Just when you think that you have done everything perfectly – got that perfect fabric, perfect pattern, and has got the perfect fitting, everything turns topsy-turvy. There are eyesores at the seams and hems. You are right to be disappointed. What you are seeing is the much dreaded Puckering.
What is Puckering in sewing?
Puckering is a defect in sewing which makes the stitching line look gathered or bunched up in isolated places or irregular intervals. There is a rippled effect in the seam line which is unattractive. Puckered stitching is one of the main markers of a homemade garment. But for every problem, there is an equal and effective solution.
For the right solution, you have to pinpoint the reason for the puckered stitching. Then you can correctly nail down the solution as well.
1. Seam puckering on thin fabrics
Thin fine beautifully fragile fabrics look divine and then the puckering starts!
Use a straight stitch needle plate and a straight stitch presser foot to sew straight stitches – this can eliminate the causes of puckering to a degree. And a short stitch length with a thin thread.
Use extra fine thread to sew sheer and fine fabrics. The best way to sew with thin fabrics is to stabilize the fabric with your hands by holding the ends and keep the fabric taut while sewing by keeping both your hands behind and in front of the needle effectively holding the fabric stretched as you sew it. Do not pull the fabric though. As the sewing technician told me, your machine’s feed will do the pulling and moving and if you pull you just damage the machine and your fabric.
Use the right interfacing for the fabric where it is needed, like the neckline facing, pant hems etc. Self fabric can be used as interfacing.
Related post : Best thin and lightweight fabrics.
2. Curved seam puckering
This is usually due to insufficient clipping of seam allowance. If you trim the seam allowance and clip it at regular intervals the curves will lie flat without puckers. If there are still puckers, check out the solutions given below. Let out some stitches with a seam ripper and see if this helps.
Usually, seams do not pucker along the bias grain of fabrics.
3. Seam puckering due to use of the wrong needle
If possible start a new project with a new needle – a blunt or ragged needle can cause puckers. Especially if you are sewing with expensive fabrics
For the cotton fabric and most others, a general all-purpose needle is all you want – but when you sew with a lightweight fabric like thin silk, crepe, organza etc you may need a thin sharper needle, which will not make the fabric bunch up.
More on sewing machine needles here.
4. Seam puckering due to a wrong thread
Match the fabric with the thread. Do not use a heavy thread with fine fabric or vice-versa. The needle of most home sewing machines work with a thread of only so much weight, even the large needles – if it exceeds this weight, not only does it cause puckers, it ruins the stitching. If you really want to use a particular thick thread, use the thick thread on the bobbin rather than as a top thread.
If you are using a stretchable thread with a fabric that do not stretch, when the sewing is over the seam line will surely pucker – this is common sense. (think of the shirring elastic thread and how it puckers). Good quality cotton thread works with most of the woven fabric projects. Use thin but strong thread and you will have a pucker less stitching.
Ensure that the thread you use is from a good reputable company and is durable. A cheap quality bad snagging thread can cause puckers and break in between.
Sometimes a hastily wound bobbin thread may be the culprit. Do not hand wind bobbin. Use machine winding but use an average speed, filling the bobbin thread especially thread with some stretch like a polyester thread or cotton/poly blend. When you sew with tightly wound thread, this stretched thread will bunch later and pucker the fabric fibers.
5. Seam puckering due to incorrect tension
Sewing machine tension, if it is wrong, can make your stitching all awry. Puckers will be all over the place. Excessive thread tension can understandably cause puckers on your stitching line. If there is too much pressure in the tension discs of the machine, not enough thread reaches the needle for stitching. Thread is stretched and then afteward it goes back to its original length. This results in puckering of the fabric in the seam line.
You can check if thread tension is the cause of the puckering in your fabric by a simple test. Just cut one of the stitches. See if this reduces the puckering. If your answer is yes, reduce the thread tension.
Use the maximum minimum tension possible to sew (if that sounds clear) for a particular fabric.
If you are sewing thin fabrics reduce the tension of the top thread than for thicker fabric. A thinner thread also asks for lower thread tension. Check out the post on sewing machine tension adjustments for more details
6. Seam puckering due to problems with fabrics.
A tightly woven fabric puckers more than a less dense fabric, but less than an open weave fabric. Synthetic fabrics like polyester and nylon have more likelihood of puckering than others. A woven fabric puckers more than knits.
