If you’re working with polyester for the first time, you’ve undoubtedly going to have some questions about how to use it. What tension do you need on the sewing machine, what needle size should you use, and even (and this is the big one) can you sew it at all?
We’ll come to the other questions shortly, but in reply to the last one, it’s a yes…
Polyester is one of the most commonly used synthetics. As it’s a plastic compound, it can melt and fuse under high heats, making it the go-to material for producing non-woven fabrics like felt, as well as both woven and knit polyester fabrics.
Given the vast number of different textures and weights polyester can come in, knowing the best sewing technique for it can be tricky: what works best for one type of polyester fabric could be ineffective on another.
There are, however, some techniques and considerations that work across the board. Regardless of the type of polyester fabric you’re using, read on for some useful little tips that will guarantee success.
Before you begin to even consider threading a needle, wash the polyester item in cold water and dry on a low heat. This will ensure no excess colorants or coatings interfere with the sewing.
Polyester is made up of small fibers that can snag and tear easily: avoid causing any damage by eschewing worn out or used needles for a fresh one. Polyester fabrics also tend to respond better to smaller needles- go for a larger needle, and you risk weakening the seam and causing large, unsightly holes in the fabric.
When choosing a thread, it’s best to use one that matches the elasticity of the fabric you’re sewing as closely as possible. What better thread to use for polyester, then, than polyester thread?
While using polyester thread for hand sewing is unproblematic enough, there are a few little details to be aware of when using it for machine sewing. Wind the bobbin slowly, and keep the sewing to a slow, even pace. Feeding the thread too quickly can generate enough friction and heat to make the thread stretch. As it cools, the thread will shrink and bunch the seams.
Before you start cutting out pattern pieces, iron the fabric using a synthetic setting. If any creases can’t be removed with ironing, remove the offending section before going any further.
Satin polyester can be slippery. Make life easier for yourself by fixing the cut-out fabric pieces to tissue papers or computer paper before you start to sew. The stable backing this creates will stop the fabric sliding around under the needle.
If you’re new to sewing with polyester (or new to sewing in general), bear in mind you’ll need to adapt your usual sewing style to meet its specific needs. When it comes to the recommended sewing machine setting, stick to a stitch length of 0.5 millimeters (0.020 in) to 1.5 millimeters (0.059 in) for the best results.
You’ll also need to adjust the foot pressure. Excess pressure will make the machine pull the fabric as you sew it, resulting in puckering. Keep your seams sow by keeping to a low pressure.
The question of what tension to use for sewing polyester can be a tough one to answer, as there are so many variables involved. Fortunately, you don’t need to think too much about it – set up your machine for polyester, and it will cope with most types of poly fabrics without further adjustments being needed.
As a general rule of thumb, the upper tension will usually be around a 4. If you’re not sure if you’ve set the machine correctly, test out a few stitches on some scraps before starting.
If you’re sewing polyester, be careful to select the most appropriate needle. For machine sewing, the needles recommended are 70/10-80/12 ballpoints, sharps, and stretch depending on the fabric structure and weight. If you’re sewing by hand, it’s recommended to use needles in sizes 5-10.
Fabrics made from 100% polyester have a number of distinct advantages: as well as being stain-resistant, they can easily be enhanced with permanent pleats and patterns. Unfortunately, they tend to be one of the least breathable fabrics out there (which is why they’re often combined with cotton to make a poly-cotton blend).
If you’re working with 100% polyester, the most important thing to remember is to use a good quality polyester thread – a cotton thread will simply not match the stretch and durability of the fabric itself, and you’re likely to experience problems down the line.
The stretchy nature of spandex and polyester can make it a challenge to sew. To make the task a lighter one, the following guide should provide some inspiration.
Preparation is key. Spandex tends to shrink the first time you wash it- avoid the risk of ending up with a 2-sizes too-small garment by washing on a cool wash before you start cutting out the pieces.
Once the fabric has been washed and dried, use sharp scissors or a rotary cutter to cut out the pieces. If you’re using a rotary cutter, place the fabric on a cutting mat before starting.
Use ballpoint pins (their rounded tips will keep the fabric from severing) to pin the fabric along the seam allowance.
