to top thread

Top Thread Not Feeding

Incorrectly threaded sewing machine, dirty tension assembly, spool cap too tight; wrong, incorrectly installed, or damaged sewing machine needle, top thread tension too tight

Lower Thread Not Feeding

Bobbin thread tension too tight, bobbin incorrectly wound, bobbin sitting incorrectly in bobbin case

Does Your Thread Tension Need Attention?

Thread tension problems can be the bane of any project. And once you understand how thread tension works, it can be easy to fix, or even prevent them.

At the same time, lots of things can cause issues that look like tension problems but aren’t. And many tension problems aren’t caused by — or cured by — the tension regulator.

Before reaching for that dial, consider other factors that may affect tension: 

  • Are you using a new, undamaged sewing machine needle that’s gauged for your project? 
  • Have you matched your top and bottom threads to the fabric and to each other? 
  • Is your machine threaded correctly? 
  • And is your tension assembly clean and free of debris?

Most true tension problems come down to the upper thread. However, sometimes the bobbin thread is to blame. Fortunately, neither one is complicated to adjust.

Do you have a tension tip or trick you’d like to share? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

sewing machine tension guide

How To Thread A Needle: Pass Machine & Hand Sewing Needles Easily

how to thread a needle tips

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which may result in You Sew And Sew receiving a small commission if you make a purchase. This will not affect the price you pay, but it does help us maintain the site and keep the information you’re reading free of charge (learn more). Any quoted prices, features, specifications etc. are correct at the time of writing, but please do check for yourself before buying. Thank you so much for supporting You Sew And Sew!

Do you know how to thread a needle? I don’t mean conceptually. That’s easy. Have you ever struggled with pushing a fuzzy thread-end through a teeny, tiny hole? Have you ever thought, there has to be an easier way? You’re right. In fact, there are several. We’ll show you seven. Yes, seven.

What You’ll Need to Complete This Tutorial

There are several different types of needles, and each has its own tips and tricks for threading. Unsurprisingly, each technique requires slightly different tools.

What sort of needle are you trying to thread? And how are you hoping to accomplish it? Let’s have a look.

Threading a Regular Hand Sewing Needle

Threading a Self-Threading Hand Sewing Needle

Threading a Sewing Machine Needle by Hand

  • Thread
  • Your sewing machine needle
  • Scissors or thread snips
  • Sewing machine needle threader (optional)
  • Beeswax (optional)

Threading a Self-Threading Sewing Machine Needle

Threading a Sewing Machine Needle With an Automatic Threader

  • Thread
  • Your sewing machine needle
  • Your sewing machine’s attached needle threader

How to Thread a Needle for Hand Sewing: 3 Different Ways

Do you have your tools? Right. Let’s do this. 

Method 1: Threading a Regular Hand-Sewing Needle

A hand-sewing needle is, of course, what you might carry in your emergency kit in case of a lost button. It’s a simple tool: a thin rod of metal with a point on one end and an eye on the other. The trick is to get the thread through the eye. You probably already know that it can be harder than it sounds. 

Step 1: Gather Your Materials

You will need your needle:

needle wallet

your thread:

orange thread

a pair of scissors or snips:

scissors

your beeswax (optional):

beeswax for sewing

and your handy needle-threader (also optional). 

needle threader

A needle threader isn’t necessary, but it does make things a lot easier. This is especially true if your needle has a small, difficult-to-see eye.

Step 2: Prepare Your Thread

You could just try to jam your thread through the eye of the needle. But if you take the time to prepare the thread, it’s a lot easier.

First, snip the end of the thread at an angle. This will do two things. First, it will remove any fuzz or fraying. These are two of the things that make threading a needle difficult. Also, snipping at an angle will make a little point that will guide the rest of the thread through the eye.

snip thread

If you like, you can also smooth a bit of beeswax onto the end of the thread. This will make your thread end stiffer and straighter. And that will help it to go through the eye of the needle easier as well.

Step 3: Your Needle Threader

Needle threaders are cool little tools. They’re cheap, easy to come by, and they work a treat. 

How do you use it? It’s easy! The thin wire “eye” of the threader collapses so it can fit through even the smallest needle eye. So first, poke the wire through the eye.

thread needle threader

See how it expands once it’s through? See how nice and big the opening is? Put your thread through that.

threading a needle with threader

Now, pull the threader back out. The thread will follow. You’re done! Wasn’t that easy?

a threaded needle

Method 2: Threading a Hand Sewing Needle Without a Threader

A needle threader is a wonderful thing, but you don’t have to have one. If you’ve snipped your thread end to a point and applied your beeswax, the thread should go through the eye of your needle pretty easily on its own.

needle with orange thread

Method 3: Threading a Self-Threading Hand Sewing Needle

Self-threading needles, whether for hand sewing or for a sewing machine have a very small gap on one side of the eye. With a self-threading needle, you load the thread from the side. This means no cutting, waxing, or poking.

A self-threading needle doesn’t mean there’s no work to do. But the unique design of that needle’s eye means that the work is a bit easier. Here’s how you thread a self-threading needle.

Simply loop the thread around the body of the needle.

needle threading orange thread

Now slide it up to the eye and pull it down. The thread will slot easily into the eye from the side. Watch the entire process from beginning to end in the video below:

How to Thread a Needle on a Sewing Machine: 4 Ways

Just like with hand sewing needles, there are a surprising number of ways to thread a sewing machine needle. But first, you’ll need to prepare your machine.

Preparing Your Sewing Machine

Threading a sewing machine is a multi-step process that ends with the thread traveling through the eye of the needle. But before you get to that step, you’ll have to thread the top thread and the bobbin thread. Here’s how.

Step 1: Follow Your Sewing Machine’s Top Thread Threading Diagram

Every sewing machine model threads the top thread a bit differently. However, if you look at your machine closely, you’ll find a diagram that shows you the exact path your top thread should follow. The different steps keep the thread flowing smoothly through the machine, help to keep it from tangling, and regulate the thread tension.

Here’s the top thread threading diagram for my sewing machine.

thread sewing machine needle diagram

This video shows how to follow the threading diagram for a Brother mechanical sewing machine:

Step 2: The Bobbin Thread

The bobbin thread is the bottom thread. Every sewing machine will have either a top-loading bobbin or a front-loading bobbin.

For a top-loading drop-in bobbin, remove the bobbin cover. 

Now, slip the bobbin into place. Pay particular attention to the diagram on your bobbin cover. Some machines require the thread to come off the bobbin from the left side, while others require it to come off the right.

thread sewing machine needle

Now, pull the thread through the slot in the bobbin well. Pull it up and to the left.

You can watch the process here:

For a front-loading (or side-loading) bobbin, the process is a bit different.

First, remove the bobbin case. Then insert your bobbin into the bobbin case. Direction matters, just like with a top-loading bobbin. So be sure to follow your manufacturer’s directions.

Guide the thread into the slot, and pull it through the metal band. Now replace the bobbin case and shut the door to the bottom compartment.

This video shows you how it’s done:

Now you’re ready to bring the top thread through the needle.

Method 1: Threading a Sewing Machine Needle with an Automatic Needle Threader

Many modern sewing machines come with an automatic needle threader. The design may be different on different machines, but the function is the same. An automatic needle threader takes the fiddly part out of threading your sewing machine needle. 

You won’t have to worry about trying to poke a tiny thread end through a tiny hole. Likewise, you won’t have to bother with cutting or waxing.

An automatic needle threader looks like this:

automatic needle threader

So, how do you use an automatic needle threader? Again, different sewing machines have different designs, but the steps are more or less the same.

Step 1: Double-Check Your Top Thread

Have you guided your top thread through the threading diagram correctly? Yes? Good. 

Step 2: Open the Needle Threader

Many automatic needle threaders are spring loaded. To open the needle threader, find the button or lever and press it.

Step 3: Load the Thread

Most automatic needle threaders use a hook to either push or pull the thread through the eye of your sewing machine needle. In this model, I’m guiding the thread into the right position in the threader.

using an automatic needle threader

Step 4: Release the Threader

Now release the threader. It will guide the thread through the needle then return, automatically, to its place. It’s easy!

Check out this video of a Singer needle threader in action:

Method 2: Threading Your Sewing Machine With a Hand Held Needle Threader

Some sewing machines don’t come with an automatic needle threader. That can be a pain in the neck, but it’s not the end of the world. 

You can purchase a hand-held needle threader for sewing machine needles. Like threaders for hand sewing needles, these are cheap and easy to find. They work in a similar way to an automatic needle threader. Check this out.

Step 1: Position Your Threader

Hold your threader in your right hand, with the pointy bits facing to the left. The top hook should face up. The needle threader has a plunger, like a syringe. This should be facing to the right, with your thumb on top of it.

using a Machine Needle Inserter & Threader
Image is a screenshot from the featured video

Step 2: Insert the Thread

Place the thread horizontally through the Y-groove. Now, place the loaded needle threader against the top of the needle, above the eye.

Machine Needle Inserter & Threader in use
Image is a screenshot from the featured video

Step 3: Bring the Threader Down

Slide the loaded threader down the needle toward the eye, until the inner wire catches the needle’s eye.

Step 4: Push the Plunger

Once the hook has contacted the eye, press the plunger. This should push the thread through the eye of your sewing machine needle. 

Machine Needle Inserter and Threader being used
Image is a screenshot from the featured video

Step 5: Finish the Job

You were probably wondering what the little plastic hook on the end was for. It’s for pulling the thread the rest of the way through! Simply slip the hook through the loop and gently pull. You’re done!

You can see the entire process from start to finish here:

Method 3: Threading a Self-Threading Sewing Machine Needle

A self-threading sewing machine needle works on the same principle as a self-threading hand sewing needle. There’s a gap in the eye that allows you to pull the thread through without having to squint and poke.

Simply loop the thread around the body of your sewing machine needle. Then pull it gently down toward the eye. Now tug it sideways into the eye. Done!

You can see the process in action below.

Method 4: No Threader, No Problem

The last method is the most straightforward, but, let’s face it: it can be a pain. Nonetheless, there are ways to make it less painful.

Step 1: Prepare Your Thread

A fuzzy, frayed thread end can be a hindrance for threading a sewing machine needle, just as it can with a hand sewing needle. So prepare your thread. Cut the edge at an angle, and, if you like, add a dab of beeswax to the tip.

Step 2: Guide it Through

Now guide the thread through the eye. Many sewing machines require the thread to go in from front to back. Some, however, may require the thread to enter from the side.

Many Ways to Thread a Needle

Who knew there were so many ways to thread a needle? And who knew there were so many tips, tricks, and devices to make it easier? It all comes down to having the right tools and giving your thread a little bit of tender loving care.

Do you have a special trick for threading a needle? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

how to thread a needle

How To Sew A Zipper: Easy Step-By-Step Guide For Beginners

how to sew a zipper beginners guide

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which may result in You Sew And Sew receiving a small commission if you make a purchase. This will not affect the price you pay, but it does help us maintain the site and keep the information you’re reading free of charge (learn more). Any quoted prices, features, specifications etc. are correct at the time of writing, but please do check for yourself before buying. Thank you so much for supporting You Sew And Sew!

It’s happened to all of us. You’re heading out the door, putting on your favorite jacket, and the zipper bites the dust. Time to throw out that jacket? It doesn’t have to be. If you know how to sew a zipper, your favorite jacket, backpack, trousers, or other item can be ready to use again in no time.

What You’ll Need

Fixing your zipper isn’t hard, but you need the right tools for the job. Here’s what you’ll need to follow our tutorial.

A Replacement Zipper

sewing leather jacket zipper

Consider your replacement zipper carefully. You may want to choose something similar to your old zip. Or you might want to choose something better. Either way, think about the following.

Length

Measure different types of zippers differently. Your measurements should include the zipper but not the zipper tape (the part that you will be sewing).

Measure closed-bottom zippers from the bottom stop to the top stop.

Measure separating-bottom zippers from the box (that metal square at the bottom) to the stop pin (that larger bit that keeps the puller from running off at the top).

The resulting measurement will give you the length, in inches or centimetres, of your new zipper. 

Gauge

Gauge refers to the thickness of the zipper. Heavier items use heavier gauge zippers. The higher the gauge number, the larger the teeth of your zipper. [1]

The gauge number roughly corresponds to the size of the teeth. To measure the teeth, start at the left side and measure all the way across. The millimeter measurement will give you a rough idea of the gauge. If the teeth part of your zipper measures 3.1 to 3.5 millimeters across, for example, the gauge is #3.

Style and Material

sewing a zipper on a bag
A nylon coil zipper

There are a lot of different kinds of zippers out there. Here are some of the most common ones.

The conventional zipper design has individual metal teeth lined up at intervals along the zipper tape.

Coil zippers are made from coils of nylon or polyester sewn into the zipper tape. They’re popular in luggage and camping gear. Their design makes it easy to fix an out-of-alignment zip. They are also very strong.

Invisible zippers disappear into the seam of an item. You might find these in dresses and skirts. Any type of zipper can be an invisible zipper. “Invisible” refers to the way it’s sewn into an item, rather than to a specific zipper design.

Open-bottom zippers (or separating-bottom zippers) open all the way. Jacket zippers are an example. Conversely, closed-bottom zippers stop at the bottom. Trouser and dress zippers are generally closed-bottom zips.

Two-way separating zippers can zip open and shut in both directions. These are common in tents and luggage.

The Correct Presser Foot

You can use an ordinary presser foot to sew a zipper, but it might prove more difficult in tight places. 

A zipper foot is made for this task. It’s smaller than a standard presser foot and you can adjust some of them to either side as needed. Zipper feet also come in a range of sizes.

adjustable vertical needle zipper foot
An adjustable vertical needle zipper foot

The great news is, a zipper foot comes standard with many sewing machines. And if one didn’t come with yours, they’re inexpensive and easy to find.

There are many different kinds of zipper feet, including:

  • Zipper foot/piping foot: the standard, narrower zipper foot
  • Invisible zipper foot for sewing invisible zippers
  • Adjustable zipper foot: can be used on either side of the needle

Check out this zipper foot in action.

You will also need:

Optional:

  • Scissors for shortening plastic or coil zippers
  • Metal snippers and jewelry pliers for shortening metal zippers (I like this set from WorkPro)

Do you have everything you need? Great. Let’s go.

How to Sew a Zipper Step by Step

How you sew in your new zipper will depend on the type of zipper. Are you replacing an invisible zip? Or will your new zipper show? Either way, the first step is taking out the old one.

Removing the Old Zipper

No matter what kind of new zipper you’re installing, the first step is to take out the old one. For this, you’ll need your seam ripper.

seam ripper
A seam ripper

First, locate the rows of stitches that hold the zipper in place. Now use the point of your seam ripper to gently lift a stitch. Slide the stitch along the curved cutting edge until it breaks. Now remove the rest of the stitches until your zipper comes free.

Prepare Your New Zipper

It’s easiest to buy a zipper that’s exactly the same size as the old one. But what if you can’t find one? Or what if you have another zipper that would look great but is slightly too long? Never fear. You can use that one too.

First, measure your old zipper. Next, use your fabric pen to mark the new length on the zipper tape of the new zipper. Then hand-sew a succession of whip stitches around the teeth where you want the new bottom to be. You can machine sew a bar tack for this part, provided you’re very, very precise about your stitch length. [2]

Finally, trim your new zipper. If you have a plastic, nylon, or polyester zipper, you can use ordinary scissors. If your zipper is metal, you’ll need to use metal snips.

Watch how it’s done below.

How to Sew an Exposed Zipper

Sewing an exposed zipper is a bit easier than sewing in an invisible one. Still, since everyone will be seeing your new zip, it pays to do it right.

Step 1: Mark

You’ll use your fabric marking pen to make two marks on the wrong side of your fabric. First, make a mark three-quarters of an inch from the top of the seam. Then lay your zipper along the seam so that the top of the teeth meet that mark.

sewing a zipper mark

Now, make a second mark right below the box (the metal bottom) of your zipper.

marking fabric for zipper sewing

Set the zipper aside.

Step 2: Stabilize (Optional but recommended)

Stabilize your seam edges by ironing a strip of stabilizing tape or a one-inch wide strip of fusible interfacing onto the seam edges. Do this on both edges, on the wrong side of the fabric.

stabilizing seam for zipper sewing

Step 3: Stay-Stitch

Next, stay-stitch the fabric three-quarters of an inch (1.9 centimeters) from the edge of each seam. [3]

Step 3: Close the Seam

Now, using a ⅝-inch (1.6 cm) seam allowance, sew the edges of the seam together starting ever-so-slightly below where the box (bottom) of the zipper will sit, and ending at the end of your work.

closing seam with allowance

Step 4: Clip and Press

Clip from the edge of the seam to the seam allowance at the base of the zipper opening. Press the seam allowance open.

sewing a zipper guide

Now press open the seam above the cut. Press it open to the seam allowance.

guide to sewing a zipper

Step 5: Pin and Baste

Pin your zipper along the seam, so that the right side of the zipper is facing up through the right side of the fabric. If you want to baste the zipper to the fabric, do so now.

pin and baste zipper seam

Step 6: Trim 

Double-check the wrong side of the fabric. If necessary, trim the seam allowances.

trimming seam allowances

Step 7: Stitch

This step is easier if you begin with the zipper unzipped.

Starting at the top pin, stitch along the right side of the fabric, between one eighth of an inch (3 millimeters) and one quarter-inch (6 millimeters) from the zipper teeth. 

stitching a zipper

When you get to the bottom, stitch around the box of your zipper, rotate your work, and continue up the other side to the other top pin.

zipper seam allowance trim

When you’re finished, remove any basting stitches.

How to Sew an Invisible Zipper

An invisible zipper hides in the seam of a garment. You won’t see any machine stitching on the right side of the fabric. This is a popular type of zipper for different types of garments where a zipper would ruin the line of the garment or the pattern of the fabric.

Sew your invisible zipper in while the pieces of your pattern are flat and unattached. An invisible zipper foot is designed to sew invisible zippers, though you can use a regular zipper foot, or even a regular presser foot.

An invisible zipper foot
An invisible zipper foot

Step 1: Prepare the Seam Edges

If you want to serge your seam edges, now is the time. Alternately, you can secure your edges with stabilizing tape or fusible interfacing.

Step 2: Mark 

As with a visible zip, use your fabric marker to make a mark ¾ of an inch from the top of the fabric, on the right side of both pieces.

Also mark a ⅝-inch seam allowance on the right side of both pieces. You will place the zipper along these marks.

mark for invisible zipper sewing

Step 3: Pin the First Side of Your Zip

Lay the coil (or teeth) of your zipper right on the seam allowance marking. Lay it face down and pin it into place. Pay close attention to the directionality of your zip, because it’s easy to get this part wrong. The teeth should face away from the edge of the fabric.

pinning invisible zipper for sewing

If you want to baste the zipper into place, you can do that now.

