Fiddly Fabrics & More – Meetup at Britex Fabrics

We had a great Bay Area Sewists meetup at Britex Fabrics last Saturday morning – the topic was Sewing Fiddly and Slippery Fabrics. Douglas, a dapper and knowledgeable staff member at Britex pulled out various bolts of fabric – silk charmeuse and silk jersey as well as this white silk chiffon and silver mesh (see photo below) for us to look at and touch.

silk chiffon and mesh fabric

We met on the first floor of Britex, where you’ll find all kinds of silk and wool fabrics, including many imported luxurious fabrics – from cashmere and English tweeds to French silks and Italian wool crepe. It’s hard to walk by without touching them! (oooooh so lovely …)

I stopped by the store a couple weeks before the meetup to see about getting some swatches for this meetup and Dina, the store manager, very helpfully pointed out that swatches wouldn’t be large enough to give people a sense of how the fabric draped. So she cut nearly 1/4-yard pieces for a couple of them. Thank you!

She cut the first three fabrics, from left to right: iridescent silk chiffon, silk jersey (silver), and the light blue silk charmeuse, and then I went upstairs to the fourth floor where a staff person cut this fun cobwebby stretch mesh.

4 fabrics from Britex Fabrics

At the meetup I brought these fabrics and we passed them around as we listened to Douglas offer his tips and observations about sewing fiddly and slippery fabrics.

He advocates cutting silk chiffon and charmeuse as well as the silver mesh fabric (top photo) together with tissue paper. (The kind of tissue paper stores wrap your clothing purchases in or that you can get at the drug store in the wrapping paper section.) So you cut through the fabric and the tissue paper together. And you sew each of these fabrics together with the tissue paper, using a small needle size and a short stitch length. When you’re done sewing, you just gently pull away the tissue paper.

For the silk jersey, he recommended using a small ball point needle.

A Bay Area Sewists member asked how do you finish your seams if you’re sewing silk chiffon because you can see the seams? Douglas says he would trim the seam allowance close to the seam and then use Fray Check to prevent it from unraveling. Fray Check is made by Dritz and you can get it any fabric store or online.

My experience with Fray Check is that you need to use it sparingly because it can dry rather hard and you don’t want a hard edge to your fabric. Always test your fabric before using it to see how quickly one drop spreads. You don’t want to have any discoloration appear on the right side of your fabric because you used too much. you probably want to use a brush so you’ll have more control, rather than the tip on the bottle. I’ve just used the tip if I’m using it on the edges of a ribbon.

You may want to check out June Tailor’s Fray Block, which is also available at most fabric stores or online, including website here.  The thing about using Fray Block is that you’re supposed to run it under hot water for a few minutes before you use it, which is a little annoying. But it is thinner than Fray Check and seems to be more flexible.

Douglas also showed us a few of the other fabrics on the floor, such as this lovely tweed and he mentioned that he only cleans his wool clothes about twice a year. He says when he wears something wool, he just brushes it off at the end of the day and hangs it up. One Bay Area Sewists member mentioned that wool is anti-bacterial so it doesn’t get very dirty.

tweed at Britex Fabrics - csews.com

Douglas also said that fabrics have a finish on them that irritate his skin so he wears gloves when handling fabric in the store. If he buys fabric, he soaks it in cool water to remove those chemicals. Someone asked him whether dry cleaning fabric before sewing would work and Douglas said that that would just add more chemicals. Good point.

Gee, I just got a few yards of wool jersey at Britex a couple weeks ago. I was thinking about dry cleaning it. (sigh) So I asked Douglas if he would soak wool jersey in water and he said yes, but then you’d have to block it afterwards. Shoot. So I asked him if I could just lay it flat to dry and he said yes. I think I’ll cut a small square, stick it in some cool water, let it dry and see what happens.

Then we went upstairs to to fourth floor where chairs were set out for us to sit and hold the rest of our meetup. We were in a space near the windows and in front of these tempting rolls of on-sale fabrics.

rolls of fabric at Britex Fabrics - csews.com

I was busy facilitating the meeting so I didn’t take very many photos – sorry!

A few people brought some things they made to show and discuss with the group. I bought a rayon jersey long-sleeved top I made during my anti-interfacing phase a couple years ago. Unfortunately, the yoke sags because I didn’t use interfacing. Edina suggested taking it apart at the yoke and serging clear elastic to it – a nice suggestion.

