Advice for sewing large amounts of fabric
July 4, 2016 8:32 PM   Subscribe

Our shower is an odd size and I've decided to make my own shower curtain. I'm fairly new to sewing and can do my own tailoring and I'm decent, but I've never sewn anything this large. I'm looking for advice on how to keep lines straight and any tips anyone can give me when sewing something so big. My table is about 45"x30" if that helps.
posted by onecircleaday to Grab Bag (18 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Make sure you press all your hems into place and check them for straightness before you sew. This is not the time to skimp on ironing. (I'm assuming you're making a fabric curtain that you will use with a curtain liner, not sewing a plasticated fabric, which obviously won't work so well with ironing.)

Get a washout sewing marker and a t-square and draw lines liberally on your fabric. Find the straight of grain and draw in the hemlines perpendicular to the grain so you can keep them straight.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:39 PM on July 4, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I'm a sewing amateur, but I made a large sleeping bag a couple months ago and learned a couple things about working with large pieces of fabric. First, measure and mark on a clean floor. I ended up using a measuring tape and a yard stick and was able to keep lines straight that way. Second, roll your fabric very evenly on either side of the seam before sewing. Otherwise the weight of the fabric will stretch the seam.
posted by tuffet at 8:47 PM on July 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Do you have a walking foot? The sailmakers live for the walking foot.
posted by sammyo at 9:34 PM on July 4, 2016

Response by poster: Thank you everyone - very helpful advice so far, all news to me which is great. Glad I asked the question. I just bought a walking foot - glad I did!

I hope it fits my sewing machine.

Follow up question about the ironing - I'm thinking the best way would be to lay out a large blanket on the floor, and just iron on that? Sounds like that's what others have done, is work on a clean floor.
posted by onecircleaday at 10:11 PM on July 4, 2016

Response by poster: Oh, another question - any tips on finding the straight of grain? They ripped the fabric when they sold it to me, which seemed like it was straight (and I've seen videos where people do this to get a straight line), but I've washed it since then. Can I still trust that line, where they ripped it?
posted by onecircleaday at 10:13 PM on July 4, 2016

Tuffet has a great idea to roll the fabric. If you don't want to do that, you can place another table or ironing board next to your work table to extend the work surface to support your fabric.`
posted by tipsyBumblebee at 10:13 PM on July 4, 2016

Best answer: In addition to the hints above--and yes, a walking foot--use removable colored tape to mark a line on the sewing machine bed/throat plate from front to back so you have a longer guide than just the little marks already there. This makes it easier to see and keep the edge of your fabric straight & therefore your seam straight. Most shower curtain instructions say turn up a 3-4" hem or edge. You will need the marking farther away from the needle than the ones already on your machine.

For large pieces of fabric, I find a yardstick works better than a tape measure for accurate measuring. It is easier to use the floor than a table. If you have a tile or wood floor that has straight lines, you can use that to help mark, too, assuming the lines are straight. Align fabric with one of the lines on the floor, tape all the edges down, and then use the yardstick to mark your hems with a water soluble marker or other means.

Once you have your hems measured, turned, folded, & ironed, pin them. Pin them a lot--I regularly sew long seams--72" to 120" or more. I use a lot of pins. Takes a while to pin, but ripping out a crooked seam takes longer and risks damaging your fabric. If you don't use long quilting pins, consider buying some. They are so much easier than regular-headed pins to both see & pin. I use them for everything except silk.

Since you are probably just sewing straight seams on the four sides, you should be able to manage the fabric. Just be sure that the fabric has an easy place to go as you sew. Move the sewing table away from the wall (and move anything else behind the sewing machine) so the fabric can fall easily as you advance the seams. Having a bunch of fabric crunched up can cause tension problems. Same on the left side of the machine--keep it clear so the fabric moves without obstructions as it advances.
posted by Nosey Mrs. Rat at 10:18 PM on July 4, 2016

Best answer: Finding the grain depends somewhat on the fabric. Article on Finding the Grain of Fabric. That site is a good resource for lots of sewing projects.
posted by Nosey Mrs. Rat at 10:24 PM on July 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I came in to say the same things as Nosey Mrs. Rat. Yardstick, floor, removable tape for a longer line on the sewing machine throat plate, walking foot. Lots and lots of pins.

I've done this before and with lots of careful pinning on the floor and using a long yardstick to double check squared and straight edges, it all turns out great!

NB: if you have cats or dogs the fabric-on-floor thing may be difficult unless you can close off the room :)
posted by fraula at 1:22 AM on July 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

At this scale, I wonder if a chalk line as used in carpentry and construction would be useful for marking straight lines, once you have the fabric laid out flat.
posted by XMLicious at 2:30 AM on July 5, 2016

