Sewing with Coated Fabrics
The Short Version
- Test beforehand whether the fabric sticks in your machine - if it does, try sewing over tissue paper or substituting a teflon sewing foot.
- Use a fresh, sharp microtex needle and lengthen your stitch. Consider using a seam sealant if you want your garment or bag to be properly waterproof (I think you can’t tape the seams because this requires an iron, though I am going to test that theory another time.)
- Cut out using pattern weights and a sharp rotary cutter.
- Transfer any markings using tailor’s chalk or a washable/wipe off pen (test first to check it does actually wash/wipe off properly on your chosen fabric.
- Use Wonderclips to hold pieces and seams in place - but try to keep them within the seam allowance where possible and don’t leave them on for too long or they may permanently mark your fabric.
Tools needed for sewing with coated fabrics: microtex needle; seam sealant; Wonderclips; seam gauge; seam ripper; tailor's chalk; rotary cutter, eyelets (for underarm breathing holes); tailor's awl & hammer (if using eyelets & snaps.) Possibly a Teflon sewing foot or some tissue paper if you find the fabric doesn't feed through easily enough.
Tip 1: Topstitching helps to gives a nice finish on fabrics that you cannot press.
Tip 2: Make some small holes at the underarms for perspiration to escape. I used eyelets for this but you can just use a hole punch if you don't have them. If however you are scared to use eyelets, DO IT! The best way to deal with your fears is to confront them. Also you get to bash something with a hammer 😁
The Long Version
We have several coated fabrics in stock at the moment, both with woven cotton and knitted jersey bases. These are great for sewing rainy day garments and bags, although there are also all sorts of other applications too.
I had a go recently at sewing a raincoat using one of our coated jersey fabrics because I wanted to know more about how it is to work with and I like a challenge!
But actually it wasn’t as much of a challenge as I had expected. I had expected to need a teflon sewing foot, a problem I was planning to swerve by sewing over a layer of tissue paper and then removing it afterwards. But the fabric didn’t stick at all so I didn’t need to do that.
Sources I had looked at told me to use a fine, sharp microtex needle and to lengthen the stitch length (I usually use 2.5) to minimise the size of the holes and the amount of holes made as this is where the water will come in unless you tape or coat the seams afterwards.
I forgot this however, until I was halfway through sewing the project using the needle that was already in the machine - which was a ballpoint needle from a jersey project I had just finished. It didn’t cause any problems while sewing, though I may come to regret it when I wear the coat in a downpour!
One problem was that you can’t really use pins as they will leave a permanent hole. I usually sew kind of old school, using pins and dressmaking scissors (I love a good pair of scissors!) But for this project I had to use pattern weights (I just use whatever I have lying around - I will buy/stock pattern weights NEVER) and my rotary cutter. This experience was much improved by finally replacing the blade in my rotary cutter first!
I usually cut the notches outwards so as not to weaken or stretch the fabric, but this time I cut tiny ones into the seam allowance with my scissors which worked very well on this fabric.
I also usually transfer other markings using trusty tailor tacks but had to use chalk this time - I didn’t think chalk would stay put on the coated surface but actually it stayed visible better than on most fabrics.
Then I used Clover Wonderclips to hold pieces together and wherever else I would normally use pins - which was at its trickiest when setting the sleeves, but they didn’t turn out too badly - just take it slow here!
The other problem is, you can’t really press these fabrics. This makes hemming particularly tricky, but I managed with the Wonderclips and lots of referring to the seam gauge.
The pattern I used had lots of topstitching, which was great because it still ended up looking fairly crisp despite not being able to press it - but again, I may regret this when the rains come down!
A tip in the pattern I used was to make holes at the underarms with a hole punch (!) if the fabric wasn't a breathable one. I used eyelets to give a nicer finish.
By the way, although this was a coated jersey, I just ignored the stretch and handled it like any woven - the coating gives it enough structure that it’s pretty easy to sew (except in areas where gathering is required, setting in sleeves for example).
What wasn’t so great is mistakes - I hate having to get the seam ripper out at the best of times, but if you go wrong on this fabric the holes stay in.
Mistakes aren’t the end of the world so it’s never a good idea to get too hung up about them because that’ll cramp your style and spoil your enjoyment, but again, it’s worth taking a bit of extra care when sewing a more unforgiving fabric like this.
For the sake of completion, here is a list of the main mistakes I made on the coat below (the pattern is McCalls 6517 which is now out of print but there is one on Etsy at the time of writing. I made it in a size 14.) This is just so you can see that it doesn't really matter because A: mistakes are how you learn stuff and B: I still ended up with a wearable coat that brings me joy!
- I had to unpick and re-sew the facing - facings and I don't tend to get on!
- Attaching the hood went wrong and I had to do that twice
- I sewed the whole thing with a short stitch length and an unsharp ballpoint needle - I don't think it'll be very waterproof unless I seal the seams at some point (you're meant to do this as you go along.)
- The curved pockets were tricky in this fabric and they aren't very neatly done.
- I did the bottom two snaps wrong and had to get them out with a chisel (this was very difficult - take my advice: don't do snaps wrong!) and re-do them.