Learning how to sew with sheer fabrics; essential tips and tricks

All you need to know to sew with sheer and slippery fabrics.

If you are thinking of making anything in a delicate fabric you need to know this! Silk, satin, georgette, lace, chiffon...these are all beautiful but, I have discovered, require some specific handling. These fabrics are often not cheap either so making errors can be costly, as well as just heartbreaking as a seamstress. I love wearing sheer fabrics and when I took up dressmaking I had grand visions of whipping up dresses like these floaty numbers....

Learning how to sew with sheer fabrics; essential tips and tricks

...and then realised that this wasn't as easy as I first thought. It is doable though so long as you know these key tips and tricks!


Sheer and delicate fabrics require the sharpest of tools. This means super sharp scissors or a brand new rotary blade. I have a pair of shears that I only use on these fabrics, in addition to my normal fabric scissors and paper scissors for pdf patterns. You also need a different type of sewing needle - a 'sharp'. You can buy packs of sharp needles which will work much better and it is best to use a brand new one for each project to prevent blunt needles wreaking havoc. Finally extra fine pins such as lace pins will cause the least amount of damage to your delicate fabrics. I always try to pin within what will be a seam allowance so that any holes left by these will be less noticeable.


These fabrics are slippery so and sos, which makes cutting out a lot trickier. Basically the aim is to minimise movement. Firstly, don't fold for cutting out, do it from a single layer. This might mean that you need to trace off the mirror side of a pattern piece (if it's marked 'on the fold') but it is definitely worth it as the fabric tends to shift. And the amount of time it takes to cut out in one single layer with tracing is still less than constant readjustment.

If cutting out on a table you also need to make sure that fabric isn't hanging over the edges as this can pull and distort what is on the table, giving some very wobbly looking pattern pieces! (Bear this in mind when going through the machine too). Using weights and a rotary cutter will help minimise movement when cutting out. You can also put a more stable fabric underneath, like muslin, to keep sheers from slipping around on smooth tables.

I had great 'fun' with the Betty dress full circle skirt. I used a huge piece of Italian silk chiffon, and honestly, the only place I could lay it flat was the kitchen floor. I laid down a piece of muslin (very flat, all bumps ironed out) on the floor to help keep everything steady, then laid the silk on this and stood around the edges. It took a long time....

The opposite piece of advice works for just before hemming....don't go flat! Let your make hang for at least 24 hours so that the fabric can 'drop'. I did this and found I had a very wobbly section of this full circle skirt that needed chopping off in order to give an even hem. Even though all the pattern pieces were cut flat and weren't left hanging, there it was, a wonky wave....it's just the way it turned out.

How to sew with silk

PS - These fabrics may be nice to wear in that they don't crease but this can be a pain when hemming as they don't always lie flat when pressed. I use Wondertape to fix a hem in position for sewing. It's double sided tape that dissolves in water. (Probably not the done thing but no harm so far).


Silks, georgettes and chiffons do tend to fray more easily (hence the need for super sharp scissors too). The best way to join seams is by using a French seam (there's a good how to with photos here). French seams enclose raw edges within a seam of their own - they look like a little pocket really - and this prevents them fraying after construction. They can be more bulky than normal seams, and if you are following a pattern that doesn't include specific instructions for them you might have to give each stage a little extra thought. Inserting invisible zips is one example. Doing this with a lining is another. I still haven't got my head around attaching the neckband of the Pussy Bow Blouse with French seams, but if I do I'll be sure to post! (If you have leave a link in the comments for me!)


Make a toile. It may not be in as lightweight a material as the one you are intending to use but it is necessary to get the fit as close to correct as possible before making. Sheer and delicate fabrics do not like being unpicked so trying to reduce the need for this will prevent ruining expensive buys.

Embrace basting. If you are lining your make you might want to baste this to your main fabric to make them easier to work with. If you have darts anywhere you will need to decide if you are having two separate layers or doing this. If you are then you will also need to baste along the dart legs (from the point to the edge) so that the two pieces don't move around. When I made my lace dress I had to baste the lining and the lace together, and baste along the darts. I also needed to baste guidelines for the ribbon decoration. Again, it took time but unpicking was not in my preferred plans!

Learning how to sew with sheer fabrics; essential tips and tricks


The only way to get really good at anything is to practice, so have a go. You don't have to use the most beautiful or expensive fabric for your first make. Leave a link to your first and most recent makes in sheer fabrics below so we can all see how practice makes a difference.... and comment with any other tips you have too!

Check out these essential tips for sewing with sheer fabrics from @petitepassions blog #sew #seamstress #beginner

What you need to know to sew with sheer and slippery fabrics


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Welcome to Sewing and Other Stories; my journeys with sewing and knitting; pattern reviews, tips and guides for beginners. I'm also the designer behind West Beach Knits knitting patterns and I host a Knitting and Sewing channel on YouTube where you can see all of this in person. Come have a look!

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