Learn all about sewing cotton fabric. Visions of Summer with cool dresses, short shorts and one of the easiest fabrics to sew! Sewing cotton fabric is so perfect for beginners as it is stable under your sewing machine and needs just simple techniques and tools.
Sewing Cotton Fabric
Although cotton may seem like a poor relative compared with silk and satin, it is known in America as “King Cotton”. It is America’s leading cash crop. That little cotton ball made up into a bale can produce 215 pairs of jeans or 249-bed sheets or 313,600 $1 bills. And that is just one bale! King Cotton, a simple sewing pattern, and some basic sewing cotton steps will give you a royal experience!
I have broken this sewing cotton fabric tutorial into 5 easy steps.
- Identifying the fabric
- Sewing cotton fabric
Step 1 – Preparation for sewing cotton Fabric
- THE BASIC SUPPLIES – You will need scissors, cotton thread, a tape measure, pins and a basic sewing pattern. Look for simple patterns to start with if you are a beginner.
- FABRIC CHOICE – Choose a fabric to fit your pattern. Start with plain colors or all-over print if you are a beginner. Choose more difficult designs and stripes as you become more experienced.
- WASHING – Always pre-wash your fabric. Wash and dry as you plan to launder the fabric in the future. Make a note of any color running or bleeding. Iron with a steam iron to get all wrinkles out. Some kinds of cotton have ‘sizing’, a form of starch that will come out in the first couple of washes.
Step 2 – Identifying the cotton
Before sewing cotton fabric, it is important to identify what weight and type of cotton you have purchased. There are subtle changes you will need to make for different types of cotton.
- DIRECTION – Cotton is a woven fabric with a warp and a weft. The direction of the fabric and the pattern go with the direction of the threads.
- THREAD COUNT – Try the scrape test on the fabric with your fingernail. If the threads separate then the fabric thread count is low and the fabric will not be very strong. The higher the thread count the softer and more durable the cotton fabric.
- WEIGHTS – There are different weights of cotton from lightweight to medium and heavyweight and each weight is suitable for different articles.
- COMPOSITION – Always check each label for the 100% cotton mark and look at the pattern you have chosen as most patterns recommend a fabric type. If you are not sure if your fabric is cotton, you can do a burning test to identify it correctly. Organic cotton is sewn in a similar way but is produced without the presence of harmful chemicals.
- NAMING – There are different names of cotton fabrics too and they refer to different textures, prints, or even colors. Damask, gingham and ticking have specific prints Flannelette, shirting, seersucker and corduroy have different textures. Khaki is a specific color and strong cotton.
Step 3 – Cutting Cotton Fabric
- LAYOUT – Always lay out your pieces to check the grain of the fabric, pattern lines, fold lines and so on to be sure that every piece you need is cut correctly. Cotton can be cut folded so each piece unless otherwise stated, is double or on the fold line.
- PINNING – Pin, cut and mark according to the pattern and baste if necessary. There are different types of pins that you can purchase but cotton uses an all-purpose pin most of the time. If your fabric is marked by the pins, pin outside the seam allowance or use pattern weights or heavy tins from your pantry.
- MARKING – Marking can be done using a tailor’s chalk or tracing wheel.
Step 4 – Sewing Cotton Fabric
- SEAM TYPES – cotton lends itself to most seam types depending again on the weight of the cotton and the style of the garment. Use the French seam for the lightweight cotton and avoid bulky seams by grading.
- NEEDLES – Needle sizes and stitches will vary according to the weight of your cotton so adjust your machine accordingly and always test settings on a scrap of fabric before you start. The best needle to use for the majority of cotton fabrics is a universal needle. Heavier cotton such as denim can be sewn with a denim needle or upholstery needle.
- MACHINE SETTINGS –
- For extra heavyweight cotton, try stitch width 3-4 and needle size 100/16 or 120/20
- For heavyweight cotton, use needle size 90/14 -100/16 or denim type needles with a stitch width of 2-2.5 (Sewing denim).
- Medium weight fits into the average category needle size 70/10 – 80/12 and a stitch width of 2 – 2.5.
- Lightweight needs a finer needle 60/80 – 70/10 and stitch width 1.5 – 2.
Step 5 – Finishing
The easiest way to finish a seam when sewing cotton fabric is to use a serger or a zig-zag stitch. Read more about seam finishes you can do if you don’t have a serger. Bias bound seams can be a good finish for really thick cotton.
Cotton hems can be finished off with a simple double-fold hem. Machine stitched or hand-stitched, it will depend on your preference and attachments on your machine. A blind hem is a great professional finish to the garment.
Sewing Cotton Fabric with Decorations
Cotton fabric is ideal for embellishing with embroidery, pintucks and ruching.
Caring for Cotton Fabric
Cotton fabric is easy to wash and maintain in good condition.
All cotton fabrics should be washed prior to sewing as they are prone to shrinkage. Some darker colors may also bleed and you don’t want that transferring to lighter colors once you have sewn up your item.
Cotton can be hand washed or machine washed but either way, you should use cold or warm water. Hot water will increase any shrinkage or color bleed. Use a gentle detergent designed for cotton fabric.
It is best to air dry cotton fabric either flat or on a line. To avoid color fading, hang in the shade. Tumble drying will lead to further shrinking of the fabric so is best avoided. If you must tumble dry, use low heat and take the item out while still damp.
Cotton creases easily so usually need pressing after washing. Use medium to high heat and a water spray for stubborn creases. Take note whether your cotton fabric includes Lycra, silk or other delicate fibers as this may affect the heat you can apply.
Ironing can be minimized if you gently smooth items flat with your hands after they come out of the washer. Hang the cotton fabric up immediately to prevent the creases from reforming.
Sewing Cotton Fabric- In Conclusion
King Cotton, from dollar bills to fancy frills is an inspiration. Definitely not the poor relation! With the right preparation, identification, cutting, sewing and finishing you will be well prepared for sewing cotton fabric.
LEARN HOW TO SEW WITH MORE FABRICS
Now you know all about sewing cotton fabric, check out these other fabrics listed alphabetically.
- CHIFFON – Sewing Chiffon
- BATIK – What is Batik
- CANVAS – Sewing Canvas
- COTTON – Sewing Cotton
- DENIM – Sewing Denim
- FELT – Sewing Felt
- FUR – Sewing Fur
- KNITS – How to Sew Stretch Fabric
- INTERFACING – Types of Interfacing
- LACE – How to Sew Lace
- LEATHER – Sewing Leather
- RAYON – Sewing Rayon
- SHEER – Sewing Sheer Fabrics
- SILK – How to Sew Silk
- THICK – Sewing Thick Fabrics
- VELVET Sewing Velvet
- WOOL – Sewing Wool