Sewing Oil Cloth

Sewing with oil cloth and other similar fabrics can be a daunting task. How should you work with them and what is the best way to feed them through your sewing machine to minimise problems?

The following tips and techniques can be used for sewing a variety of waterproof, plastic fabrics such as: oil cloth, PVC, laminate and vinyl. Some of these fabrics are stickier than others, so if you have options choose wisely. The slightly heavier weight, textured fabrics are easier to work with, than those that are sticky to the touch.

Oil cloth and similar waterproof fabrics are perfect for use on projects such as; wash bags, make-up bags, lunch boxes, purses etc. Check out our blog post and corresponding YouTube tutorial on how to make an Oil Cloth Bag, or Oil Cloth Bunting.

How to work with oil cloth?
The first step is cutting and preparation of the fabric. When working with oil cloth and other waterproof fabrics you MUST not pin the fabric, pin holes leave marks and holes for water. Lessening the fabrics waterproof qualities.

Work with binder, bulldog clips or wonder clips to hold the fabric together if required.

The fabric cannot be ironed, instead of ironing you may need to finger press seams open. If it is extremely important that a seam stays open, try LIGHTLY hitting the open seam with a hammer or using a roller.

Sewing with oil cloth?
Oil cloth and other similar fabrics are difficult to feed through the sewing machine. There are two different presser feet that you can use to try and improve the performance.

Teflon Foot:
A teflon foot is great for use with difficult fabrics. Oil cloth and similar fabrics are sticky and will stick to the metal of a standard pressor foot. A teflon foot is plastic and should help the material glide through the sewing machine, rather than stick to the cold metal of the standard presser foot.

A large variety of sewing machines will have a Teflon Foot or alternative ‘non-stick glide foot’ included when purchasing the machine.

Walking Foot:
The alternative to a Teflon Foot is the Walking Foot. The Walking Foot provides a dual feed through the sewing machine, the foot has feed dogs on the bottom to help pull fabric through. The walking foot can be used with a number of difficult fabrics, it is a tool that comes highly recommended.

Masking Tape – Presser Foot:
Although both of the above feet are nice to have and will make the process easier, there are times when a project requires a specific foot; such as a zipper foot. If you have problems sewing with a specific foot try taping the bottom of the foot with masking tape. This should prevent the foot sticking to the fabric and improve the feed.

Masking Tape – Sewing Machine Bed:
Certain fabrics such as oil cloth often have a textured side and a sticky side. Whenever possible we recommend sewing with the sticky side UP, against the presser foot and dealing with any problems with the above recommendations. However some fabrics are sticky and problematic on both sides, and therefore you may have trouble with these sticking to the bed of the sewing machine. A method to prevent this would be to tape the bed of the sewing machine with masking tape. Be cautious when taping and do not tape over the feed dogs or the needle entry point. Even a small amount of masking tape will help move the fabric through the sewing machine.

TIP: Do not leave masking tape on the sewing machine for too long, maximum a day or two. Otherwise it can leave a sticky residue behind.

Use Tissue Paper or Fabric Stabiliser:
Another option for sewing oil cloth is to use a layer of tissue paper or fabric stabiliser. Position the tissue paper or fabric stabiliser onto the fabric before sewing, this MUST be positioned on the side of the fabric that is problematic. Sew over the layer of tissue paper, fabric stabiliser and simply tear away or wash away (depending on the product you are using) after sewing.

Alternatively add a lining to your project so that the lining fabric can face the bed of the sewing machine.

What needle should I use?
For the majority of fabrics you will get away using a standard needle, simply choose the needle size based on the fabric weight.

For some heavier weight fabrics you may find that a leather needle is required. The wedge shape on the bottom of the needle provides more power to pierce through the thicker fabrics.

What stitch length should I use?
Generally speaking a standard stitch length of 2.5mm will work for most projects and fabrics. If you are working with a heavier weight fabric you will need to increase the stitch length to 3-3.5mm.

The machine may have trouble completing the backstitch, due to feeding the fabric through the sewing machine. Simply knot threads at the start and end of stitching if this is a problem.

REMEMBER: Once you have sewn through the fabric, it WILL NOT be waterproof. If you require a product to be waterproof you will need to tape the seams after sewing.

Hopefully you feel more positive about sewing with oil cloth and other waterproof fabrics. Feel free to share your makes with us.