I also passed around some fusible stay tape that I like to use on knits to stabilize the shoulder seams and along the side seams when matching stripes – Design Plus super fine bias fusible stay tape, which you can find at a well-stocked fabric store or online.

Other members recommend using a walking foot or Steam-a Seam Lite.

Loran of Loran’s World, not only wore a lovely dress she made from a vintage pattern, she brought two garments she made – one was a shirt she made for a Sew Weekly project. But she used cheap fabric from Jo-ann’s and cheap fusible interfacing. She didn’t finish the seams because she didn’t expect to like the shirt as much as she did. She wore it a lot and after a few washings, the interfacing started falling apart and the fabric along the seam allowance near the front collar had frayed all the way to the seam leaving a gaping hole and no way to fix it.

Loran says she now uses woven sew-in interfacing. She doesn’t use fusible interfacing any more. Fro her years as a costumer, she observed that eventually the fusible interfacing would bubble so she won’t use it any more.

I also bought some quilting spray-on temporary adhesive that you use to stick pattern  pieces to fabric, asking people if anyone had ever had experience with it. It says that it doesn’t gum up needles, etc. I was thinking of using it to stick pattern paper to a slippery fabric. One member said not to use it because it does gum up on your needle and to use freezer paper instead – an excellent suggestion!

I’ve used freezer paper when I’ve done a little fabric painting. You just iron the freezer paper to the fabric (use a low setting). The paper sticks to the fabric and the paint won’t bleed through. Then you peel off the paper when you’re done.

Another member brought a sleeveless top she made from silk chiffon. She did a nice job sewing it but she wasn’t too thrilled with how it looked on her because she felt it would be more flattering on someone with slim hips.

We also briefly discussed scissor sharpening – where do you get your scissors sharpened? One member mentioned that the San Mateo farmer’s market has a knife sharpener. I also did a little search and found that this San Mateo-based company Perfect Edge travels to a variety of farmer’s markets in the Bay Area – maybe this is the company someone was referring to? You can find their schedule here. I have not used them so I can’t vouch for the quality of their sharpening but their prices for scissors ($12) and pinking scissors ($14) are on this page so they do offer that service – though their main business is knife sharpening. They also have many drop-off locations, which you can find on their website.

I was at Stonemountain & Daughter Fabrics earlier this week and asked a sales person where to sharpen scissors and was told to check out Golden State Sharpening – another mobile sharpening business. You drop your knives/scissors off at various designated locations the day before and pick them up the day after ($10 for fabric scissors).  The schedule’s on their website. Gee, I don’t know about dropping off my scissors… If anyone has found a scissors sharpener they like in the Bay Area, please let me know!

I remember years ago when was visiting my parents on the East Coast, that Jo-Ann’s had some scissors sharpening day. My mom had written down on her calendar, which is why I remember that. I don’t recall seeing that at the Jo-Ann’s in the Bay Area.

Oh, and I nearly forgot to mention – Britex gave each member a coupon for 20% off remnants and 10% off regularly priced fabrics (good for that day only). So we had fun browsing for fabric.

Bay Area Sewists browse at Britex Fabrics

Of course I had to browse the remnants on the fourth floor and found this red cotton lycra (2 1/8 yards, 50 ” wide) and this hounds tooth print (2 yards, 42″ wide). I love cotton lycra because it doesn’t wrinkle easily and I love this shade of red (more blue in it).

red cotton lycra fabric, houndstooth cotton fabric - csews.com

And when I got to the second floor as my inner voice was telling me “leave before you buy anything else!” I nearly made it downstairs to the register before I saw some wax prints – oh, my how interesting they were! I was told that the one I liked was a Dutch wax print, which was printed in Africa – a reminder that the Dutch empire had established a colony in Cape Town back in the 17th century.

I vaguely knew about African wax prints from the outfits I’d seen on Ginger of Ginger Makes who used a Vlisco wax print to make this Alder Dress and Oonaballoona who made a stunning skirt from a Dutch wax print. Both of these gals make me laugh because of the expressions on their faces in the photos on their blogs.

So I couldn’t resist buying this print – just $10/yard – clearly not a Vlisco, which is a pricey luxury brand. Admittedly, the color is not flattering to my skin (too close to my skin tone) but I think it could make a really cool skirt – maybe the Deer & Doe Chardon Skirt with inverted pleats. The fabric will far enough away from my face so it could work.