Using your hand, tug the spandex to find out which way it stretches (a 2-way stretch fabric will stretch horizontally, while a 4-way stretch fabric will stretch both horizontally and vertically). Make sure you position the fabric so that it stretches around the body, rather than along its length.
Set your sewing machine with a ballpoint needle, which is less likely to damage the fibers of the material than a regular needle.
As too much pressure on the pressure foot can result in puckering, make any adjustments necessary before you start to sew.
Thread your machine with an all-purpose polyester thread in a color that matches your fabric.
Set the machine to a narrow zigzag stitch and adjust the stitch length to .5 millimeters.
Tip: Resist the urge to pull the material as you sew. While this strategy works on a lot of materials, it’s likely to result in puckering if you try it on spandex. For the same reason, avoid letting the fabric drape over the edge of your work surface.
Generally, it’s not advisable to sew natural fabrics with synthetic threads (and vice versa) as they require a different type of thread. Wherever possible, cotton should be sewn with cotton thread, and manmade fibers like polyester should be sewn with polyester thread. The reason for matching like for like is simple: polyester thread is stronger than cotton, and over time, can weaken cotton’s fiber. Similarly, cotton thread won’t be strong enough to take on the challenge of a polyester fabric.
If you’re using a poly-cotton blend, sewing should be relatively easy, although it’s recommended you stick to using a polyester thread over a cotton one.
While sewing polyester with a machine is the easiest method of working with polyester, if you haven’t got one, all’s not lost – although hand sewing may be more of a challenge, it’s still possible.
While sewing polyester by hand can be tricky to master, there’s some tricks of the trade that should see you through.
If you’re sewing with satin polyester, you may find yourself having a hard time keeping it from puckering. Even the most experienced sewer can experience the same problem, but fortunately, there’s a few things you can do to reduce the dreaded wrinkle.
The joy of polyester is that it has some stretch – while this may make it very accommodating after a big lunch, it does mean you have to adopt a slightly different approach to hemming to what you may be used to. First of all, it’s always recommended to use a zig-zag thread when hemming. Use that, along with this step by step process, for guaranteed success.
Using a zigzag or overlock stitch, sew the raw edge of the fabric to stop it from stretching or fraying.
Hang vertically for 24 hours to allow the fabric to stretch out to its proper length before you start hemming.
Mark out the hemline with a fabric pen – if possible, ask someone to do this for you while you’re wearing the garment.
Iron the fabric on a low setting and pin the hem in place with ballpoint pins.
Insert a twin needle into the sewing machine and thread the needles. Wind the bobbin with polyester thread and insert the bobbin. Set the stitch setting to 3-3.5 stitch per length.
Slowly and carefully start sewing about .5 inch away from the hemmed edge. As you sew, be careful not to stretch the fabric. Remove the pins to finish.
Although it’s known for its durability, polyester can occasionally rip if it’s put under enough stress. While you’ll not be able to restore the garment to its original condition, repairing the torn edges will at least give you a garment that’s still functional.
Purchase a small piece of polyester fabric that’s as close a match to the color and weight of your torn garment as possible.
Cut a piece of the purchased fabric to size. It should be 1 inch bigger in both length and width than the tear.
If the torn garment is lined, take out the lining near the tear using a seam ripper, and push the lining away from the tear.
Position the new piece of fabric underneath the tear on the inside of the garment. Pull the torn edge together and pin the piece of fabric to the garment.
Set the machine to a wide zigzag stitch and sow several lines over the tear to ensure it holds.
Cut the threads, and then trim away the excess of the new fabric underneath the tear. Leave around .75 inches remaining around the stitching. Remove the pins.
Slip the lining back in place and pin. Use a hand slip-stitch to fix the lining permanently in position.
While polyester isn’t the easiest of fabrics to sew, prepping the material properly before you begin can remove a lot of the hardship. One of the key pieces of prep is to wash the fabric in cool water beforehand. This will ensure any coatings and colorings are removed before you start sewing.
Hopefully, you’ve picked up enough tips and tricks to make your next poly-project a breeze. If you feel any of the advice could be of help to your fellow crafters, please feel free to share the post.