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How to sew with laminated fabrics

Posted by Maaike van Besien on

I am often asked for tips on sewing with our laminated cotton. So here is an article I wrote for One Thimble magazine a few months ago (May 2016 issue): 

Sewing with laminated cotton - maaidesign blog

 

Have you ever come across laminated cotton and wondered what you could do with it, or if it would be hard to sew? Sewing with this type of material can be daunting for some, but fear not, with the following tips and tricks, sewing with laminated fabrics is easy, even if you are new to sewing. And there are lots fun projects that you can use laminated cotton for.

 

But first things first: what exactly is laminated cotton?

Laminated cotton is a laminated fabric and by definition this means that a plastic layer has been fused to a layer of fabric. As a result, the material is water resistant, and the material can no longer fray.

Laminated fabrics have been around for a long time and many may have childhood memories of sticky tablecloths or vinyl covered chairs. These used to come in pretty horrible colours and patterns. Fortunately, several fabric designers are now releasing some of their stock in a laminated version, creating the opportunity to sew some beautiful and practical items.

There are different types of laminated fabrics around, each with different characteristics.

 

The most common types of laminated fabrics used by hobby seamstresses are:
  • Laminated cotton (what we are featuring here): Made out of 100% woven cotton, and laminated on the right side of the fabric. This makes them soft and pliable, so they have a fair amount of drape. This material can have a shiny or mat finish. Sometimes this material is referred to as “Oilcloth” which can cause some confusion. Note that the shiny laminates tend to stick so they are not ideal for lining bags, the mat finish does not have this issue.
  • Oilcloth: originally oilcloth fabric was a cotton or linen fabric treated with linseed oil to make it waterproof. Today oilcloth is basically fabric coated with PVC, but the name has stuck. The most well know oilcloths are the Mexican oilcloths. These come in lots of fun retro prints. It is a double PVC coated fabric. The base fabric looks like a simple mesh, with a shiny plastic layer on top. This material is quite stiff so it is great for projects where extra stiffness is required. It is used for anything from tablecloths to lunch bags, aprons etc. Mexican oilcloth does tend to stick together when folded.

Laminated cotton See the difference in drape between the Mexican Oilcloth (left) and laminated cotton (right).

So there may be some confusion between oilcloth and laminated cotton. I prefer to refer to the coated woven cottons as laminated cotton, as it is significantly different from the common Mexican Oilcloth.

  • PUL (Polyurethane Laminate): is made of a polyester interlock knit with a breathable and waterproof layer. This material is perfect for items that require a waterproof but still breathable barrier. PUL is, therefore, most often used for sewing nappies, bibs, cot sheets etc. This material is flexible and has good drape.

 

The tips in this article focus on laminated cotton specifically, however most of them are applicable to the other laminated fabrics,

So how do you sew with laminated cotton?

Preparing your fabric:

First of all, when you are preparing your fabric, you may wonder if you can iron it? Normally you do not need to iron laminated fabric, but if you do have dents or folds to remove, then iron the wrong side of the fabric on low temperature. Spraying it lightly with a bit of water first may also help here. Don’t iron the plastic coating as it will melt and stick to your iron.

What about pins?

You can use pins, but they will leave holes so make sure to only use them in the seam allowance area. Once there is a hole it stays there. I tend to use clips to keep things in place. The wonder clips that quilters use are very handy, but paper clips, binding clips or even hair clips will do the trick. Binding clips are great if you need to keep quite a few layers together, but with all clips don’t leave them on too long as they may leave a mark.

When cutting out your pattern, you can use sticky tape to keep your pattern pieces in place.

You can also use wondertape to hand press seams in place, and then sew over it, or use fabric glue but only sew once it is completely dry.

If you need to hold a zipper in place, use double sided fusible tape (e.g. Steam-a-Seam) to attach the zipper to the fabric.

Which sewing foot to use:

The biggest challenge you may face is that laminated cotton can stick to your sewing foot, therefore try to sew with the laminated side facing the feed dogs as much as possible.

There will be a time when you will have to stitch onto the right side of the fabric, meaning the laminated side. Depending on the type of laminate you are using, your machine may behave differently, so it is always best to have a little trial run on a small piece of fabric first.

If you find that the material is sticking to your sewing foot, you have different options to resolve this:

  • Use a Teflon coated foot.
  • Apply matt scotch tape to the sewing foot. If this is not sufficient, try adding some along the sewing plate, right next to the feed dogs. It will help the material to feed through and not stick to the metal plate.
  • Use a walking foot as this has feed dogs incorporated into the foot.
  • Use baking paper or wax paper between the presser foot and the laminate, and tear away the paper after sewing.

 

What about stitch length?

Use a larger stitch length because if your stitch length is too small you will create a lot of small holes close together resulting in a weak seem. I use a stitch length of 3mm, and just use a regular straight stitch.

Don’t use an overlocker to assemble your project as it will leave too many holes. However, you can use it to finish the edges if you wanted to.

Which needle should you choose?

For laminated cotton, it is recommended to use a larger needle as this material is slightly thicker.

A universal needle in a size 12 or 14 is ideal as they are sharp enough to penetrate the laminated coating. A jeans needle can work too. But as always have a little trial run first and use the needle that you believe works best.

Which thread to use?

As laminated cotton is often used for projects where moisture is involved, it is best to use a polyester thread as it repels water just like the laminate.

 

So what can you make with laminated cotton? 

Here are a few examples, click on these links for step by step tutorials.

Or for even more inspiration, I have created this Pinterest board

Sewing with laminated cotton - maaidesign blog

 


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