How to Successfully Embroider Sheer Fabrics
Sewing and embroidering on sheer fabrics can range from mildly challenging to completely exasperating! But don't despair, the learning curve can be shortened dramatically when you understand how to tame these slippery fabrics.
Setting the Foundation
Like most fabrics, sheer materials must be stabilized with backing before embroidery stitches are added. Determine the best material for backing by considering the following:
- Fiber content
- Thread count and the thickness of the threads making up the fabric
- Care requirements of the completed garment (washable or dry-clean-only)
- Density and size of the stitched design
- Design stitches (placement and use of foundation stitches, type of fill stitches used and width of any satin or outline stitches)
Note: Foundation stitches are planned and produced before final decorative stitches arc sewn, securing the stabilizer to the fabric and helping prevent distortion during decorative stitch formation. They frequently outline or pad a design, and can consist of multiple rows.
Lots of different embroidery backings are available, with quality and selection continuing to grow and evolve to meet our needs. They vary in thickness, rigidity, availability, cost, and how easily they can be removed. It's best to stabilize sheer fabrics with water or heat-soluble backings. Many embroiderers have found that the thickest water-soluble stabilizers are best, preventing stitches becoming distorted and fabric tearing.
Sheer fabrics are a challenge for embroidery because they are thin and slippery, yet must still be held completely taut throughout the entire stitching process. To secure the fabric and avoid any hooping problems, use one of the following methods:
Wrap the inner hoop with 3/4” wide, bias-cut strips of a white cotton or flannel fabric. Overlapping the strips 1/4” pull firmly on the fabric to mold it around the hoop. Secure the strips with hand stitches.
Create a re-useable hooping aid from fabric or cut-away stabilizer cut slightly larger than tile hoop. Cut a window in the fabric slightly smaller than the hoop opening. Hoop this aid with your sheer fabric to add thickness and prevent the sheer fabric from slipping in (or out of!) the hoop. It can be positioned over or under the fabric and reused many times. Pin the sheer fabric to the comers of the hooping aid and hoop both layers as one. Ensure that the fabric being embroidered is grain-perfect by matching the lengthwise and crosswise grain lines in the sheer fabric with the horizontal and vertical center notches on the embroidery hoop.
Picking a Design
Designs that complement and enhance the fabric, rather than overpower it, will be pleasing to the eye and present the fewest challenges. Consider these suggestions:
- Choose designs carefully, and always test-stitch on fabric scraps.
- Avoid designs featuring dense, solid-fill stitching that will thicken and stiffen the fabric and prevent it from draping properly.
- Try designs that allow the sheer fabric to show through the stitching. Open or outline designs work great.
- Designs designed for cutwork are particularly appropriate allowing the sheer fabric to show in the areas normally removed.
Always remember to choose thread that enhances a fabric. For sheer fabrics, keep the following in mind:
- Consider the care requirements of your sheer garment, noting that most will need gentle care via dry-cleaning or hand-washing.
- Experiment with different thread weights. A 40-weight thread is widely available and commercial designs are generally digitized for this variety. The 30-weight variety is heavier and will create a more dense coverage unless you adjust The design density using the manufacturer's software.
- Metallic embroidery thread is beautiful on sheer fabrics, especially when used in combination with other thread types.
- Twist threads (those created when two different colors are twisted together) produce gorgeous results on sheers, creating shaded and muted looks.
- Choose bobbin thread carefully as it might show through the sheer fabric. You can wind the bobbin with matching embroidery thread, making the fabric almost reversible. Or, if time is an issue, use lightweight clear or smoke mono-filament nylon thread, eliminating the need to change the bobbin with each spool-color change during embroidery.
Note: When filling a bobbin with mono-filament nylon thread, fill slowly. Otherwise the thread might stretch in the process, and when it relaxes in the stitched piece, it will draw up and distort the design.
Tip: After stitching your design, carefully clip all thread ends and dot each sparingly with seam sealant, as sheers will release thread due to its relative unstable nature.