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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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!
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.