For many of you out there, childhood memories of "shiny-like" fabrics around the home probably revolve around upholstered chairs (that made you sweat if you sat too long), tablecloths (often with a blurry gingham pattern printed on them), appliance covers (that one with the giant, scary chicken on it that covered the toaster), etc. They were usually horrible colors and/or patterns, and certainly lackluster in design. However, they were durable and easy to clean (great when kids were involved!). Today, you'll find many of your favorite fabric designers are beginning to offer a portion of their current collections in a laminated substrate. These new offerings are a far cry from those we remember. They're pretty and pliable... but they'll probably still make you sweat if you sit on them too long!
In addition to being the most appealing in style, laminated cottons are the softest and most pliable. This is because the process to make them is different. They start out as basic woven 100% cottons that are coated with a Phthalate-free laminate (that's the shiny-like stuff) on the right side.
By definition, the word lamination means an added layer that is fused with another layer. Versions of laminated-type fabrics abound; the difference between them lies in how they are manufactured. There are the laminated cottons (which we're featuring here), PUL (Polyurethane Laminate), oil cloth (similar to laminated cotton in appearance, but much stiffer to work with), chalk cloth (that you can write on like a chalkboard; we made some party placemats with this one), basic vinyl (the flannel-backed kind), and clear laminate you can use to make your own laminated fabric. Of course, there are also generic industrial-strength vinyl fabrics too, but we're not going there.
Certain fabrics are deemed "challenging" because of their texture, finish and/or drape (called "hand" in the industry), as well as because of all the things you have to do to sew with them successfully. Laminated cottons, as well as the other laminates we mentioned above, fall into the "challenging" category and have a distinct list of do's and don'ts. Since we've been making a few projects for our tutorials from laminated cottons, we've itemized everything we've learned (along with some things we've heard from others) in the list below. You will soon see this category of fabric is not too "challenging" at all, but is really quite easy to work with and looks great too!
In addition to the information we've gathered below, there are many books and blogs dedicated to using laminated cottons (and the other laminates as well). The ideas are absolutely endless! Get the scoop, see our stylish project ideas, and try sewing something yourself from laminated cottons.
Choosing the right project
Anything you make with laminated cotton should be a fairly simple design. By simple, we mean a project without a lot of detail in the construction. Traditionally, you want to steer clear of "fussy" details, like dense ruffles, pleats, or lots to tiny pieces to assemble.
However, this does not mean you're limited in the items you can make. Whatever you make with laminated cotton can have great form and function. For instance, our Toddler's Laminated Project Apron.
Working with patterns
Laminated cottons range from 54" to 58" wide. Pay attention to the yardage required for a selected project to match it with the width of your selected laminated cotton.
We've also seen laminated panels (these are 44" wide) with pre-marked pieces for a project printed right on the laminate; you simply cut out and sew together. The project directions are provided on the laminated fabric as well.
When cutting out your pattern, use tape to hold the pattern pieces in place.
You can use pins, but you must make certain you pin within the seam allowance. Once you make a hole in laminate, it stays there.
Setting up your sewing machine
NOTE: In this section, we're referring to laminated cottons. With some of the other kinds of laminated fabrics, you may need a longer stitch and/or a larger needle. The other points would still apply. Remember to always test your settings on a scrap of the actual laminate you plan to use before getting started on your actual project.
Which stitch to use?
As we mentioned above, it's best to use laminates with simple shapes, so a straight stitch is best for piecing. You want the stitch length to be longer than when sewing with regular fabric. We recommend a stitch length of 3.0mm.
Which foot is best for the job?
Each sewing machine manufacturer offers specialty feet for their sewing machines. These are feet designed for a specific purpose so the machine can easily sew the fabric type or sewing task required. Laminates benefit from these handy specialty feet!
NOTE: We're super lucky to have Janome as one of our sponsors so we are featuring their specialty feet options. Your sewing machine manufacturer will likely have similar feet. Check with your local dealer.
The Janome Ultraglide foot (rightmost foot in the photo above) is made of a special resin so it glides across fabrics that would otherwise be "sticky."
The Janome Roller foot (leftmost foot in the photo above), as we're sure you can guess, has a roller on it that is textured to hold onto an otherwise slippery surface as it helps to guide the fabric under the needle.
