Although somewhat intimidating when you first contemplate using a coated fabric, it really is quite simple to sew. With a few new tools (or almost the same thing hacks) you’ll be sewing up a storm in no time.
Lamination is adding layers of plastic or other materials to wood or fabric which are then bonded together. Laminated fabrics are just regular quilting cotton but with a thin polyurethane film adhered to the printed side. Other coated fabrics include Mexican oilcloth, chalkcloth and good old fashioned vinyl with the flannel backing that a 70s car interior was full of. All these are similar to laminated cotton but are much thicker and stiffer to sew with so should be reserved for simpler projects.
There are also products available that allow you make your own laminated fabrics with an iron-on vinyl. I’ve also included sewing with clear PVC into this post as I follow the same steps when I place it on top of regular cottons to make my own waterproof layer.
Presser Feet that Make Sewing Laminates Easier
The first part of projects should progress as normal. Sewing right sides together will mean the laminated layer is on the inside. The back of the fabric feels like normal cotton so it will slide between your foot and the feed dogs. The tricky part comes when the laminate coating or plastic comes into contact with the bottom of your presser foot such as when topstitching or inserting a zipper.
The plastic will stick to the metal on the bottom of your foot not allowing the fabric to feed through.
There are a few ways around this.
When I starting sewing a lot of PVC, I invested in a specialist Teflon presser foot for my machine. Before this, I used my walking foot.
A great tip is to use some matt-finish Scotch tape (or painters tape) on the bottom of your regular presser foot. I still use this tape method when using a zipper foot.
I’ve also tried placing a layer of tissue paper over my project but found that my stitches pulled when I ripped it away later so I tend to avoid that now.
- Use a sharp or denim needle in your machine. The sharp point will more easily pierce through multiple plastic layer.
- Use a polyester thread as it is stronger than cotton and therefore make your seams hold better.
- Pin within the seam allowance or use clips or you will leave little holes if you pin further into your project
- Use a slightly longer seam allowance – I set my machine to a length of 3.
- I don’t use laminates for linings as I find the sides stick to each other. I’ve got a bag that I have to tug apart every time I open it. I prefer to use a nylon ripstop (the lightweight waterproof fabric they use to make kites) or a regular woven cotton.
- Most modern laminates can be machine washed but always check manufacturers care instructions to be sure, usually available on their websites.
Sewing with Clear PVC
- The plastic softens with heat making it easier to manage. Lay it in the sun for a few moments or hit it with a waft of steam from an iron or hairdryer if it’s being uncooperative.
- Make sure you carefully check for stray threads, hair and other debris before sewing your seams and thus sealing them into your finished work.
- Leave a larger than recommended gap for turning. The PVC will stick to itself as you pull it through and I’ve found the extra wiggle room helps. A little talcum powder also helps which you can then wipe off the finished project.
Coping with the Inevitable Oops
You can unpick laminates but you will have small holes along your stitching line. I have heard about sweeping an iron over with a pressing cloth to re-seal needle holes but I’ve never tried it and much prefer just to slow down and double-check my sewing before each step to reduce the risk of needing to try this suggestion.
Another thing to consider when re-sewing the line of stitching, particularly with PVC, is that each stitch will puncture the coating creating a point of weakness. Think of it like the edge of a postage stamp. If you put too many tiny holes in it, the vinyl can tear along the perforations of your stitching line. If I do need to re-sew, I aim for a longer stitch length and increasing my seam allowance to give me more fabric ‘meat’ behind the seam.
There is no real need to finish the raw edges of laminates as the coating stops the threads from fraying. It also stops the fabric from stretching like
regular fabrics. You can finish your seams using an overlocker, zigzag stitch or with pinking shears but it’s personal preference.
I like to add bias binding to the outside edges of these art shirts rather than a traditional hem which I sew down with my walking foot. I leave the internal seams without a finishing so that the seams are softer for the wearer.
Where to Buy Laminated Fabrics
My top choice is www.modes4u.com – they have a great range of prints that are unavailable elsewhere. Another good place to browse is https://www.etsy.com/au/shop/Laminates and don’t forget to check the rolls of wipeable tableclothes at your local fabric stores – they often have a few great prints available.