Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Best Practices: Working with Fusible Interfacing

Fusible interfacing can do wonderful things for your sewing.  Depending on the type you choose, it can add stability, structure and even padding to your creation.  The varieties are endless:  Fusibles range in thickness...some are tissue-like and tear easily, some stretch with your knits, yet others have no foundation at all.  Instead, they're little more than glue pressed in a misty weblike sheet used to applique one fabric to another for quilting.  Though most fusible interfacings are manufactured in white, some also come in gray and black. 

As wonderful as fusible interfacing is, it can be a total pain to work with.  Here are some tips for avoiding common pitfalls and making things a little easier...

Selecting fusible interfacing:
- Do a little research and take your time buying interfacing.  If you want to stabilize a stretch knit, know whether you're buying stretchable interfacing that will give along with the fabric. 
- Read the instructions that come on that thin piece of printed paper wrapped around the interfacing. 
- Pay attention to which side is the fusible side.  It's no fun putting a hot iron directly on the glue side of interfacing.  (Ask me how I know...and invest in a decent iron cleaning kit.  My favorite is made by Rowenta.)

The glue sometimes looks like a glittery layer on one side, like the photo of the black interfacing below.  Other times, as with fusible fleece, the glue resembles tiny white beads attached to the surface.

Do things in the right order: (**Here comes the most important tip!**)
- If possible, fuse before you cut!  If you're confident you have enough fabric and enough fusible, fuse the two together before you cut your pattern pieces.
- If you're not sure whether you have enough fabric to put the fabric and fusible together first, then cut your pattern pieces only from the fabric.  From there, you can fuse them to a sheet of fusible and then cut them from the joined layers.

DON'T cut the pattern pieces separately from the fabric and the fusible and then try to put them together.  Nearly every pattern tells you to cut separate pieces from both.  That's great for a cutting list, but it doesn't save time or energy, and it usually leaves a mess.  When you cut the pattern pieces separately from the fabric and the fusible, the pieces almost always come out slightly skewed or misshapen.  Then they don't fit properly when you try to fuse them together. You will get cleaner, more professional results every time by cutting your fusible after it's attached to your fabric. (It only took me, like, 10 years to put 2+2 together on this one.)

The only time it's better to cut all your pieces out first is when the fusible is really thick.  When I use fusible fleece or a super-rigid fusible interfacing (like they put in stiff bags), I don't usually want the interfacing in the seams.

Particularly if I need to turn the piece inside-out, so many layers of fabric and thick interfacing can wreak havoc on my domestic machine, and the bulk created by turning those thick interfacing layers looks pretty tacky.  In that case, I cut the fusible just a hair to the inside of the seam allowance so I can sew my seams without catching the interfacing. If possible, I'll topstitch the final product about a 1/4 inch from the edge to catch the interfacing and keep it from shifting in case the adhesive ever loses its bond.

Thick fusibles, the exception to the rule.

The fusing process:

- Iron your layers together with the fusible on the bottom (glue side up) and the fabric on top (right side up).    
- Protect both your iron and your fabric.  I covered my fashion fabric with a pressing cloth.  The pressing cloth protected my iron from the fusible and my fabric from the iron.

- Not all fashion fabrics are meant to be exposed to a hot iron, and fusibles, likewise, have varying levels of tolerance for heat and steam, so test a small swatch before you commit large cuts of fabric to the process.
- Press down with your iron and then pick it up entirely to move it to the next section.  Try not to "rub it around" as  you fuse.  Just as with small quilting pieces or with bias edges, ironing can stretch and warp your fabrics.  When you work with fusibles, you risk permanently gluing them out of shape.  

Remember, the goal of fusing is not to chemically alter the two layers into a new substance with molten lava.  For the most part, a light fuse works fine.   If you overdo it on heat, you may damage or scorch your fabric.   I prefer to use a medium heat setting with a little steam. 

At the end, you should be able to gently peel the pressing cloth away without damaging either the fabric or the fusible.  Then you can cut the individual pattern pieces, confident that the layers of fabric and fusible will match perfectly.

Ta-da!  Perfectly interfaced pieces for your sewing project!

What's the best home remedy you've used to get sticky stuff off your iron?


If you can afford to have a separate sewing/project iron and "all other garments" iron, or if you can afford to have a cheapo iron dedicated only to fusible application, great.  But if that's beyond your means, storage capacity or level of effort (mine), you can take other steps to protect your iron, clothes and projects from fusible residue: 

- Keep a dedicated pressing cloth just for working with fusibles.
- Mark it, so you don't confuse it with any other pressing cloth. 
- Treat the marked side as the "top side," so you always press with the same side down.
- Wash your pressing cloth between projects.  Don't expect all the fusible to come out.
The point of these two steps is to keep from introducing as much of the tacky fusible to the bottom of your iron as possible.  It will also keep you from cross-pollinating fusible gunk to projects and garments without fusible.  Consistency here will save you a lot of cleaning and potentially keep you from ruining your wardrobe or other fabrics.