Friday, December 11, 2009

Moogsmum's top tips for sewing oilcloth

Phew - that was quick! After Quinn said 'yes please' to my offer of oilcloth sewing tips I thought I'd get onto it before I distract myself with inconvenient things like children, laundry and trying to find my home under all the mess.

None of these tips are my invention. They were all found in various places all over the internets but proved so useful that I thought I'd share them.

So here goes:

Top tip #1: Paperclips

Obviously, when 'pinning' oilcloth ready for sewing you really don't want to be using actual pins - these will leave unsightly pinholes that may even be liable to tear. So, to keep your seams together or to prepare folded bits, like bag handles, you can use good old fashioned paperclips.

Just be careful not to push them too far onto the oil cloth as the inside end of the paperclip can catch on and tear your cloth.

According to the internets you can also use masking tape to the same effect and can even stitch over it - and then spend 10 days picking it all out of the stitching afterwards!

Whatever you do DON'T stitch over your paperclips. Your sewing machine won't enjoy this.

Top Tip #2: Stop it sticking to your sewing machine.

Oilcloth - or, as is more likely these days, vinyl coated cotton, does not flow smoothly through the bed of your sewing machine. Quite the reverse, it sticks and nothing those hard-working little feed dogs can do will budge it through the machine.

This tip worked brilliantly. Simple cut a small offcut of oilcloth and tape it, with masking tape, right side down onto the bed of your machine in front of the needle.

Don't cover the needle bed or the feed dogs - this won't help. As you'll see from the picture, I only put a little bit on, over the plastic part of the machine bed. Next time, I'd use a bigger piece which, for my machine, would mean covering the bobbin housing. Even this small piece made a huge difference to the cloth moving through the machine.

Top Tip #3: Start stitching

Set your machine to a medium to long stitch length. Stitches that are too close together may result in the cloth tearing - especially with PVCs rather than vinyl coated cotton.

Your standard sewing machine foot will not like oilcloth one little bit. It'll stick like crazy.

It'll probably cope fine with sewing the oilcloth when you're sewing a seam with right sides together i.e. you'll be stitching on the reverse of the cloth and the reverse of the cloth will be touching the machine bed.

However, when you want to topstitch handles like this

you need to do something with that foot.

You can go to the sewing machine shop and treat yourself to a Teflon sewing foot.


if you have a walking foot like this

it should work like a dream. Mine coped brilliantly with topstitching and I also used it for all seams - mainly because it's a pain in the neck to get on and off the presser foot shaft.

To insert zips you can use your normal zipper foot as you'll be sewing on the wrong side of the cloth.

To topstitch your zips, you'll need to make a little adaptation to your zipper foot.

Here's my zipper foot.

Here's my zipper foot after some very technical adaptation with the masking tape.

This worked brilliantly too. The masking tape counteracts the stickiness factor.

Top Tip #5: Testing testing!

Perhaps this should have been Top Tip #1 but better late than never.

Keep a few scraps of oilcloth handy and test your sewing throughout whatever it is you're making. Each time you change the sewing foot, grab a scrap of oilcloth and do some test stitching. You may need to fiddle with tension or stitch length - test again.

There is NO room for bad stitching on oilcloth. You will not be able to undo any stitching that doesn't work. It will leave a row of horrible holes in your beautiful cloth and unless you're very confident at being able to restitch exactly over where you unpicked, you'll be able to tell it's been unpicked!

Top Tip #6: Needles

I've read all sorts of things about what size or type of needle to use with oilcloth. Most seem to say use a size 16 or 18 heavy duty needle or even a leather needle.

I looked at a size 16 needle when I was about to start sewing my lovely new bag and it looked HUGE. I could just imagine it making mahoosive holes in my beautiful cloth. I chose a size 14 and decided to start with that and see how I got on.

I got on fine.