Best answer: Quilter here.
Basting/safety pins: Is the fabric something that will have permanent pin holes? Can you pin in the margins? Don't be afraid to make generous seam allowances and cut away what you don't need. Can you baste the section of project, sew the seam, and leave the basting in place to avoid marring the fabric?
Uneven or puckered seams: Things that can warp and twist the seams are the weight of the project hanging off a table, snagging fabric on furniture while guiding the sewing, the feed dogs pulling the bottom cloth through faster than the top cloth, and of course the top and bottom thread tension. I usually sew large projects on the floor. Baste it down, feed it through the machine slowly, keep the left and right sides of the work level. Stop when you need to, have seam ripper nearby to immediately fix the problem while it is redeemable. Sew parallel seams (quarter inch apart) on the same side, in the same direction.
Extra fabric not worked into long seam : Baste, baste, baste. Mark matching sections the way dressmakers mark sleeves and armholes. Sew short sections and check progress. Consider working both sides to the center. Consider making small pleats to work in surplus fabric without removing the stitches.
The drape of fabric and the strain on hanging accessories: How will you hang the project? Will you reinforce that area? Will moisture and stretch be a factor? How thick will this reinforcement be? Will it shrink during cleaning? Will you add detail to the bottom of the curtains to improve the way it hangs?
posted by TrishaU at 3:10 AM on July 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Re: the carpentry thing. The reason it works in carpentry is that the materials are solid. With fabric, larger pieces behave more like a liquid. Drawing long straight lines on fabric is very difficult since the mere act of drawing on it will pull/warp the fabric. It can be done, it's just... trickier than it's worth.

It's much easier to measure, fold a healthy seam allowance, and pin the dickens out of it. Think of pins as anchors.
posted by fraula at 5:53 AM on July 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

Did you read that Wikipedia entry? Using a chalk line does not involve drawing any sort of stylus-like marker across a surface; it imprints the whole line at the same moment, when the string is plucked.

(I'm not saying to not use pins or anything like that. And if the OP is working on a carpeted surface, the mess might not be worth it. But if, for example, you needed to mark a line across a piece of fabric large enough that you can't reach the center without stepping onto the fabric then a chalk line might be the way to do it, precisely because of the stretchiness of fabric and the way it might deform from someone standing on it.)

(Though you could also use one of those climbing harnesses Tom Cruise uses to descend from the ceiling in Mission Impossible, which might be more fun.)
posted by XMLicious at 6:24 AM on July 5, 2016

Best answer: I wouldn't trust the rip. You can iron on the floor but put a large bedspread down first to protect the floor's finish. I never had any problems ironing on the board and just feeding it down to the floor, though.

I use the floor to measure, cut, and pin.

The biggest thing- don't stress about it. It will be hanging so your lines won't appear perfectly even anyway. Slight mistakes will go unnoticed. Relax and enjoy the creative process.
posted by myselfasme at 6:27 AM on July 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Re: the chalk line like that, yeah, that's the "more difficult than it's worth" bit :) As fabric behaves like a liquid, it's overall best to get it straight and squared and anchored easily and accurately enough. Like myselfasme mentions, it's going to hang anyway. FWIW I've hand-sewn curtains without a ruler, just squaring the corners and eyeing the rest as I whip-stitched, and gotten compliments on them. You can't tell they're not perfectly straight without a ruler, because the eye is satisfied by the squared lines and balanced-straight(ish) proportions.
posted by fraula at 7:19 AM on July 5, 2016

Best answer: Hmm, I just roll the edge over twice to make a quick hem and sew away! I've never had any problems. Just keep the rolled edge hem or whatever it is called roughly the same size by rolling it and feeding it into the needle. I do large curtains and fabric for shower curtains and have never had the uneven police call me out. Only caveat is that the fabric has to be roughly straight to begin, this is usually fine on the long side as that comes from the bolt of fabric but may need to be checked across the top and bottom. Clearly I am not a pro but my curtains look great! (And be sure to double check that you are hemming the right side!)
posted by RoadScholar at 7:26 AM on July 5, 2016

Best answer: I can offer some advice on how to make the grain of your fabric run straight. Firstly, along both of your ripped edges, loosen a thread from the weave and see if it can easily be removed from one corner to the other. If you can't achieve this, you will want to make a small clip with a sharp pair of scissors maybe an inch or so from your rip and redo it. If your rip does not go cleanly to the other side, you'll have to go even further in. I always buy a little extra yardage than I need for this reason.
Next, on your floor, fold your fabric selvedge to selvedge, and smooth it as flat as you can, starting from the middle. Look at your ripped edges, and see if they neatly overlap or not. Chances are, one corner goes up on a diagonal, and one slants down. This indicates your fabric is off grain, but don't worry, you can fix that.
This next step works best if you have a partner. Sit opposite each other, each at a ripped edge. Both grab on to the corner that is coming up short when folded. Get a good grip and PULL! If your fabric is way off (such as a difference of 8 inches or so), pull really hard, like a tug of war. If you're only slightly off grain, pull firmly, like you are walking a badly trained dog on a leash. Afterward, fold your fabric selvedge to selvedge again, and check to see the effect. Maybe you corrected it on the first try, or maybe you have to try some more. Eventually, you'll get it on the grain.
Hopefully the way I've written this makes sense. Let me know if you have questions!
posted by to recite so charmingly at 7:40 AM on July 5, 2016 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Hmmm. 40 seconds into this video, she says you always have to match selvedge to selvedge, never in the middle of the fabric. I have a pair of sheer curtains that I'm using for most of the curtain, and they are patterned. I have to match them but I'm pretty sure I'm not matching selvedge to selvedge. The pattern lines up. How could it be a problem? Also, how is it possible to always and only match the selvedges? Aren't there some cases where you have to match the pattern along the width of it, or along the other edges?

Also, it's working great to work on the floor! Ironing something this large is a challenge but I laid a blanket down with some heavy boxes along two corners to keep it in place, and it's working like a charm.

Thanks everyone for the great tips!
posted by onecircleaday at 9:40 PM on July 5, 2016

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