Recently during the Tiramisu Circus, I mentioned one of my favorite sewing friends: fusible webbing tape. It helps tame knit hems (or any narrow hems, really), and can replace pinning or basting for many sewing applications. Generally, I find taping yields much cleaner results than pinning and it’s quicker than basting.
Since writing the Circus posts, I’ve had several emails from readers who have purchased Steam a Seam but had a few questions about its use. I’ve used it in my own sewing for years with few issues. In fact, it’s quite painless. I thought I’d go through the ways I use this stuff, and open up the floor for you all the share other uses.
I use Steam A Seam Lite1/2″ (1.2cm) wide tape that comes in 20 yard rolls. It’s also available in 1/4″ widths. I prefer to use the term “fusible webbing tape” because I don’t want to continuously plug one company over others on the market- Thermoweb, Heat n’ Bond, etc. Besides, nothing will prevent an intrepid sewist buying a sheet of Vliesofix, Wonder Under, Applique Wonder or any fusible webbing suitable for applique work and cutting it into narrow strips for use in apparel sewing. Whatever works!
However, I like Steam a Seam Lite specifically for three reasons-
- It has a “temporary” fix option and a permanent fix option. I’m not sure how many other fusible webbings perform that way.
- I know from continual use on a wide variety of fabrics that it will not add bulk to seams or hems. I have also never noticed Steam a Seam residue after washing and wearing the garment.
- The 1/2″ width is useful on seams and hems with a 1/2″-5/8″ allowance. No measuring!
Macro Introduction- Looking closely at Fusible Webbing Tape
Fusible webbing tape can help position zippers, pockets, and other design details without pinning. This is great news for heavy/bulky or lightweight fabrics in particular. I used to find that pinning pocket on jeans especially creates a “bend” in the fabric, and can be difficult to stitch neatly.
The webbing rolls out of the box with one papered side and one tacky side. The tacky side should adhere to the fabric. This is the part with limitless variability- it may or may not stick very well to your fabric without steam pressing.
I recommend adhering the webbing to the fashion fabric with the iron before removing the paper. This way, one side of the webbing is already attached to one piece of fabric. If it’s not pressed in place, odds are the tape will stick to your fingers, to other bits of fabric, to the iron, to itself- everywhere except where you’d like it to stick.
Once one side is adhered, remove the tape. Now it’s “post-it note” sticky. You can re-position pockets and other design features, or gently and carefully “finesse” a seam into position. Once the seam/hem/pocket is in position, just apply heat and a little steam to set the webbing. Then stitch.
It’s essential to stitch. Not just because I think that’s proper, but because my experiments show me that on most fabrics, the webbing does not adhere to the fabric through washing. It must be stitched in place.
Level 2- Patch Pockets
Far and away, this is the cleanest and least difficult method I’ve found for ensuring a tidy pressed edge on patch pockets as well as enabling easy stitching.
Some bulky or heavy or tightly-woven fabrics (like denim) resist easy pressing. I like to use lots of steam, pressure, and a clapper to achieve a sharply pressed edge, but sometimes that won’t cut the mustard. Even then, once an edge is pressed under, it can be tricky to keep the raw edges tucked, position the pocket properly, and hold it in place long enough to be stitched beautifully.
If I slap a little fusible webbing to the wrong side raw edges and press those edges under, I get sharp pressed edges and the pocket is easier to handle.
If you’ve been sewing for a while and all that sounds “no sweat” to you, remember our Sewing Newbie sisters and brothers. It’s tough to manage these feats of dexterity simultaneously when you’re just starting out. I see the use of fusible webbing in this case as the gentlest pathway to pocket-sewing success. When you’re first learning, it’s easy to feel like you stink at sewing, and a “win” like beautiful pocket stitching is incredibly satisfying. These kinds of wins mean Newbies will keep sewing, and the more people who sew the better.
Not to mention, use of fusible webbing on stretch fabrics can prevent rippling.