The nice sharp, strong but not too thick needle coped with every stage of the sewing. From sewing two layers on the side seams to sewing up to five layers when stitching the handles into the seam, it slipped through the cloth without a grumble.

Use whatever makes you happy.

Top Tip #7: Research

You just cannot beat doing a bit of research before you try something new like sewing oilcloth. Personally, I swear by the internet - it's a very handy little thing on a computer where you can go and ask questions about just about anything and find lots of interesting answers and sometimes some rather surprising pictures.

Here are some very useful links:


I'm now going for a lie down having gone quite dizzy after blogging twice in a day/week!


The Garden Bell said...

I'm off to check my sewing machine feet now. I love oilcloth and never thought of making something with it. Great tutorial.

Miss Sews-it-all said...

Thanks for the tips, it's great to have them all in one place. I do LOVE my walking foot for sewing oilcloth and vinyl.

Have you checked out the tutorials and tips at yet? Great website for all things sewing. There's even a whole page of charities and organizations that need help from sewers who want to "Sew to Serve."

quinn said...

Thank you sew much!!!


It will be very helpful not to have to learn allthose tricks the hard way. XOXO

Katy said...

fab tips!!! Thanks very much!!!

dottycookie said...

Great tips, but I think I'm far too much of a chicken to try!

wonderwoman said...

brilliant!!!!! i used to use strips of paper underneath the oilcloth and then tear them off afterwards - but time consuming tho, so i think i will give your version a go!!!!

Jodie said...

Awesome tips - I love the idea of that bit on the front of the machine - such perfect sense... Thanks Mrs...

Thimbleanna said...

Thanks for the great tips Lesley! I don't think I've ever sewn with oilcloth, but now I'll be prepared!

marit said...

Great tips! It's been years since I made any out of oilcloth- I made some clothes for the kids when they were little, with oilclothbutts and legs, but I never worried about pinholes or anything...I guess I was more confident then...LOL!

Lucy Locket-Pocket said...

Wow Missus! That is a STUPENDOUS tutorially thingummy! Wish you'd written it a few weeks ago before I had the swearing session at my machine when making a lunchbag!

Consider your bogo well and truly easted - You are FAB!

Locket xxx

LiEr said...

Mrs Moog, this is an awesome post! I have oilcloth, which I like keeping in an uncut, unsewn condition so that it looks like wrapping paper in a roll. Batty, I know. I never knew there needed to be secret tricks to sewing it, since I never sewed mine (yet). Thank you! Thank you! I shall bookmark this post and save myself a lot of swearing when I do cut into my wrapping paper, er I mean oilcloth.

silverpebble said...

You have some serious skills Missus. I have yet to break out my Gran's sewing machine at all, never mind get to these heights of skill. Oh to be able to make a bag like that. oooohhhh

Anonymous said...
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karen said...

Thanks for the tutorial! I have not attempted oilcloth yet but when I do, I'll have this to look back at. Thanks agian :)

Suzie Sews said...

Very VERY impressed with this, will be following these tips for sure... the feed dogs especially, thats the one that gets me and usually ends up with me moving on to a different project....

est said...

nice tute!!!thanks! :) happy holidays!

Aimingforswanlike said...

Thanks for these tips, they were really helpful as I completed my first oilcloth project today.

Siân Pitchford said...

Great tips, many thanks.
I didn't realise that oilcloth would be so sticky to try and sew, but thanks to tips first project now complete. :0)

Jaime said...

Thank you for the such an informative post! I will be putting this in to practice myself. :)

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WilliamRabbit said...

Thank you so much for your advice.

I thought I would have to buy a teflon foot....but...after reading this i have been able to adapt my normal foot. I didn't have any masking tape so I have used a kind of tape used for present wrapping which is plastic feeling. To see which of the sellotape's I had in the house worked I took the rolled and rubbed them on the oil cloth to see which glided over the right side of the oil cloth.

I think this is the tape I've used.

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John Cartrer said...

Thank you for the tips, really helpful