Sewing thick fabric can be difficult, but not impossible and with a few little tricks up your sleeve, you will be on your way to successful sewing. So, how do you let the ‘feed dogs’ on your machine tackle sewing thick fabric without simply gulping and spitting out the cloth before you have even started?
Types of Thick Fabric
Thick fabrics can be made of any type of composition, but a few of the most common ones that you will want to sew are denim, canvas, linen and leather. Wool and Winter fabrics are typically thicker to keep you warm and easy to sew.
Here are some specific tutorials that will help you with some common thick fabrics.
Its time to let your machine get its teeth into some thick fabric!
Sewing Thick Fabric
Before you start sewing thick fabric, you need to check your machine accessories and regulate the sewing machine tension. Pre-wash your fabric to soften it a bit and always try out your sewing stitches on a scrap before you start. A bit of extra time to do some tests can save you from a headache later on.
Here are the 12 key tips for sewing thick fabric.
Sewing Thick fabric - Getting Ready
Tip #1 - Thick Fabric Feet
Check for special feet that you may need for sewing thick fabrics.
- A walking foot that allows the top and bottom fabrics to move together is a great help.
- Roller feet help feed dogs to move the fabric under the foot.
- Teflon feet have a non-stick coated underside to help all kinds of fabrics glide through the machine.
- All-Purpose feet can be used for smooth or medium weight fabrics.
TIP #2 - Needles for Thick Fabric
Check the needle is suitable for sewing thick fabric.
Sewing machine needles are graded into different sizes and the larger the needle size, the thicker the shank. This means that when sewing thick fabric you want to look for the largest sized needles.
Look for 100/16 or 110/18 in denim or universal types.
If you are sewing thick knit fabric such as polar fleece or sweatshirt fabric, then you will need a thick stretch needle. Stretch needles also come in different sizes. Try a 90/14 or 100/16.
The universal denim needle a size 90/14, 100/16 or 110/18 is a good size for many thick fabrics.
Further Reading: Sewing Machine Needle Sizes
TIP #3 - Cutting Thick Fabric
Check you have really sharp scissors, or a rotary cutter and mat, to cut out the fabric with ease.
Dull scissors make cutting thick fabric really hard and will hurt your hand.
Rotary cutters are great for straight cuts on thick fabric but once again make sure you have a new sharp blade and a protective cutting mat for your table. Cutting rulers should be of the non-slip type as you will need to press harder to cut thick fabric so are more likely to slip.
TIP #4 - Sewing Threads
Now you have checked all the preparations are done, its time to check your sewing thread types.
Use heavy-duty thread for sewing thick fabric. Strengthened polyester threads and upholstery threads are my favorite choices.
Alternatively, you can sew with a double thread by using the bobbin winder with a bobbin thread as a second thread and pull the two pieces of cotton through the needle together.
Tips for Sewing Thick Fabric
TIP #5 - Stitches for Thick Fabric
Try out your machine straight stitch setting and lengthen the stitch size slightly to 3.5 or 4.5. Check your sewing machine manuals to be sure your machine can manage something a bit thicker than normal.
If you sewing thick fabric with hand stitching, a backstitch is a good strong stitch that will hold seams in thick fabric. You may need to take slightly longer stitches than you would in a fine fabric. Try ¼ inch (6mm) long stitches and adjust to your preference.
TIP #6 - Lift the Presser High
See if you can lift your presser foot bar higher to accommodate thicker fabric. My Janome has a spring action to lift the foot higher when necessary. Gently ease the fabric under the foot ready to sew.
TIP #7 - Wedges
If your machine is still balking at sewing thicker fabrics, then consider using a wedge to lift the presser foot and get the seam started. This just gives the fabric a little lift at the beginning of your seam.
You can make your own wedge by rolling up a piece of fabric and placing it under the presser foot behind the fabric to be sewn. A piece of cardboard also works
Wedges can also be bought from haberdashery stores and are normally made from rubber or plastic.
TIP #8 - Hand Turn
Remember you can gently pull the flywheel towards you and ease the fabric through if the machine appears to be stressed at the thickness of the fabric. I often do this for the seams as the fabric will be even thicker there. A few hand turns can work wonders and save needles from snapping.
Always pull the wheel towards you and not away from you.
TIP #9 - Choose the Correct Seam
Thick fabrics need seams with no bulk rather than a regular straight seam , look at the semi-flat fell seam or flat felled seam.
Or if you are making a soft toy or cushion then trim away some of the bulk by grading seams.
Finishing Sewing Thick Fabric
TIP #10 - Reduce Bulk
Reducing bulk is key as you want the garment to look neat and hang nicely.
Grading seams can make a big difference as the bulk in the seam allowance is reduced. Grading means that where you have several layers, some of them will be cut away.
Look at different seam finishes such as a bias bound seam and try out the methods on scraps first. Bias seams work well on jackets where you want the inside to not only be durable but to look nice as well.
French seams may work where you have a large seam allowance and a straight seam with no overlapping seams.
Darts can be slashed and pressed open and soft, thin linings in jackets can also help reduce bulk.
TIP #11 - Hems
When sewing thick fabric, the hem is an important finishing touch. Look at the type of hems that won’t be heavy and thick and stop your hem sitting nicely when worn.
Wide hems are best as narrow hems are hard to press and sew. Try a wide hem with bias binding or a zigzag neatening and catch the top by hand with a catch stitch or by machine.
TIP #12 - Pressing
Pressing to keep everything neat and is important. Always press firmly with a presser cloth and steam iron. Thick fabrics often need more pressing time than thin fabrics and more care taken to open seams.
A water spray or commercial ironing spray may also help but check a scrap first. You want to be careful about how you treat an expensive wool fabric.
Sewing Thick Fabric - In Conclusion
Sewing thick fabric is easy with the right sewing tools and a little care taken in the choice of seams and finishing techniques.
It all comes to this…Dog training in mind! Make your thick fabrics - Sit – down – stay! That should keep your feed dogs happy with their lovely chunk of thick fabrics to chew on!
Sewing Different Kinds of Fabric
- 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
I loved your tip of using a backstitch to sew thick fabric when stitching by hand. My brother is wanting to become a tailor and he was wondering how he can get better at fixing simple rips through hand stitching. I'll be sure to tell him to use backstitching if he's fixing the problems by hand.