When you match seams with different grain lines there may be puckers because fibers behave differently along different grain lines. The bias cut fabric puckers less than the long grain or cross grain.
When sewing with difficult fabrics, don’t stitch more than one stitching line – this will make your seam line pucker more. You can use longer stitch length as well. Use a Teflon foot.
When sewing together different types of fabrics like silk crepe and cotton the feed may not move the fabric layers equally and cause puckers. Ensure that the feed of your machine is working optimally and the fabric is moving properly. And don’t pull on the fabric as you sew- this will cause one layer to stretch more than the others.
When you are sewing fabric with different stretch capacity, keep the fabric with the greatest amount of stretch against the feed if possible.
The different fabric types also shrink at different levels and cause puckering. Eg polyester zipper tape applied to a linen fabric. Linen shrinks whereas the polyester does not. This can happen also if you use synthetic fabrics as lining inside cotton/silk outer fabric. You may have to let out the seam stitching and release the stitching. Prewashing the fabrics to remove the sizing and be done with the shrinkage is the solution here
7. Bias binding puckering due to bias stretch
Because of the stretch in the bias binding strip when you stretch and stitch, there may be puckers. Instead of machine stitching the other side of binding, make relaxed hand stitches – this will reduce puckering.
If you have already sewn the bias binding and there is puckering and you don’t fancy removing the stitching and starting all over, you can try to steam press and remove the puckers. Do not iron over the binding, this will stretch the binding and make the situation worse.
If this also did not work, You can remove one side of the binding, steam press and make the binding lie the way you want it and then stitch again. Better to hand stitch this time around.
8. Puckers on seam due to sewing machine problem
If your sewing machine has a problem with feeding the fabrics properly ie if the top and bottom layers of the fabric are not fed simultaneously puckering can occur.
Use the correct needle plate and presser feet for the fabric. Ensure that presser foot is pressing evenly and strongly on the fabric on the back and front of the needle. You can try changing the foot to a walking foot – a walking foot has its own feed and feeds fabric evenly.
Never pull the fabrics to move them with your hands. This can also cause puckering and damage the machine as well.
If the problem persists, Service the feed problem by an expert.
9. Puckers at the hem due to wrong techniques used
When you top stitch sometimes puckering may appear out of nowhere. Always top stitch after Pressing the seam. Use a straight stitch presser foot and straight stitch needle plate for topstitching and a shorter stitch to avoid puckers in woven fabrics
If the puckering is already there a press with a steam iron may remove the puckers . If this does not work, try to remove the stitching and stitch all over again with a stay tape inside. You can use a fusible interfacing strip to stabilize the seam.
More on top stitching here.
- Curved hem – Puckers are usual when you are sewing a curved hem. The best is to make a baby hem or use a bias facing. The baby hem is a narrow hem and involves sewing a turned under edge twice with very narrow seam allowance. This will make sure that there are no puckers. If you are sewing the curved hem with a facing, trim the seam allowance to a minimum and clip the seam allowance every 1/2 inch near the curves.
- Movement causing the fabric to stretch at the hem -a blind hem stitch is best to hem. This can avoid puckers here. Check out this post on using a blind stitch for hemming
- If you are hand sewing, use a catch stitch to avoid puckers. This will give a stretch to the stitch and the hem will not pucker. You can learn more about this on the post on handmade hem stitches
10 Puckering on seam lines due to stitches
If the stitches per inch are more, there will be some puckering. Keep it optimal for smooth sewing – like 8-12 per inches.
Press and remove Fine puckering
If there are fine puckering ie not very noticeable puckering on plain fabrics, you may find this annoying. The reason may be that the stitching is not set. The best remedy is to set the stitching with a small pressing with iron and this puckering will usually be gone.
How to press the seam line to eliminate puckers: Press the seam closed first, then open the seam allowance from the back side and press. This will settle the thread. Turn the fabric and stitch over the seam line, if you want to.
Related post : How to solve the problem of skipped stitches.
Get more tips on pressing for sewing here
Updated on October 3, 2022 by Sarina Tariq