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Sewing With Sheers

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Ah, sheer fabrics. There's nothing like them for that light, airy look when you want simplicity with elegance. But many sewers avoid using them because you can't sew with them quite as easily as you can regular fabric. We recently started a series of beautiful Hostess Aprons, all of which have sheer fabric accents. Our first apron, Cocktails At Eight, debuted last Monday, September 19th and featured rich taffeta and frothy organza. Tomorrow, we have a Halloween Hostess Apron that is ghoulishly gauzy. Yes, it takes some care and patience, but there's really no reason to fear the sheer. You just need to follow some simple precautions and basic rules to get sheers to do what you want them to. Then you'll be able open up new creative possibilities with these wonderful fabrics.

If you missed the apron mentioned above, read up on the hints below, then try out your new-found expertise with our lovely Cocktails At Eight tutorial.

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The trouble with sheers

'Sheer' just means these are fabrics you can see through. For example: voile, batiste, georgette, organza, organdy, and chiffon.

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Some of these are slippery while others are more coarse. But they're all rather unforgiving of stitching mistakes.

Because they're sheer, all your interior work will show. And unfortunately, they're too delicate for you to use a seam ripper.

The overall rule for sheers is "Test it first on a scrap!" From ironing to cutting to stitching - make sure it's going to work before you try it on your final project.

Choosing a project

Pick a project with a simple design. First, because you won't be able to hide your stitching. And second, because sheers look best when they're highlighting a basic shape.

Prewash

You only need to do this if the item you're making is going to be washed at some point. Sheer fabric can shrink or shift when washed, pulling or puckering the seams.

Laying out for measuring

Sheer fabrics are wonderful because of the way they move. But this means they also like to slip around while you're measuring and cutting them. (Like trying to give a squirmy kid a haircut.)

So, once you've laid your fabric out, you need to hold the edges down somehow. You can use pushpins, tape or sewing weights, depending on which kind of cutting surface you're using. (BTW, pushpins, tape and weights do NOT work for kids' haircuts.)

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One method that works well while measureing is to pin your sheer fabric to a sheet. Use fine point pins and be careful not to pull the fabric off grain.

Marking

You don't want your marking method to damage your fabric and end up as a permanent part of your project. So test it on a scrap first. A marking pencil, pen, or chalk should work.

Cutting

It's best to cut sheers as a single layer. After you've laid your fabric on a cutting board, with weights, pushpins or tape around the edges, a sharp rotary cutter works best to get a smooth, straight cut. You can also use serrated scissors. Both of these will keep your fabric from moving while you cut.

The proper sewing machine needle

Use a size 8 to 11 (60-75) universal needle in your machine. Make sure the needle is new. For more information about picking out the right needle for each project, check out our tutorial on the topic.

Machine Settings

Choose a straight stitch and best tension setting. You may need to loosen it slightly.

If you have a straight stitch needle plate, or a machine that can convert to a straight stitch needle hole, you should use it. The smaller hole keeps the fabric flat and stable, and less likely to be sucked down into the bobbin. I took off the foot on my Janome Horizon 7700QCP so you could see how its Automatic Plate Converter closes down to create the straight stitch hole.

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As you do your test stitching, if you notice the feed dogs are damaging your fabric or it's just not feeding properly, you can use a sheet of tear-away stabilizer under the seam (which you'll then easily tear away when done... that's why it has that name!).

Sewing

Don't ever backstitch on sheers. This can cause your thread to jam. Instead, try a lockstitch if your machine has one or leave your thread tails long and hand knot the ends. Otherwise, sew your seams like you normally would.

A simple trick for pretty sheer seams

As we mentioned above, our current Hostess Apron series is all about sheer, and each features beautiful see through sashes. Here's our trick for a pretty sash seam:

You sash ties are each made up of two pieces cut with one angled end.

Using a ½" seam allowance, stitch the two pieces right sides together along both long sides and across the angled end, pivoting at the corners. Leave the straight cut end open.

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Press the seams open.

Turn each sewn tie right side out and using a long, blunt-end tool, such a chopstick or knitting needle, push out the corners so they are nice and sharp. Press the ties flat.

Topstitch ¼" from the edge along both sides and across the angled end. Organza tends to want to roll, so the topstitching will keep the edge of the ties looking nice.

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Turn each tie wrong side out and trim the seam allowance close to the topstitching seam.

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Run a line of Fray Check or a similar seam sealant along all the cut edges. Because organza is so sheer, trimming back the seam allowance like this gives you a nice clean look from the front.

Turn each tie right side out again and press again. Super sweet sash!

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Comments (12)

Mary Reinmann said:
Mary Reinmann's picture

Need input on sewing double sided satin 1/4" to bridal netting on a veil. I have to cut 2.5" ribbon to 1//4". It matches ribbon used on the gown. Any suggestions?

 

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Mary Reinmann - that's a tough one because as soon as you cut the ribbon, it will be prone to raveling, which will make a not-so-pretty edge. If it is impossible to find matching 1/4" ribbon, you could cut it down to 1", then fold the ribbon in half to set a crease. Open it back up and fold in each side to meet in the center at the crease. Then fold along the original crease line. The ribbon should now be 1/4". Stitch down the edge in a matching thread and you've make your own 1/4" ribbon that is finished on both sides. Practice first with a 1" strip of paper to get the idea.

Auntie L said:
Auntie L's picture

Thank you for the wonderful tips.  Plan on sewing on a shiny sheer for Glinda the good witch's costume. 

Constancelmeyer said:
Constancelmeyer's picture

Thank you for posting this tip.  I find your Tips and Resources section very helpful.

Lizzyanne said:
Lizzyanne's picture

Thank you very good advice will try what you have suggested.

Casandra said:
Casandra's picture
Wonderful info! I think I'll give sheers another try now that I know these tips. A friend recommended your site and it's terrific. Thanks!
prairiestorm1908 said:
prairiestorm1908's picture
I've sewed sheers a number of times. I never knew there was a sheer plate. That I "will" have to get. I sew on gift wrap tissue paper but it is so time consuming as little teensy pieces don't tear away and you have to pick pick pick out all the stay behinds. I find that frustrating. I hope "tear away stabilizer" is different and doesn't stick in all those stitches. I'll have to give it a whirl. I have been a sewer for more years than I like to count. I have been off sewing for about 10 years. Your site has woken up my inner sew person and I am just working on the sewing machine cover up now. That is a fun project.
norskie3 said:
norskie3's picture
This tutorial gives me confidence to go ahead with making this apron for my daughter's birthday. Thank you!
jeancreates.blogspot.com said:
jeancreates.blogspot.com's picture
Thanks for these tips!!! I've yet to work with a sheer fabric, but I have this bookmarked for good reference. Have a great day!smilies/smiley.gif
Wag Doll said:
Thanks so much for this info! I've tried working with chiffon before and it was a nightmare. My machine seems to suckthe fabric down to the bobbin, but I was trying to backstitch so I'll give that a miss next time. Love the nails in the top pic by the way smilies/smiley.gif

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