Step 4: Sew the First Side

Again, sewing your zipper is easier if the zipper is open.

Place the zipper coil (or teeth) under the groove on your invisible zipper foot. Start at the top edge of the fabric and stitch down until you are parallel with the box. Make a bar tack and cut your thread.

sewing invisible zipper tips

Step 5: Pin the Second Side

Now pin the second side to the other piece of fabric and baste if desired. Again, the teeth should face away from the fabric’s edge. Your zipper will look twisted, and that’s okay. You’ll be untwisting it soon enough.

Step 6: Sew the Second Side

Following the same procedure as in Step 4, sew the second side of the zipper to the fabric. Make sure that the ¾-inch marks at the top of both pieces line up before you start sewing.

Step 7: Take a Peek

Oh dear, it looks rather twisted now, doesn’t it? Never fear. Simply zip the zipper and turn your work over to get a sneak peek at your invisible zipper.

an invisible zipper partly sewn

 Better? Good. Now, on to the next part.

Step 7: Finish the Seam Below the Zip

Return to the wrong side of your work. Moving the tail of your zipper out of the way, bring the fabric edges together at the seam allowance, and stitch the seam together.

seam finish for invisible zipper

Now turn your work over and finish the top.

That wasn’t so bad, was it?

All Zipped Up

Replacing a zipper isn’t difficult if you know how. Better yet, doing so can save you money, and save your favorite bag or garment.

Build your zipper replacement tool kit before you need it. Remember, you’ll need to be able to remove your old zipper, mark your fabric, pin a new zipper into place, and sew the new zipper in. You can often use a regular presser foot, but a special zipper foot can make your work easier, especially if you anticipate any tight stitching. 

You might also find it helpful to have a few spare zippers of different lengths and gauges to hand.

Are you ready to fix your zipper? Let’s go!

how to sew a zipper

REFERENCES

  1. SBSZipper | How To Measure The Zipper Gauge Correctly | https://www.sbs-zipper.com/blog/how-to-measure-the-zipper-gauge-correctly/
  2. wikiHow Staff | How to Whipstitch | https://www.wikihow.com/Whipstitch
  3. Collins | Stay Stitching | https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/stay-stitching

What Is Microfiber Made Of And How Easy Is It To Work With?

what is microfiber

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which may result in You Sew And Sew receiving a small commission if you make a purchase. This will not affect the price you pay, but it does help us maintain the site and keep the information you’re reading free of charge (learn more). Any quoted prices, features, specifications etc. are correct at the time of writing, but please do check for yourself before buying. Thank you so much for supporting You Sew And Sew!

Microfiber — or microfibre — you’ve seen it. You’ve probably used it. Perhaps you’ve even read about the pollution that microfibers cause. But aside from being an ultra-fine denier synthetic fabric, what is it, really? Buckle up. We’re going to tell you.

What is microfiber?

multicolored microfibers cloths

The term “microfiber” covers a variety of cloth types, each with its own fiber content, characteristics, and applications. What unites them all is this: they are made from synthetic fibers, and those fibres are all less than 0.7 denier in thickness. [1]

Microfiber is incredibly versatile, and once you know what to look for, you’ll start seeing it everywhere. Microfiber fabric comes in woven and knit varieties. You’ll find it in clothing, upholstery, and housewares. Some industrial filters use microfiber. And there’s nothing like a microfiber cloth for certain cleaning jobs.

But as useful as microfiber technology is, it also has a huge environmental impact. Just like the microbeads that many countries have banned, microfibers are proving devastating to aquatic life. And a recent study found that microfibers comprise 85 percent of human-made debris that washes up on shorelines around the world. [2, 3, 4]

So, microfiber: gift or curse? That’s the decision that we, the consumers, have to make.

What is Microfiber Made From?

microfiber fabric close up

The term “microfiber” refers to any fabric made from synthetic fibers that are less than 0.7 denier in thickness.

Microfiber technology dates back to the 1950s. The first widely available microfiber fabric, Ultrasuede, a high-end synthetic suede, became widely available in the 1970s. The number and types of microfiber fabrics have exploded since then. [5]

Ultrasuede is made from ultra-fine polyester fibers, but it’s just one type of microfiber. [6]

Some other common types include:

  • Polyamide (nylon)
  • Polypropylene 
  • Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET)
  • Combinations of different synthetic fibers

What is Microfiber Used For?

The reason microfiber is so ubiquitous is that it’s so good for so many things. Here are some of its main applications.

Leather Substitute

The first widely commercially available microfiber fabric was Ultrasuede, a suede substitute. Ultrasuede and similar microfiber fabrics are less expensive than leather. They’re also an appealing option for people who wish to avoid leather. 

You’ll find microfiber used as a leather substitute in clothing, shoes, handbags, wallets, upholstery, sports equipment, and more.

Clothing and Activewear

A different type of microfiber is widely used today in athletic wear and compression garments. Its water resistance and moisture-wicking ability make it a natural for shirts, leggings, and shorts. Other types of microfiber appear in compression garments for athletic and medical use. You’ll even find microfiber in shoe construction.

Linens and Housewares

Some microfiber fabrics are soft and fine, and can mimic more expensive fabrics like silk, cotton, and linen. Also, unlike these fabrics, microfiber fabrics are generally machine washable and hard-wearing. Some varieties are highly absorbent, too. And it goes without saying that microfiber is a lot less expensive.

For these reasons, you’ll find microfiber in products like:

  • Table linens
  • Bed linens
  • Upholstery
  • Towels and washcloths

Cleaning Products

Some microfiber fabrics have a magic combination of softness and absorbency that make them the material of choice for certain cleaning jobs.

Do you need a soft cloth that won’t scratch glass lenses or other delicate surfaces? That’s microfiber. How about a super-absorbent towel for a quick cleanup? It’s microfiber to the rescue. Microfiber absorbs grease and oil, as well as other liquids. And it doesn’t leave dust or lint. 

Also, instead of moving dirt and dust around, microfiber actually traps it and lifts it away. It can also remove dust mites without the use of chemicals. For this reason, microfiber is a boon to allergy sufferers. [7[

Because it can also sweep up bacteria and microbes, microfiber cleaning products reduce the need for chemical cleaners and reduces cleaning time as well. And microfiber (“Swiffer-type”) mops can also reduce cross-contamination. [8]

Common cleaning applications for microfiber include:

  • Lens cleaning cloths
  • Rags
  • Dish cloths
  • Towels and washcloths
  • Wipes
  • Mop heads

For safer, faster, and more effective cleaning, there’s really nothing like microfiber.

Medical Uses

Because of their low cost and comparative disposability, some types of microfiber lend themselves to different medical uses, including:

  • Surgical gowns
  • Hospital drapes
  • Wound dressings
  • Sutures
  • Medical meshes
  • Face masks
  • Protective gloves
  • Surgical packs
  • Hospital bedding and linens
  • Hospital-grade cleaning supplies

The ultra-fine fibers of microfiber cleaning implements can filter out and pick up microbes and bacteria that larger denier thread fabrics miss. From PPE to hospital-grade cleaning, microfiber is making hospitals cleaner and safer.

Construction Materials

Microfibers add strength and stability to certain construction materials, including:

  • Insulation
  • Reinforced concrete
  • Lamination between textiles and boards
  • Liquid transport media
  • High performance air and automotive filters 
  • And more

Why Has Microfiber Become So Popular?

pile of microfiber fabric

Microfiber’s popularity comes down to a combination of unique characteristics which allow it to outperform different sorts of fibers in a huge number of applications. Here are some of microfiber’s best qualities.

Soft

Because microfiber fabrics are made from ultra-fine filaments, many of them are exceedingly soft. Not just soft to the touch, but soft enough to clean lenses and other delicate surfaces without scratching them.

Strong

Microfiber fabrics are hard-wearing and durable. They resist both water and abrasion. When mixed with industrial compounds like concrete, microfibers add strength and stability.

Super Absorbent

Microfiber cloth can hold 16 times the amount of liquid that cotton cloth can hold. This is because of its special structure. Notice how a cotton thread is solid, while the microfiber thread has splits. These splits aid the rapid absorption of liquid.

microfiber vs cotton absorbency

Moisture Resistant

While some microfiber cloth is made to absorb liquids, others, especially the varieties that include nylon, are designed to repel liquid. Some polyester microfiber fabrics have coatings that render them 100 percent waterproof. This makes them suitable for outerwear, backpacks, handbags, and more.

Moisture Wicking

Some microfiber fabrics wick sweat and moisture away from your body while allowing air to circulate. This is a very valuable quality in sportswear, base layers, and warm-weather clothing.

Machine Washable

Many types of microfiber are machine washable. This makes them excellent for a wide range of applications, from clothing to bed and table linens, to other sorts of housewares. But before tossing your favorite microfiber item into the washing machine, always make sure to check the manufacturer’s care instructions.

Semi-Disposable

Because most microfiber materials are less expensive than their organic counterparts, many products can be treated as disposable or semi-disposable. The use of disposable and semi-disposable products in hospitals reduces the chances of cross-contamination during medical procedures, as well as during cleaning.

Inexpensive

Different microfiber fabrics provide less expensive substitutes for luxury materials like silk, leather, and linen. 

Cruelty Free

Some microfiber fabrics provide a high-quality, lower-priced, cruelty free alternative to animal-derived materials like leather and silk. 

Attracts Dust and Dirt

The structure of the fibers in microfiber rags and mops attracts dust and dirt, and holds it in, rather than spreading it around. This makes microfiber an excellent material for a number of different types of cleaning.

Removes Bacteria and Microbes

The tiny fibers in microfiber fabric can also trap some bacteria and microbes. This makes it possible to do a more complete cleaning job while using fewer cleaning chemicals.

Anti-Dust and Anti-Lint

One of the main selling points of microfiber cloth for cleaning applications is that it doesn’t leave dust or lint behind. 

Are There Different Types of Microfiber?

folded microfiber sheets

Oh, yes.

There are a huge number of microfiber fabrics, each with its own fiber content, production method, individual characteristics, and uses. Here are the main types.

Polyamide (nylon)

Polyamide, or nylon microfiber is made from nylon. It’s one of the more expensive types of microfiber. Polyamide microfiber has the following characteristics:

  • Stretchy
  • Soft
  • Easy to clean
  • Lightweight
  • Strong
  • Heat and flame resistant

Nomex and Kevlar are two types of polyamide microfiber. Nylon microfiber is also widely used in apparel and upholstery. [9]

Polypropylene (Prolen)

Polypropylene has a vast range of applications, including microfiber fabric and other products. Some characteristics of polypropylene microfiber include:

  • Lightweight
  • Colorfast
  • Inexpensive
  • Strong
  • Moisture wicking

Polypropylene microfiber is a popular fabric for cold-weather base layers and hot-weather clothing (because of its moisture wicking properties). You’ll also find it in bedding, diapers, and sanitary products. Prolen is a type of polypropylene microfiber used for suturing.

Polyester

Polyester microfiber has the following characteristics:

  • Inexpensive
  • Stiff
  • Moisture-wicking
  • Easy to wash
  • Crinkle resistant
  • Shrink resistant
  • Resists mildew
  • Resists abrasion
  • Chemical resistant
  • Quick drying
  • Weather resistant

Polyester microfiber is a popular material for athletic clothing, outerwear, backpacks, and handbags. 

PET

If a fabric is advertised as being made from recycled plastic, chances are it’s PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic. Whether you know it or not, the following fabrics are made from PET plastic, recycled and otherwise.

  • Dacron
  • Trevira
  • Terylene

PET fabrics are strong and water resistant. They’re used in clothing manufacture and carpeting.

Microfiber Blend

You might also come across cloth labeled as “microfiber blend.” What does that mean? It’s fairly self-explanatory. Manufacturers may blend two or more types of microfibers to create a fabric that has properties of both.

Woven Microfiber

Microfibers can be woven to create different types of cloth. You might find woven microfiber cloth in:

  • Cleaning cloths and rags
  • Apparel
  • Linens and bedding
  • Handbags and backpacks
  • Industrial cleaning

Split Microfiber

In order to make some microfiber fabrics super-absorbent, manufacturers split the fibers during the manufacturing process. Split microfibers are multi-stranded, which creates the open spaces that result in increased absorbency.

Non-Woven Microfiber

One of the primary uses of non-woven microfiber is disposable and semi-disposable cleaning supplies, including:

  • Wipes
  • Cleaning sponges
  • “Swiffer”-type mop heads

How Easy is it to Work With?

pink microfiber material

This, of course, depends on which microfiber fabric you’re talking about. In general, the types of microfiber used in garments and bags are fairly easy to sew. Many types are fray resistant, and many types (but not all) hold their shape well.

If you’re sewing woven microfiber fabric, treat it as you would any fabric with a tight weave. Use sharp needles and use a new needle for every project. Sharp, new needles will minimize damage to your fabric, and will help stop the fabric from puckering around your stitches. 

And always match your needle gauge to your fabric type. Microtex needles are made to sew ultra-fine fibers.

For knit microfiber fabrics, choose a ballpoint needle. Also, if your fabric is stretchy, make sure to choose stretch stitches when sewing.

If your microfiber is a stretchy variety, use polyester thread instead of cotton thread. Polyester thread also has some stretch, and will work better than cotton thread. Make sure to match your thread weight to your fabric as well: light thread with light fabric, heavier thread with heavier fabric.

Consider using a stabilizer for lightweight microfiber fabrics, especially when sewing around curves. An iron-in stabilizer could harm the drape and flow of your fabric. But if your fabric is machine washable, you could use a washable spray stabilizer. You could also pin tissue paper to the bottom of the fabric during sewing, and remove it when you’re done.

Remember that all microfiber is synthetic. This means that most microfiber fabrics you’ll be working with are sensitive to heat. So iron on a low heat setting suitable for synthetics, and use a press cloth to minimize damage.

Should We Really Be Using Microfiber Fabric Anyway?

Microfiber fabrics are amazingly versatile, and what they do, they do better than pretty much any other material. But they have a large and undeniable environmental impact. Finding the balance between this material’s benefits and its environmental costs is one of the most important tasks that stands before us.

Pollution

The pollution caused by microbeads, those tiny bits of plastic that add a mild abrasive quality to cosmetics and cleaning supplies, is well documented. Many governments have banned microbeads as a result. Unfortunately, microfibers cause similar environmental damage, and on a similar scale.

One major source of microfiber pollution is the gray water from our own laundry. When we wash our microfiber items, they shed a lot of those tiny fibers into the water. How many? Try around 9 million fibers per wash! Those fibers then make their way into lakes, rivers, and oceans. [10, 11]

When we wear or use microfiber items, we’re also releasing fibers into the air.

Animal Life

When PET-based microfiber fleece came on to the market, a lot of us rejoiced. Finally, a way to recycle all of those soda bottles into something beautiful and useful! Unfortunately, microfibers have been a disaster for marine life. 

Some two million tons of microfiber is released into the ocean every year. Of that, 700,000 tons come from domestic laundering of microfleece. [12]

Marine animals ingest the fibers. Not only are the fibers potentially toxic, but they are also indigestible. This can cause problems with feeding, digestion, reproduction, and other vital life functions. And those problems can pass up the food chain, all the way to us.

Human Health

Microfibers make their way into the water supply and into the air. Food animals, particularly seafood animals, swallow them, and they make our way into our bodies, as well. If that’s not enough, microfibers expand in the ocean and absorb bacteria, which we then ingest.

Microplastics present a few different threats to human health. One study shows that microplastics accumulate in the kidneys, liver, intestines, and possibly the brain. Another study showed that phthalates make breast cancer cells grow faster and become more invasive. And in a third study, 87 percent of test subjects had microplastics in their lungs. [12, 13, 14]

There’s a lot of plastic in the environment, and a lot of plastic in us already. Microfibers are only adding to the problem.

Petroleum based

Finally, let’s not forget that microfiber fabrics are derived from different types of plastic. And plastic is a petroleum product [15], with all of the attendant environmental impact, including:

  • Oil spills 
  • Release of toxic refining chemicals 
  • Climate change
  • Ground and surface water contamination
  • Soil contamination
  • Air pollution

So just don’t buy microfiber? All right, but you’d have to work very hard to avoid it. Over 60 percent of garments on the market today have microfiber content.

And what about all of microfiber’s unique benefits?

For some applications, particularly hospital-level cleaning, microfiber’s benefits are undeniable. Microfiber cleaning products eliminate dirt and prevent cross-contamination without leaving dust behind. In addition, their unique properties mean that you can get things cleaner while using fewer cleaning chemicals.

As always, there’s a balance to be struck. 

Natural Alternatives to Microfiber

Are there natural alternatives to microfiber? Well, considering the fact that many microfiber fabrics were invented as alternatives to natural fibers, we’d say yes. Of course you may pay more for them. Here are a few.

Leather

The first commercially available microfiber fabric was Ultrasuede, a suede substitute. There are also microfiber fabrics that mimic full-grain leather. The lower cost of microfiber has made it a popular material for traditionally leather goods like wallets, handbags, clothing and sports equipment. 

For people who don’t mind leather’s animal origins, and are willing to pay more for materials, leather is a natural alternative to microfiber.

Silk

Some types of microfiber mimic the soft, lightweight, drapey characteristics of silk. Microfiber is much cheaper than silk, however, so it’s become a very popular apparel fabric.

In addition to the cost, some people object to silk’s animal origins. However, silk is another natural alternative to microfiber.

Cotton

Cotton is a natural alternative to some types of microfiber, especially when it comes to bed linens. They’re both soft. However, cotton is absorbent, while microfiber wicks moisture away. Cotton also requires ironing, while microfiber is wrinkle-resistant. On the other hand, cotton is much more breathable than microfiber. 

It may take time getting used to the differences, but cotton is another natural alternative to certain types of microfiber.

Linen

Linen, which is made from flax fibers, is another natural alternative to microfiber. It’s breathable and easy to work with, too. On the other hand, linen is a bit more difficult to care for than microfiber. And it goes without saying that linen can be more expensive.

Bamboo

Cloth made from bamboo fibers is an increasingly popular alternative to synthetics. Bamboo grows quickly and is very sustainable. Bamboo-based fabrics tend to be soft and breathable. Many are lightweight and have a lovely drape, as well.

Different types of bamboo fabric vary on sustainability, however. Bamboo viscose, for example, is a type of rayon. Rayon is a semi-synthetic fabric that relies on heavy chemical processing of natural materials. And its production is highly polluting.

Other bamboo fabrics, however, are made by spinning the strong bamboo fibers themselves into yarn. And these are very environmentally friendly and sustainable.

