After waiting for nine months, October is finally here—which means that Halloween is right around the corner! It is time to pick your costume, find a pattern, and start to work on it. This is the perfect time to go a little wild. It is an opportunity to experiment with fabrics you might not be able to incorporate into your daily routine. It is time to give vinyl a chance.
Vinyl has a reputation of being a difficult material. It is not that vinyl is difficult; it just takes more preparation and more specialized tools and techniques than other types of sewing material. Knowing what to expect when you are sewing a vinyl garment is half the battle. Armed with knowledge and patience, anyone can create beautiful vinyl clothing for Halloween or any other day of the year.
What Is Vinyl Fabric?
Vinyl is a type of plastic that is made from ethylene (found in crude oil) and chlorine (found in regular salt). These substances are combined to form Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) resin, aka vinyl. It has many uses, from the tablecloths my grandparents used to protect their table with to the shiny shoes I used to wear before my knees said no more. You can find vinyl in different finishes, textures, and weights.
What to Know Before Sewing
Buying and Storing Vinyl
When you buy vinyl, avoid folding the fabric as it tends to crease. The best way to store it is rolling it up. I find it best to work with vinyl fabric as soon as I get it home. If you have wrinkles or creases, try using a hair dryer to smooth out the wrinkles.
Some vinyl has a pungent, unpleasant smell. Let it air for a few hours. I use Febreze to mask the smell. To clean vinyl, you can use a wet fabric rag and wipe inside and out. Because you will not be washing vinyl garments, you don’t have to worry about shrinkage. If you want to try and wash it, read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully to learn how.
What to Know to Prep Your Pattern
The best way to cut vinyl is with a rotary cutter and a mat. Your blade will get trashed, so be prepared to change it once you are done. If you prefer scissors, use one that you don’t care much for. And if you plan on sewing with vinyl a lot, just dedicate a pair of scissors exclusively for the job.
Because vinyl fabric does not have a grainline, you can cut your pattern pieces any which way you fancy. This is great as it allows for maximum usage.
Darts and Other Design Details
Chalk is a good choice to mark vinyl, but it will not last. I have used marking pencils without a problem, but I always try any marking tool on a small swatch of fabric before I use it.
To secure darts, do not use pins with vinyl—or if you absolutely have to, make sure to hide the pins within the seam allowances. A better choice is to use wonder clips. You can also use vinyl’s tendency to crease to your advantage and crease your markings.
What to Know to Sew Vinyl
Choose a thicker needle. If the vinyl is not too thick, a denim needle will work just fine. For heavier materials, try a leather needle. Schmetz makes a needle combo pack specifically for sewing with vinyl. I have used 80/12 and 90/14 Microtex needles with great success.
Vinyl has the incredible ability to be sticky and slippery at the same time. When sewing vinyl, you have a few presser foot options:
1. Teflon foot: This is a Teflon-coated presser foot—and my foot of choice when working with vinyl. I have been able to work with both light-weight stretch and heavy-weight non-stretch vinyl without any issues.
2. Walking foot: Most machines come with a walking foot. If you think your interaction with vinyl will be short-lived, the walking foot is a great option. A walking foot has its own feed dogs, so it moves the fabric along with the feed dogs underneath. If you are working with heavier vinyl, this is a great option.
3. Rolling foot: This foot has little rollers that move your fabric forward. It also presses your seams you go—two jobs for the price of one!
Tip: If you don’t want to buy an extra foot, try using tissue paper. Sandwich the seam between tissue paper and sew it. The paper will help the vinyl glide. Tearing the paper is kind of a pain. Tweezers work great to get the tiny pieces that get stuck in the seam. It is slow work, but it makes for nice seams.
Choose a longer stitch length to avoid the fabric from tearing. Do you know that tear-off portion of a form? When you use short stitches, you get the same effect on your seams. A longer stitch will prevent that.
If you are working with stretchy vinyl, use a zig-zag stitch. For non-stretch materials, use a regular straight stitch. Just make sure to use a longer stitch than the usual.
Since vinyl is plastic, if you try to iron it, you might end up with a melty mess. If you are determined to iron, use a pressing cloth and try a very low heat setting. If you prefer to be on the safe side, finger press your seams open. If you are working with very thick vinyl, you can use a seam roller.
Enjoy Your Vinyl Garment!
Vinyl does not have to be exclusive to Halloween. Pencil skirt looks amazing in black vinyl, and pleather is a great option if you don’t wear leather. Sewing with vinyl looks scary but it does not have to be if you prepare yourself and your sewing room.
Do you have any other tips on how to work with vinyl fabric? Share them in the comments down below.