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sewing with White and Off-White Fabrics

White and off white fabricsWhite and off-white garments always look fresh, clean, and cool – which is why they are a favorite for a summer wardrobe. There are many shades of white, from stark white to off-white, and from candlelight to ecru. Finding a shade of white that is flattering for your skin tone, hair shade, and eye color can provide a boost to your wardrobe.

There’s nothing as classic as a great “white” blouse or shirt paired with good-looking pants or a skirt. Part of the reason is that style lines and details show up very nicely in a light color. (In darker colored garments, it’s sometimes hard to see the style lines at all.)

But sewing with white and off-white fabrics poses a special set of problems. Following are tips to help you out:

  • Wipe down your machine(s) and work area before you start your work with “white” fabric. Almost all “white” fabrics seem to be a magnet for dirt, and a quick wipe down will help avoid getting an oily, dusty, or blackish residue on your pristine “white” fabric. A scrap of fabric works well, or use a paper towel or tissue. Besides cleaning your work area, be sure to wipe down your machine(s), especially around the feed dogs, presser foot and shank, and area where the needle gets inserted. If it’s been quite a while since your machine has been thoroughly cleaned, be sure to remove all the dust around the bobbin casing, so it won’t get pulled up into your stitching accidentally. And it’s a good idea to lift your machine up and clean underneath, where a lot of dust seems to get trapped.
  • Use a new needle. It’s a good practice to use a fresh needle after every project or two, but it’s especially important with “white” fabrics because of how easy it is to see the needle holes. Use a size 60/8 needle for fine, light-weight fabrics; a size 70/10 needle for medium-weight fabrics; a size 80/12 needle for medium-to-heavy fabrics; and a 90/14 for heavy-weight fabrics. You’ll only need a size 100/16 needle for very heavy-weight fabric. And be sure to select the proper type of needle for the kind of fabric you’re sewing.
  • Making “white” fabrics opaque. One of the biggest quandaries of working with “white” fabric is making it opaque. For many blouses, this isn’t a problem, because a camisole or tank top is worn underneath. But it can be a knotty problem for dresses, skirts, and pants. A good solution is to line or underline the fashion fabric – but the big question then is what to use for a lining or underlining fabric. You want this fabric dense enough to provide opacity, but light-weight enough not to make the garment heavy. Sometimes a cotton lawn or cotton batiste provides enough opacity. If not, consider a heavier fabric like broadcloth. Silk charmeuse is fairly opaque without being heavy; and silk twill is quite opaque and very light-weight.
  • Using another color to slightly change the color tone of a “white” fabric. If you would like to slightly (or even dramatically) change the color tone of your fashion fabric, consider lining or underlining it with a colored material. This frequently also solves the problem of being able to see through “white” fabric, since colored fabrics are generally more opaque than “white” fabrics. To decide what color to use, layer the fashion fabric over all sorts of colors – part of the fun is seeing how some colors make the “white” fashion fabric appear warmer (with a yellow or apricot tint), while other colors make it look cooler (with a blue or lavender tint).

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