Tip Jar: Sewing with coated fabric…

I do love a good, simple tote bag – preferably one that won’t get stained and can withstand a little rain.  And of course it has to be pretty.

So when I saw that four of our Spring collections would have coated fabrics, I was completely on board.

With one obvious hitch… I hadn’t sewn on this kind of fabric in years and I wasn’t sure if I remembered some of the tricks.  A bit of practice, some experimenting, and a little research helped make this a whole lot of fun.  It’s not hard, though it can be a tiny bit messy… more on that in a moment.

First – what do I mean by “coated” fabric?  Take a woven, printed cotton fabric and add a thin PVC layer to it, making it water-resistant and very durable.  It’s perfect for bags, tablecloths and mats and even a simple rain jacket.  While it isn’t suitable for children’s clothing, it can be used for children’s book bags, lunch bags and toy bags.

Cutting.  Cutting the coated fabrics just takes a rotary cutter and ruler.  I start by folding the fabric – wrong side out.  I prefer cutting with the coated side on the inside because the two coated layers won’t slide when laid against each other.  The wrong side sometimes does – at least that’s been my experience.

To make the bags shown above, you’ll need 5/8 yard of 45″ wide coated fabric.

Fold the fabric in half, aligning the selvages.  Make a straightening cut on one side, then cut a strip that is 14″ wide by the 45″ width of the fabric.  From that piece, trim the selvage and cut two rectangles – 14″ x 16″.  Save the piece on the fold for now.  Then cut 2 strips – 2 1/2″ x 45″ wof.  Trim the strips to measure 2 1/2″ x 27″ – these are the straps/handles.

For a diagram of the cutting – Coated Cotton Tote Bag Cutting.

Sewing. The first thing to know about sewing with coated fabrics is that professionals use a special presser foot – one that is Teflon coated or made for sewing with plastic or coated fabrics.  The coating on the fabric likes to stick to our regular metal or plastic presser feet; truth be told, it also likes to stick to the throat plate on the base of the sewing machine, which is why a Teflon coated foot never seemed to work all that well for me.  The other drawback to them is that the Teflon presser feet can be expensive.  Fortunately, there are alternatives.

No. 1 – Tissue paper.  Wrapping tissue or the thin tissue used for sewing patterns is layered between the fabric and the presser foot/throat plate.  Advantage – it does work.  Disadvantage – the tissue slides and then has to be removed from the stitches.

No. 2 – Baby powder.  I wrote that it might get messy.  The advantage is that it works, it’s budget-friendly and your sewing room will smell baby-fresh.  The disadvantage is that it will make a bit of a mess, but it’s easily cleaned up.  If you’re worried about what it might do to your sewing machine, I can tell you that after making four tote bags and a couple of zipper bags, there wasn’t any obvious powder residue in the base of my sewing machine.

Pins.  Put them away.  Clips – like Wonder Clips – work best, though paperclips will work in a pinch.  Glue pens – like my favorites from Sewline – can help but really, clips worked best for me.

Pressing.  This coated fabric can be pressed on the wrong side with a slightly warm iron only.  Anything hotter than that will change the way the fabric feels – ask me how I know.  (I did write that I was experimenting…)

Have you ever floured a surface before rolling out pie or cookie dough?  If you have, you’ll know what to do here.  Lightly sprinkle the baby powder on the coated surface and then use your fingers to cover the entire surface.  Shake off the excess.  Do both rectangles – and the straps.

Thread. While regular 50 wt. thread will work, I found that the stitching looked best with a thicker thread, especially the top-stitching.  I used a 28 wt. Aurifil on the top and a 40 wt. Aurifil in the bobbin.  While the 28 wt. works beautifully in the bobbin, using the 40 wt. meant that I didn’t have to do much to adjust the tension.  I also changed my needle to a 90/14.  If all you have is 50 wt., it does work but the thread essentially disappears.

Stitch length. I lengthened my stitch length to 8 to 10 stitches per inch.  The seams on the inside of the bag can be stitched with a slightly shorter length – 10 to 12 stitches per inch – but the top-stitching looked best at the longer length.

Stitching itself… Even with the powder, the coated fabric isn’t going to feed itself under the needle with the same ease that your regular cotton quilting fabrics do.  I found that I needed to keep my hands on the fabric and “help” keep it moving smoothly – especially over seams.

Assembling the bag. With the powdered, coated sides of the 14″ x 16″ rectangles together, stitch a 1/2″ seam allowance around three sides – leaving a 14″ wide open.  This will be the top of the bag.

Fold down 1 1/2″ on the top opening of the bag and secure with large clips – I used Jumbo Wonder Clips – or large paperclips.  Top-stitch the folded edge of the bag first – 1/8″ away from the fold.

Then fold under the bottom edge to complete the hem and use the clips to hold the edge in place while stitching.  I stitched from the top side with my seam allowance marked with a piece of tape – it was a 1″ hem.

For the straps, fold the 2 1/2″ x 27″ length in half and top-stitch 1/8″ from the fold – turn the two ends under 1/4″ before stitching.

Then fold the two edges inside approx. 1/4″ and secure with a clip – I used these Wonder Clips – or a paperclip. Making a tube and turning it right side out did not work for me – not for a finished width of 1″.  Top-stitch the two folded edges as close to the edge as possible.  Because it can’t be pinned, glued or fused, keeping the two folded edges perfectly matched up can be a challenge.

