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Sewing Handwoven Material

Working with any boutique fabric can be nerve-wracking. Before cutting, you wonder whether the pattern is right, then after cutting, the fabric frays like a mo-fo and starts to crumble in your hands.

I’m here to tell you how you can avoid such worries and work with handwoven, and other high-end fabrics.

Handwoven cot blanket with quilted edges

Right Fabric for the Right Job

Like with any project, your fabric has to suit the end use of the item. This includes final care and washing. For example, you wouldn’t create a wool fabric for a tea towel, and you wouldn’t make the weave super wide for a wallet.

A smaller yarn (8/2) with a slightly high epi (22 for plain weave, 25 for twill) is a good all-purpose fabric.

Figuring out your proper EPI is essential for ensuring a fabric which is fit for purpose. Sampling is a great way to ensure this, but I don’t actually know any weavers who do sample. Most work on prior knowledge, both their own and from the community.

Fabric fit for purpose also includes drape and density. If you’re weaving for garments, drape will be fairly important. Tencel creates the best drape of any fibre I’ve used, but it’s also my favourite, so I’ll recommend it for everything.

Wool/Cotton fabric by Sonder Handwovens

Preparing the Fabric for Cutting

I always wet finish before sewing, but some people do hems prior to finishing. I personally think this misshapes the hem and prevents the fabric in the hem from finishing properly.

Wet finishing includes washing and pressing, and you really can’t miss the press stage if you’re going to sew the fabric beyond a hem.

Jean by Sonder Handwovens

Setting up your Sewing Machine

The settings for sewing handwoven material is slightly different than for thinner fabrics.

The tension should be slighly reduced. If your tension is usually between 4 and 6, shift it down to a 3. If it sits at a different tension, adjust it accordingly.

As well as this, your stitch length should be increased. I sit mine at around 3.5mm, except for stay-stitching (explained below).

If your presser foot pressure can be reduced, do this slightly too.

Cutting and Pre-Pattern Sewing

I cut with a rotary cutter which keeps the fabric stabilised on the cutting mat, rather than being handled as it would be with scissors.

Once the fabric is cut, sew a stay stitch 4mm from the edge of the fabric. Stay stitches are around 2-3mm long, and stabilise the fabric. Without a stay-stitch, the fabric would become misshapen while being sewn to other fabric.

After stay-stitching, zig zag the edges. I usually leave the fabric under the foot after stay-stitching and just switch the machine to a zig-zag stitch.

Zig zagging misshapes the fabric and can stretch it out, hence why a stay stitch is done beforehand.

Every piece that you’re working with should be treated this way.

Fabric under the Sewing Machine

Final Tips:

  • Any woven pattern can be used with handwoven fabric. Accessories, earrings, clothing, anything.
  • These tips also apply to jacquard woven fabric and woolen blankets.
  • I use a size 90 needle. It’s halfway to a jeans needle, but it just handles the thickness better.
  • Baste first, just because unpicking handwoven fabric can be a pain in the arse.

Never be afraid to use high end fabric. It’s too stunning to sit on a shelf waiting for a project. So if you’re nervous about jumping in, don’t be! It’s beautiful, and a joy to work with.

As always, if you have any comments or questions, post below or email me at hello@sonderhandwovens.com.au.

Happy sewing (and weaving!).