Dutch wax print - csews.com

If you want to find out more about wax prints, check out this interesting New York Times article “Africa’s Fabric Is Dutch,” on Vlisco, the Dutch company that produces wax prints in Holland. Vlisco fabric is very popular in African and has a certain cachet because it is so expensive. (Ginger says “Iā€™d have to sell an organ to pay for this fabric!”) And read this post for more about wax prints, Vlisco and prints produced in Ghana,  “borrowed ideas: wax-print,” on African Lookbook.

I noticed that the selvedge of my fabric says “GUARANTEED REAL WAX ORIBA JLM HITARGET.” Well, according to the African Lookbook article, Hitarget is a Chinese company (!) that modifies Dutch designs, reprints them in new colors and sells them at low cost. And the post also stated that an “overwhelming majority (maybe as much as fifty percent) of the African prints sold in Ghana are Hitarget prints.” Sheesh. Well, I like the design – regardless of its origins!

Have you used any African/Dutch/Chinese wax print fabric in anything you’ve made?

Tips on sewing fiddly fabrics - silk cihiffon, silver mesh, stretch lace and more - a Bay Area Sewists meetup at Britex Fabrics

Get my monthly newsletter!

The first Tuesday of every month, I send out C Sews updates, Bay Area Sewists news + design details. Join other sewists, crafters & creative people!

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

10 Responses to “Fiddly Fabrics & More – Meetup at Britex Fabrics”

  1. November 27, 2014 at 9:10 pm #

    Did anyone mention using gelatine? (As in…the stuff you use in cooking to make jello-like foods!) I just came across this article http://katyandlaney.com/2014/10/23/behind-the-seams-fabric-stabilizers/ and the top contender seems to be using gelatine. Crazy!

    • November 28, 2014 at 5:53 pm #

      Oh, yes, I mentioned that I knew someone who used gelatin and she really like it. I forgot to mention that in my recap. Gelatin stiffens the fabric and makes it easier to cut. But you do have to wash it out, etc. It seems a bit time-consuming but people have had success with it. šŸ™‚

  2. November 16, 2014 at 7:05 pm #

    If you bought Spray ‘n Bond – that stuff is awesome and no, it doesn’t gum up the needle (some other brands do). I discovered it this summer when we were making Christmas parade costumes and I needed to applique stretch velvet on top of stretch velvet. It was a nightmare even with a walking foot until I started using the Spray ‘n Bond. It’s my new favorite thing!

    And fusible interfacing is good if you get the nice fashion kind. The Pellon stuff you find at JoAnn and other craft stores needs to be preshrunk to prevent future bubbling. You can preshrink by soaking in cool water and air drying before you cut into it. It’s kind of a pain so I find it easier to just buy the nicer fashion interfacing online.

    Looks & sounds like it was a fun meetup!

    • November 20, 2014 at 10:34 pm #

      Oh, that sounds really great. Would you use it to help cut silk chiffon? Temporarily fix paper to the fabric so it’s easier to cut? Or is it only for a more permanent bond?

      I like woven fusible interfacing. I usually soak it in warm water and air dry because I’m paranoid about shrinkage. šŸ˜‰

      It was a really fun meetup!

  3. November 14, 2014 at 1:38 pm #

    Hi Chuleenan,
    Thank you for this post. I was thinking about asking for a summary of what you guys learned at that meetup since I couldn’t make it. So glad you took the time to review it! Great tips!!! And that wax print

    • November 14, 2014 at 11:34 pm #

      You’re welcome! Glad you found the info useful. I know I left some stuff out out, so I may add a bit more to this post later.

      Yes, that wax print really is something, isn’t it? There was less than three yards left so I bought the last of it. šŸ˜‰

  4. Jessica
    November 14, 2014 at 1:38 pm #

    Thanks for summarizing for those of us who couldn’t be there! I have one question: do you happen to know the price for the silver silk jersey?

    • November 14, 2014 at 11:29 pm #

      You’re welcome! I don’t know the price of that silk jersey but I’d be happy to find out for you. I work downtown – just a few blocks from Britex. (Dangerous!)

  5. November 14, 2014 at 12:54 pm #

    Can’t wait to see what you make with your wax print fabric! It’s so, so beautiful! Sounds like you have a great and really knowledgeable sewing community in the Bay Area!

    • November 14, 2014 at 11:27 pm #

      Yes, I can’t wait to see something, too! It’s pretty stiff so I hope a good soak will take care of that. There ARE a lot of skilled sewists here, which is really great.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: