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Specialty Fabric Tips

There’s a whole world beyond cotton, silk and the other fabrics you tend to reach for when starting a sewing project. Specialty fabrics like nylon, burlap and oil cloth can produce fun results but may be a bit challenging to work with. Read on for some specialty fabric tips!

Specialty fabric may be harder to find. Don’t count on finding it at your local big box craft store (though you might be pleasantly surprised, as well). Plan in advance so you’ll have time to place an order online or visit an independent fabric store.

Take care when ironing.

This is one of the most important specialty fabric tips because most specialty fabrics are synthetic and require a low heat setting if they will tolerate an iron at all. Always check the care instructions on the end of the bolt before you ruin your project before you even begin! If ironing isn’t an option for your fabric, try laying it out flat in a warm room for several hours to work out the wrinkles.

Always use the proper needle.

Double-check that your machine is set up with the right size needle. Fabrics like tulle will require a small needle, but if you’re working with a quilted heat-resistant fabric, you’re going to need a stronger needle.

Use sharp scissors.

While it’s always a good idea to keep your scissors and rotary cutter in top working order, it’s doubly important when working with fabric that slips or frays easily. Sharp scissors or a new rotary blade will make the cutting process go a lot smoother.

If you’re dealing with a fabric that frays like crazy (burlap is notorious for this), you might want to treat the edges with a liquid seam sealant like Fray Check.

Treat the raw edges so that fabric is more manageable to work with; just keep it mind that while sealants like Fray Check dry clear, it will still look like the fabric has been treated, so keep it on edges that won’t show when the project is finished.

If your fabric has a nap or pile to it, double check your pattern pieces before cutting to make sure the nap or pile will be going in the same direction for the whole garment.

Otherwise, you will end up with pieces that have a slightly different shade, due to the light hitting the nap or pile differently.

Depending on your sewing machine, there are likely a huge number of specialty presser feet available. While your standard presser foot can sew pretty much anything, you might find that a specialty foot, such as a walking foot (particularly helpful with slippery fabrics) makes the sewing process a lot easier. A Teflon foot is another good presser foot option to have on hand, especially if you are working with oil cloth.

Pinking shears are always a good option for finishing seams, especially when you are working with a bulky or slippery fabric.

For more tips on sewing with tricky fabrics check out Linda Lee’s Bluprint class Sewing with Silks. Or explore how to sew lingerie, tips for sewing chiffon, sewing with satin, and hand sewing leather.

Do you have any specialty fabric tips? Let me know in the comments!

Come back to the Bluprint blog tomorrow to learn about sewing with selvages.



Specialty fabrics sometimes require different threads. While cotton thread is used on cotton fabrics, I have used a thread with a polyester core covered in cotton for some synthetic fabrics. Fabrics that stretch also may require a stronger thread or a flexible stitch that “gives” so that the seams don’t “pop” and come apart. When I sewed on lingerie I used a special fine polyester thread designed just for that purpose. When I first started sewing only cotton threads were widely used. Then with the introduction of synthetic fabrics, polyester thread became more popular. I remember the first “invisible” thread that was similar to fishing line-what a headache! It took me a long time before I tried “invisible” thread again.

Ann Cuthbert

Love your page. From the age of 13 I used to sew everything. I made all my clothes, my sisters clothes,coats, suits and soft furnishings. Eventually 5 of us set up a shop in Maldon Essex selling items made in fabrics, all specialising in a different needle craft.i specialised in appliqué. Anyhow life and other things took over and I had to put the sewing on the back burner. I now make fused glass jewellery and glass art. It is actually appliqué in glass !!! Anyhow, your site and The Great British Sewing Bee inspired me to take up the needle again and I have incorporated fabric pictures to display my fabulous jewellery while it is not being worn. So, many thanks for your inspiration :-)))))))))


From my drapery making days I learned that many heavy wovens, especially looser weaves, settle or stretch slightly from their own weight. To correct this I let them “hang’ after a light pressing from being draped over a hanger for a few weeks before cutting out. Some knits will do this also and pull slightly out of shape after being on a bolt. You can also steam some fabrics like boucles or velvets to preserve the nap while they are on a hanger rather than using a pressing iron to remove wrinkles prior to cutting and construction of a garment. Care in prepping heavy expensive fabric makes construction easier. I use a very large heavy duty quilt (or table cloth hanger which has a large dowel as hanger) while prepping these fabrics.


Great tips–always appreciate your tips and techniques! Thank you!

Cheryl Masters

I had no idea that you share so much information with us. Your information gathering and presentations for the subjects in question are extremely helpful. You go to a lot of effort to help. Thank you.


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