The Janome Even Feed (or Walking) foot (center foot in the photo above) is the one we turn to most often for "challenging" fabrics. This foot has its own set of feed dogs so the fabric is being fed under the needle from the top (with the foot's feed dogs) and the bottom (with the machine's feed dogs) simultaneously.
We understand budgets are tight these days, and some of these specialty feet are optional accessories. This means you have to buy them separately (most Janome feet come standard with at least the Even Feed foot). A very inexpensive option we've heard about from others is to aply painter's tape or masking tape to the bottom of your standard pressure foot. You will need an X-acto knife to cut out the small holes. We've never tried this, but we wanted to share the information with you.
Yet another alternative, and one we have used ourselves, is to use household wax paper or baker's parchment paper between the foot and the laminate. If you are sewing on the right side of the laminate, also known as the sticky side, place the wax paper or baker's paper between the fabric and your standard presser foot.
Once you're done sewing, simply tear away the paper.
Do I need a special needle?
Using the proper sewing machine needle in your machine is always important no matter what type of fabric you're sewing. For laminated cottons, you want to use a larger needle to penetrate this substrate's added thickness. We recommend a Universal needle in a size 12 or 14. These have sharp points that will easily penetrate the laminate coating. We've also read about some people who prefer a Topstitch needle or a Denim needle in a size 14 or 16. These needles are sharper than the standard Universal needle. As always, test for yourself, and be your own judge.
What about thread?
Use a polyester thread, such as Coats Dual Duty XP. Laminated fabric is often used for projects where moisture could be involved, such as in our insulated lunch bag project. The polyester thread, like the laminate coating, repels water, whereas a cotton thread can wick moisture to the outside.
Mistakes are harder to hide
By nature of being woven, regular fabric is normally a very forgiving medium when you make a mistake. However, when sewing with laminates, you have to take extra precautions. Once you sew a seam, if you need to remove the stitching, it will look like this:
This is not meant to scare you, but is instead another reminder to sew slowly and carefully, so those nasty mistakes stay away.
Holding layers together
Holding together the layers of fabric you're about to sew is simple: use straight pins... right? Wrong! As we mentioned above, you can use straight pins but they'll leave holes in the laminated cotton. This is okay if you're placing them within the seam allowance. However, it's best to avoid using them if you can.
So, what's the best thing to use to hold layers of laminated cotton together? The answer is: anything that won't leave a hole or a mark in the laminate. We've listed a number of techniques below. Try a few for yourself to find out what works best for your style of sewing.
We like to use binding or hem clips (they look very similar to hair clips). They seem to have just the right amount of hold for our projects and don't leave a mark on the laminate. These are readily available at your local fabric or sewing supply retailer (you can use the hair clip variety as well).
In addition to these clips, there are a number of other options that you'll find in your desk drawer or laundry room.
Paper clips are great. We suggest the pretty plastic coated kind.
Binder clips are helpful when you need to hold quite a few layers together tightly. However, the downside to these is you can't leave them on too long or they'll leave a mark. Use them only if you're going to sew right away, then remove them immediately.
Clothespins are another alternative, but again, leave them on too long and they'll also leave a mark.
Besides holding layers together so you can sew them, there may be situations where you need to assemble layers prior to stitching. In these cases, you can use a temporary spray adhesive to keep the layers together until you sew them in place permanently.
Or, what about when you turn something right side out through an opening in a seam? You need to hold that opening closed in order to topstitch it in place. The spray adhesive solution could be too messy; you don't want to get it on the right side of your project. For this, try a temporary double-sided fabric tape.
Both fabric tape and the temporary spray are readily available at your local fabric shop or sewing retailer as well as from online sources.
A real area of debate is pressing! We've discussed this in our studio and determined that following the manufacturers' recommendations is best: they say to "finger press" – fold and apply pressure with just your fingers to set the fold.
Layers where seams intersect can be quite thick and finger pressing may seem to provide minimal results, but depending on the project, leaving the seams the way they are (ie. less than perfectly flat) is usually okay.
Laminated cotton can become wrinkled (very easily as a matter of fact). This is why when you buy it in the store, you'll always see it rolled on a tube, never folded around a bolt. However, the idea of not being able to press something that has wrinkles can be annoying. The manufacturers' most common suggestion is to lay the laminate flat, in a warm environment, so the wrinkles work themselves out (this has also be known to work for fussy toddlers).