Final Thoughts

“Microfiber fabric” refers to a range of synthetic materials whose fibres are less than 0.7 denier in thickness. These fabrics are made from a variety of materials, using a variety of processes. There are both woven and non-woven varieties of microfiber fabrics. The fabrics may be composed of whole or split fibers.

Different microfiber fabrics have different characteristics that equip them for a wide variety of purposes, from apparel to industrial, from medical equipment to housewares to cleaning equipment. Some microfiber fabrics provide high quality substitutes for more expensive natural materials like silk, linen, or leather.

As versatile and useful as microfiber fabrics are, their production and use take a terrible environmental toll. Microfibers comprise a large percentage of the human-made waste that washes up on beaches around the world. Microfibers poison aquatic life and pollute water, air and soil. 

How can we strike a balance between microfiber’s outstanding utility and the environmental damage it causes? Is it worth the harm to oceans, animal life, and our own health, to have a cheaper alternative to silk and leather? On the other hand, can we afford to disregard a technology that is so useful, inexpensive, and effective?

This is the question before us.

microfiber and the environment

REFERENCES:

  1. BusinessDictionary | Denier | http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/denier.html
  2. Leah Messinger | How your clothes are poisoning our oceans and food supply | https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jun/20/microfibers-plastic-pollution-oceans-patagonia-synthetic-clothes-microbeads
  3. Andrew J. R. Watts, Mauricio A. Urbina, Shauna Corr, Ceri Lewis, and Tamara S. Galloway | Ingestion of Plastic Microfibers by the Crab Carcinus maenas and Its Effect on Food Consumption and Energy Balance | https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.est.5b04026?journalCode=esthag&
  4. Mark Anthony Browne, Phillip Crump, Stewart J. Niven, Emma Teuten, Andrew Tonkin, Tamara Galloway, and Richard Thompson | Accumulation of Microplastic on Shorelines Worldwide: Sources and Sinks | https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es201811s
  5. Toray Industries Inc. | 1970s | https://www.ultrasuede.com/about/history/his_1970.html
  6. Toray Industries Inc. | The Science of Ultrasuede | https://www.ultrasuede.com/about/science.html
  7. Textile Course | Applications of Microfibers and Microfilaments | https://textilecourse.blogspot.com/2018/03/applications-microfibers-microfilaments.html
  8. EPA | Using Microfiber Mops in Hospitals | https://archive.epa.gov/region9/waste/archive/web/pdf/mops.pdf
  9. Science Direct | Polyamide Fiber | https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/chemistry/polyamide-fiber
  10. Rojalin Priyadarshini Singh, Sunanda Mishra, Alok Prasad Das | Synthetic microfibers: Pollution toxicity and remediation | https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0045653520313928
  11. Ocean Clean Wash | What are microfibers? | https://www.oceancleanwash.org/the-issue/
  12. Rojalin Priyadarshini Singh, Sunanda Mishra, Alok Prasad Das | Marine microfiber pollution: A review on present status and future challenges | https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0025326X19300451
  13. Yongfeng Deng, Yan Zhang, Bernardo Lemos, Hongqiang Ren | Tissue accumulation of microplastics in mice and biomarker responses suggest widespread health risks of exposure | https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28436478/
  14. Tsung-Hua Hsieh, Cheng-Fang Tsai, Chia-Yi Hsu, Po-Lin Kuo, Jau-Nan Lee, Chee-Yin Chai, Shao-Chun Wang, Eing-Mei Tsai | Phthalates induce proliferation and invasiveness of estrogen receptor-negative breast cancer through the AhR/HDAC6/c-Myc signaling pathway | https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22049059/
  15. John Misachi | What Is The Environmental Impact Of The Petroleum Industry? | https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/what-is-the-environmental-impact-of-the-petroleum-industry.html

What Is Chiffon Fabric Made Of And How Easy Is It To Work With?

what is chiffon

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which may result in You Sew And Sew receiving a small commission if you make a purchase. This will not affect the price you pay, but it does help us maintain the site and keep the information you’re reading free of charge (learn more). Any quoted prices, features, specifications etc. are correct at the time of writing, but please do check for yourself before buying. Thank you so much for supporting You Sew And Sew!

What is chiffon fabric? Once you’ve seen it, it’s hard to forget it. Floaty, translucent, often shimmering, it’s a favourite for gowns and wraps.

What makes chiffon special is not its fibre content, nor even its weave. The difference is in the threads themselves. Chiffon fabric is woven with two different types of high-twist yarns. The result is a lightweight, sheer fabric with a bit of stretch, which is slightly rough to the touch.

What is Chiffon Made Of? 

pink chiffon

The first chiffon dates back to the 1700s in Europe. For a little less than 200 years, it was made from silk.

The invention of nylon in 1938 brought a less expensive nylon chiffon. Twenty years after that, in 1958, polyester provided a stronger, even less expensive material with which to make chiffon. 

Today, you will find chiffon made from a variety of synthetic and natural fibres, including silk, cotton, nylon, polyester, and rayon.

How is Chiffon Made?

Chiffon is a woven fabric. That is, strands of yarn are interlaced to create a continuous mesh. 

Chiffon is made using a plain weave. Each weft thread passes over a single warp thread then under the next in an alternating pattern. Plain weave is the most common weaving pattern. Plenty of fabrics are created using plain weave. What makes chiffon different is the construction of the threads used in the weaving. [1]

Chiffon uses alternating S-twist and Z-twist threads. S-twist threads twist in a counter-clockwise direction, like the letter S. Z-twist yarns twist in a clockwise direction, like the letter Z. 

yarn twist threads

The different twist directions create a pucker in the fabric that gives chiffon its characteristic slightly rough texture.

Although the threads twist in different directions, they have the same thickness and weight. The result is a strong fabric that doesn’t unravel easily. It’s also sheer and light. And it drapes in an elegant way.

What Type of Fabric is Chiffon and How is it Used?

You’ll find chiffon primarily in garments, most specifically in certain types of women’s wear. Some common uses include:

  • Nightgowns
  • Blouses
  • Sarees, dupattas, and hijabs
  • Lingerie
  • Ribbons
  • Evening wear
  • Scarves
  • Wedding dresses

Chiffon flows, drapes, and adds an elegant touch to garments. In dresses and wedding dresses, a designer might use a chiffon overlay to add volume or dimension to the fabric below. 

Some types of chiffon also sparkle and shimmer. You might see it in accessories like scarves or wraps, which are decorative as well as functional.

Chiffon is a popular fabric for saris, dupattas, and hijabs. It drapes smoothly, holds dye well, and is appropriate for warm weather. Its dramatic appearance and ability to hold brightly coloured dyes has made chiffon a Bollywood favourite.

Indian woman in traditional chiffon dress

Its feather lightness makes it a good choice for summer-weight blouses and clothing. And it’s a popular choice for peignoirs, nightgowns, and other lingerie because of its sheer quality.

You’ll also find chiffon in different kinds of home decor, such as sheer curtains and decorative upholstery.

chiffon bed curtains

What is Chiffon Fabric Like?

No matter what its fibre composition, all chiffon fabric has the following characteristics in common.

Lightweight

Chiffon is extremely lightweight. This makes it an excellent fabric for summer and warm climates.

Sheer

Chiffon fabric is a fine mesh that you can see through. For this reason, it’s often used as an outer layer in garments, in order to complement and enhance the fabric beneath it.

Shimmering

This comes down to a combination of the fibre content and the alternating S and Z twists of the individual threads. Different fibre types will give different degrees of shimmer. Silk chiffon, for example, is very shimmery.

Stretchy

Because chiffon is woven in different directions, it has a gentle stretch to it. Different fibre content may make a specific chiffon fabric more or less stretchy. 

Rough

The alternating S-twist and Z-twist threads give chiffon a pucker. This, in turn, creates a slightly rough texture that you can feel.

Colourfast

Chiffon of all types holds colour extremely well.

Drapey

Chiffon drapes and flows beautifully, making it a go-to fabric for women’s wear, curtains, scarves, and elegant home furnishings.

Strong

You might think that something so sheer, lightweight, and flowing would be extremely delicate. You’d be wrong. Chiffon’s tight weave makes it surprisingly strong. It also resists unraveling well.

The Pros and Cons of Chiffon

model in chiffon

Chiffon is a dramatic, elegant fabric that brings a lot to certain kinds of projects. At the same time, no fabric is perfect for every use. And when it comes to sewing chiffon, things can get, well…a bit tricky.

The Upsides

Chiffon is very lightweight and its weave provides excellent air flow through the fabric. This makes it excellent for warm weather use.

Between its shimmer and its drape, chiffon is very elegant and pretty. It can add an otherworldly touch to whatever you’re trying to create.

Chiffon is also very strong. 

Chiffon holds dye well, making it a natural for costuming, evening wear, and certain kinds of housewares.

Certain types of chiffon, particularly polyester and nylon chiffon, are also inexpensive.

The Downsides

Chiffon can be tricky to work with. Why?

First, it doesn’t hold its shape well. This means that if you cut out a pattern piece, it can easily become deformed during handling or sewing. And if you want to retain chiffon’s unique drape and translucence, you can’t use a fabric stabilizer to get around this.

Although chiffon resists unraveling, it can and will snag very easily.

It’s also very slippery, which can cause problems during sewing.

How to Sew Chiffon

rainbow of chiffon fabric

How easy is chiffon to sew? It can be tricky, but if you know the tricks, it can be easier than you might think.

First, Choose the Right Project

Chiffon is an excellent fabric for anything that drapes and flows. However, these same qualities make it inappropriate for close-fitting structured garments. Choosing the right project for your chiffon will solve half of your problems up front.

Stabilize

Stabilizing your chiffon will help it to keep its shape during cutting and sewing. And this is vital to your finished product.

Before you start, check to see if your fabric is washable. If it is, you can use a bit of spray starch or liquid fabric stabilizer to make sure your chiffon holds its shape when you’re cutting out your pattern pieces, and later when you’re sewing them.

If your fabric isn’t washable, you can pin a piece of tissue paper to the back of your chiffon before cutting it. You can also pin tissue paper to the back of your chiffon before sewing it. When you’re finished sewing, gently tear the tissue paper away.

Sharp Scissors or Rotary Cutter

Sharp scissors always make for better cutting. But when it comes to cutting chiffon, a sharp blade can make a world of difference.

Sharp Microtex Needle

A microtex needle is a very thin needle with an extremely fine, extremely sharp point. Its specifically designed to work with micro fibres and coated fibres. Because they’re so sharp, you’ll need to change your microtex needle more often, so have plenty on hand.

French Seams

A French seam is a double seam that covers rough fabric edges. There are several reasons you’ll want to cover your edges when working with chiffon. First, it will keep them from fraying. Also, because chiffon is transparent, rough fabric edges can ruin the smooth, elegant appearance of the fabric. [2]

To make a French seam, first pin your fabric pieces together, right sides facing one another, and use tissue paper to stabilize (if desired).

Next, sew the fabric together using a one-quarter-inch seam allowance. Then trim your seam edges to one-eigth of an inch.

Turn your fabric to the right sides, and, with your iron set to a low synthetic setting, iron your seam flat.

Now, pin your seam with the wrong side facing out once more. The rough edges should be concealed within the seam.

Finally, sew your second seam, using a three-eighths inch seam allowance.

How to Hem Chiffon

You’ll also want to cover your raw edges when hemming chiffon. However, if you don’t do it correctly, you could end up with a curled, uneven, sloppy-looking edge. Here’s how to do it right.

First, set your iron to a low synthetic setting. Iron a half-inch fold.

Next, sew a line along the folded edge, using a one-eighth inch seam allowance. Chiffon’s light weight means that it can sometimes get caught in your feed dogs. Putting a piece of tissue paper between the fabric and your feed dogs can keep your sewing machine from eating your fabric. When you’ve finished your line, trim the raw edge.

Fold over the seam and press again. Now sew a second seam, again with a one-eighth inch allowance.

You can watch this technique in action here.

For more tips and tricks for working with chiffon, check out this tutorial from Professor Pincushion.

Caring for Chiffon

How to care for chiffon depends upon the fibre content. Some types of chiffon, like silk chiffon, may be dry clean only. Other types are washable. Always check the care instructions on any garment before washing or ironing. And to save yourself a headache, check the care instructions for any fabric before you begin to work with it.

How to Wash Chiffon

Even if the manufacturer’s instructions don’t specify dry cleaning, chiffon fabrics are generally extremely delicate. Unless the instructions specify machine washing, it’s always safer to hand-wash your chiffon.

Hand wash your washable chiffon in cool water — 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4.4 degrees Celsius). 

To remove odours, add one-quarter cup of vinegar to your water, and soak the fabric for 30 minutes.

Empty your sink or basin, refill with cool water, then add a cap full of delicate fabric cleanser. Soak it for another half hour, then rinse with cool water.

To remove stains, apply baking soda and scrub gently with a toothbrush.

Gently squeeze the excess water from your fabric. Then lay the fabric on a clean, dry towel. Roll up the towel with the fabric inside and squeeze some more.

Lay your garment flat or hang it to dry.

How to Machine Wash Chiffon

If your fabric’s care instructions say that it can be washed in a washing machine, choose cold water and the gentlest possible cycle. Wash your chiffon in a mesh bag, and use a detergent made for delicate fabrics. 

Dry your chiffon flat or hang it to dry. You can also machine dry it on the air dry setting.

How to Get Wrinkles Out of Chiffon

There are two primary ways to get wrinkles out of chiffon.

First, you can steam the wrinkles out. You can use a garment steamer, or, if you’re already headed for the shower, place towels on the bathroom floor, leave your shower curtain open, and hang up your chiffon garment in the bathroom. It should take around 15 minutes for the steam to remove the wrinkles.

You can also iron wrinkles out of chiffon. First, set your iron to the chiffon setting. If your iron doesn’t have one, use a cool setting for synthetics. Lay a slightly damp cloth over the fabric. This will keep your fabric from drying out. Iron in smooth vertical strokes, starting in the center and working your way out toward the edges.

Final Thoughts

Chiffon is a fabric of contradictions. It’s delicate but strong. It has many uses, but those uses are specific. It can be tricky to sew, but not difficult if you know the tricks.

Do you enjoy sewing with chiffon? Do you have any care tips you’d like to share? Tell us about it in the comments!

is chiffon easy to sew

REFERENCES

  1. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica | Plain Weave | https://www.britannica.com/technology/plain-weave
  2. WikiHow Authors | How to Sew a French Seam | https://www.wikihow.com/Sew-a-French-Seam

What Is Damask Fabric And How Easy Is It To Work With?

what is damask fabric

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which may result in You Sew And Sew receiving a small commission if you make a purchase. This will not affect the price you pay, but it does help us maintain the site and keep the information you’re reading free of charge (learn more). Any quoted prices, features, specifications etc. are correct at the time of writing, but please do check for yourself before buying. Thank you so much for supporting You Sew And Sew!

What is damask? The name may sound exotic, but in essence, damask is a fabric with designs woven into it in a very specific way. It’s an ancient technique that’s still popular today. Damask fabric is a favorite for high end garments, upholstery, and housewares. But it’s not just a pretty face. It’s also water resistant and quite strong. Want to know more? Let’s go.

What is Damask Fabric?

classic damask fabric pattern

Fabrics can take their name from any number of places. Some, like silk, are named after their component materials. Others, such as fleece, are named for what they used to be made of. Poplin takes its name from the person who used to wear it — the Pope — although today it describes fabric that’s woven in a certain way. And rayon describes a manufacturing technique.

Damask comes from the Arabic word dimashq, which many of us know as Damascus, the capital of today’s Syria. In the 12th century, the city of Damascus was a major trading centre along the Great Silk Route. It was here that European traders first encountered the fabric, though the technique used to produce it is much older than that. [1]

Damask Weaving

Damask is one of the five original weaving techniques of weavers in the Byzantine Empire and the Middle East. It became extremely popular in Europe, starting in the 14th century, though it had been popular in the Middle East and Byzantine Empire for centuries before.

The Damask weave combines two different variations on the satin weave structure pictured below:

Satin_weave_in_silk
Image of satin weave structure; public domain; via Wikimedia Commons.

Weavers create the design using warp-facing satin weave, where the horizontal warp fibers are floated over the vertical weft fibers. They create the background in a weft-facing sateen weave. In this weave, the vertical weft fibers float over the horizontal warp fibres.

Watch how it’s done here.

Damask Across Time

Early damask fabric was woven from silk, wool, or linen. Weavers used a single color, relying on the difference in weave to define the design. The result was a glossy pattern against a duller background. Later damasks used two colors: one for the warp threads and a different one for the weft threads.

The invention of the Jacquard device in 1804 revolutionized the production of decorative woven fabrics like damask. A Jacquard loom allows the operator to control individual weft threads.This, in turn, makes it faster and easier to weave intricate patterns such as those used for damasks and brocades. [2]

Here’s a Jacquard loom in action.

Today’s damasks are woven on computerized Jacquard looms. You can find modern damask fabrics made from both synthetic and natural materials.

How Is Damask Used?

Damask is luxurious and elegant. It’s also water-resistant and incredibly durable. These qualities make it a natural for home decor, and this is primarily where you will find it. Damask is a very popular material for:

  • Curtains
  • Upholstery
  • Rugs
  • Table linens
  • Bed linens
  • Throws
  • Light rugs

You’ll also find damask in apparel. Its stiffness makes it less suitable for everyday casual wear. However, you will encounter damask in:

  • Scarves
  • Evening wear
  • Jackets

Because certain damasks are extremely hard-wearing, you may also encounter damask accessories, such as:

  • Luggage
  • Handbags
  • Eyeglass holders
  • Phone holders
  • Wallets

In short, if your project requires a fabric that’s simultaneously attractive and durable, damask can be a good choice.

What is Damask Fabric Like?

Once you’ve seen or touched damask, you’ll never forget its unique combination of properties. What are these properties? Let’s have a look.

Patterned

One of the key features of damask fabric is its pattern. Though there is no specific “damask pattern,” many damask designs reflect this fabric’s Middle Eastern and Byzantine roots through repeating abstract floral or geometric designs.

Reflective

Damask patterns are created by using different weaving techniques for the background and the design. The different weaves reflect light differently. This makes the pattern stand out against the background. It also means that the fabric will look slightly different in different types of light.

Reversible

Because the designs that characterize damask fabric are woven into the fabric itself, you can see the designs on both sides of the fabric. Some damask fabrics are truly reversible, with the design showing clearly and attractively on both sides. With others, however, the designs may not appear as attractive on the reverse side.

Durable

Although a specific fabric’s durability can vary with its fibre content, most damask is highly durable. This comes down to its tight weave.

Damask upholstery fabric is very popular for its combination of exceptional durability and attractive appearance.

Thick and Heavy

Because damask is made using multiple layers of thread, it tends to be a thick, heavy fabric. This can, of course, vary with fiber content. A wool damask is a lot heavier, for example, than one made from polyester. But a polyester damask will still be thicker than plain weave polyester fabric.

