Top 5 Tips For Sewing With Difficult Fabric

Flowy, silky and delicate fabric looks beautiful. Unfortunately, they’re also some of the most difficult materials to sew with. After spending hours trying to pin, cut and sew this fussy fabric, you might want to give up on everything but cotton for the rest of your life. But don’t lose hope! Here are a few tips that will make your difficult fabric easier to manage.

Check the label

Before you do anything with the fabric, you need to do your research. There are several things you should check about your new material. First, check the washing and ironing recommendations. Difficult fabric is often fussy and can be ruined if washed or ironed incorrectly. You also want to check the fibers on the raw edges of the cloth. If they fray easily, it’s a good sign you need to baste the fabric before doing anything with it. Finally, make sure you lay your fabric the right way before cutting it. Most materials, like stretchy fleece fabric, for example, have cross grains and right and wrong sides. Cutting out a pattern on the wrong side can make your garment look floppy or fit incorrectly.

Stiffen up

Slippery, silky fabric like satin and jersey doesn’t like to stay where you want it to. You don’t have to put up with it, though–there are plenty of ways to keep it in place. First, spray your fabric with light starch to make it firm, even before you cut it. (Don’t worry. It will wash out later.) Then, put the fabric between layers of tissue paper. You can pin, cut and sew your fabric like normal, right through the paper. Once you’re finished, just tear the paper away.

Don’t skimp on tools

Sometimes, the basic tools just don’t cut it. One tool you want to invest it right away is a cutting mat and a rotary cutter. A very sharp rotary cutter will save you hours of time carefully snipping away at fabric. The thread you choose is also important, so double check the thickness and stretch before your thread your machine. Speaking of machines, don’t be satisfied with a basic, universal foot. Consider using a walking foot for not only quilting, but for delicate fabrics, too. A walking foot keeps fabrics from slipping, which allows you to perfectly align your seams.

Keep it sharp

Whether your is very thick or very fine, it is important that your needles and pins are new and sharp. You can’t see it with the naked eye, but used needles and pins have tiny bends and jags on the tips. These microscopic flaws can damage the fibers of your material and even cause tears. For fabric like chiffon and silk, you should use the sharpest needles and pins you can find. Sharp needles are also important for thick material like fleece. Even though fleece is typically easy to work with, a blunt needle takes more energy to penetrate the fabric. This can damage your sewing machine.

Take it slow.

It’s tempting to go straight from the fabric store to your sewing room, but you need to be patient, especially when you’re working with fussy fabric. First, stitch the raw edges of your material and then wash it on the gentlest setting possible, or by hand if it’s a very fine material. Once its dry, iron it if you need to get rid of wrinkles or use a spray-on wrinkle release. When you’re ready to sew, don’t stitch as fast as you can. A snail’s pace will keep you from puckering your seams. Finally, you may want to consider hand basting your fabric before you sew it. It’s time-consuming, but it makes it easier to machine sew hems and sleeves later.


Your dream fabric doesn’t need to be a nightmare. You just have to prepare for it. Good luck, and happy sewing!


Craig Middleton

Craig has worked in health, real estate, and HR businesses for most of his professional career. He graduated at UC Berkeley with a bachelor's degree in Marketing.

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