Transparent and sheer fabrics – Top tips on sewing and caring them

transparent sheer fabric

Transparent fabrics are see through fabric through which you can see the skin where as sheer fabrics are semi transparent. All transparent materials are sheer, obviously.

Making clothes with these fabrics are a trend that comes and goes. But their ethereal beauty makes a comeback every now and then. Diaphanous was a word I read a lot in old regency novels. The ball gowns of regency beauties grew more and more see through and bold with years

Sheer Fabric types

  • Organaza & organdie
  • Lace
  • Fine cotton lawn and voiles
  • Mesh
  • Chiffon
  • Batiste
  • Tulle and netting
  • Clear plastic / rubber
  • Georgette
  • Gauze
  • Thin drapery materials
  • Thin knits
  • Taffetta
  • Eyelet fabric & other perforated materials
  • Semi sheer muslin

Related post

washing delicate fabrics

sheer fabric

 

How to wear the sheer and transparent look

Pairing sheer fabric  with embroideries, printed fabrics and ruffles look great. Just think about your tutu ballerina skirt- Layering sheer makes a tutu dreamlike. A boho chic look with layers of fabric in a maxi skirt is another look to aim for. 

A simple bustier can be paired with a sheer shrug. I love the look of white sheer blouse worn over a simple camisole.Light colours and pastel,colours, white and even neutral colours work best in sheer. A sheer insert can be added to the back of your blouse or t shirt.You can pair other fabric with sheer  by adding it as sleeves or as illusion neckline. Cuffs and collars and overlays are other areas where sheer is used to perfection

Horse hair braid hemmed petticoats are usually used under sheer dresses skirts for that billowing effect.Half slips are used for modesty sake.

illusion neckline

How to avoid the sheer look in sheer fabrics

Do you know that if you are making a skirt with net alone you will need at least 5 layers to make it somewhat opaque to maintain your modesty. If you are daring to wear sheer alone, go for delicate pastel colours which will look flattering on anyone.  

If you are shy of the transparency involved, choose embroidered sheer fabrics. It may be a pain to sew with but well worth the look.Hand embroidery done on sheer fabric like the shadow work or chikankari work will take it to another level. When all over embroidery work is done on sheer or transparent fabric they are as good as opaque.  

Adding panels of the transparent cloth to portions of the dress like the hem, midriff etc is another way of adding this fabric to your clothes without revealing much.If you absolutely love a sheer top but is wary of wearing it, pair it with a blazer or jacket- that will tone down the look and give grace. Layering many layers of the sheer fabric also will give you an opaque effect which will still convey the ethereal look you aim for.

A great way to make use of sheer fabric without loosing your modesty is to fold them, manipulate them and use it in different ways and different parts of the garment. This will also create different colour effects which looks stunning against certain base materials.Satin used as lining for sheer and transparent fabrics gives it an luminous glow. A sheer fabric quilted over a pretty patterned cloth can be used to make garments with a stunning appeal.A petticoat/pettiskirt worn under a sheer overlay is another great idea.

How to sew sheer lightweight fabric

For me what makes me get that sinking feeling when I think of sewing with the most gorgeous sheer fabric I have is the fabric sinking into the needle plate. It is a horrific feeling wondering If the fabric is torn or not. There are ways around it and people have been sewing with these gorgeous fabrics for eons.The best tip is to Use a throatplate with a small hole so the fabric won’t be pulled down into the machine. If you don’t have an alternate throatplate, place a piece of tape over the existing hole and pierce a new hole with the needle. 

The best way to sew with sheer fabric is to Lower the stitch length, lower the tension and lower the pressure foot pressure. Always ensure that you have a fresh needle or a recently changed SHARP needle on your sewing machine. A small needle is preferred. A universal 9 needle would mostly do for most lightweight fabrics. It is probably a good idea to use a finer thread, such as an embroidery thread. Even serger thread can be used in place of regular sewing machine thread

Use cotton-covered polyester thread and a universal 75/11 or 80/12 machine needle. Sew with a straight stitch–12 to 16 stitches per inch (1.5 mm to 2 mm)

Marking 

You can use slithers of soaps to mark patterns in delicate fabrics.Chalk can also be used. Tailor’s tacks are another frequently used method.

Cutting

When cutting expensive sheer fabric it would be better to place tissue paper underneath. Some even place tissue paper under the seam all through. Stitch through both the tissue and the fabric. This way no fear of stretching and tearing the fabric at all.

If you are not using a tissue, use a sheet of woven fabric on the cutting table where you will place the fabric, especially if you are cutting slippery sheer. Hold the fabric firmly with your free hand when cutting

Some sheer fabrics like lace have a decorative edge along the length which you can use as a hem. Keep this in mind when calculating yardage for sewing as well as when laying out the fabric for cutting.  

Seams 

Wind the bobbin thread for sewing the sheer and transparent fabrics very slowly. A stretched bobbin thread is not advisable. The tension if the sewing machine should be slightly loose.

Machine embroidery thread or lingerie thread is preferred to all purpose thread for the delicate fabrics. 

