How to Sew Slippery Fabrics

By | May 7, 2016

Satin, charmeuse, most linings, chiffon, and a whole host of other fabrics. What do they have in common? They like to slip and slide like they’ve been covered in Teflon. When your fabric slips about, you’ll get inaccurate edges while cutting, and wonky uneven seams when sewing, both of which are going to have unwanted effects on your garment’s fit. So, how do you get this stuff to hold still when you want to cut it and sew it? There are ways.



Invest in a bottle of “basting spray” – sometimes called “quilter’s spray”. It’s a temporary adhesive which can save you a lot of grief. Spray it on to the “inside” of the fabric you wish to cut, to hold it in place, and fold it over. Then use more of it it to hold your pattern pieces in place. Of course, always test any glue on a swatch of fabric, first.

If you don’t have any basting spray, or it isn’t compatible with your fabric, use fabric weights to hold your paper down while cutting, instead of risking pinholes that your fabric might not forgive. Don’t pay money for fancy fabric weights, either. Go through your panty and pull out your cans of tuna and pet-food cans. I prefer those because they’re lower in profile than soup cans but, really you can use anything that’s heavy enough to keep your pattern in place.


Offa brand rotary fabric cutter. These come in a variety of different diameters. I find that a 45mm cutter is good for general use, with a 25mm for tight curves.

Whether you use pins or weights, use a rotary cutter instead of scissors to cut the fabric. Rotary cutters take a little getting used to, but they’re easier on the hands than scissors, they can be faster to use and the fabric isn’t disturbed by a rotary cutter as it would be by the lifting of a scissors blade. When sewing, use a LOT of pins to prevent “seam creep”, but be sure to pin inside the seam allowance as many of these shiny, slippery fabrics are unforgiving of pin holes.

Use as fine a needle as you can for the weight of the fabric. Consider investing in a second needle plate for your sewing machine – one described as “small hole” or “straight stitch” needle plate, as that will reduce puckering at the seam. If you pair it up with a straight-stitch foot, you’ll reduce the odds of any lightweight fabrics being pulled down into the guts of your machine. Just remember, you can ONLY do a straight stitch with that hardware – no zig-zag or decorative stitches.

Many seamsters swear by hand-basting all darts and seams when sewing slippery fabrics. If your hands can cope with that much sewing then by all means, do it.

With the right tools, you can reduce a lot of the heartache associated with slippery fabrics.

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