Water Resistant

The tight weave of damask fabric makes liquid more likely to bead on the surface than to soak in. This is another reason that damask fabrics can be excellent for upholstery and table linens.

Easy to Sew

The tight weave used to create damask means that many damask fabrics are fray-resistant and easy to sew. This can vary, however, with the fibre content.

What Color is Damask?

“Damask” refers to a weaving technique rather than to a color. Damask fabric can have any color or combination of colors. Traditional damask used a single color, relying on different weaving techniques to make the damask pattern stand out from the background. Over time, multicolored damasks also emerged.

What’s the Difference Between Damask and Brocade?

At first glance, brocade and damask might appear similar. They’re both woven, for example. And they’re both woven on Jacquard looms. They both have raised designs, as well. But there are quite a few differences between the two. Here are the most important ones.

Color

Damask fabrics typically use a single color thread. Sometimes they may use two colors. Brocade patterns typically use many colors.

Texture

Damask patterns tend to be flatter than brocade patterns. Brocade patterns, on the other hand, are embossed and raised.

Reversibility

Damask fabric is reversible. Brocades are not reversible.

Shine

Damask’s visual effects are the result of contrasting weaving techniques, which catch the light differently. The shine in many brocade designs comes down to metallic threads woven into the design. 

The Pros and Cons of Damask

For the right project, damask can be the perfect fabric. But it’s not perfect for every project. Here are some of its upsides and pitfalls.

Pros

Damask is very versatile. Its stable nature lends itself to a variety of uses, including indoor and outdoor upholstery, housewares, table linens, curtains, light rugs, and even some types of garments.

This fabric’s reversibility means versatility in appearance as well as in function.

Damask is typically hard-wearing. This, of course, varies with the fiber content. 

Its beauty and unique appearance add a touch of elegance to whatever you’re creating.

The tight weave makes damask water repellent. This, too, can vary with fiber content.

Many damask fabrics are also quite easy to work with, as they resist fraying and unraveling. They also tend to hold their shape well. (Again, this varies depending on the fiber content).

Cons

Many damask fabrics are quite stiff. While this makes them excellent for upholstery, housewares, and outerwear, it’s generally not a great choice for everyday clothing. Again, the degree of stiffness will vary with fiber content.

Because designs are woven, individual threads may snag. This, in turn can compromise the design.

Like all linen, linen damask wrinkles easily, so treat it accordingly.

Because of its multi-layered weave, stains in damask can go deep and be very difficult to remove.

How to Sew Damask Fabric

Because damask is created using tight, contrasting weaves, sewing damask fabric should be easy, right? It’s true in many cases. However, different fiber compositions can present a variety of issues.

Tightly woven cotton and linen fibers resist unraveling and fraying and tend to hold their shape well. However, there are other fibers that you can use to create damask fabric that don’t hold their shape well. 

If you’re working with silk, polyester, or rayon, you might want to use a fabric stabilizer to help the fabric retain its shape during cutting and sewing.

Most types of damask are not stretchy. But some types of fiber will create a bit of stretch. If you’re working with a damask that has some stretch, make sure to use:

  • The correct sewing machine needle. A blunt needle works well with stretchy fabrics.
  • Polyester thread. It can stretch with your fabric.
  • A stretch stitch like a narrow zigzag stitch.

Caring for Damask

Few people would call damask delicate, but its unique qualities mean that it has some unique care needs. [3] Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for any fabric. Aside from that, here are a few more tips to keep your damask looking stunning.

Dry Cleaning

If your item’s manufacturer specifies dry clean only, then only dry clean your item.

Pre-Washing

Damask’s double-layered weave means that stains can set in fast and be difficult to remove. So address any spill or stain immediately.

Do not soak a damask garment. Instead, spot clean with a hydrogen peroxide based stain remover. Do not use a bleach based remover, as it can damage the fibers.

Machine Washing

Check the manufacturer’s instructions. If your item is machine washable, wash it at the manufacturer’s recommended temperature, using a mild detergent.

Hand Washing

Some damasks, particularly linen and cotton, need to be hand washed.

Hand wash your damask in cool water, using a detergent that has neither bleach nor any chemical brightener. Avoid roughly scrubbing. 

Rinse your item in room temperature water.

Drying

If the garment label specifies that your item can be machine dried, then dry it until damp. Iron it dry to avoid wrinkles.

You can also line-dry your damask. Just make sure to dry it taut in order to avoid wrinkles.

Damask Unmasked

Damask is a hard-wearing, versatile fabric that blends different weaving techniques to create designs. Damask can be made using a variety of synthetic and natural fibers, but usually only employs one or two colors of thread.

Elegant and durable, damask fabrics are a natural for housewares, upholstery, table linens, curtains, and rugs. You might also find damask scarves, handbags, and outerwear.

Damask is typically easy to care for and easy to sew. Both of these qualities, however, depend on the fiber content.

What’s your favorite way to use damask? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

damask fabric care and sewing

REFERENCES

  1. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica | Silk Road | https://www.britannica.com/topic/Silk-Road-trade-route
  2. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica | Jacquard loom | https://www.britannica.com/technology/Jacquard-loom
  3. Georg Jenson Damask | Wash & Care | https://www.georgjensen-damask.com/wash-and-care-damask.aspx

What Is Rayon Made Of And How Easy Is It To Work With?

what is rayon

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which may result in You Sew And Sew receiving a small commission if you make a purchase. This will not affect the price you pay, but it does help us maintain the site and keep the information you’re reading free of charge (learn more). Any quoted prices, features, specifications etc. are correct at the time of writing, but please do check for yourself before buying. Thank you so much for supporting You Sew And Sew!

Rayon is a light, breathable fabric most commonly used as a silk substitute. Rayon is plant-derived, so some describe it as a natural material. On the other hand, because of the intense processing of that material, others consider rayon to be synthetic. What is rayon made of? Is it eco-friendly? And, most importantly, how do you care for it?

What is Rayon Made Of?

pink-viscose-rayon

Rayon is made from cellulose. Cellulose is derived from the fibre of different types of plants. Your rayon may come from one kind of plant, or from a mixture of plant fibres and other materials. Some examples of plant material that goes into rayon include:

  • Bamboo
  • Wood pulp
  • Agricultural byproducts
  • Cotton waste
  • Oranges

How is Rayon Made? 

Different types of rayon are made through slightly different processes. But here are the basics.

First, rayon manufacturers turn the plant fibre into pulp. Next, they treat the pulp with chemicals to break it down into a cellulose solution. Then they push this viscous material through a spinneret, which extrudes the pulp into fibres. After extrusion, the fibres go into another chemical bath. 

Finally, the fibres are spun into the thread that will be woven into rayon cloth.

You can watch the entire process here.

Different Kinds of Rayon

There are several different types of rayon.

Viscose is made using the viscose process [1]. The most common fibres used in viscose rayon are wood and bamboo. Viscose rayon has a wide variety of uses, from clothing to industry to cosmetic products like wipes.

Modal is made from reconstituted cellulose from beech trees. Most often, it appears in fabrics combined with cotton or Spandex. Modal is primarily used in clothing.

Lyocell is made using a process called dry jet-wet spinning. Its primary use is as a cotton substitute in clothing. It also appears in medical dressings, conveyor belts, and some types of paper. Much, but not all Lyocell is made from bamboo.

Tencel is a type of Lyocell.

Cupro (also called Bemberg) is produced using copper and ammonia.

What is Rayon Used For? 

This versatile material appears in a wide range of household and industrial products that many people use every day:

Clothing

Rayon began as a silk substitute. But it substitutes for cotton, as well. It also stands on its own.

Silk Substitute

In 1855, Frenchman Georges Audemars created the first artificial silk through a process called nitrification [2]. He called the result “rayon.” 

Almost 30 years later, in 1884, Hilaire de Charbonnet, the Comte de Chardonnet, created “Chardonnay silk” through a similar process. 

Finally, ten years after that, in 1894, Charles Frederick Cross, Edward John Bevan, and Clayton Beadle patented their version, viscose

Cotton Substitute

Rayon and cotton share some characteristics. Both are soft and breathable. In addition, both hold color well. On top of that, some rayon is even made from cotton fibres. Most importantly, though, rayon is less expensive than cotton.

For these reasons, rayon is a popular cotton substitute in clothing manufacture.

Yarn and Thread

Yarn manufacturers make both all-rayon yarn and yarn that’s a mixture of rayon and other materials like wool. You might find rayon yarn and thread marketed as viscose, linen viscose, or even vegan silk.

Bedding and Housewares

Rayon’s soft texture, breathability, and moisture-wicking properties make it a popular fabric for sheets, pillowcases, blankets, and bedspreads.

Upholstery

Although rayon isn’t durable enough to use for upholstery on its own, when blended with stronger fibres, it adds softness. Rayon blends are a popular upholstery fabric.

Carpeting

Viscose rayon is soft and holds dye well. For this reason, it’s a popular material for decorative area rugs.

Medical Uses

You’ll find rayon used in medical dressings and medical tape, as well as in “cotton” balls, wipes, and cosmetic swabs.

Tyre Cords

Rayon has been used to make tyre cords since 1935.

What is Rayon Material Like?

Because of its use as a silk substitute, you can probably guess that rayon is a light fabric with a soft texture. Some of its other properties include:

A natural shine that comes from extrusion. This shine can vary in appearance and intensity. Some types of rayon look different when seen from different angles or in a different light.

Rayon is both breathable and heat conducting. This makes it ideal for use in clothing for warm, and even humid climates.

It’s absorbency and moisture wicking ability make rayon a natural for cosmetic and medical use, as well as for bedding and housewares.

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Rayon

There’s a lot to be said for this revolutionary fabric, but it’s not perfect for every use. Moreover, its unique qualities give it unique drawbacks.

Advantages

Rayon is an incredibly versatile fabric with a wide range of industrial and home uses.

It accepts dye very well and has a natural shine.

Rayon is highly absorbent. At the same time, it’s moisture-wicking. This makes it an excellent material for warm weather clothing.

Rayon is also naturally mildew-resistant

And, interestingly, rayon doesn’t gather static electricity.

Disadvantages

Rayon isn’t very strong. It’s less resilient than either cotton or silk, and it doesn’t resist abrasion very well.

Water weakens rayon. Most rayon items are recommended for hand-wash only.

Rayon is prone to shrinking, sagging, and wrinkling. The edges also ravel easily.

Rayon is heat-conducting, which means that heat passes through it easily. This makes it a good fabric for warm weather, but a poor fabric for cold weather.

Unfortunately rayon doesn’t hold its shape well

How Easy is Rayon to Sew?

Do you know how to sew rayon? It can be difficult.

Rayon can be slippery. It can shift and slide around. Also, pins and needles can leave their mark.

However, the largest issue by far with sewing rayon is the material’s difficulty holding its shape. Fortunately, there are a number of tips and tricks that can make it a bit easier.

Here are a few.

Choose the Right Rayon

Pure rayon can be difficult to work with. However, there are a lot of rayon blends on the market that might make your job easier. The right rayon blend can give you the qualities of rayon that you want, such as softness, with added stability.

Choose the Right Pattern

Rayon’s light, silky texture means that it’s great for flowing, drapey garments. What it’s not so great for, however, is sharply-shaped, tight-fitting items. So to maximize your chances of success, start with the right type of garment.

Prewash

Although the labels of rayon garments recommend hand-washing or even dry cleaning, some experts recommend pre washing rayon fabric in the washing machine before sewing with it. This is because rayon is very susceptible to shrinking. So you want to get any shrinkage out of the way before you begin putting your garment together [3].

Needles and Pins

Use the appropriate size needles and pins for your fabric weight. Also, make sure that both are sharp, in order to avoid making unnecessarily large holes in your fabric, or even snags. 

Rotary Cutter

Some experts recommend using a rotary cutter to cut your rayon, as it can provide greater accuracy [4].

Stitch Curves and Edges

To help your pieces hold their shape, staystitch curves before you put the pieces together. Also make sure to stitch your raw hem edges to keep them from unraveling.

Give it a Rest

Consider hanging your almost-finished garment on a hanger for 24 hours before hemming it. Again, this is because rayon tends to sag and bag. Hanging it will give the fibers a chance to settle into their final configuration before you sew that hem.

Is Rayon Durable?

Unfortunately rayon is not particularly durable. It’s subject to abrasion and shrinkage. It can lose its shape over time. The fibres also become weaker when they get wet.

Some rayon blends, however, are reasonably durable. These include rayon blended with cotton, rayon blended with wool, and rayon blended with linen.

How to Care for Rayon

caring for rayon

Rayon garments have such a wonderful look and feel. How can you keep them looking their best? And if the worst happens, how can you fix it?

How to Clean Rayon

Dry-cleaning is your first and best option. But if you want to wash your garment yourself, treat it as a delicate. This means:

  • Mild detergent
  • Cold water
  • Hand wash or machine wash in the gentle cycle
  • When machine washing, turn the garment inside out and wash inside a mesh bag
  • Never twist or wring the fabric. Squeeze gently instead.
  • Do not machine dry
  • Air dry the garment flat or on a padded hanger

Does rayon shrink when washed? You bet it does. It can also lose its colour and softness. Modal and Lyocell have chemical finishes that make them better able to withstand machine washing. Still, it’s important to treat them as delicates and avoid the dryer.

You might find that air-drying your rayon garments leaves them stiff and feeling a bit rough. They may also wrinkle. Ironing can help. But, again, you have to be very careful.

How to Iron Rayon

Ironing delicate fabrics like rayon can be almost as tricky as washing them. The biggest danger is scorching the fabric. Ironing can also leave an unattractive shine on rayon. Therefore:

  • Set your iron to medium hot (setting 3)
  • Use a press cloth between the iron and your garment
  • Iron on the wrong side of the garment, just to be safe

It might seem intimidating at first, but once you know how to get wrinkles out of rayon, the process is quite simple.

How to Shrink Rayon

There are times when you might want to shrink rayon, such as when prewashing it before sewing with it. It’s easy. Here are a few ways to do it safely.

Method 1: Hand Washing 

First, gently hand wash it and let it soak in the water for several minutes. 

Next, dry your fabric. If you want subtle shrinkage, press out the extra water then air-dry your fabric either flat or hanging. 

For more dramatic shrinkage, place your fabric in the dryer on the gentle setting.

Method 2: Machine Washing

Earlier, we recommended against machine washing because of the potential for shrinkage. However, if shrinking your rayon is the goal, then machine wash it in warm, or even hot water on the gentle cycle. Again, take care to turn your garment inside out and wash it inside a mesh bag.

Again, you can either air dry your fabric, or, for maximum shrinkage, pop it in the dryer on the gentle cycle.

How to Unshrink Rayon

The first and best defense, of course, is knowing how to prevent rayon from shrinking in the first place. But if the deed is done, never fear. There are a few things you can do. You may not be able to get your garment back to exactly the way it was, but you might be able to make it better.

Method 1: Relax and Stretch

Think of your shrunken fibres as tense muscles. What they need is a bit of warmth and TLC, and a hug from a fuzzy towel.

  1. Fill a bucket with warm (not hot!) water.
  2. Add one cap full of baby shampoo or hair conditioner.
  3. Soak your garment in the warm water, gently massaging it to relax the fibres.
  4. Rinse your garment in cold water.
  5. Press out excess water. Do not wring!
  6. Lay your garment on a towel.
  7. Gently roll the towel up with your garment inside. This will stretch the fibres.
  8. Press to release more water.
  9. Unroll the towel.
  10. Use your hands to gently stretch the garment back to its original size.
  11. Air dry your garment flat.

Method 2: Steam Ironing

Warmth, heat, and moisture. Are you sensing a theme? Steam ironing can also help your rayon garment to regain its original proportions. Here’s how to do it.

  1. Fill a spray bottle with warm water.
  2. Put your steam iron on the lowest setting.
  3. Turn your garment inside out and lay it flat on the ironing board.
  4. Spritz your garment with water.
  5. Iron your garment gently. Make sure it doesn’t dry out.
  6. Stretch the garment, also gently, until it regains its original dimensions.
  7. Air dry your garment, either flat or on a non-metal hanger.
  8. You can increase the stretch by weighting down the fabric during drying, or holding it in place with clothespins.

Is Rayon Eco-Friendly?

That’s a good question. On one hand, rayon production often relies on waste materials or sustainable crops like bamboo. So that’s good.

On the other hand, processing of those eco-friendly materials requires huge amounts of toxic chemicals, which is bad for the environment.

The production methods for modal and lyocell are exceptions, as these methods reuse the chemicals rather than releasing them as waste products.

To add even more confusion, all rayon is biodegradable to some degree [5]. Viscose even biodegrades faster than cotton.

So, is rayon eco-friendly? In some ways, yes. In other ways, not so much.

What Alternatives Are There to Rayon?

Rayon was invented as a cheaper alternative to natural fabrics like silk and cotton. And, if price isn’t your first concern, these are still good alternatives.

Linen, which is made from flax fibres, is another good alternative. It’s excellent for warm weather, and is relatively easy to work with.

Hemp fabric has a similar feel to cotton and linen. Hemp uses half the water that cotton crops use. It can also be either woven or knit.

Final Thoughts

Rayon is a semi-synthetic fabric made from chemically processed plant fibres. There are several different types of rayon, and their uses range from clothing manufacture to medical and industrial uses. 

The materials that go into rayon production are generally eco-friendly and sustainable. At the same time, rayon production methods can be highly polluting. Different kinds of rayon are biodegradable to differing degrees.

Rayon is incredibly versatile. At the same time, it can be very delicate. Special care must be taken when cleaning it and sewing with it.

Still, when it comes to a budget-friendly alternative to silk or cotton, rayon is difficult to beat. And there’s nothing like its silky texture or drapability.

Do you enjoy working with rayon? Do you have any tips or tricks for working with it or keeping it in tip-top shape? If so, we’d love to hear about it!

how easy is rayon to sew

REFERENCES

  1. Ahasan Habib | Viscose Manufacturing Process | https://textilestudycenter.com/viscose-manufacturing-process/
  2. EDinformatics | Great Inventions: Rayon | https://www.edinformatics.com/inventions_inventors/rayon.htm
  3. Saki Jane | How To Sew With Rayon | https://www.seamwork.com/issues/2019/03/how-to-sew-with-rayon
  4. Katie Whittle | Sewing with Rayon Challis | https://blog.colettehq.com/fabric/cs-x-colette-rayon-challis
  5. Mary Warnock, Kaaron Davis, Duane Wolf, and Edward Gbur | Biodegradation of Three Cellulosic Fabrics in Soil | https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/4fe5/ebfdb75bcbe84202b8fd5fab95b384f827f0.pdf

What Is Poplin Fabric And How Easy Is It To Work With?

what is poplin

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which may result in You Sew And Sew receiving a small commission if you make a purchase. This will not affect the price you pay, but it does help us maintain the site and keep the information you’re reading free of charge (learn more). Any quoted prices, features, specifications etc. are correct at the time of writing, but please do check for yourself before buying. Thank you so much for supporting You Sew And Sew!