So, that's the company line, but... we've learned you can press laminated cotton on a low setting and from the WRONG side only! Obviously, if your iron catches any little bit of that laminated coating, it's going to ruin your fabric and your iron. To be on the safe side, we strongly recommend you use a pressing cloth between your iron and the wrong side of the laminated cotton.
NOTE: If you try a higher temperature setting on your iron, the moisture has nowhere to go because of the lamination. You'll find beads of moisture will build up on the right side of the fabric.
Interfacing and batting
We wanted to touch on interfacings and battings, because you might choose to make a raincoat or even a tote bag that will require an added layer between your layers of laminated cotton. There are a multitude of interfacings and battings (I smell another tutorial coming on that topic!). In general, you want to avoid anything fusible (which means anything you need to use an iron to apply). Opt instead for the sew-in type, or non-fusible. An exception to this rule are some of the heavier flannel-backed vinyls, which are thick enough to withstand the higher heat required for fusible products.
As we mentioned above, if you you want to hold the non-fusibles in place prior to sewing, try a temporary spray adhesive.
Thankfully, there's really no need to finish the edges. The laminate coating keeps the cotton fabric from fraying. However, here are Sew4Home, we usually like to finish seams so the inside of the project looks as nice as the outside. For this reason, we decided to provide you with an overview of some finishing options. Pick the one that best matches the type of project you've chosen and/or your personal taste.
The simplest finish is to use pinking shears to create a nice, neat edge.
You can wrap the raw edge with binding. We've used this technique a number of times, and like to attach it with a zig zag stitch.
Another simple finish for a hemline is a single fold sewn in place with a straight stitch.
A zig zag stitch is a common finish for seam allowances that fray, like a regular cotton. However, it also makes a fast finish for laminate's inside seams even though fraying isn't an issue.
If you're more advanced, you can use French seams. It takes a few more steps, but if you will easily see the inside of your project, like on a raincoat or a large tote bag, a French seam is a lovely finish.
NOTE: For our sample, we are using a standard garment seam allowance of ⅝".
Sew the seam WRONG sides together using a straight stitch (3.0mm) and a ¼" seam allowance.
Fold the fabric along the seam line so it is now right sides together, enclosing the previously sewn edge.
Finger press the seam's edge, then use one of the various items we suggested to hold the layers together. We chose paper clips this time.
Sew ⅜" from the seamed edge, permanently enclosing those raw edges from the original seam.
The seam is now pretty from both sides.
If you want the seam to be completely flat, finger press it to one side.
Lengthen your stitch to approximately 3.5mm to 4.0mm. We also recommend using a larger needle, or a topstitch needle.
Sew along the folded edge through all the layers.
You'll see top stitching on the right side of many laminated cotton projects. It's a nice touch that adds a spiffy detail. As with the French seam above, use a longer stitch and a larger or topstitch needle. You will definitely need to finger press the edge and, in addition to your finger pressing, use one of the suggested methods suggested above for holding the edge in place.
If you own a serger, you can serge the raw edges prior to sewing the pieces together.
However, don't use the serger to construct your project because you'll have tons of holes in the seam for sure, which will create a weakened seam.
It's best to make your finishing decisions prior to getting started. And (here we go again!), be sure to test each finish on scrap pieces.
Purchasing, storing and cleaning
As we mentioned above, when you purchase laminate fabric from your local fabric shop it is normally displayed on a roll. Be sure to ask the store to re-roll it after it's cut to your desired length to avoid unnecessary wrinkles. As you already know from our section on pressing, it's important to keep this fabric wrinkle-free.
If you are buying online, some savvy retailers (such as our friends at Fabric.com) automatically ship their laminated cottons on a roll. When placing online orders, it's worth the extra trouble to try to request this packaging method. If not, your beautiful new laminate fabric will arrive folded up and creased everywhere. You can refer to the pressing tips above. Then, be sure YOU roll it for storage if you're not using it right away.
We defer to the manufacturers' care instructions when it comes to cleaning the laminated cotton. In general, most recommend you somply wipe the laminated cotton with a damp cloth. However, we've heard of a number of people who have washed the laminated cottons in their washing machine with success. Dryers are always a no-no. Air dry only.
As always, you be the judge and test, test, test first!
Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Jodi Kelly