As you obviously can see through the sheer and transparent fabrics it is advisable to use a french seam or flat fell seam. Checkout the tutorial on how to sew the seams .  If you have fabric edges , do use fray preventer as it is a very unsightly sight to see the ravelling mess these fabrics make. Best is if you can also use the overcast stitch (hand or machine) to finish the edges.

Some people donot like the stiffness given by the french nd flat fell seam ; then it is best to use a straight seam and trim the seam allowance to 1/4 inch and zigzag the edges.

When sewing seams in net, make a straight seam, make another straight stitch 1/8 inch near to it; then trim away close to the last stitching line

Facings will have to be replaced by bindings unless the sheer fabric is lined as the facings will show through. Double bindings work the best.

Pattern weights are your friend when sewing these lightweight fabrics as they are either flowing in the wind ( Make sure the fan is off) or shifting and slipping. The pins you use had better be the sharpest. You donot want to snag threads and ruin the pretty fabric.

Backstitching at the end of the seams is a danger when sewing with sheer. So leave long tails and tie off. 

Interfacing 

Sheer fabric is thin and you need to add some body it by interfacing – especially in facings, collars, cuffs hems .

When you have to interface a sheer fabric, you will have to do it with the fabric itself, as any other fabric used as interfacing will show through.So when you buy sheer to sew something calculate this as well.Other sheeres that can be used as interfacing are flesh coloured nylon tricot, organdy, organza, china silk, voile or tulle.

In some cases a fusible knit interfacing which is sheer can be used.This will offer just the right amount of support but retains the beautiful drape of a fabric.  

Hems and edges 

Hand rolled edges are most suited for chiffon and other sheer fabrics. Binding the edges with a bias tape also look great for tulle, netting.

A narrow hem or a rolled edge is the most suitable finish for the hems of clothes made with these thin fabrics. I prefer a narrow hem as I sometimes have trouble with the rolled edge especially with chiffon. To do a narrow hem, I simple fold 1/4 inch inside and and stitch close to the edge ( as close as possible.) Then trim the seam allowance as close to the stitching line as possible , using a small sharp scissors. Then fold again and stitch the narrow hem. If it your first time sewing with this fabric, practice on a scrap.

A baby hem works great with most difficult to sew sheer fabrics than the narrow hem, as it involves one more line of stitching than the narrow hem and this will stabilise your thin fabric hem. To work a baby hem Stitch along the edge of your hem, 1/4″ from the raw edge. Then press that to the inside, right along the stitching line. Stitch again, very close to the fold. You will now have two lines of stitching visible on the inside. Trim the extra fabric away, very close to your last line of stitching. Now press that again to the inside. This time, your fold (which is now your hem) is a mere 1/8 to 1/4″ wide. Stitch again near the fold through all thicknesses. 

You generally donot hem net. As it doesnot fray it is usually just cut off at whichever length you want it and left it like that.   

A picot edge and shell edge are other edge finishes which are suitable for sheer fabrics.Checkout the tutorials – Picot edge tutorial ; Shell edge finish tutorial, 16 hand sewn hem stitches

To prevent problems in the edges when sewing with sheer many designers use the self lining method. This way facings on neck holes are eliminated. Double bodice pieces are cut and one piece is used as the facing, which serves as the lining too. In some cases binding with a single bias tape is also used. Checkout  how to make bias tape.

It is when first starting sewing ( those first few stitches) that you usually have problems with the sheer thin fabrics. So a method you can use is to start stitching on a piece of paper or another scrap fabric and then continue on to the fabric. This way you have some tooth ( which you totally miss in these delicate fabrics).

Ensure that you are not using too heavy buttons on the sheer fabric, as there is a danger of sagging.A handmade buttonhole with a small interfacing on the back is the best.

Sleeves also can be self lined and cut double.The seam at the hem can be eliminated in this way. But some like the sheer look of the sleeves. In which case carefully hand hemming is recommended.

When I am sewing dresses or skirts in delicate sheer fabrics I always wait for one or two days ( with them hanging in the cupboard) before hemming. They always stretch and sag so I let them get all of that out before finishing the hem

How to embroider on sheer fabric

Sheer fabric are delicate and light in weight . They get damaged when stretched on the embroidery hoop. The best solution for this is to wrap the hoops in thin pieces of lightweight cotton fabric
What I do is another easy way – I cut two rings of the thin fabric and sandwich this in nbetween the inner ring of the hoop

Shadow embroidery and Chikankari embroidery are the best work done on sheer fabric. They look stunning when done diligently and neatly

If you want to do some embroidery / beading work on net you may find it difficult to transfer embroidery designs. What is usually done is to trace the design on a tissue paper, keep it under the net and work the designs on the net together with the tissue.After the work is done you can tear off the tissue paper 

Caring for the fabric

Checkout the post on handwashing clothes – hand washing is definitely the way to care for your sheer and transparent fabric. These delicate fabrics cannot handle the tumble in a washing machine. Donot wring too harshly. Just squeeze the water gently and  dry flat on a rack. The water on the cloth may make the cloth sag

When ironing the sheer fabric ( especially if it is a synthetic sheer) do use the low setting of heat and a press cloth. Direct contact with heat may damage the fabric. 

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