Hi, I’m Lyndsey Stanfill, and I’m here today to share some tips on sewing with rayon fabric.
How to sew with rayon fabric
When the Wynwood Robe + Sleep Shorts pattern came out, I imagined the robe as a breezy, slinky garment that would be suitable for daywear and home wear. I found an amazing rayon crepe fabric, and my robe turned out just like I imagined!
What is rayon, anyway?
Rayon is a semi-synthetic material. It is made from plant-based cellulose pulp that undergoes a chemical process to transform into fiber. The resulting fabric has amazing drape, takes dye well, and breathes like fabric from natural fibers.
Rayon is a common name for several types of cellulose-based fabrics created from different chemical processes, including cupro, viscose, lyocell, and modal. Further, trademarked names are often used such as Bemberg for cupro and Tencel for lyocell. Each of these fabrics use a slightly different chemical process, but produce a similar fabric.
My tips for sewing with rayon
A high-quality rayon fabric is one of my very favorite fibers to sew, but it can be a little tricky.
How to wash rayon
Rayon fabric will shrink. The laundering instructions for rayon typically call for washing in cold water on the delicate cycle, and not tumbling dry. I always prewash my fabric in cold on delicate, but sometimes I dry my fabric in the dryer and sometimes I do not. In general, I have found that the fabric is fine if you run it through the dryer, and that is the best way to get all of the pre-shrinking out of the garment.
If you think that you will ever put your garment in the dryer after it is sewn, I recommend running it through the dryer before you sew. Many people in the sewing community even recommend washing and drying the fabric twice before you cut the pattern to be sure all the shrinking is out.
The thing about running it through the dryer, however, is that it can change the hand of the garment. Sometimes a change in the hand of the fabric is fine and you can proceed, but sometimes the change in hand can be disappointing and not what you have in mind for your project. The best way to know whether or not drying your fabric is appropriate for your project is to cut two 5”x5” swatches, run one through the washer and dryer and the other through the washer only. Then you can decide which method you prefer. For my Wynwood Robe I decided to wash in cold on delicate and dry by lying flat on a bed.
How to press rayon
Press rayon with a medium heat dry iron and a pressing cloth. Over-pressing rayon fabric can cause the fabric to shine. Once you’ve done it, there is no way to fix it. See the photo below where I purposely pressed these darts to produce shine; the fabric is very shiny in that spot and very noticeable.
This is why I always use a pressing cloth with rayon fabric. A medium heat iron alone won’t prevent shine.
I also use a dry iron because using steam on rayon can distort the shape of the fabric. Rayon is weaker when it is wet due to the structure that results from the chemical process. And like shine from an iron, once the fabric has been distorted from steam, there is no way to fix it.
How to cut rayon
Rayon is lightweight and slippery which means extra care when cutting. I typically cut rayon unfolded as a single layer on a flat surface with a rotary cutter. I try to move the cut pieces as little as possible until sewn.
When I cut out the Wynwood Robe, I did actually cut it folded (rather than flat) because the style had a lot of ease. However, for a more fitted garment, I would always cut in a single layer.
I use the lines on my cutting mat to help me get the fabric on grain as much as possible. If the fabric is a crepe or a twill and you can’t easily see the grainlines, then pull a single yarn from the fabric to provide a visual grainline.
I also like to block-fuse any pieces that will have interfacing applied. Block-fusing means fusing your interfacing to your fabric before you cut and treating the fabric and interfacing as one, rather than cutting the fabric and the interfacing separately and fusing afterwards. This technique ensures that those pieces that call for interfacing have no opportunity to stretch in between cutting and fusing.
How to stabilize rayon pattern pieces
The top challenge I have when sewing rayon is stabilizing bias-cut edges. I have ruined three V-neck dresses by not properly stabilizing the bias-cut neckline.
Pattern instructions will often tell you to use stay-stitching to prevent stretch, but in my experience stay-stitching is not enough on rayon fabrics. When I sew rayon fabrics I use 1/4″ twill tape to stabilize a seam line cut on the bias. For my Wynwood Robe, I only had black 1/4″ twill tape (which would have shown through the fabric) so I used a 1/4″ cut of the selvage instead.
I hand-basted the selvage on the seam allowance of the bias-cut edge, trying to not move or stretch the fabric in the process. For the Wynwood Robe, the seam allowance is 1/2” and the pattern instructions call for stay-stitching at 3/8”.
I basted the selvage just inside 1/2” so that the 3/8” stay-stitching would catch it. When I sewed the stay-stitching on my machine, I sewed with the selvage down so that the feed dogs would be working against on-grain selvedge and not the more delicate bias-cut fabric. Once this stabilization is complete, you are in the clear. It takes a little extra time, but I’ve never had a problem with rayon fabrics since I started using this method for stabilization.
How to sew rayon without distortion
Sew rayon carefully so that it doesn’t distort during the sewing process.
- I don’t push or pull on the fabric when it is feeding through the machine.
- I sew at a medium pace.
- I try to keep all the fabric on the table and not let any hang off while I sew.
- I’ve read that some sewists prefer a shorter stitch length (2.0 mm), but I usually just use the default 2.5 mm.
If you are using any basting stitches, be very careful when you remove the basting as the force of pulling out the basting can cause holes. Finally, rayon fabrics tend to fray easily. I like to use French or enclosed seams when working with rayon since the fabric is usually lightweight. I have also used a serger/overlocker to finish Rayon seams with a either a 3-thread wide stitch or a 4-thread stitch.
Hopefully these tips will help make your rayon projects a success! Early in my sewing career I read tips on sewing with rayon, but I didn’t follow the advice. I think I just assumed that the sewists offering that advice were overly cautious and that my projects would turn out fine using my usual techniques.
However, rayon fabric needs a little extra care. I also want to emphasize, don’t be afraid to sew with it! Rayon is an amazing fabric that looks and feels so good in your final product. When I follow the steps outlined in this post, I never have a problem. My Wynwood Robe sewed up perfectly, and it has the most amazing drape and feel.