Fabric names can be confusing. Some, like cotton, describe what a fabric is made from. Others, like viscose, refer to the production process. And poplin? What is poplin, anyway? The name poplin doesn’t describe either composition or a production process. Rather, it refers to the texture and arrangement of the fibres. 

What is Poplin Fabric?

poplin-fabric

What kind of fabric is poplin? And what is poplin fabric made of? 

Poplin fabric is a woven fabric like linen. Only unlike linen, which is necessarily woven from flax fibres, poplin can consist of any number of different fibres, whether natural or synthetic. Sometimes, it can even consist of more than one kind of fibre.

Poplin refers to a style of weaving, poplin weave, which produces a distinct texture, and a fabric that’s simultaneously fine and strong.

What is Poplin Weave?

Poplin weave is a plain, tight weave. Typically, the weft (vertical) fibres are thicker and/or coarser than the warp (vertical) fibres. This combination creates a fine but extremely strong corded fabric that’s excellent for upholstery, housewares, and clothing.

The History of Poplin

Poplin fabric dates back to 15th-century France, specifically in Avignon, where the Pope had a residence. The name itself derives from the word papeleine, meaning papal.

Originally, poplin consisted of silk, wool, or cotton for the warp fibres and worsted yarn for the weft fibres. Over time, however, the definition has expanded to include not only other kinds of fibres, but plain-weave fabrics consisting of a single fibre. Single-fibre poplin sometimes lacks the typical corded texture but retains the name.

Admittedly, it can be confusing, but you can think of it like this: poplin is a fabric with a tight plain weave, where the weft fibres and the warp fibres are typically of different thicknesses.

You might also see poplin fabric described as broadcloth (in the United States), tabinet, or Eolienne (a similar texture and process with a lighter end product).

Common Uses for Poplin Fabric

What is poplin fabric used for?

Poplin fabric is the best of both worlds: strong but soft, fine but durable. It’s a terrific all-purpose fabric, and its popularity comes as little surprise. Where can you find poplin today? It’s all around us.

Dresses

poplin dress

Historically, poplin has been a popular material for dresses. Its fine, soft texture gives it a luxurious feel, making some types of poplin a less expensive alternative to silk. At the same time, it is durable enough for everyday wear, especially in winter.

Fans of Louisa May Alcott’s novel Little Women might remember, for example, the impoverished main characters attending a party in poplin dresses. The characters considered the fabric acceptable for a party, though they bemoaned that it wasn’t as chic or luxurious as the silk dresses of the party’s wealthier attendees [1].

Today it’s also a popular fabric for shirts and trousers.

Winter Clothing

Poplin’s original composition, silk and wool, combined with its characteristic weave, made it a natural for winter-weight clothing. The combination of fibres with the tight weave means that it insulates well.

Uniforms

During World War II, both the British and American military discovered poplin as a fabric for uniforms. Its strength was the most obvious selling point. But poplin also proved to be an excellent all-weather fabric: cool in the heat and warm in cold weather.

Upholstery

Poplin’s durability also makes it an excellent fabric for upholstery, housewares, and home furnishings. You will find poplin seat covers, cushions, sheeting, curtains, and more. 

Crafts

Cotton poplin has a natural crispness and holds its shape well. It’s also durable and easy to work with. These qualities make it excellent for certain types of crafts like quilting and patchwork. 

What is Poplin Material Like?

Poplin material is hard-wearing yet fine. It has a natural sheen and softness that suggests luxury, but, with the exception of wool and silk poplin, doesn’t require delicate handling. It’s easy to sew and some varieties, particularly cotton and polyester poplin, resist wrinkling as well as wear.

What is Poplin Cotton?

Poplin cotton is widespread in both clothing manufacture and crafting. It’s a medium-weight fabric that’s similar to quilting cotton in both texture and ease of use. At the same time, cotton poplin’s weave makes it more wrinkle-resistant than ordinary quilting cotton.

What does cotton poplin feel like? It feels a bit stiffer than quilting cotton, and some varieties feel a bit heavier. It may also have poplin’s characteristic corded texture.

Polyester Poplin

Polyester poplin, or poly poplin fabric, is a fabric woven in the poplin style, using polyester fibres. It’s soft and, like many polyester fabrics, extremely wrinkle resistant. Unlike some other types of poplin, polyester poplin has no ribbing. 

Poly poplin fabric is widely used for table linens, backdrops, and drapes.

Poplin vs. Twill 

What’s the difference between twill vs. poplin? At first glance, it can be easy to mistake the two. Like poplin, twill also has a corded texture. Twill can also be made from a variety of fibres, both natural and synthetic. Both are used in clothing, and both are hard-wearing and easy to work with.

The difference is in the weave.

Both twill weave and poplin weave are fundamental weave types (the third is satin weave). However, while poplin’s weft fibres are vertical, twill’s weft fibres lay diagonally to the warp fibres. 

warp weft structure 3-1 twill
A typical three-up, one-down twill structure.

Also, while poplin weave takes one weft thread over one warp thread then under (and so forth), the weft fibres in a twill pass over and under more than one warp thread, with a “step” between rows.

For example, in a 2/2 twill, the weft fibres pass over two warp fibres then under two.

There are four ways to classify twill:

  • According to the “step” (2/2, 3/1, and so on)
  • By the direction of the twill line (left-hand or right-hand)
  • According to whether the warp or weft thread is the facing thread
  • By the nature of the twill line that is ultimately produced (simple twill, expanded twill, etc.)

In short, twill, like poplin, is a woven fabric with a corded texture. But with twill, the cords lay diagonally instead of vertically. 

Poplin vs. Broadcloth 

Broadcloth vs. poplin: now there’s a complicated distinction.

In some contexts, for example in United States clothing manufacture, the words have come to mean nearly the same thing: a fabric with a plain, tight weave. But there are distinctions.

Traditionally, broadcloth was made exclusively from wool. This made it sturdy like poplin, but much coarser in texture. 

Today, broadcloth is made from a variety of different fibres. Its characteristic feature is still its dense weave, which makes it a bit thicker than poplin.

Broadcloth also lends itself to unique visual effects. For example, when you interweave threads in two alternating colours, the fabric may look like one solid colour from afar, with a subtle pattern appearing only when seen close up.

Broadcloth is a popular fabric for high-end men’s shirting.

Poplin vs. Oxford 

A poplin shirt in sky blue
A poplin shirt.

What about Oxford vs. poplin?

Like poplin, Oxford refers to a type of weave. Oxford is a common shirting fabric for both men and women. Like poplin, it’s strong and easy to work with. As with twill, the difference between Oxford and poplin lies in the weave.

Oxford weave is a type of basket weave. The warp and weft fibres criss-cross in a pattern that resembles a basket. With poplin, a single weft fibre passes over and under single warp fibres at a 90 degree angle. 

With Oxford fabric, multiple weft fibres pass over the same number of warp fibres at a 90 degree angle. This makes Oxford fabric thick and warm.

Like twill, fibres in a combination of colours can provide interesting visual effects. For example, coloured weft fibres combined with a white warp fibres create a two-toned appearance.

Oxford fabric is popular in both casual and professional wear.

The Pros and Cons of Poplin

white poplin in swirl

It’s difficult to pinpoint specific advantages and disadvantages of a fabric that can come in so many different forms. The qualities of poplin can differ widely depending upon the composition of the fibers with which it is woven. 

Poplin cotton, for example, is an excellent fabric for shirting and crafts. Poly poplin fabric is better suited to housewares than to clothing. Some poplin types are better for winter wear, and others work better in warm weather.

Still, all poplin types share some standout qualities.

The Advantages of Poplin

  • Hard-wearing and durable
  • Simultaneously fine and strong
  • Less expensive than pure wool or silk
  • Easy to work with
  • Extremely forgiving
  • Machine washable
  • Lightweight
  • Comfortable
  • Water resistant
  • Holds it shape well
  • Excellent for embroidery and applique

And the disadvantages of poplin? These come down to the fibre content. 

Polyester poplin doesn’t insulate well, so it’s not the best fabric for winter wear. However it does do well in warm weather.

Poplin made with wool or cotton fibres can be heavy and lack breathability. On the other hand, these types are well suited to protect against rain and wind.

Some poplin varieties are slippery, while others are easier to sew.

Medium-weight and heavy weight poplin types are wrinkle resistant, while thin types are less so.

Stretch poplins will have their own unique issues when it comes to sewing.

And speaking of sewing poplin fabric…

How Easy is Poplin Fabric to Sew?

Poplin in Baby Pink

Have you ever wondered how to sew poplin fabric? It’s not hard, thanks to the fabric’s tight weave. In fact, this versatile, utterly forgiving fabric is one of the easiest to work with.

But, as with all fabrics, there are tips and tricks that can make sewing with poplin even easier.

Common Issues with Sewing Poplin Fabric

Many of the issues people have sewing poplin come down to the fibre type. 

  • Some poplin types, for example poly poplin fabric, can be slippery
  • The tight weave sometimes resists the needle
  • The tight weave can also affect thread tension

Tips and Tricks for Sewing With Poplin

  • If your poplin is a slippery type, use a bit of spray starch before sewing
  • Choose a sharp, new needle that’s the right weight for your fabric
  • Make sure your scissors and rotary cutter are sharp.
  • Keep an eye on your thread tension to make sure stitches are even and uniform
  • Sew stretch poplin as you would any other stretch fabric: with stretch stitches and needles rated for stretch fabrics.

How to Care for Poplin Fabric

In general, poplin fabrics are hard wearing, machine washable, wrinkle resistant, and easy to care for. However, these qualities may differ depending upon the fibre content. Your care should always take fibre content into consideration.

Wool Poplin

The original poplin fabric contained wool fibres, and although it’s less common today, you will still find wool poplin in garments. This is especially true in high end garments.

Wool is prone to shrinkage. Many wool poplin garments are dry-clean only. Always follow the manufacturer’s care instructions, and when in doubt, dry-clean your wool poplin.

Cotton Poplin

Cotton poplin, by contrast, is delightfully easy to care for. It’s the most common type of poplin today, both in garments and in crafting.

It doesn’t stain easily, and it’s machine washable. Moreover, it releases odours easily in the wash. Some manufacturers recommend washing cotton poplin at 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit). But always follow the instructions for your specific garment or fabric.

Although cotton poplin resists wrinkles, they do sometimes happen. You can tumble-dry or iron cotton poplin with a warm iron to release them.

Polyester Poplin

Poly poplin fabric is likewise easy to care for, but the instructions are a bit different. You can machine wash polyester poplin in cold water and tumble dry in a warm, but not hot, dryer. If you need to iron your polyester poplin, use a warm, but again, not hot, iron.

Final Thoughts

Poplin is an incredibly versatile fabric. It comes in a variety of weights and fibre compositions. You’ll find different types of poplin everywhere, from garments to housewares. And most varieties are delightfully easy to work with.

The name ‘poplin’ refers to any plain-weave fabric where the warp fibres and the weft fibres are of different thicknesses. Poplin fabric may use one type of fibre, for example cotton, or a combination of fibres. The differences in fibre composition account for the unique qualities of each type of poplin.

What’s your favorite type of poplin to work with? Do you have any tips or tricks for getting the most out of this versatile fabric? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

how easy is poplin to sew

REFERENCES

  1. Louisa May Alcott | Little Women | http://www.literatureproject.com/little-women/little-women_3.htm

What Is Fleece Made Of And How Easy Is It To Work With?

what is fleece

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which may result in You Sew And Sew receiving a small commission if you make a purchase. This will not affect the price you pay, but it does help us maintain the site and keep the information you’re reading free of charge (learn more). Any quoted prices, features, specifications etc. are correct at the time of writing, but please do check for yourself before buying. Thank you so much for supporting You Sew And Sew!

What is fleece made of? Originally, fleece meant the wool of sheep, alpacas, angora rabbits, and some goats. But the meaning has expanded to include a wide array of natural and synthetic fibers. All fleece material shares the same soft texture, however. And no matter what it’s made from, fleece fabric is generally easy to work with.

What is Fleece Made Of?

Fleece doesn’t just come from sheep anymore. Today you can find many kinds of natural and synthetic fleece. Some types of fleece fabric consist of a single kind of fiber, and other types are a combination of fibers. 

Does that sound confusing? Try thinking of it this way. Today, the term “fleece” doesn’t refer to the content of the fabric, but rather to the process by which manufacturers produce it.

Specifically, fleece is a knit fabric that’s brushed on one or both sides in order to raise a soft, fuzzy nap. [1]

Natural Fleece

sheep fleece

Much of the animal-derived fleece in use today comes from sheep’s wool. Sheep’s fleece has a surprising variety of characteristics and uses , depending on the breed of sheep. The most common uses are for making yarn, garments, and bedding. [2]

You might also find plant-derived fleece made from hemp, bamboo, or cotton fibers. 

Synthetic Fleece

soft fleece blanket in baby pink

The term “fleece fabric” refers to synthetic fleece. 

The first synthetic fleece material was invented in the late 1970s by engineers at the Malden Mills textile factory. First, the factory wove polyester fibers into a light fabric. Then they brushed the fabric to increase the volume of the fibers. This gave the fleece fabric its characteristic soft, fuzzy texture.

Different types of synthetic fleece material include polar fleece, polyester fleece, and Sherpa fleece.

Polar fleece is soft and fuzzy. It’s typically used for blankets and garments. Sherpa fleece has a textured nap similar to that of wool. You’ll often find Sherpa fleece lining mittens and coats, though some manufacturers use it for garments, also.

Why Has it Become So Popular?

color palette of fleeces

Synthetic fleece material is ubiquitous in clothing and crafts, and it’s easy to see why. It’s inexpensive, moisture-wicking, and super tough-wearing. It’s also easy to work with and has a lovely, baby-soft texture. Because the edges don’t fray, it’s a popular material for no-sew crafts, as well. And it can also be eco-friendly.

Tough but Soft

Nothing feels quite so soft and lovely against the skin as fleece. At the same time, it’s durable, tear-resistant, and repels moisture quite well, too. You can use it just as easily for dog toys as you can for baby blankets. And if you’ve purchased a fleece pullover, you’ll enjoy it for a long, long time.

Insulating and Water-Wicking

olive green fleece sweater with orange zip

You already know that synthetic fibers keep moisture and wind out and body heat in. This is how your waterproof keeps you warm and dry. Fleece fabric doesn’t repel moisture, but it does help it pass through quickly, which also keeps it away from your skin.

Also, the nap presents a second barrier, which puts additional air space between the fabric and your skin.

Easy to Work With

Fleece fabric doesn’t fray easily. This means that you don’t have to hem the edges. This makes fleece especially well suited to crafts like no-sew blankets. It holds its shape well, too. You can also cut it easily, and sewing fleece fabric is a dream. [3]

Eco-Friendly

A lot of people see the word plastic and think pollution. But some types of fleece actually help the environment. We’ll talk more about this in a bit. But if you’re looking for environmentally friendly fabrics, try:

  • Hemp fleece
  • Bamboo fleece
  • Polar fleece

What is Fleece Commonly Used For? 

A lot of things! You can probably think of some uses off the top of your head. Others, though, might surprise you.

Clothing

woman wearing blue fleece top

That’s an obvious one. For many people, fleece pullovers are a wardrobe staple. Fleece pajamas are popular, too. It also makes an excellent material for light jackets and outdoors clothing like scarves, hats, and mittens.

Crafts

Because it’s so easy to work with, fleece is a natural for crafts, especially for children’s crafts. Crafters may use fleece for:

  • Blankets
  • Handbags
  • Clothing crafts
  • Pillows
  • Puppets
  • Slippers
  • Stuffed animals
  • Applique
  • Gift bags

And more. [4]

Housewares

Because fleece fabric is delightfully soft and touchable, it’s no surprise to find it used extensively in housewares such as blankets, pillows, and throws. You might also find it lining oven gloves.

Horticulture

Did you know that you can use fleece for gardening? It’s true. You can cover your plants with horticultural fleece to protect them from cold, frost, wind, and pests. Fleece crop covers can also help your plants to mature faster by raising the temperature of the air around them. [5]

Is it Easy to Sew Fleece?

white fleece fabric in a swirl

In general, fleece fabric is very easy to sew. However, it does have a few unique properties that one must take into consideration. Fortunately, there are tips and tricks for getting around them.

How to Sew Fleece Fabric

In general, sewing fleece fabric is super easy. Because it doesn’t unravel, you don’t need to hem it, and it will generally hold its shape. Also, it’s a very forgiving fabric. If you need to remove stitches, you can do so without fear of leaving holes or other damage.

For the most part, sewing fleece fabric comes down to cutting and stitching–and sometimes you don’t even need to do the stitching.

Tips and Tricks for Sewing With Fleece

Fleece material is a knit fabric. This means that it does have some stretch to it. Generally the stretch will only go in one direction. So before you cut, figure out in which direction the stretch lies, and plan accordingly.

Make sure your scissorsor rotary cutter blade are sharp. Dull blades won’t do well with fleece fabric.

Choose polyester or polyester-wrapped thread rather than all-cotton thread. All-cotton thread has no give, and it may break. Polyester thread is much better suited to the stretch of knit fleece fabric.

Use a size 12 (80) needle to sew your fleece. A ballpoint needle can travel through the fibers without damaging them. Installing a new needle before sewing with fleece can also help to prevent damage.

You can sew with a regular presser foot. However, a walking foot can help the fleece to move efficiently through your sewing machine without bunching up or getting stuck. If you do use a regular presser foot, sew a little more slowly and patiently to avoid problems.

Use a narrow zig zag stitch, preferably around .5 millimeters. Zig zag stitches are one of the stitches that work well with knit and stretch fabrics.

Choose a stitch length of around 3.5 millimeters. A longer stitch will provide more give over the seam.

If you’re sewing in the stretchy direction, hold the fabric taut while you sew.

Although fleece fabric isn’t prone to fraying, pinking the edges will add an extra measure of protection against unraveling.

As with any fabric, pre-wash your fleece before sewing to avoid problems with shrinkage. Wash in warm water and hang to dry.

Is Fleece Sustainable? 

Many kinds of fleece are not just sustainable, but actually help to improve the environment.

Polar Fleece

Did you ever wonder what happens to plastic bottles and other plastic items when you pop them into the recycling? Many of them end up being melted down, spun into thread, and turned into polar fleece [6]. This type of fleece is warm, durable, and moisture-wicking. It’s also lightweight and marvelously soft. Best of all, it turns waste into something truly useful.

