Tips For Sewing with Sheer Fabric

Image of a bodice of black tulle with black polka dots, neckline finished with bias tape and French-seamed sleeves
Sewing with Sheer Fabric: The Final Product

There has never been a lot of sheer fabric in my life. When I was still going to goth clubs, I did not really have the sewing confidence to mess with delicate fabrics like lace, organza, or tulle.  These days, the confidence is there, but I really have no use for sheer garments in my wardrobe. This is all to say: My experience with sheer fabrics is nonexistent. But when it was time to sew my wedding dress, the Internet in all of its wisdom was a most helpful guide, and I learned a lot as I read one blog post after the other.

It would be wrong to say that I have mastered the art of sewing sheer fabric; I do, however, know enough to make working with delicate materials a less frustrating and disappointing affair. These are a few tips I gathered along the way.

1. Cut your fabric in one single layer

One-layer front and back bodice pieces on a cutting mat
Full Pattern Pieces to Cut on a Single Layer

Sheer fabrics are as beautiful as they are shifty. If you have any pattern pieces that are cut on the fold, trace them so that you have each piece as a whole (and not just a half to be placed on the fold). This will help you be a lot more precise when cutting the fabric.

2. Use a rotary cutter and mat

Image of two rotary cutters, bigger one to the left, smaller one to the right, on a green cutting mat
Rotary Cutters on a Mat

Together with cutting your pattern pieces in a single layer, using a rotary cutter and a mat will help you avoid the shifting that can lead to distorted pieces. I already use my cutter and mat for every single project, but here it is where they shine. If you love your scissors, I don’t think it is cost-effective to buy a rotary cutter and self-healing mat just to cut a couple of projects. And if scissors are your jam, you can always get a serrated pair specifically to cut sheer, delicate fabrics.

3. Mark with painter’s tape

Detail on a piece of black tulle with blu painter's tape marking the right side of the fabric
Painter’s tape marks the right side of the fabric

If it is too hard to determine right from wrong side, use a little piece of painter’s tape to mark the right side of your sheer fabric. Make sure to test it on a piece before using it, but I had no issue with the one I used (regular blue painter’s tape). 

4. Stabilize with paper

Image of a piece of black tulle pinned to a section of white medical paper on a green cutting board
Tracing paper gives sheer fabrics more stability

Is your fabric too thin to hold its shape while you cut? Is it wiggling all over your cutting board? You can pin your fabric to a piece of tissue, pattern, or even wrapping paper and start cutting. The paper offers stability, making it much easier to cut with precision.

5. Use an extra fine needle

Image of two packages of Microtex needles
MIcrotex Needles

I was able to sew the tulle with a regular 70/10 needle, but you might need to use an even finer one. You don’t want to poke big holes into your delicate fabric—let’s not even talk about having to unpick! Microtex or Sharp needles are great options when working with sheer fabrics. 

6. Use extra fine thread

Image of Gütermann  extra fine thread for light-weight fabrics
Gütermann makes extra fine thread for light-weight fabrics

If you want your stitches to disappear into the fabric, consider using extra fine or invisible thread. I didn’t and had no issues, but I was working with black fabric. You might consider this option if you really want to hide the thread.

7. Shorten your stitch length

Set your stitch length slightly shorter than your regular length. This will prevent gathering and puckering of the sheer fabric.

8. Start your seam with a scrap

Ignore all the dust!

Keep your machine from chewing up your sheer fabric by starting your seam with a piece of scrap fabric. Feed the scrap through the machine first, and then feed your fabric immediately after. This will prevent the sheer fabric from getting stuck into the needle plate and bunching up as you begin to sew.

9. Don’t Backstitch

Giff of two cars backing up and colliding

To secure your seams, shorten the length of your stitch to 1.0 at the beginning and the end of your seam. This will replace backstitching and keep your seams from unraveling.

10. Use French Seams

Image of a hand holding a sleeve sewn out of black tulle and French seams
Sleeves Finished with French Seams

The best way to give your sheer garment a nice finish is with French seams. A French seam encloses the raw edge, leaving you with a seam that looks beautiful inside and out. It feels a little weird when you are sewing it, but it works beautifully.

To create a French seam:

a. With wrong sides together, sew a seam with 3/8” allowance.

b. Trim the seam to 1/8”.

c. Press the seam open, then flat to one side.

d. Bring right sides together; press.

e. Sew a seam with 1/4” allowance.

f. Press the seam to one side to finish it.

11. Use a Rolled Hem

If your sheer fabric has a little body to it, you can simply fold the hem twice and then sew it.

Image of detail of double-folded hem
Double-Folded Hem

If you are dealing with a very delicate fabric, the best way to hem is with a rolled hem. 

To create a rolled hem:

a. Sew a row of stitches 1/4” away from the raw hem.

b. Fold over the hem using the stitches as a guide and press.

c. Sew 1/8” away from the folded edge.

d. Trim excess fabric as close as you can from the sewing line.

e. Fold over the hem just enough to enclose the raw edge.

f. Sew the hem, keeping your stitches centered.

12. Bind the raw edge with bias tape

Image of a bodice of black tulle with black polka dots, neckline finished with bias tape
Bias Tape Neckline

A very nice way to finish your sheer garment is with bias tape. You need to make sure that the bias tape is made of fabric of the same weight as your garment or lighter. You can leave the tape showing, or you can hide it on the wrong side of the fabric (depending on how sheer your garment is).

For my wedding dress, I finished the neckline and hem of the sleeves with bias tape made of light rayon. Hand sewing the tape gave me much more control since I was dealing with multiple layers of delicate fabric.

13. Take advantage of online resources

The best resource for sewing with sheer fabrics that I found is Crafty’s “The Essential Guide to Sewing with Sheers” with Sara Alm. This class has everything, from identifying different types of sheer fabric to how to cut, sew, and finish your sheer garment. I highly recommend it.

If you prefer a free resource, you can check out Sheer Stitchery’s “Tips on How to Sew with Chiffon and Silky Fabrics.” Lots of really great tips here!

Sheer Awesomeness 

I don’t foresee many more sheer garments making their way into my sewing queue any time soon, but it is reassuring to know that I can sew sheer fabrics with confidence.

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