Placement of the straps on the outside of the bag – the bottom edge of the strap is 2″ from the top edge of the bag – and 2″ from the center.  I matched the two seams to find the center of each side of the bag and measured from the fold.  To make it secure, I borrowed the stitching pattern from a similar style tote I own.  I also double-stitched the top – as they had done.

Wouldn’t you know, the only photo I have with a close-up is probably the messiest of the sixteen strap-attachments I did. Of course, I think it also shows why I preferred using the 28 wt. thread for the stitching that would show. The tag?  That’s just a piece of Moda measuring tape from a pre-cut – pinked and top-stitched on the outside of the bag.

When I finished, my friends asked if I would sew with this coated fabric again and my answer is “absolutely!”  I like playing with different projects and trying new techniques, they’re all “tools for the toolbox”, in that something I learned doing this will likely come in useful for something else.  And I know I will use these bags – though one of two have already been claimed by others.  I also have a grocery-shopping bag cut out, waiting to be assembled.

From left to right, the collections with coated fabrics are:

So there you have it – sewing with coated fabrics.  You needed a new project to play with this weekend, didn’t you?

Happy Friday!

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21 comments on “Tip Jar: Sewing with coated fabric…

  1. Lewcrese S says:

    Wondering if a Teflon foot would work as well? Might need to test that theory.

    • Carrie Nelson says:

      Hi Lewcrese – A Teflon foot works well – very well! I’ve found that the coated fabric still sticks to the throat plate and hase of the machine, but there isn’t any sticking or hang-up on the top-side.

      I had a Teflon foot for an older machine but I wanted to try the alternatives as Teflon pressed feet can easily cost more than $50.00. (The foot for my machine would be $75.00.) Since many of us will only sew on coated fabrics occasionally, I wanted to see what else would work. 🙂

      • kathomp says:

        How about using one of those “plastic” sheets that adhere to the bed of the machine, one used to make free motion quilting easier. It seems that would help.

  2. Mary Andra Holmes says:

    I’ve had yardage of some older coated Moda fabric for many years. With your information and hints I’m now ready to give it a try. Now to decide what to make. Lol

    • Linda H says:

      Exactly … have been waiting for some additional information to give this a try and some “older” Moda coated fabrics that I fell in love with years ago. GREAT “Spring” project!!

  3. Libby says:

    Thanks for the cutting tip on turning the fabric wrong side out. Makes sense, I will do that next time and I wouldn’t sew coated fabric without my Teflon foot. It may have cost me a little money, but well
    worth it.

  4. Mary Kastner says:

    Thank you Carrie once again for super information. I have had a piece of this fabric for years that someone gave me and I had absolutely no idea how to sew with it. This bag will be a perfect gift for one of my quilting buddies for her birthday next month.

  5. Margaret Lippert says:

    A local quilt shop here is having a class on making an umbrella, I wonder?….
    I know it was just with regular fabric and then they sprayed them with something to make waterproof.
    Would be quite a few seams though, but such pretty prints.

    • Carrie Nelson says:

      Hi Margaret – I’ve got the makings for an umbrella and one of the things in the instructions is that coated fabrics don’t work because of how they have to be stretched across the frame. I was disappointed as that seemed like the perfect us for the fabric.

      The good news is that all of the prints I used are available as regular non-coated fabrics! Coney Island won’t ship until March but all three of the other fabrics are in shops now. 🙂

  6. Mona Roberts says:

    Carrie,
    Bags are great–thanks for the tips. Couldn’t find a better place to tell you that you are a super genius for creating the Cake Mix Recipe paper pads. Watched Jenny on Missouri Star feature the Set 1 and it was “sew” fun. Really, I’m blown away. 10″ squares will now be the newest size in my scrap savers system. Ohhhh, the possibilities! Thanks.

  7. momawake says:

    I’ve made rain coats for 18 inch dolls with coated fabric. They’re pretty cute.

  8. Lisa says:

    Carrie – Do you know where I could purchase the Monkeyshine quilt pattern? It is awesome! Thanks!

  9. Patty Cottingham says:

    This may not be the place to write this note, but is it the only way I know to contact you. I purchased your book Miss Rosie’s Farmhouse Favorites. It’s one of many of your books (and patterns) that I treasure. Thanks for photos where you can see the detailed stitching. Thanks for clear instructions. Thanks for the numerous tips. Thanks for the intro stories and the quilt specs. Finally, thanks for the challenge of making another Miss Rosie quilt. I’m up for it and will start with “Opening Day.” I love, love, love star quilts.

  10. Helen LeBrett says:

    do you know how it holds up to washing? I know that the insides of my bags can get dirty. Thanks! H

    • Carrie Nelson says:

      Hi Helen –

      I haven’t washed the bags I’ve made yet but coated-fabric totes I’ve purchased seem to do best when I turn them inside out and wipe down the inside with a wet cloth and a little bit of soap. (I just use liquid hand soap because it’s convenient.) That usually does the trick for me. 🙂

  11. Amanda Fagan says:

    Thank you so much for this article! I’m so excited to get my hands on some coated cotton and make some grocery bags now!!

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