Underlining a garment : A basic overview

What do you do when you find that the fabric you have bought to sew a dress

  • is lacking in stability or strength and you feel that it will not bear the strain and stress of the seam stitching, embroidery and other embellishments
  • or that it is not as good in comfort on the wrong side of the fabric
  • or you feel that the fabric will turn baggy or stretch out of shape after some time.
  • or you find that the fabric is too wrinkly on the outside on its own
  • or you want an effect totally different from the outer fabric, for eg more crisp, more structure etc
  • or you want to make draped folds and need something to hold the folds
  • or you think that the outer fabric is transparent and hence too revealing
  • or you do not want the seams of a sheer fabric to be shown outside
  • or you want a special colour effect than the one of the outer fabric
  • or you want the garment to last a long long time even with frequent use and washes

These are occasions when underlinings come to be of use. They can change the look and body of the fabric you are using for sewing clothes.

What is underlining ?

Underlining is a type of backing that is cut to the same dimension of the pattern pieces of the garment and placed on the back (wrong side) of the outer fabric of the garment and considered as one.  It is to be cut on the same grainline as the outer fabric pattern pieces.

Underlining and lining are different. I always used these words interchangingly but now I know the difference. They are not chalk and cheese. More like butter and cheese.  Lining is not cut as a duplicate of the outer fabric pieces – it is sewn separately and then attached. Underlining is treated as one with the outer fabric pieces.

A garment with underlining can still be lined. This doubles the advantages. A garment with underlining can still be interfaced. Or may be not.  

How to select underlining fabric?

There are 5 criteria in selecting the underlining and interlining : What is it that you are sewing? Does it suit the weight of the fabric you have? Is it the same or lighter? (lighter or same weight is preferred) What is the effect you want to create? The quality and stretch of the fabric are compatible or not?. Does the outer fabric and the fabric for underlining/interlining require the same care directions. 

If you want to sew a very tightly fitted garment with a thin fabric like chiffon, or thin polyester, you can give it the required strength to your garment with an interlining. Whereas a wool garment may not need to be underlined.

Woven fabric is used as underlining for woven fabrics and for knits you can use a lightweight knit fabric or a bias-cut woven fabric as underlining fabric.  Muslin, thin Polyester, nylon, Silk organza, china silk, georgette, silk broadcloth, chiffon, organdy, net or tulle, cotton flannel, fleece are the commonly used underlining fabrics, depending on the effect you want.

You can also use a self-fabric ( the same fabric as the outer fabric) as underlining/interlining, for lightweight fabric. A lightweight sew-in-interfacing also can be used as underlining. Out of these fabrics if you want a soft underlining you should use, soft net, china silk or chiffon. Silk organza and organdy can give a crisp feel.

You can choose to underline the whole garment or just parts of the garment – like a high-stress area like the knee of pants. Preshrink underlining and interlining fabric, as you would the outer fabric. You do not want the fabric to shrink on your garment.

When sewing the garment pattern pieces together, you can either treat the two pieces as one from the start or finish the darts and then keep them as one. I prefer to finish the darts of underlining seperately and then keeping them together and treating them as one. This way the darts will be hidden and the inside of the garment looks nice and neat. 

Baste stitch the underlining to the outer fabric so that they stay attached as one till you have finished joining. You can either machine stitch the basting stitches or hand stitch. Learn more about basting stitches here.

If the pattern pieces are big you may have to tack stitch in places to make the pieces stay together ; else they will separate. You can also make quilting stitches to keep the fabric pieces together but you will have to like the look.

Related post : Sewing tips and techniques

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