Blog · My Makes

Sewing with Challenging Fabrics

As my confidence has grown so has been my ventures into using difficult/challenging fabrics. I have made many mistakes and projects have ended up in the bin and I have spent many hours trawling through the suggestions from google. Alice-May from Merry Makes by Alice-May asked some advice on working with the tricky fabric so I’ve brought together my research and my own experiences into one place.


A lot of my RTW clothes are jersey so it felt natural to venture into the world of jersey and I LOVE IT!! I didn’t have an overlocker when I started so made my first few tops on my machine but I do have to admit that have an overlocker makes sewing jersey 100 times easier. The finish and fit are just perfect and makes me feel less like I’m wearing handmade. Here are my tips for sewing jersey:

  • Pre-wash jersey it almost always shrink. I also put it into the tumble dryer to shrink it as much as it will go. As soon as I get fabric now I put it straight into the washing machine and then into my stash even if I’m not planning to sew with it right away.
  • If you dont have an overlocker, the narrow zig zag stitch will work fine. I still use zig zag stitch to finish the hems as I haven’t got myself a twin needle yet.
  • When cutting, keep all the fabric on the table. If any is hanging off it can cause the fabric to stretch.
  • Cut it just before you plan to sew with the fabric as jersey can have a tendency to roll which can get frustrating when you are trying the line up seams.
  • Ballpoint needles are a must. I use Hemline needles as they are cheap to pick up, £1.69 from my local sewing suppliers. Stretch needles have rounded points so they separate the fibres rather than piercing them.


  • Try not to pull the fabric as it goes through the machine. I try to let the machine do the work. If you have the function you could release the pressure on the foot to help with the feed of fabric through the machine.
  • Polyester thread is important as it has a slight stretch to it rather than 100% cotton thread.
  • Stabilise seams especially the shoulder seam with a piece of ribbon. This tip came from the Agnes from Tilly and the Buttons.
  • Most jerseys that I’ve used don’t fray which is brilliant so it saves spending time on sorting raw edges. On hems I often just turn it up and stitch.

Drapey fabrics: Chiffon, Silk, Rayon

Chiffon and other delicate fabrics can create an amazing outfits for that special ocassion or even just an outfit that makes you feel great. I love the drape these fabrics give. I’m hoping to push myself to make a pussybow blouse with a luxury delicate fabric this year in my #2018makenine. I’ve had past experiences of my machine eating up delicate fabrics and seams puckering. My plans for a satin skirt at Christmas came to a halt halfway when I just thought do I carry on and be disappointed or just give up on it now.  I just threw it away and moved on. I think once you have doubt in your mind, you will always be looking at the imperfections when you’ve finished.

  • Due to the sheer nature of these fabrics seams and darts can be seen. Princess seams are perfect for this reason. Remember to cut down the seam allowance after the first stitch to reduce bulk.
  • When cutting, use many many pins and fabric weights as this fabric easily pulls out of place. Try to keep the pins within the seam allowance in case they snag the fabric.  There’s recommendations of using a rotary cutter and mat. I don’t have one but I use my super sharp fabric scissors that have ‘fabric’ written in permanent pen on them so they are only ever used for fabric to keep them sharp.
  • Don’t cut notches into the fabric but mark them instead with tailors chalk as the fabric will just fray.  Or even tailors tacks if you don’t want to mark your fabric but I find these slip out easily.
  • Use ‘sharps’ needles either 70/10 or 60/8 and use a brand new needle at the start of every project.
  • Don’t back stitch at the start and end tie the end into knots. This will stop the fabric getting chewed up at the edges.
  • 1.5 or 2 stitch length is perfect for delicate fabrics. Also relieve the pressure on the foot is your machine will allow it.
  • Use a cool iron to avoid scorching. Test on a cut off first piece first.
  • Use a long staystitch along necklines and armhole to prevent stretching out.
  • Hand tacking helps minimise slipping. I know it’s a pain as it feels that it takes twice as long but it actually helps in the long term.


My favourite make has to be my sparkly Sew Over It Betty dress.


When I had the first idea of using sequin fabric it sent me into a wild frenzy on google seeing if I could really do it. I saw conflicting advice on how to deal with the sequins and I just thought right I’m going for it. If it doesn’t work I’ll have to make something else.

  • Cut the fabric from the wrong side and don’t use your best scissors it will blunt them. Also be prepared for sequins to fly up and get everywhere!
  • Don’t cut on the fold but if the pattern piece requires it, cut one side and then carefully flip over to do the other.
  • Make sure that all pieces are laid in the same direction so the sequins lie the same way on all the pieces.
  • Don’t prewash the fabric and handwash your finished outfit.
  • Advice I read said to remove the sequins on the seam allowance to allow the seams to sit better together but I just thought what a load of hassle that would be. I just left them on and after sewing if any stuck out, I cut them off. Remember to only cut the sequin and not the thread so they don’t unravel.
  • Size 70 extra fine needles are recommended. I used a jeans needle that I had in my stash. Have a few ready as they soon become blunt. Use a stitch length of 2 – 2.5 and go slowly.
  • Have a lining for the inside as the fabric can be sheer and also uncomfortable to wear. When lining the bodice I cut another full bodice from my lining and then put the wrong sides together when sewing together so the bust and waist darts are neat inside.img_7880-1
  • Use a pressing cloth or don’t press at all!!

Oil Cloth

I don’t plan to make clothes out of oil cloth but I’ve used it to make a bag this Christmas for my Secret Santa gift at work. A Periodic Table tote bag!!


I made one for myself as I loved it so much. perfect for carry books to mark. The fabric was from the homeware section of Dunelm. When I asked the lady in the shop for advice, she said you don’t sew with it, its just for table coverings! So again google became my friend.

  • Use a size 16 needle that can cope with the thicker fabric. I broke several needles so have some spare.
  • There are suggestions of using a teflon foot but I didn’t want to pay for a foot I would rarely use. So I put a little piece of masking tape onto the bottom of my normal foot.
  • Use binder clips or quilting clips and needle pieces the fabric and leave a mark.
  • Don’t reverse stitch, my machine couldn’t cope. I just pulled through the upper thread and tied it into a knot on the underside.
  • Put it in the sunshine or by a radiator to eliminate creases.

If you want to experiment with difficult fabrics I recommend to try with cheap fabric first so if it goes wrong you don’t feel like you’ve wasted money and time. I visit the Rag market in Birmingham for this reason. They have fabric bolts at £1 a metre which is a bargain I can’t pass by.

Adelle x

3 thoughts on “Sewing with Challenging Fabrics

  1. This is wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge. I’m gearing up to do my first jersey make soon so I’ll be taking your tips on board x


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