How to Keep Fabric From Shrinking When You Sew

Item # X-HT-300025

You’re sewing along, working hard on your latest creation. You get to the end of a seam or hem and pull your fabric out of the sewing machine for a test fit, only to discover that your perfectly cut fabric is now a little too short. This is a frustrating experience, but it's also a common one if you're sewing large fabric panels. To help prepare and account for fabric shrinking, we’re going to take a look at what causes this phenomenon and what you can do to prevent it (or at least not let it ruin your day).

Tips to keep fabric from shrinking when you're sewing big panels like this.

Uneven Fabric Feeding

There are a couple of common culprits that cause fabric shrink. The first and most common reason is that the top and bottom layers of the fabric you’re sewing aren’t being evenly fed through the machine. Using a walking foot machine like the Sailrite® Ultrafeed® can help with this because it helps pull the fabric through the machine evenly. However, if you’re not used to sewing on a walking foot machine, you may be pushing or pulling the fabric too much. We see this happen a lot where the bottom layer is being held back while the top layer is being pushed through. A good way to keep your feeding more even is to pin or baste your fabric panels together prior to sewing.

Too Tight Stitching

The second culprit is actually inherent to your fabric itself. If a fabric has a really tight weave and you are sewing small, frequent stitches, this can cause the fabric to pucker ever so slightly with each stitch because the fibers don't have much stretch. This problem is especially frustrating because, in a really tightly woven fabric like Sunbrella® Marine Grade, the puckering will be so slight, you probably won’t notice until you are done sewing the seam.

So how do you fix these annoying little puckers? There are a few different things you can try (or try a combination of several) to prevent puckering. Try reducing the upper tension so it’s as low as possible to still form good stitches and/or try using a smaller sized needle or lighter thread. Also, switch your stitch length to the longest available. Longer stitches will pull on the fabric less and mitigate the need for it to pucker.

Another great way to not be caught short by fabric shrinking is to account for it before you even begin sewing by adding extra fabric to your length and width when patterning. This is a good practice for large projects like tarps and boat covers. Remember, you can always cut off or hem in extra fabric. In fact, a great tip for seeing if you need to hem up extra fabric is to hem adjacent sides first, like in the picture below. Then you can decide if you’ll need to sew up or trim off any extra fabric in the length or the width.

Diagram showing how to hem adjacent sides.

Have you found a tried-and-true method for accommodating fabric shrink? Have any fabric shrinking horror stories? Share your experiences in the comments!