Hemp Fleece

Hemp fleece is also an environmentally friendly fabric [7]. Growing hemp requires less water than growing cotton, for one thing. It also requires fewer pesticides and less land than cotton. And, unlike cotton, hemp plants can produce a multitude of different products, from medicines and cosmetics to housewares and foods.

Bamboo Fleece

Bamboo fibers are used in the production of several different fabrics, including fleece, rayon, and linen.

Bamboo is a hardy plant that grows fast. An adult plant can regrow itself back to harvestable size in just three to five years. It doesn’t take a lot of land or a lot of water to grow a lot of bamboo. No pesticides are required, either. And fabric made from bamboo is naturally antimicrobial and antifungal [8].

If that’s not enough, bamboo produces 35 percent more oxygen than similar plants, and absorbs five times as much carbon.

So, although several kinds of fleece are eco-friendly, bamboo fleece might be one of the most eco-friendly fabrics of all.

Which is Better, Fleece or Wool?

That depends on a lot of things. Have a look.

The Advantages of Wool

  • Water repellent
  • Wind repellent
  • Biodegradable
  • Provides UV protection
  • Odor resistant

The Advantages of Fleece 

  • Less expensive
  • Quick drying
  • Lightweight
  • Moisture-wicking

In general, if you need a water-resistant or wind-resistant fabric, its lanolin makes wool the better material. Also, unlike fleece, if wool gets wet, it can still provide some insulation. It does take a lot longer to dry than fleece does, however.

On the other hand, for comfort and weight, fleece wins hands down. And you’ll spend a lot less on high quality fleece fabric than you will on high quality wool.

Fun and Fabulous Fleece

There are a lot of different types of fleece fabric. You can find fleece made from animal hair, plant fibers, and various types of synthetic materials. Although the word originally referred to wool, it now describes any knit fabric that’s brushed to give it a fluffy nap.

Sewing with fleece is generally easy. It’s a forgiving fabric that doesn’t easily fray. For this reason it lends itself to no-sew crafts. However, like any knit or stretch fabric, there are tips and tricks to sewing it.

What’s your favorite way to use fleece fabric? Do you have any tricks to share? We’d love to hear about it in the comments.

how easy is fleece to sew

REFERENCES

  1. Sewing Directory | What is Fabric Nap? | https://www.thesewingdirectory.co.uk/what-is-fabric-nap/
  2. The Natural Fibre Company | Wool & Yarn Types | https://www.thenaturalfibre.co.uk/sites/default/files/files/NFC%20Wool%20Charts(1).pdf
  3. Bunycraft | No Sew Fleece Blanket | https://www.instructables.com/id/No-Sew-Fleece-Blanket-1
  4. Loraine Brummer | 41 Incredible Fleece Craft Ideas | https://feltmagnet.com/textiles-sewing/Fleece-Craft-Project-Ideas
  5. RHS Advice | Fleece and crop covers | https://www.rhs.org.uk/Advice/profile?PID=906
  6. SNV Plastics | How Is Fleece Made Out Of Plastic Bottles? | http://www.snvplastics.com/how-is-fleece-made-of-plastic-bottles/
  7. Better Meets Reality | Is Hemp Sustainable & Eco Friendly For Clothing, Fabric & Textiles? | https://www.bettermeetsreality.com/is-hemp-sustainable-eco-friendly-for-clothing-fabric-textiles/
  8. Wanda Thompson | How Eco-Friendly Are Bamboo Products? | https://householdwonders.com/are-bamboo-products-eco-friendly/ 

What Is Chenille Made Of And How Easy Is It To Work With?

what is chenille made from

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which may result in You Sew And Sew receiving a small commission if you make a purchase. This will not affect the price you pay, but it does help us maintain the site and keep the information you’re reading free of charge (learn more). Any quoted prices, features, specifications etc. are correct at the time of writing, but please do check for yourself before buying. Thank you so much for supporting You Sew And Sew!

There’s something about chenille that just makes a person want to touch it. Soft, slightly stretchy, and wonderfully textured, there’s nothing like it in the world. But what is chenille material, anyway? And what is chenille made of? How is chenille material different from chenille yarn? And, of course the most important question of all: how do you sew with it? 

What is Chenille?

The word chenille has a number of different meanings. First, the word itself means “caterpillar” in French. And it makes sense when you look at the fabric’s namesake.

chenille - caterpillar

Chenille also refers to both chenille yarn and the fabric that is made with chenille yarn. 

chenille swatch
Image courtesy of neefer, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

There are also various crafts and processes that create products that are called chenille. The crafts and their products are all quite different from one another. However, they all share that defining feature: a soft, fuzzy, lumpy-bumpy texture. 

What is chenille made of? It’s not the fiber content that matters in the production of chenille, but the process. Today you can find cotton chenille fabrics, as well as chenille made from silk, nylon, and rayon, among others.

A Short History of Chenille

chenille weave
“Weaving chenille” by molybdena is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Chenille yarn dates back to the late 1700s. As the name suggests, it came from France. Rather than being made from a specific material, chenille’s characteristic texture comes from the production process.

The first chenille involved a three-step process. First, fabric was woven using a process called leno. Leno weave means wrapping two warp yarns (the strands that stretch from top to bottom) around single weft (right to left) yarn. This produces a strong but sheer open-weave fabric. Weavers then filled in the gap with additional strands. [1]

Finally, manufacturers cut the leno fabric into strips to make chenille yarn. 

Scottish Contributions

Around 1830, Alexander Buchanan, a foreman in a shawl factory in Paisley, brought the idea of chenille to Scotland. Workers at this factory would give this process a new twist, so to speak.

At Buchanan’s factory, weavers wove tufts of colored wool into blankets. Next, workers cut the blankets into strips. Then the strips were treated with heated rollers in order to create the characteristic soft, fuzzy texture. Finally, weavers wove the fuzzy yarn into fabric, which the factory used to produce a new type of shawl.

James Templeton and William Quiglay would further refine the process, adapting it to facilitate the production of intricately designed imitation Oriental rugs. Templeton’s factory would become one of the world’s leading carpet factories in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Chenille in the United States

Technique and application took another giant leap forward in the 1890s in the United States. Artisan Catherine Evans Whitener revived the craft of hand-tufting, and used it to create bedspreads with an embroidered appearance. This, too, took on the name chenille, and eventually became a pillar of the economic development of northwest Georgia. [2]

chenille bedspread
“chenile bedspread” by klynslis is licensed under CC BY 2.0

For the next 40 years, Dalton, Georgia would become the “tufted bedspread capital” of the country. In addition, the technique would appear in the production of pillow shams, mats, carpets, and more.

As the craft developed and grew, it incorporated other techniques, as well. Some of these included:

  • Stamping colors and patterns onto the fabric
  • Heat-washing chenille to shrink it and set the colors
  • Dying yarn before tufting it
  • Eventually adapting sewing machines to tuft fabric

Modern Developments

Aside from shawls, manufacturers didn’t begin to use chenille for clothing in a widespread way until the 1970s. At this time, rapid technological development allowed for mass production of chenille yarn. Further developments in the 1990s allowed for industrial scale production of chenille fabric. 

Mass production allowed the price to come down, and today, mass-produced chenille is a very popular material for all sorts of products.

How is Chenille Used Today?

You’ll find chenille anywhere you want a soft, touchable, stretchy fabric. And that means clothing, household goods, and crafts.

Clothing

Chenille is a popular fabric for sweaters, tops, and dresses. Its softness makes it a delight to wear against the skin. Its stretch means that a garment made with chenille fabric will be forgiving of bodily flaws. And it drapes and flows beautifully.

Chenille is also excellent in a variety of climates. It’s naturally insulating. At the same time, its loose weave means that it allows good air flow in warmer weather.

Housewares

Chenille has long been a favorite for use in upholstery. Its texture is similar to that of velvet, but chenille is less expensive to produce. Chenille is also a top notch material for blankets, bedspreads, pillows, and throws.

Quilting

Chenille quilting is actually several different crafts. First, you can cut pre-made chenille fabric into quilt blocks and use them to create a quilt top.

But chenille quilting can also refer to different techniques using stacks of regular quilting cotton. 

One technique involves sewing your batting-stuffed quilt blocks with the backings together so that the edges stand up in tufts. You might recognize the technique from the ever-popular easy rag quilt, as shown below.

Another technique involves stitching fabric stacks on the bias, cutting them with a special chenille cutting tool, and then brushing the resulting rows into tufts. You can then sew the blocks the traditional way, or edges-up, as in a rag quilt.

You can see this technique in the video below.

What is Chenille Fabric Like?

With so many techniques and products that use the word, it’s natural to be confused. However, all chenille yarns and fabrics share a few characteristics.

Fluffy

Whether you’re talking about velvety chenille yarn or hand-tufted cotton chenille fabric, the first characteristic anyone will notice is fluffiness.

Stretchy

Chenille yarn is fabric cut on the bias. This gives it a built-in stretchiness. When chenille yarn is woven into chenille fabric, the result is a highly stretchy, pliable fabric with a wonderful drape.

Thick

Because chenille is made by wrapping fibers, it is thick and sometimes lumpy.

Iridescent

What color is chenille? It can be any color, of course. However, some chenille may also appear iridescent. This is because the fibers will look different when seen from different directions.

Raised Rows

Chenille fabric is characterized by raised rows of either tufted or wrapped fibers. These rows sometimes look like ribbing. They can also look spiky, like the caterpillar for which chenille is named.

Absorbent

The loose weave of chenille fabric means that it readily absorbs liquids.

Durable

For such a delicate-feeling fabric, chenille is surprisingly abrasion-resistant and durable. Just mind the edges, as loose fibers can fray quite easily.

How to Sew Chenille Fabric

Chenille is a wonderful fabric with unique qualities. However, it’s not the best fabric for every project. Also, those unique qualities mean that there are a few unique issues when it comes to sewing chenille.

Advantages of Chenille Fabric

  • Soft and silky
  • Stretchy
  • Durable
  • Drapes well
  • Absorbent
  • Insulating
  • Resists abrasion

Disadvantages of Using Chenille

  • Unravels easily
  • Difficult to retain its original shape
  • Needs special care
  • Prone to shrinking

How Easy is Chenille to Sew?

Sewing with chenille can be tricky. It’s very stretchy, which means that it can be hard to get a piece to hold its shape while you sew it.

It can also be slippery, especially if your chenille is made from synthetic fibers. And this can cause puckering, thread-bunching, and other problems when you try to put it through your sewing machine.

Also, chenille is prone to fraying and unraveling. 

Here are a few tricks to make things easier.

Use a walking foot to help your fabric to feed through the machine in an even manner. 

Pinning the edges of your fabric at one-inch intervals, or even less, can also help your fabric to keep its shape while you’re sewing. 

Sew with a ballpoint needle, rather than a universal needle. A ballpoint needle is specifically designed to work with stretch fabrics. You might also see ballpoint needles packaged as Jersey needles or stretch needles.

Choose a stretch stitch on your sewing machine. The design of a stretch stitch is meant to keep stitches from popping when the fabric stretches. Many sewing machines represent the stretch stitch with a glyph that looks like a lightning bolt. In absence of a stretch stitch, you can also use a narrow zigzag stitch.

Don’t finish the edges. Chenille fabric frays very easily. 

Wonderful Chenille

The techniques used to create the first chenille also created a revolution in fabric. For more than two hundred years, artisans, crafters, and manufacturers have developed new processes and technologies that have increased the variety, popularity, and uses of chenille-type yarns and fabrics. Today chenille is a favorite for both clothing and housewares.

Working with chenille takes patience and a few tricks, whether you’re using pre-made chenille fabric or making your own. But the results are always striking and one hundred percent unique.

Have you made your own chenille? Do you have any tips or tricks for sewing with chenille fabric that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear about it in the comments.

how easy is chenille to sew

REFERENCES

  1. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica | Weaving | https://www.britannica.com/technology/weaving#ref290553
  2.  Randall L. Patton | Chenille Bedspreads | https://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/arts-culture/chenille-bedspreads

How To Sew A Button: 2-Hole, 4-Hole, & Shank Buttons Explained

how to sew a button

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which may result in You Sew And Sew receiving a small commission if you make a purchase. This will not affect the price you pay, but it does help us maintain the site and keep the information you’re reading free of charge (learn more). Any quoted prices, features, specifications etc. are correct at the time of writing, but please do check for yourself before buying. Thank you so much for supporting You Sew And Sew!

It seems so simple, yet you’d be surprised how many people don’t know how to sew a button. If you’re one of those people, don’t worry. It’s easy to replace a button by hand or using a sewing machine. We’ll show you how.

What You’ll Need to Complete This Tutorial

Most of us have at least some of these things at home already. And if you don’t? They’re cheap and often as close as your local craft store.

Replacement Button

This is the fun part. Think about the button you lost. Do you want to replace it exactly? That might take some doing. If it’s a common sort of button, you might easily find a match at your fabric or craft store, or even in the household section of your grocery. If it’s a specialized button, however, you might have to contact the maker of your garment.

On the other hand, this could be your chance to revitalize your garment with a completely different set of buttons. Different colors, materials, or designs can give an item a whole new character. Take a look at this blouse. How would each of these buttons change its look?

different types of button

Regardless of color, shape, or material, there are three basic types of button: two-hole, four-hole and shank. Two-hole and four-hole buttons are self-explanatory. A shank button, like the wooden button above, has a circular bit on one side. Instead of sewing through the button to attach a shank button, you sew through the shank.

Needle

There are a lot of types of needles for hand-sewing. Fortunately, you can use just about any of them to attach a button. However, you should pay attention to the needle’s sharpness and size.

needles for button sewing

A dull needle, like a darning needle, may be able to get the job done. However, a sharp needle will go through cloth easily and with minimal damage. Likewise the needle you choose should not only fit through the holes or shank of your replacement button, but should also be small enough to not damage the fabric of your garment.

Thread

Again, there are many types of thread. And again, you can use most of them to sew on a button. If you want to minimize the chances of losing your new button, though, you might consider using button thread. Button thread is a thick, tough thread that’s also used for sewing carpets and upholstery. 

button sewing thread

Scissors

Using scissors to cut off your thread ends will keep things tidy.

Fabric Marking Pen

A fabric marking pen can help you to remember exactly where you want your buttons to go. It can help you to line up your new buttons nice and straight, and to make sure they line up with the buttonholes. They can also mark your place. This can be a lifesaver if you have to set your work down, or if you drop a button while sewing.

Fabric marking pens come in different colors. Some have washable ink. Others have ink that disappears when exposed to heat. Alternatively, you can use tailor’s chalk, which simply brushes off.

Pin or Toothpick

It might be tempting to sew your new button on as tightly as possible so that it won’t fall off. But you should always leave a little bit of space between the button and the fabric. First, a too-tight button can pucker the fabric, and the garment won’t look right. Also, if your button is too tight, it could actually break off more easily, as the thread is under more pressure. And if the thread is really tight, it might also take some of the fabric with it.

Using a toothpick or a pin can give your new button just enough breathing room. You can also use a paperclip or anything else of similar size. We’ll show you how to do this in a bit.

Beeswax (Optional)

No matter what kind of thread you’re using, coating it with beeswax can make it straighter, tougher and stronger. It will also help the thread to glide more easily through the fabric. This is an old bookbinder’s trick, but it works for sewing fabric, too. Here’s how you do it.

Thimble (Optional)

If you’re pushing thread through thick cloth or multiple layers, using a thimble can protect your thumb and allow you to press harder on the end of the needle.

How to Sew a Button Step by Step

There are two ways to sew a button: by hand and by machine. The process is a little bit different for each kind of button.

How to Sew a Button With Two Holes by Hand

2-hole button
A two-hole flat button

Let’s start with the easiest job: sewing a two-hole button by hand.

Step 1: Prepare Your Materials

First, make sure you have everything you need. Thread your needle. A double thickness of thread, as shown in the photo, will make your repair stronger. Tie a knot at the end of your thread, and coat the thread in beeswax.

needle and thread

Step 2: Make Your Mark

Now lay out your item. Smooth the buttonhole down so that it’s right over where the old button sat. Use your fabric marking pen to mark where the new button will go. If you’re sewing on more than one replacement button, repeat this process for all of the buttons.

fabric marker pen

Now open the garment and lay your button down over the mark. Flat buttons often have a ridged side and a smooth side. The smooth side is the back and should sit against the fabric.

Step 3: The First Hole

Holding the button in place with one hand, use your other hand to bring the needle up from the bottom and through the first hole. Some people pull the thread all the way through, so that the knot is snug against the back of the fabric. I prefer to leave an inch or so of thread so that I can tie off my thread at the end.

Step 4: The Second Hole

Now, bring the needle down through the other hole.

sewing a button

Step 5: Toothpick Time

If you’re planning to use your toothpick, now is the time. Slide it gently between your button and the fabric. Alternatively, you could slip the toothpick on top of the button, between your initial stitch and the button itself.

toothpick button sewing

Step 6: Sew!

Now sew the button on. Make a continuous loop, going up through the first hole, down through the second, then back up through the first one again. Do this eight to ten times.

Step 7: Tie Off and Snip

Once your button is firmly attached, knot your thread several times underneath the fabric. You can also “sew off” the thread end by knotting it several times around the bottom of your circle of stitches and securing the knot with a few stitches. Remove the toothpick and snip off the edges. You’re done!

How to Sew a Button With Four Holes by Hand

4-hole button
A four-hole flat button

Step 1: Prepare Your Materials

As before, thread your needle, pulling the ends of the thread together so that the needle sits at the midpoint. Now knot the ends and treat the entire thread with beeswax.

Step 2: On Your Mark

Use your fabric markers to mark where you want your button to sit. You can make the location very precise by laying the edges of your garment over one another, as if buttoning the garment, then poking the tip of your fabric through the buttonhole to mark the button’s final place.

Step 3: Holes 1 and 2

Set the button on top of your mark. Remember: ridge side up!

Now, bring your thread up from beneath the fabric, through the first hole. It doesn’t matter which hole you choose. Then bring it down through the hole that sits diagonally to your first hole.

Step 4: Make Some Room

Will you use a toothpick with a four-hole button? You bet you will. Slip it gently beneath the diagonal of thread you just made, or between the button and your fabric.

how to sew a 4-hole button

Step 5: Holes 3 and 4

Your needle should now be underneath the fabric. Bring it back up again through one of the holes that you’ve not yet stitched. Now bring it back down through the hole that sits diagonally to it. You should now have a nice “X” shape.

Step 6: Criss Cross

You will be sewing this “X” over and over again by sewing diagonals. You could sew the diagonal from hole 1 to hole 2 several times, then switch to one between holes 3 and 4. You could also alternate. This video shows you the first way.

