Take My Advice: Tips for Cutting Slippery Fabrics

Feb 27, 2012

I can be a pretty stubborn person sometimes, and even though I will hear about a great tip for sewing, I will resist trying it until I absolutely have to resort to changing my ways.

Place paper beneath charmeuse to cut.
Last weekend, I was working on a project for the patternmaking certificate I am completing at the Fashion Institute of Technology and it involved one of my most favorite fabrics of all time: charmeuse. Let me amend that to say that it's my most favorite fabric to wear, for blouses, linings, camis, etc. But to sew, not so much. From beginning to end, charmeuse is a high maintenance fabric, but so worth it.

For me, I find the cutting the most challenging. It slips and slides around, and I never seem to get it cut right on the seamline. Several years ago, a very well-respected patternmaker told me that if I slid paper underneath the charmeuse, so that the fabric is sandwiched between two layers of paper (the pattern piece and the paper underneath), I would have much more control. Years ag,o I was told this and promptly put it out of my head.

The lightbulb of comprehension blinked on last Sunday, when I was struggling once again with charmeuse slithering around the cutting table. I happended to have a big roll of unprinted newspaper roll that was very kindly given to me by the Stitch Technical Editor Mary Walter, who has newspaper connections. It's great for patternmaking paper, but in my desperation I decided I would also finally try that tip and slid a square of the news roll under the pattern pieces. It worked like a charm. It worked so well I would have happily cut out charmeuse all day long, it was so thrilling to turn out one perfectly cut pattern piece after another. So don't do what I did and resist change. Take my advice instead. You have to try this out the next time you use charmeuse, and I guarantee you will be elated.

Lift pattern piece when cutting curves.
Along the same lines, there is another great tip for cutting out patterns that I recently learned from an FIT professor, and this time I actually took the advice rather quickly. (I would like to think I am becoming more open to change ....) Combine this with the paper-base technique for charmeuse: When you are cutting out a pattern and rounding a curve, lift the pattern piece and attached fabric as you cut around the curve. You will get a much more precise cut. Guaranteed!

Speaking of excellent sewing tips, the newest Stitch Workshop video, How to Sew Like a Pro, is now available in the Sew Daily Shop, featuring techniques and projects shared by former Stitch Editor-in-Chief Tricia Waddell.  

Do you have a great sewing tip that you resisted trying out, only to discover that change is good? Let us know below.

Happy stitching!

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on Feb 27, 2012 12:11 PM

I knew about the sandwiching...but the lifting on curve is a nice discovery. Will try to remember in my next project. Sometimes I forget to apply good techniques!

Ruth Saul wrote
on Feb 27, 2012 12:48 PM

Does one pin all the layers together before cutting? That is, the sandwich- paper, material, pattern.

Pam14004 wrote
on Feb 27, 2012 1:13 PM

When I was starting my 5-year Shirt-making and Tailoring apprenticeship many years ago....I was shown a technique called "Ravel-Grading"...that I never thought in a million years would make a difference...but after learning it, I always use it now when Tailoring...it really works!

There are many ways to grade seams. Among them are trimming one seam allowance narrower than the other, turning the scissors on edge to "bevel" the allowances, and using Pinking Shears.  But the hands-down most elegant and effective way I was ever shown, is to "Ravel Grade".  This was the favored technique taught to me by my Master Tailor mentors during my apprenticeship. You are unlikely to find this technique in any tailoring books, as it is a very esoteric "old world" technique.

The first and only step in the "Ravel Grading" process is very easy. Merely ravel off a few threads from the edges of both seam allowances, leaving scant softly fringed edges. So what does that accomplish?  By completely removing the warp (lengthwise) thread  from the seam allowance edges...the fabric there is now half as thick as before!  No seam allowance "ridges" that might show on the right side!  How cool is that?

I have photos of the technique on my sewing blog (not  a commercial site...it's just my sewing blog ;) here---


Mubongo wrote
on Feb 27, 2012 1:39 PM

Do you have a separate pair of sewing shears for when you use the paper sandwich? Or is the newsprint light enough to not dull them too much?

Hovawart wrote
on Feb 27, 2012 3:41 PM

Most  newspapers will give away the end rolls of newsprint. One just has to find out how to get access--is it in the foyer, Thursdays at noon, or on the loading dock, Saturday afternoons? Just call them and ask.

foxfyre wrote
on Feb 27, 2012 5:30 PM

Can't imagine a sewing room/quilt studio without a roll of newsprint! Also great for kids and grandkids to cut and color to their hearts' content.

saintm wrote
on Mar 3, 2012 2:38 PM

I've got minkee & satin to cut for my next project. Thanks for the tip. (Hopefully it'll stay in my brain till I start cutting LOL)

Carylanne wrote
on Mar 3, 2012 3:56 PM

I have one about changing feet. Mercy I was stitching a tote bag today that needed the regular foot (A) but because I had pieced a table runner yesterday I had the 1/4" foot attached, being just lazy I used it, well we all know that a 1/4" foot does not take that good to many layers of fabric and stabilizers, Yep I had to unsew a length and then I put the regular foot on the machine. It took about 10 seconds. Gees!! We have the feet, so use them. Carylanne

smudgecleo wrote
on Mar 4, 2012 11:58 PM

When I sew slippery fabrics, I first test a piece with a starch spray.  I usually use one that you mix with water and use a spray bottle. If it doesn't stain I then spray the fabric and iron before cutting.  Each time I sew a seam I re iron as this stiffens it again.  It is much easier to cut and to sew.

on Mar 8, 2012 7:12 PM

This was so helpful.  I will try that in the future.

I use my Gingher lightweight shears for cutting sheer and slippery fabric.  They cut without scooting the fabric.

Sew Daily wrote
on Aug 15, 2012 12:00 PM

Last week, I posted about turning a straight skirt into a flirty skirt for spring . Now I want to take