For many of you out there, childhood memories of "shiny-like" fabrics around the home probably revolve around upholstered kitchen 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 can find designs in a laminated substrate that are a far cry from those you may remember. They're pretty and pliable and great for all kinds of projects.
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. For awhile, there was a real push from many fabric manufacturers to add this substrate to their standard design collections. This has dwindled a bit in recent years, but you can still find designer laminated cottons from several houses, such as Robert Kaufman's popular Urban Zoologie.
Oilcloth was originally made by treating canvas fabric with multiple coats of linseed oil. Today, oilcloth is a printed vinyl bonded to a cotton mesh base. It is fairly thick and the back is a bit rough – almost like a canvas. Most styles are 47″ wide. It's colors and patterns are bright and fun – many with a retro feel.
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), oilcloth (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 for yourself.
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 small details, like 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 can range from 45" to 58" wide. Pay attention to the yardage required for a selected project to match it with the width of your selected laminated cotton.
When cutting out your pattern, you can use tape or pattern weights to hold the pattern pieces in place.
NOTE: In this section, we're referring to laminated cottons. With some of the other kinds of laminated fabrics, such as the thicker oilcloth, you may need a longer stitch and/or a larger needle. The other points 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 3.0 - 3.5mm.
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." Janome also offers the ultimate pair for this kind of sewing: an Ultraglide Needle Plate and Foot Set. Check out the link to see which machines can switch out to a different needle plate.
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 quite 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 machines 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 as many people swear by it.
Yet another alternative, and one we have used ourselves, is to use household wax paper, tissue 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 paper between the fabric and your standard presser foot.
Once you're done sewing, simply tear away the paper. If you have a double layer of laminate, so it's sticky on both sides, you can place another layer of tissue paper between the fabric and the needle plate.
Other options for allowing the laminated substrate to move more smoothly across the needle plate is to cover the plate itself with painter's tape (similar to the tip above for covering the bottom of the presser foot) or to use Sewer's Aid silicone lubricant on the bottom of the presser foot and/ot on the needle plate.
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. For thicker substrates, such as oilcloth, most people prefer a Denim needle in a size 14 or 16. These needles are sharper than the standard Universal needle. As always, test first to be sure.
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:
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 will 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). Since this article was originally written, we've also become fans of Clover Wonder Clips and Dritz® Getta Grip Clips.
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.
A real area of debate is pressing! We've discussed this in our studio and determined that following the manufacturers' recommendations is best: they usually 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). Laying it outside in the sunshine (on a clean surface) is a good option.
So, that's the company line, but... we've learned you can press laminated substrates 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.
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. 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 and even oilcloth, which are thick enough to withstand the higher heat required for fusible products. Even so, use a pressing cloth when fusing.
As we mentioned above, if you you want to hold 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 edges 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.
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.
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.
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.
For more information, take a look at our four-part series on Machine Sewn Seam Finishes.
You'll see topstitching 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 while you sew.
If you own a serger, you can serge the raw edges prior to sewing the pieces together.
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, most savvy retailers automatically ship their laminated cottons on a roll. When placing online orders, it's worth the extra trouble 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. 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 simply 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