Step 7: Finish the Job

Once you have between six and eight complete “X” shapes, knot off your thread or sew it off. Now remove your toothpick, snip your edges, and admire your work!

How to Sew a Shank Button by Hand

shank button sewing
A shank button

A shank button is a bit easier than a flat button. You don’t have to use a toothpick, although I do recommend keeping the thread relaxed.

Step 1: Prepare Your Materials

As always, thread your needle, making sure that you have a double length of thread. Knot the thread ends and treat your thread with beeswax. 

Step 2: X Marks the Spot

Use your fabric pen to mark where you want your button to go. Now set the shank of your button down on your mark.

Step 3: Stitch it Up

Hold the shank of the button against the fabric with one hand. Now, use the other to draw the thread up from below the fabric, through the shank, and back down through the fabric. Make six to ten complete loops.

sewing shank button

Step 4: Tie it Off and Snip

When you’re finished, knot the thread and snip off the ends.

How to Sew a Button Using a Sewing Machine

Some people prefer sewing buttons by hand. It’s quick and easy, and you’re not risking either your button or your machine needle. But if you want to sew your button by machine, that, too, can be quick and easy. And if you’re careful, you can do it safely, as well.

You’ll need two extra pieces of kit for this: some sticky tape and a button foot (optional).

button foot
A button sewing foot

Step 1: Secure Your Button

Put your button where you want it and secure it to the fabric with sticky tape.

Step 2: Prepare Your Sewing Machine

You’ll want to do several things.

First, choose your stitch. You’ll want a zigzag stitch.

Next, set your stitch length to zero. You’ll not want your button moving forward through the machine. 

Now lower your feed dogs. Your feed dogs move the work forward through the machine. If your stitch length is zero, it should not be moving anyway. However, lowering the feed dogs will be an added measure of protection.

Set your stitching speed to slow. Better safe than sorry!

Finally, put on your button foot if you have one. A button foot holds your button in place while you sew. This is optional, but it makes things easier.

Step 3: Insert Your Work

Place your fabric and button on top of the feed dogs. Lower the presser foot onto it. 

Step 4: Sew a Test Stitch…Slowly

Use the hand wheel to slowly lower the needle into the first buttonhole. Continuing to use the hand wheel, lift up the needle and continue to turn it until the needle approaches the second hole.

button sewing machine

Does it go directly in? Is the stitch too wide or too narrow? Adjust the stitch width if you need to, then set it.

Sew Your Button

Now, carefully, stitch your button.

Tie and Snip the Edges

When you’re finished, take your work out of the sewing machine. Turn it over and tie off the edges.

Having trouble visualizing the process? Check out this instructional.

It’s Sew Easy!

Replacing a button isn’t difficult, but it’s important to use the right tools and the right procedure. 

What did you think of our tutorial? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

learn to sew buttons

How To Identify Sewing Machine Needles: Needle Sizes, Types, & Tips

how to identify sewing machine needles

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which may result in You Sew And Sew receiving a small commission if you make a purchase. This will not affect the price you pay, but it does help us maintain the site and keep the information you’re reading free of charge (learn more). Any quoted prices, features, specifications etc. are correct at the time of writing, but please do check for yourself before buying. Thank you so much for supporting You Sew And Sew!

A needle is a needle is a needle, right? Wrong! Sewing machine needles come in a variety of sizes, sharpnesses, and materials, and choosing the wrong one could cost you your project.

In short, knowing how to identify sewing machine needles is an essential skill every sewist must have.

Our sewing machine needle guide will give you the scoop on the types of sewing needles and sewing machine needle sizes. We’ll tell you which needles work best for which fabrics and which types of sewing, and help you to determine what sewing needle to use for your next project.

The Anatomy of a Sewing Machine Needle

sewing machine needle anatomy

Sewing needle design hasn’t changed much over time. In fact, archaeologists recently unearthed a 50,000-year-old sewing needle in Novosibirsk, Russia, that you or I could still use for hand-stitching today. [1]

Sewing machine needles, too, have maintained the same basic design. However, over time, variations on that design have evolved to better fit different types of sewing.

So, once you know the fundamentals, working out how to identify sewing machine needles is a breeze. The basic parts of a sewing machine needle include:

Butt

This is the “top” of the needle. It may be rounded or flat. This is the part that you insert into the needle bar.

Shank

Extending down from the butt is the shank. A needle shank comes in different shapes, which correspond to the type of sewing machine you have. Industrial sewing machine needles may have round, threaded, or grooved shanks. Home sewing machines use a needle where the shank is rounded on one side and flat on the other.

Shoulder

The sloping space between the shank and the shaft is called the shoulder. The shoulders of some sewing machine needles are color-coded to show the usage of the needle.

Shaft

The shaft (also called the blade) is the main body of the needle. Needle size is determined by the thickness of the shaft.

Groove

Sewing machine needles have a groove along the front of the shaft. The length and width of this groove can vary from needle to needle. In all cases, however, the groove helps to make stitches smoother by cradling the thread and guiding it to the eye.

Scarf

Between the groove and the eye is an indentation called the scarf. This indentation helps the bobbin hook to grab the thread. The size of this indentation is different in different types of needles.

Eye

The eye is the hole near the tip of the needle, where you insert the thread. The size and shape of the eye can vary, depending on your needle type.

Point

The point, or tip, of the needle makes first contact with your fabric. The sharpness can vary, depending on which fabric the needle is designed to sew. Heavier materials require a sharper needle. Needles meant for stretch fabrics are comparatively blunt. Universal needles, that is, needles made to sew a variety of fabric types, are somewhere between the two.

Which Needle Do You Need?

Although sewing machine needles may look similar, there are subtle differences in design that can affect your fabric, thread, and stitching.

So, how do you choose?

You need to consider three parameters: the purpose for which the needle is designed, the size of the needle, and the weight of the thread you’re planning to use. 

What’s Your Project?

A universal needle will work for a variety of different kinds of sewing. However, when it comes to special tasks like embroidery or leather work, you should choose a needle purpose-made for your craft. Craft-specific needles will have different features that make them more effective for certain kinds of sewing.

What Kind of Fabric are you Using?

Different kinds of needles have features that allow them to work efficiently with different types of fabric. 

Sewing machine needles for denim look a lot different from the needles you might use for silk, for example. Denim needles are both heavier and sharper. Machine embroidery needles are different from both of these. They have a longer eye and a specially shaped scarf. And the list goes on. [2]

Choose a heavier gauge needle for heavier work and a thinner, lighter needle for light fabrics.

What About Thread Weight?

You’ll also need to consider the weight of the thread you’ll be using. Pair smaller sized needles with lighter weight thread, and larger sized needles with heavier thread. 

The numbering conventions for thread weights can be confusing, especially because they look so similar to needle gauges. We’ll tackle this more in depth in a bit.

What Types of Sewing Machine Needles Are There?

different types sewing machine needle

You might be surprised by just how many types of sewing machine needles there are. Each is a little bit different. Let’s have a look.

Universal Needles

A universal sewing machine needle is made to work with most types of fabric and thread. The shaft is of medium diameter, and the tip is pointed but not as sharp as needles made for heavier fabrics.

Self-Threading Needles

Self-threading sewing machine needles have a gap on one side of the scarf, so that you can slot the thread into the gap sideways, rather than poking it through the eye.

Needles for Heavy Materials

Needles for heavier fabrics have a thicker shaft and a sharper point than universal needles. Here are a few you might encounter.

Leather Needle

Leather needles have a chisel point, so that they can cut and penetrate at the same time. Leather needles come in five different sizes (diameters), which correspond to different thicknesses of leather.

Denim (Jeans) Needle

Denim or jeans needles are also very thick and sharp. You can use them with other thick fabrics, too, such as canvas duck cloth.

Needles for Lighter Materials

Needles designed for use with lighter threads and materials have a small diameter and are often very sharp. This helps the needle to pass through the fabric without damaging it.

Ball Point Needle

A ball point needle, like a ball point pen, has a rounded tip. Most commonly, people use a ball point needle to sew knit or loosely woven fabrics. The ball tip prevents the needle from damaging the fibers of the fabric while passing through. This, in turn, keeps the needle’s action from causing knit fabrics to run. [3]

Jersey Needle and Stretch Needle

Jersey needles and stretch needles are both types of ball point needles. Their special design features improve the quality of stitching with these sometimes difficult-to-sew fabrics.

Both stretch and jersey needles have a medium ballpoint. Stretch needles also have a shorter, narrower eye, a deeper scarf, and a special coating that helps to keep them free of different materials they can pick up from sewing elasticated fabrics. These features help to prevent skipped stitches, which can be a problem with knits and stretchy fabrics.

Metallic Needle

If you’ve ever tried to sew with delicate metallic thread, you know how difficult it is. Metallic needles are designed to make it a bit easier. Metallic needles have a large eye and a larger groove, which helps to protect metallic thread from shredding.

Task-Specific Needles

Some needles are designed to assist with a specific task, rather than to sew a certain kind of fabric. Here are a few.

Twin Needle

Have you ever seen those identical, perfectly parallel rows of decorative stitching on garments? Those were made with a twin needle. Twin needle stitching can also reinforce seams. A twin, or double needle has two needles descending from a single shaft. 

Triple Needle

A triple needle has three needles descending from a single shaft. If you want to take your decorative stitching to the next level, try one of these.

Embroidery Needle

Needles for machine embroidery come in a variety of sizes and weights. There are both sharp and ball-point varieties. All of them, however, have a longer eye than universal needles, and a specially shaped scarf. These features make it easier to work with delicate embroidery thread without fraying or breaking it.

Topstitch Needle

Topstitch needles are a favorite of quilters and sail makers. A topstitch needle has a larger eye than a universal needle. It also has a deeper groove. Many topstitch needles also have a titanium coat. All of these features mean that the topstitch needle can stand up to heavy work and even doubling of thread.

Quilting Needles

You can use a universal or topstitch needle for quilting. However, there are sewing machine needles made specifically for quilting. Quilting needles have a thin, tapered shaft that allows them to pass smoothly through multiple layers.

Wing (or Winged) Needle

A winged needle is a specialty needle for sewing loosely-woven fabrics like linen. This type of needle has flanges on the side that open a wide hole in the fabric. 

Why might you want this? Well, certain kinds of heirloom stitching uses wide holes as decoration. Also, it can facilitate sewing with embroidery thread. Finally, the flanges can help you to seal off raw, easily-frayed hem edges by pushing the edges back through the fabric, forming a seal. Have a look. 

What About the Colors?

Some sewing machine needle manufacturers put a colored stripe across the shoulder of each needle. The color corresponds to that needle’s intended use.

  • A yellow band means the needle is for stretch fabrics.
  • Blue indicates the needle is for denim.
  • A needle meant for use with microfiber cloth may have a purple band.
  • A red band means the needle is meant for machine embroidery.
  • Green bands are often seen on quilting needles.

What do the Numbers on Sewing Machine Needles Mean?

As we’ve already seen, the size of a sewing machine needle can play a big role in the ease and quality of sewing. Size affects the way the needle interacts with your materials, and also affects stitching quality. Also, different sized needles are suited to different types of work.

Needle size refers to the diameter of the needle. You might also hear it described as gauge. If you’re wondering what gauge is a sewing needle, it’s important to understand the numbering convention.

To make it even more difficult, the United States and Europe have different conventions.

American Sewing Machine Needle Numbering

American sewing machine needle sizes range from eight to 19. The larger the number, the larger the diameter of the blade.

European Sewing Machine Needle Numbering

European sewing machine needles come in sizes ranging from 60 to 120. Again, the larger the number, the larger the diameter of the blade. A size 60 needle, for example, has a 0.6 millimeter blade.

What About the Numbers on the Package? 

Since many needle manufacturers sell their wares around the world, packages will often list both American and European sizes, separated by a front slash. The European number comes first. Therefore:

  • 60/8 is for very fine lightweight fabrics like thin silk
  • 65/9, 70/10 and 75/11 work best for lightweight fabric such as taffeta and lining fabric
  • 80/12 and 90/14 work best for medium weight fabrics, linen, and flannel
  • 90/14 and 100/16 are for heavier weight fabrics such as denim, fleece, tweed, and wool
  • 100/16, 110/18, and larger are for heavyweight materials such as leather, vinyl, and canvas ducking

Thread Weight And Needle Size

sewing machine needle with thread

If your thread keeps breaking, shredding, or skipping stitches, it’s possible you’re not using the right size needle for that thread. So, which size needle goes with which size thread?

Confusingly, the thread weight measuring conventions look similar to the measuring conventions for needle gauge: two numbers separated by a slash. But the numbers don’t have the same meaning at all.

Thread Weight Explained

There are several different conventions for describing thread size. The weight standard is one of the most common conventions, so this is the one we’ll be looking at here. [4]

With needle gauges, the smaller the number, the smaller the needle. With thread weight, it’s the opposite: the smaller the number, the heavier the weight of the thread.

Also, unlike needle gauge, which measures needle diameter, thread weight measures weight. Specifically, how many kilometers of thread it takes to make one kilogram. So, if you have a 30-weight thread, that means 30 kilometers of that thread weighs one kilogram.

A 50-weight thread, on the other hand, is lighter, as it would take 50 kilometers of that thread, rather than 30, to make one kilogram.

But what if your thread is “30/2”? What does that second number mean? The second number is the number of plies, or strands, in that thread. 

Here are some examples.

50 and 60 weight thread is good for general purpose sewing.

A lot of quilters like to use 30 or 40 weight thread when they want their stitches to stand out visually. 30 weight thread is also often used for decorative stitching in upholstery.

20 weight thread is for ultra-heavy weight materials.

12 to 18 weight thread is often used for hand embroidery.

Note: another standard, called the Number Standard, labels threads as #100, #50, and so on. Although in this system, like in the weight system, higher numbers describe thinner threads, #50 thread is not the same weight as 50-weight thread.

How to Match Thread Weight to Needle Size

Here’s the rule: the larger the number on your needle, the smaller the number should be on your thread.

The higher the needle gauge, the larger the shaft of that needle will be. Possibly the eye will be larger as well. This type of needle is built for a heavier thread. By contrast, smaller, thinner needles require a finer thread–that is, a thread with a greater thread weight measurement.

Confused yet? Here’s a chart. Please note that this is a rough guide. There are heavier and lighter threads and needles not represented here:

UsageNeedle GaugeThread Weight
Ultra-light fabric, fine silk60/8100 weight
Lightweight fabric70/10100 weight
Medium-light fabric80/1250-60 weight 
Medium fabric90/1440 weight
Upholstery100/1630 weight
Leather and other heavyweight materials100/1620 weight

Tips for Using the Right Sewing Machine Needle Every Time

sewing machine needle and bobbin

Every time? Well, no system is perfect. But these tips can help.

Consider Your Task

What kind of sewing will you be doing? No matter what your task, it’s likely there’s a specific needle for it. A universal needle is fine for most general sewing tasks, however you may want a task-specific needle for:

  • Embroidery
  • Quilting
  • Leather
  • Knits
  • Stretch fabrics
  • Heirloom sewing

Think About Your Fabric

Once you’ve chosen the right type of needle, it’s important to match the gauge of that needle to the weight of your fabric. Lightweight fabrics require a thinner, lighter needle, while heavier materials need a very thick, very sharp needle. Remember that a larger needle will leave a larger hole, so figure this into your calculations.

What Kind of Thread Are You Using?

Now it’s time to match your needle to your thread. This can go hand in hand with your fabric, but it doesn’t always. Lighter, finer threads require a smaller needle. Metallic thread is very fragile, so you should use a needle made for metallic threads. And thick, heavy thread requires a thick needle with a larger eye, of course.

Remember: the smaller your thread-weight number, the larger the needle gauge you will need.

Try to Thread Your Needle

When you’re preparing to sew, pay attention to how easy it is to thread your needle. The thread should pass easily through the needle’s eye. It’s easy to tell if the thread is too thick for the needle. But if the needle is too big, that can cause problems, too.

Your thread should snuggle nicely into the groove of the needle. If it fits well in the groove and passes easily through the eye, you have a better chance of producing even, high-quality stitches.

Make a Few Test Stitches

Before you start sewing, make a few test stitches. Are they tight and evenly spaced? Are they the same size? If not, it could be an indication that you’re using the wrong size needle. (It could also mean that you’re not using the correct thread tension.)

How Often Should You Change the Needle On Your Sewing Machine?

sewing machine needles

A dull sewing machine needle can harm your fabric, cause skipped stitches, snag or even break your thread, and throw your thread tension off. On top of that, it can damage your sewing machine motor. So, how often should you change it?

The amount of time is about the same, but people have different ways of measuring that time. Some suggestions include:

  • After 6 to 10 sewing hours
  • After going through three full bobbins that you wound yourself
  • After two full pre-wound bobbins
  • After completing a single project

Different factors can influence these times, including working with heavier or layered materials and sewing through coated materials.

Sewing machine needles experience a variety of pressures in addition to punching through fabric. These pressures can cause different types of damage. Always check your needle for dullness, chips, abrasion, and other damage before using it.

Sewing it All Up

Your sewing machine won’t speak up when it’s time to change the needle. And it can’t tell you if you’ve chosen the wrong one for your project. Unfortunately, your first sign of trouble may be damage to your project or even to your sewing machine.

Choose your needle carefully. Consider your fabric type, thread weight, and what sort of sewing you’ll be doing. Inspect your needle regularly for damage, and change it often.

What’s your favorite kind of sewing? And what’s your favorite needle to use? 

identifying sewing machine needles

REFERENCES: 

  1. Archaeology Magazine | Denisova Cave Yields a 50,000-Year-Old Needle | https://www.archaeology.org/news/4784-160823-denisova-cave-needle
  2. Bernadett Csaszar | Choosing the Right Needles for Your Machine Embroidery Projects | https://blog.hatchembroidery.com/choosing-the-right-needles-for-your-machine-embroidery-projects/
  3. Wisegeek Writer | What are Uses for a Ballpoint Needle? | https://www.wisegeek.com/what-are-uses-for-a-ballpoint-needle.htm
  4. Superior Threads | THREAD WEIGHTS AND MEASUREMENTS | https://www.superiorthreads.com/education-thread-measurements

Sewing Machine History: Who Invented It, Why, When, and Where?

sewing machine history

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which may result in You Sew And Sew receiving a small commission if you make a purchase. This will not affect the price you pay, but it does help us maintain the site and keep the information you’re reading free of charge (learn more). Any quoted prices, features, specifications etc. are correct at the time of writing, but please do check for yourself before buying. Thank you so much for supporting You Sew And Sew!

Who invented the sewing machine? The answer is more complicated than you might think. Like a lot of great ideas, the evolution of the sewing machine is a series of inventions, innovations, improvements and hacks. And one can’t simply ask what year was the sewing machine invented, because it took place over a long period of time.

In fact, the evolution continues to this day.

