Sewing thick fabrics

On Saturday night, I spent the evening at home – wrestling with a monster seam. IMG_1202 (1)

This is the toughest seam I’ve ever sewn, and I thought I’d share some tips for dealing with these, without breaking too many needles.

When you make a coat, there’s usually a point when you ‘bag’ the lining. You start by assembling the outer coat and the lining separately. Then you stitch them together along three sides, turn the whole thing inside out through the fourth side and hey presto, you (almost) have yourself a beautiful lined coat.

In this seam, because there was also a lined hood, I had six layers altogether: two layers of polyester coating, two of cotton jersey lining, plus two of fluffy Thinsulate interlining. And when I got to the point where the shoulder and hood seams aligned, it was briefly doubled to 12 layers.

So, how can you get all this under the needles smoothly?

Use the right kit

Being realistic, a portable lightweight machine is probably going to curl up and die if you ask it to sew a seam like this. So if you’re lucky enough to have more than one machine, thread up the stronger of the two. My new Janome DKS30 and my old Singer 201k have both sewn this seam successfully – although only the 201k actually enjoyed it.

Pick the right needle and thread. If you’re making a coat, you’re probably using a size 100/16 needle. If you can’t remember what needle you put in, or you changed it to sew the lining, now is the moment to double-check. A strong sew-all polyester thread, or potentially even a topstitching or buttonhole thread is a good idea too.

If you’ve been using your walking foot for your coat so far, you might need to change back to your ordinary foot just to get the fabric under the needle. But if you can stick with your walking foot, that will give you a better result when seaming all these different fabrics together.

You could also try a Jean-a-ma-jig (also called a ‘hump jumper’) to help you over the seam allowances. It helps the presser foot lift and stay level over the hump when the fabric suddenly gets thicker.

Extra tips and tricks

Fish out your sewing machine manual again and look for any advice on sewing thick fabrics. I found that mine has an extra lever position that lifts the presser foot even higher to help you get all the layers into position.

Set your presser foot pressure and needle thread tension according to the advice in the manual. (On my Janome DKS30 I set the presser foot pressure at 6 and the needle thread tension at 3.)

If your fabric stops moving through the machine you might have to help it along the way. You can try gently pulling and pushing it through with one hand on each side. Or you can switch to using the hand wheel instead of the motor – sometimes a few stitches done like that will get you through the hardest part.

A cup of tea or a stiff G&T can also make all the difference…

If it does go a bit wonky, try not to panic. Unless you’ve dropped a layer or created a pucker you probably don’t need to unpick. And because this seam will never lie flat on the body, if it’s not 100% perfect you mightn’t even notice.

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