Level 3- Zipper Flies: Debbie Cook is Queen
Yeeeeears ago, I tried Debbie Cook’s fly zipper tutorial and never stitched another fly differently. I use her excellent method for every fly I insert, and I have taught dozens upon dozens of other sewists to do the same. How can I improve on perfection? It’s not possible.
Debbie Cook’s tutorial is notable for the use of fusible webbing tape to position the zipper for optimal stitching and kicked off my interest in finding other fusible webbing applications. It was so simple! So effective! Such attainable good results for my beginners!
Level 4- Curves and Hems
Lately, I’ve been using fusible webbing to tame curved hems on fabrics of many descriptions- from wiggly hemp-rayon for The Christmas Island Dress to drapey wool suiting.
However, I discovered that as long as I keep the fabric completely flat on the ironing board and move slowly around the curves, I can indeed persuade the paper to “pucker.” This means I can apply the tape in one continuous length. The tape beneath the puckered paper adheres to the fabric normally.
Then I fold it up and stitch the hem in place. I find this works with a wide range of hemming treatments. Usually, I will finish the raw edge of the hem after Stephen levels it off for me. Then I apply the tape, fold up the hem and sew it in place with a topstitch.
However, in the case of this drapey wool suiting circle skirt I recently hemmed, I wanted a fancier inside hem. I finished the edge and applied the tape as usual, folding up the hem and pressing to secure the webbing.
Then I catch-stitched the hem by hand with a bit of lace on the back to cover the overlocking. It’s pleasant “TV-watching” work and it’s pretty. This skirt is going to a certain Duchess of the Textiles* who understands about wool care, so I know this skirt won’t ever find itself rammed into a washing load of jeans. I left a little slack on the thread, to allow the hem to “breathe.” This way, as the fibers settle into place through wear and pressing, the stitches won’t create weird puckers in the hem.
I finished this hem earlier this week and it’s been out on my work table. Every time I pass, I can’t help but admire it a little. The fusible webbing doesn’t bulk up the hem or add any stiffness, which is great because I selected this fabric for that Duchess in part for its fluidity.
In general, I don’t like sewing techniques that alter or work against the character of the fabric. This doesn’t! My only complaint is the sticky residue left of my fingertips after taping an entire circle skirt, but it washes off easily with soap and water.
From what I can tell over several years of sewing, fusible webbing doesn’t seem to ruin the sewing machine (gummy needles aren’t a problem, for example) or the fabric. I would highly recommend testing fusible webbing on your desired fabric before using it on an entire garment if you’re unsure how the fabric will behave. That’s always safest. I’m fairly certain it could, but I just can’t make that claim.
I’m not saying that fusible webbing strips completely replace pins or basting, but I do think it’s a useful addition to any sewist’s worktable. It allows clean, ripple-free hemming on a wide variety of fabrics. This is especially useful on jerseys, which are notorious for undesirable rippling during sewing. The rippling might not matter on a side seam where it will be stretched, but it’s a problem for hemming. Fusible webbing also facilitates simpler sewing of a wide variety of “tricky” seams. It takes a little work to set up, but it’s worth it in painless, pretty sewing.
I’m curious how many who are reading this use fusible webbing in their apparel sewing? What other ways do you use fusible webbing tape? Do you have other lingering questions I missed? Let me know!
Next up- my felted wool shoulder bag. While I was working on this, I found myself completely sidetracked into the whimsical world of felt embellishments. This ties in well with some of the “zero-waste Holiday” ideas I wanted to play with later this month! Rad!
Also- still no firm date on shipping for the Tiramisu sewing pattern (looks like Monday or Tuesday!), but as soon as I know something definite, I’ll be sending an email to the list and probably shouting “YIPPEEEE” all over Twitter, Facebook and etc.
I’m also working my head off on the new Cake Site. It had quite a bit of traffic lately (?), so I hid most of the site while I continue to tinker and upload content. Once Sewingcake.com is up and running, I’ll introduce to you my new site. There may be a game with a highly desirable prize involved, too. (ok! There totally is a game! One really big prize and heaps of tiny ones..!)
*a little bit of a project in the works for your delight and enjoyment early next year!