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  • Writer's pictureSew Retro

Ten Top Tips for Sewing with Water Proof Fabric.

With the amount of rainy days we get in the UK, raincoats and water resistant clothing should be top of our sewing list. Sewing water-proof and water-resistant fabrics will allow you to create the perfect rainwear to reflect your life style and needs. For me, getting a great fitting hood is up there on my wish list, along with deep pockets for car and house keys.

Grab a cuppa and have a quick read of Sew Retro's top 10 tips, for sewing water-proof and water-resistant fabrics.

1. Suitable Fabrics There are lots of different types of rainwear fabrics on the market. Be aware that they can vary greatly in weight, content, feel and how they handle when you cut and sew them. If you are buying online, always get a sample, yes it is frustrating when you are inching to start sewing, but so worthwhile. If you want to sew a garment that will keep you dry in a full-on downpour, you will need to sew with waterproof fabrics such as PUL and Gore -Tex. They are proper performance fabrics that will not let rain through the fibres… but on the downside they can feel synthetic and are not breathable.

If you are planning on a raincoat to wear on shortish wet walks, to and from work etc you could try water resistant fabric or water repellent fabric, which will feel much nicer.

Showerproof polyester, is thin, lightweight and perfectly suited for garments that need to be packed away easily, like cagoules and ponchos. Others, such as laminated cotton, waxed cotton and oilskin, are much thicker and suited to structured garments, like a duffel coat or a trench coat. If you’re looking to make a raincoat, mid-weight fabrics, such as softshell or PUL (polyurethane laminate), work well.

Merchant and Mills The Landgate using oilskin cloth.

2. Lining

You may choose to line your raincoat. Some projects won’t need a lining, but others will be partially or fully lined, and it’s important to choose a material that works for you and what you want from your raincoat. Will you be wearing the garment in cold weather? Then you may want to look at a cosy fleece that will keep you snug. If the garment is to be worn in milder weather, pick a breathable fabric such as low-stretch jersey or cotton lawn.

3. Cutting Pinning the pattern to water repellent fabric will create teeny holes which will let water through to your clothing, so it is much better to hold the pattern on the fabric with pattern weights. You do not need to buy specialist weights – anything flat and heavy will do. Tins are perfect.

If you need to add markings, darts, pocket placements and notches. Use chalk or a washable pen again if you used tailors tack you would make a small hole in the waterproof fabric.

4. Interfacing

Some water-resistant fabrics will not “glue” to fusible interfacing, so test it out on a scrap of your fabric first. If it does not stick, use sew-in interfacing.

Carefully match the sew-on interfacing to the water-resistant fabric pieces and use a few old-fashioned pegs or clips to hold the interfacing to the fabric pieces. Its important just to use a few pegs and only peg the fabric and interfacing together within the seam allowance. Otherwise you may accidentally mark the fabric, with the peg. Machine stitch the interfacing to the fabric using a smaller seam allowance i.e. 1cm if your seam allowance is 1.5cm. I would recommend the quality woven type of interfacing, other interfacing may fall apart if it gets very wet.

5. Pinning As mentioned above, pinning might leave holes which could let water through your raincoat. Try using fabric clips to hold the pieces together instead of pins. You can get special fabric clips – or try using regular bulldog clips, or even hairgrips.

If you do not have any clips to hand and want to use pins, pin them within the seam allowances so any holes will not end up on the outside of your garment.

If you do end up accidentally pinning the main fabric, try rubbing the hole with your finger or with the little red blob on the end of some seam rippers and, depending on your fabric, the fibres should smooth together again. Phew !

Sticky tape can be helpful. Magic Scotch Tape is great for holding pieces like patch pockets in place while you stitch. This just peels off afterwards and should not leave a residue on the fabric (always test a piece first and remove as soon as possible afterwards).

6. Needles and thread As with pinning, you do not want to leave holes in your seams when sewing them. Use a new, sharp, fine needle, around size 8-10, or try a microtex needle. Because the material is a little tricky to puncture, you will need to change your needle frequently – so have some spares to hand!

If you are sewing with a coated fabric that makes the needle sticky, try cleaning it with rubbing alcohol or nail polish remover. Check it’s fully evaporated before you start sewing again so it doesn’t damage the fabric.

If possible, choose a thread that is UV-resistant or specifically designed for outdoor use it will last much longer, even in the heaviest of downpours.

7. Choosing the correct foot.

If you are using a fabric that is not coated and you find it’s slipping and sliding around on your sewing machine and/or the seams are rippling as you’re sewing them, try attaching a walking foot – or dual feed foot. This will help the machine grip both layers of fabric together and feed them through at the same speed, creating a nice, smooth seam.

If you are using a coated fabric such as waxed cotton or oilcloth, on the other hand, you may have the opposite problem – the fabric sticking to the presser foot and not feeding through the machine. Consider using a Teflon foot, which is cheap to buy. Alternatively, you could sandwich a layer of tissue paper between the fabric and the presser foot to stop it sticking, then gently peel it away from the seams after sewing. Final tip, use a layer of baking paper on the top and bottom sandwich your fabric in the middle, stitch the seam together, then gently peel it away from the seams after sewing. The baking paper and tissue paper will make your sewing needle blunt, and you may need to change the needle during your project.

8. Choosing your Stitch.

As with any new fabric, sew a test swatch on a double scrap of fabric before tackling your project to see how it behaves. If your fabric is on the heavier side, or if you are finding the seams are puckering, try lengthening the stitch slightly to 3mm to 3.5mm. If you find your stitches are skipping, then switch to a new, sharp needle (see above).

9. Make it waterproof -Seal the seams If you want to make your raincoat as water resistant as possible, you will need to seal the seams to prevent water seeping through. You can buy seam-sealing adhesives, such as paint-on glue or iron-on tape, which you apply to the wrong side of the garment along the seams with the applicator provided. If you use the iron-on variety, make sure your fabric can withstand the heat of the iron, and be sure to use a pressing cloth to stop it sticking to your iron!

If your fabric is on the lighter-weight side, you could sew the garment with French seams. As the seams are sewn twice, it will make it harder for water to get through the seams. Most waterproof and water-resistant fabric do not fray, so there is no need to zigzag the raw edges.

10. Pressing

It is very important to test press (iron) your waterproof/water-resistant fabric. The heat from the iron can damage some materials. Particularly fabric that is coated or made with synthetic substances.

Keep pressing to a minimum – or avoid it altogether if you are working with something like PVC. You can finger press the seam allowances as you go along instead of using your iron.

If you do use the iron, keep the heat setting as low as you can get away with and turn off the steam. ALWAYS use a pressing cloth to protect the fabric from direct contact with the plate of the iron. Linen or cotton makes an excellent pressing cloth.

If you are sewing with waxed cotton, you may change colour when you press it. Do not worry! It should return to its original colour once it has cooled.

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