What is oilcloth?
Well, the chances are that they type of cloth you have in stash or are thinking about buying (and indeed the 'oilcloth' that we stock) is not actually oilcloth at all. Back in the day the manufacture of oilcloth involved treating natural canvas fabric with layer upon layer of linseed oil, thus rendering it durable and water-resistant. Nowadays the term 'oilcloth' has stuck with us and is a blanket term (like 'Hoover' and 'Walkman' was) used to describe any cloth that has a shiny/matt coating - be that fabric that has been laminated with a vinyl coating or (as in the the cheaper version) where the design is printed onto the 'plastic' right side and backed with manmade fabric. The thing in common that all types of this cloth have is that is that the right side surface is stickyyyyy! Therefore, when sewing with them they require being treated differently to woven fabrics.
So now we know what we're actually dealing with, I can tell you that this post will apply to most any 'sticky' surface fabric, be that our 100% cotton vinyl laminated cloths, or the cheapie 'oilcloth' or a vinyl shower curtain or a shiny pice of patent leather etc. When sewing with sticky cloth there are a number of considerations to take into account and there are some clever tricks to help make your 'sticky' sewing lives easier. Read on!
Wrinkle be gone:
When you receive your sticky cloth it will be folded up (from the shop or sitting in your stash). Before you start work on your sticky cloth project allow a few hours for the wrinkles to relax out. Leave the sticky fabric out in the sun, in a warm room - or if you're in a hurry sweep a constantly moving iron over the fabric wrong side (never iron on the right side).
Project ideas for sewing with oilcloth:
Think anything that needs to be durable and water and mess resistant...
- Bags / baby / beach bags
- Frame purses
- Fabric bin-shaped boxes
- Book covers
- Pencil / gadget /laptop /tablet cases
- Make up cases / purses
- Table cloths
- Bibs / changing mats / mess mats
- Place mats
- Lunch bags
- Bag dispensers
Starting on the right foot:
For starters we need to use the right needle (more about that in a minute) and we definitely need to change/modify our machine feet. In order for our sticky fabric to glide through our machine we need our feet to glide over the sticky surface of our oilcloth. Standard machine feet will not glide over sticky fabric, using them on sticky fabrics will result in horrible loopy missed stitches and bountiful swear jars - so we need use something else! (In order of fave-ness, #1 being my most fave) I've listed the best machine feet and feet fixes to use:
- Dual feed AKA walking foot. If you're lucky your machine (mine does) came with a dual feed/walking foot, if not I can't recommend enough investing in one of these feet. These insanely versatile feet stitch through all manner of sewing situations including sewing sticky fabric with ease! Because these type of feet 'walk/step' across fabrics no sticking can occur...like I said, please get one of these feet (and be sew happy!)
- Roller feet (stocked in our shop). These (very reasonably priced) feet are another awesome foot to use as the rollers roll over the fabric. That they are often see-through is a big bonus for clear-view stitching. These feet are also fab for other fabrics too.
- Teflon coated (non-stick) feet. As they are non-stick these feet glide easily across sticky fabrics. They come 3rd in my line-up because whilst they are as effective as roller feet they are not as versatile, they are not see through and they cost more.
- Baby powder. To help your machine foot glide over the sticky surface you can add a fine layer of talc to your work. It works reasonably well, but it is messy and I'm not keen on the idea of talc working it's way intro my machine.
- Tissue paper. Placing a piece of tissue paper over the sticky fabric will help your standard foot glide over it. Then after stitching you tear away the tissue. This works well, but it's not ideal as the tissue obscures your stitching view.
- Masking tape (or other non-sticky surface tape). If you're patient (I'm not) you can stick masking tape to the underside of your standard machine foot and then cut away the foot holes with a craft knife. Yeah, I did this in my student days when I was desperate, it works but it was a hassle!
Fab roller feet. Pic credit https://www.sew4home.com/tips-resources/sewing-tips-tricks/accessories-we-love-roller-foot-velvet-more
Needles, stitches and pinning:
Needles: Sticky fabrics are thick. Our needles will need to penetrate cloth as well as thick laminate coating. They will need to able to easily pierce the thick surface. Standard needles actually have a rounded tip designed to push fibres aside (as opposed to breaking them) as they penetrate fabric. When sewing with sticky fabric the very best needles to use are leather needles (see more about leather needles here) these needles have sharp wedge-shaped chiseled tips designed to effectively stab through leather and any other thick fabrics (such as oilcloth). If you don't happen to have any leather needles handy strong size 16 / 100 AKA denim needles work well too.
Stitches: When sewing with sticky fabrics want to lengthen our stitches. Why? Well, if you sew small close stitches into oilcloth you are pretty much sewing 'tear along the perforations' holes into our work - yikes! Small stitches greatly weaken the fabric making it easy to tear. When sewing with sticky cloth increase your stitch length to 3.5 - 4 (around tight-ish curves you might want to decease to 3).
Pinning: Obviously when pierced with needle or pin, sticky cloth 'scars'. If you make a hole in the sticky cloth it's there for good. So it's a good idea to not use pins for pinning pattern pieces together (if you have to use pins only pin in the seam allowance. Use (very effective and much simpler to use) sewing clips or sticky tape instead.
Sewing clips, the answer to sew many sticky sewing situations. I LOVE mine!
So we love how durable this fabric is, but the trade-off is that it is thick, therefore turning projects right side out is going to be a bit more tricky than usual (though there is a trick below to help). If you are not sewing the pattern pieces wrong sides together (where turning out won't be necessary) it makes sense to avoid using this type of cloth for very small-sized items.
So how do we turn right sides out then? Now comes the roll your sleeves up part: turing your project right sides out. When sewing with oilcloth the trick to making turning out much easier is to make the oilcloth much more pliable first. So before you go in all guns blazing, blow a hot hair dryer all over your project and you'll find the oilcloth becomes as playfully-pliable as a kitten - making turning right side much easier!
I hope the above has been helpful. Oilcloth is not scary, it's just different. Have fun sewing with oilcloth, the results look great (and very professional) and boy! They go the distance!