Why Was the Sewing Machine Invented?

sewing pre-industrial revolution

People have been sewing by hand for a very long time. The oldest sewing needle on record is 50,000 years old. The needle is made out of bird bone, and wasn’t crafted by Homo Sapiens, but by the Denisovans, one of two other humanoid species alive at the time. [1]

The sewing machine, by contrast, is a fairly recent development. Although many people were involved in its evolution, and that evolution is still continuing today, we can trace the first sewing machines to the end of the 18th century.

The Industrial Revolution

The 18th and 19th centuries in Europe were a time of rapid and widespread scientific and technological development. The Industrial Revolution saw the mechanization of many handicrafts, as well as a shift from rural to urban life. Nowhere was this revolution more noticeable than in the textile industry. [2]

The invention of new technologies like the flying shuttle (1733), the spinning jenny (1770), and the power loom (1785) made fabric production faster and more efficient. It’s only natural that the market would demand faster and more efficient sewing technology as well. [3, 4, 5]

The Calico Acts

During the 17th century, British factories in India produced around one quarter of the world’s textiles, primarily cotton. Eventually these factories began to produce finished cotton products as well. These imports were less expensive than the wool and linen clothing produced in Britain. This proved to be a grave threat to Britain’s domestic textile and garment industries.

The Calico Acts of 1700 and 1721 banned the import and sale of finished cotton products, though it was still legal to import raw cotton. Eventually a new, cotton-based textile industry developed in Britain. [6]

By the time the Calico Acts were repealed in 1774, Britain had its own thriving cotton goods industry. This new industry fueled the development of new spinning, weaving, and later sewing technologies.

New Markets

In addition to technological and political developments, shifting market forces were at work. The influx of workers to cities meant increased demand for cheaper, ready-made clothing. The rise of a new, urban consumer class also added to this demand. The less expensive fabric was there; people just needed a faster way to turn it into clothing and household items.

Who Invented the Sewing Machine?

Who was the inventor of the sewing machine? It’s difficult to point to a single person, as so many people, from a surprising number of disciplines and backgrounds, contributed to the technologies that led to it. 

Like so many inventions, the development of the sewing machine is a story of good ideas that, more often than not, took many years and many different attempts to catch on. The story of the sewing machine illustrates the sad truth that a good idea doesn’t necessarily translate into immediate market success.

Rather, success is the harmonious convergence of ideas, personalities, and luck. And sometimes a bit of strategic patent infringement.

Let’s have a look.

Charles Frederick Wiesenthal

Charles Frederick Wiesenthal was a German inventor in the 18th century. While living in Britain, he invented the first known mechanical sewing device, though it wasn’t a sewing machine as we know it.

In 1755, he also invented a double pointed machine sewing needle with an eye at one end, for which he received a British patent.

Thomas Saint 

Newton Wilson's copy Saints sewing machine
Newton Wilson’s copy of Saint’s sewing machine (1874).
Image by Panjigalli, CC SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

In 1790, English cabinet maker Thomas Saint designed and patented a hand-cranked device for sewing leather with a chain stitch. His design had the arm that we’re so familiar with, a feed mechanism, a needle bar, and a looping mechanism. Many believe that Saint built a prototype, however, he never built his machine for sale.

Thomas_Saint's_chain_stitch
Thomas Saints chain stitch used on the first ever complete sewing machine design for leather work. An awl preceded the eye pointed needle to make a hole in preparation for the thread.
Image by Panjigally and shared via CreativeCommons Licence: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

In 1874, English engineer William Newton Wilson found Saint’s patent drawings and built a working sewing machine.

James Henderson, Thomas Stone, and John Duncan

1804 was a big year for sewing machine innovation. British engineers James Henderson and Thomas Stone built their version of a sewing machine. It didn’t work very well, unfortunately, and was quickly abandoned.

Also in this year, Scotsman John Duncan received a patent for a multi-needle embroidery machine. It, likewise, failed to catch on.

Balthasar Krems 

In 1810, Balthasar Krems invented a machine for sewing caps. It didn’t work very well, and he never patented it. 

Josef Madersperger 

Josef Madersperger was an Austrian tailor. In 1814, he invented a machine that he called “the Sewing Hand.” This was one of several designs, none of which, unfortunately, caught on.

In 1839, Madersperger tried another design, which used chain stitching to imitate the process of weaving.

 „Nähhand“, Josef Madersperger, um 1830
Image by Reinraum, license CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

Rev. John Adams Dodge and John Knowles

The Reverend John Adams Dodge was an American pastor and inventor. He invented numerous items related to the production of horse collars. And, in 1818, along with John Knowles, he invented a sewing machine.

Dodge never pursued production, sale, or even a patent for his machine, as his duties as a pastor kept him too busy.

Barthélemy Thimonnier 

A_copy_Thimonnier's_Machine

In 1830, French tailor Barthelemy Thimonnier received a patent for his sewing machine. The machine used a barbed needle to puncture the fabric and pull the bottom thread back up to the surface. 

Thimonnier started a factory, and intended to use his machine to make military uniforms. However, workers burned the factory down after he received the patent, as they were afraid the machine would put them out of work.

A copy of Barthélemy Thimonnier’s sewing machine from about 1830 can be seen on the left. Image courtesy of Panjigally via CreativeCommons: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

Walter Hunt 

Patent_11,161 walter hunt sewing machine
Sewing Machine, patent 11,161 | U.S. Patent Office – inventor Walter Hunt | http://www.google.com/patents/about?id=lyVNAAAAEBAJ&dq=sewing+machine+Walter+Hunt

American Walter Hunt was a mechanic by trade, but he was also a prolific inventor. In addition to a lockstitch sewing machine (1833), he invented the safety pin (1849), a nail-making machine, a knife sharpener, a streetcar bell, and many other useful things. [7]

Hunt didn’t initially patent his sewing machine, fearing the machine’s production would put seamstresses out of work. Instead, he sold the rights to a businessman who abandoned the design, also without seeking a patent. When Elias Howe patented a sewing machine that contained elements of Hunt’s design in 1846, Howe initiated court proceedings against previous sewing machine designers, including Hunt. 

The case ultimately recognized Hunt as the inventor, but because he never patented his machine, awarded intellectual property rights to Howe. In 1858, Isaac Singer, whose designs owed a lot to Hunt’s original design, agreed to pay Hunt $50,000.

Unfortunately, Hunt died before the first payment arrived.

Newton & Archibold

In 1841, British business partners Newton and Archibold introduced the eye-pointed needle, as well as the new technology of employing two pressing surfaces to hold pieces of fabric in position during sewing. 

John Greenough

In 1842, John Greenough patented the first American sewing machine.

John Fisher 

Englishman John Fisher managed to combine all of the successful elements of previous sewing machine models into a device that resembled today’s sewing machines. He filed his patent in 1844. Unfortunately, the patent office lost his paperwork, which meant that Isaac Merrit Singer was able to patent a very similar machine in 1851, and go on to fame and fortune.

Elias Howe

Elias_Howe_Sewing_Machine_1846

American Elias Howe created the first American lockstitch machine, which he patented in 1846. But that’s only the beginning of his story.

While in England, drumming up interest in his machine, Isaac Merritt Singer and others were putting forth their own designs, some of which infringed on Howe’s patent in different ways. The resulting court case drew in numerous parties, including Singer and Walter Hunt. Howe won his case, and Singer was forced to pay Howe for a license under Howe’s patent.

Allen B. Wilson 

Meanwhile, American Allen B. Wilson didn’t invent a sewing machine, but he did invent two technologies that improved existing designs. In 1850, Wilson invented the vibrating shuttle. In 1851, he invented the rotating shuttle. 

Later in 1851, Wilson entered a partnership with Nathaniel Wheeler. Together they invented a rotary hook, which would replace the shuttle altogether. Wilson also invented a four-motion feed mechanism that is still part of many modern sewing machines.

Wheeler and Wilson then went into business producing sewing machines. Their enterprise was highly successful.

Charles Miller

Also in the mid-19th century, American Charles Miller invented a buttonhole-stitching machine.

Isaac Merritt Singer

American entrepreneur Isaac Merritt Singer created an improved version of the sewing machines that existed at that time. He was granted a patent for it in 1851.

Ellen Curtis Demorest

Ellen Curtis Demorest is responsible for the invention and development of the paper pattern. She published a pattern catalog in 1860, Madame Demorest’s Mirror of Fashions. The catalog was so successful that by 1865, Demorest had built an all-female sales and distribution force 200 women strong. 

She also used a lot of the profits from her company to support women’s rights and the abolition of slavery. 

Helen Blanchard

In 1873, American Helen Blanchard patented the first zig zag sewing machine. Blanchard would go on to found the Blanchard Overseam Company in 1881. She ultimately registered 28 patents, with 22 of them having to do with sewing machines. [8]

James Allen Edward Gibbs and James Willcox

American James Edward Allen Gibbs, a farmer, patented the first single-thread chain stitch sewing machine in 1867. He partnered with James Willcox to form the Willcox & Gibbs Sewing Machine Company. The Willcox & Gibbs Sewing Machine company closed in 1973, but their commercial sewing machines are still in use today.

But Who Invented the Sewing Machine First?

That’s a vague question with a lot of answers. Perhaps it’s time to sharpen the question.

You might ask, who was the original inventor of the sewing machine. Or who made the first working sewing machine? Or who patented the first sewing machine? What about the first sewing machine that went to market? Or the first that was mass produced? 

Each of these questions has a different answer, and we’ve barely scratched the surface of this complex and contentious history. 

Let’s have a look.

What Year Was the Sewing Machine Invented?

The very first mechanical device for sewing was invented in Britain in the mid-1700s. There’s no record that the inventor, Charles Frederick Wiesenthal, ever built a prototype. However, Wiesenthal did patent a sewing machine needle in 1755.

In 1790, Thomas Saint designed and patented a hand-cranked lockstitch sewing machine. He may or may not have built a prototype, but nearly 100 years later, another inventor built a working model based on Saint’s design.

In 1830 Barthelemy Thimonnier patented a sewing machine design and built a factory, but his workers, fearful for their jobs, burnt it down.

In 1846 Elias Howe patented a sewing machine that incorporated elements from previous designs, including one that Walter Hunt had failed to patent. However, while Howe was in England trying to generate interest in his machine, Isaac Merritt Singer beat him to the punch with production.

In 1851, Singer patented his own design, which eventually went into production.

Who Patented the First Sewing Machine?

Ah, now that’s a bit easier to answer. The first sewing machine patent went to Englishman Thomas Saint in 1790.

But that’s not the end of the patent story. Numerous patents were filed in the years after that. A flurry of development in the mid-19th century resulted in a flurry of litigation that had an unprecedented ending.

The Sewing Machine War

In the mid 19th century, sewing machine manufacturers were springing up across the United States and England, and many times their claims to the intellectual property rights of various technologies overlapped. In the United States, the resulting patent thicket turned into a series of lengthy and expensive court battles.

In 1856, several of the major players, Singer, Howe, Wheeler, Wilson, and a company called Grover & Baker, formed a consortium called The Sewing Machine Combination to pool their patents. Other manufacturers had to license technologies covered by these patents from the consortium.

The Sewing Machine Combination, also called the Sewing Machine Trust, was the first patent pool in United States history. It lasted until 1877, when the last patent in the pool expired. The three most important patents in the pool were for the lockstitch, the four-motion feed, and the combination of a vertical needle used with a horizontal sewing surface.

What Role did Isaac Singer Play in the Invention of the Sewing Machine? 

As we’ve seen, it’s not enough to merely have a good idea. And it’s not enough to patent your idea, or even to build a prototype. Success also means being in the right place at the right time, seeing opportunity, and acting on it.

Isaac Merritt Singer didn’t invent the first sewing machine. He didn’t patent the first sewing machine, either. His designs drew heavily upon the many, many sewing machines that had come before — sometimes to the point of patent infringement.

What Singer did do was to design a working sewing machine, patent it, mass produce it and sell it.

Singer’s advantage wasn’t being the first. Rather, he made his machine the most marketable. Singer’s design adapted easily to home use, which opened up a new market of home sewists. He also expanded his sales overseas. I.M. Singer became one of the first multinational corporations, with a factory near Glasgow and offices in Paris and Rio de Janeiro.

With regard to manufacturing, Singer made use of the new ideas of mass production and interchangeable parts for his machines. This cut production costs in half, which allowed him to both lower the cost of his sewing machines and significantly increase his profit margins.

Singer also pioneered the idea of purchase plans, which allowed customers to pay for their sewing machines in installments. The 1944 Education Act, which mandated dressmaking for young women in public schools, further increased Singer’s market reach.

Although Singer did patent a sewing machine in 1851, his innovations in manufacturing and business practices really made Singer a household name in sewing.

Where Was the First Sewing Machine Made?

The first working sewing machine prototype was made in Britain. But it’s arguable whose prototype came first.

  • Charles Frederick Wiesenthal designed a sewing device in the mid-1700s, but there is no evidence that he built it.
  • Thomas Saint designed and patented a hand-cranked leather-sewing chain stitch machine in 1790. A prototype has never been found, but in 1874, an engineer constructed a working model based on Saint’s designs.
  • In 1804, James Henderson and Thomas Stone built a working sewing machine. Scotsman John Duncan built an embroidery machine that year, too. However, neither machine worked well enough to pursue production.

The first sewing machine that was produced for sale was made in the United States by Isaac Merritt Singer.

Sewing Machine History Timeline

  • Mid-1700s Charles Frederick Wiesenthal invents a mechanical sewing device
  • 1790 Thomas Saint designs and patents a hand-cranked leather-sewing chain stitch machine
  • 1804 James Henderson and Thomas Stone build a working sewing machine.
  • 1804 Scotsman John Duncan builds an embroidery machine
  • 1810 Balthasar Krems invents a machine for sewing caps
  • 1818 The Reverend John Adams Dodge and John Knowles invent a sewing machine
  • 1830 Barthelemy Thimonnier patents a sewing machine with a barbed needle, which pulls up the bottom thread.
  • 1833 Walter Hunt invents a lockstitch sewing machine
  • 1839 Josef Madersperger invents “The Sewing Hand” and a chain stitch machine
  • 1841 Newton & Archibold introduce the eye-pointed needle and a technology for holding pieces of fabric during sewing.
  • 1842 John Greenough receives the first American patent for a sewing machine.
  • 1844 John Fisher files a British patent for a sewing machine design, but the patent office loses his paperwork.
  • 1846 Elias Howe patents the first American lockstitch machine. 
  • 1850 Allen B. Wilson invents the vibrating shuttle.
  • 1851 Allen B. Wilson invents the rotating shuttle.
  • 1851 Allen B. Wilson patents the rotating hook, which replaces the shuttle.
  • 1851 Isaac Merritt Singer patents his sewing machine.
  • 1852 Allen B. Wilson patents the four-motion feed.
  • 1852 Charles Miller patents the design for a buttonhole stitching machine.
  • 1851-1856 The Sewing Machine War
  • 1856 The formation of the Sewing Machine Trust
  • 1856 Isaac Merritt Singer founded I.M. Singer & Co.
  • 1858 Singer introduces the first lightweight domestic sewing machine, the “Grasshopper.”
  • 1860 Englishmen William Jones and Thomas Chadwick found the first English sewing machine manufacturing company.
  • 1860 Ellen Curtis Demorest invents the paper pattern and publishes a wildly popular pattern catalog.
  • 1867 Ebenezer Butterick patents paper patterns for men’s and women’s clothing.
  • 1867 James Allen Edward Gibbs patents the first single-thread chain stitch machine.
  • 1873 Helen Blanchard patents the first zig zag sewing machine.
  • 1877 Joseph M. Merrow invents the first crochet machine.
  • 1885 Singer patents the vibrating shuttle sewing machine.
  • 1889 Singer introduces the first electric sewing machine to the market.
  • 1893 The Bernina Sewing Machine Company is founded in Switzerland.
  • 1908 Kanekichi Yasui founds Yasui & Co Sewing Machine Company (later Brother Industries)
  • 1921 The Pine Sewing Machine Company (later Janome) is founded.
  • 1935 Janome invents the round bobbin.
  • 1938 The Juki Sewing Machine company is founded.
  • 1971 Janome releases the first sewing machine with programmable functions.
  • 1975 Singer brings out the Athena 2000, the world’s first electronic sewing machine.
  • 1978 Singer introduces the first computer-controlled sewing machine, the Touchtronic 2001.
  • 1990 Janome releases the first professional-quality embroidery machine for home use.
  • 2003 Janome brings out the first professional-quality longarm quilting machine for home use.

Why Sewing Machine History Matters

The history of sewing and sewing machines is important in a number of ways. First, it helps us to understand how invention is rarely the work of one person at one time. Every invention builds upon earlier successes and failures. Innovations and improvements move design forward. And sometimes the secret to success isn’t in design at all, but in business.

Studying sewing machine history also gives us a glimpse into the personalities, politics, and the lives of everyday people, and how these change over time. Inventors may work alone, but it takes cooperation and new kinds of networks and organizations to build an effective industry. 

And a person may invent the best product, but if they don’t patent, market, and produce it, it remains simply an interesting idea.

The invention of the industrial sewing machine made clothing and fabric goods cheaper and more accessible to more people. The invention of the mass-produced home sewing machine empowered millions to craft their own clothing and unleash their creative potential. And these are just a few examples.

Final Thoughts

It’s a long, winding path from that first 18th-century design to the modern machine sitting on your sewing table. That path is filled with false starts, mistakes, unexpected twists of fate, and outright theft. It’s also filled with flashes of technical genius, small modifications that made a huge difference, and the entrepreneurial skill to build a worldwide industry that continues today.

Who invented the sewing machine? A lot of people did. But invention is just part of the story.

who invented sewing machine

REFERENCES:

  1. Eric Grundhauser | Found: The World’s Oldest Sewing Needle | https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/found-the-worlds-oldest-sewing-needle
  2. History.com Editors | Industrial Revolution | https://www.history.com/topics/industrial-revolution/industrial-revolution
  3. Kevin Beck | Description of a Flying Shuttle | https://sciencing.com/description-of-a-flying-shuttle-12556508.html
  4. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica | Spinning jenny | https://www.britannica.com/technology/spinning-jenny
  5. History Crunch Writers | Power Loom Invention in the Industrial Revolution | https://www.historycrunch.com/power-loom-invention-in-the-industrial-revolution.html#/
  6. Richard A. Webster | Western colonialism | https://www.britannica.com/topic/Western-colonialism/The-English#ref277894
  7. The Irish Times | Inspiring innovators: Walter Hunt | https://www.irishtimes.com/business/2.790/inspiring-innovators-walter-hunt-1.585062
  8. National Inventors Hall of Fame | Helen Blanchard | https://www.invent.org/inductees/helen-blanchard