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How to Sew Cotton

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Do you know how to sew cotton correctly? Cotton fabric is best when it comes to summer as it is more breathable than other types of fabrication. 

Whether you are sewing puff sleeve blouse or sundresses, solid or printed cotton fabric is perfect for beginners. Unlike other fabrics, it is very stable when sewing which makes for an easier experience. 

How do you sew cotton? Set your machine based on the weight of cotton and replace the needle with a universal sewing needle. For most cotton, 2 to 2.5 stitch width with a needle size of 70/10 to 80/12. 

Start straight stitching to join the fabrics together and finish seams with a Serger or zigzag stitch.  

Sewing cotton with a regular sewing machine requires simple tools and techniques with some tips to get it done the right way. Identify the fabric and cut it appropriately to sew cotton fabric and finish it neatly. 

Cotton fabric is sewn quite easily, which is why it is highly recommended for beginner level sewers.

This article covers everything you need to know about sewing cotton fabric. Below are answers to frequently asked questions so that you will understand how to sew cotton the right way.

Is cotton easy to sew?

Yes, cotton is very easy to sew because the fabric is quite sturdy under the sewing machine and during the sewing process. Additionally, it does not have stretch when sewing seams together that create puckering or stretch out the garment.

When sewing cotton, generally it does not slip and is very easy to cut. It does not slide off like silk, knit, or polyester fabrics. 

Cotton also holds well during sewing and holds a crease nicely. Pressing seams with a steamed or hot iron doesn’t require any special tools. 

Using cotton voile is a beginner’s choice as it is smooth and crisp when handling. Shirting cotton adds to the texture and is crisp with a little friction when sewing, this also makes it convenient to handle.

Best stitch for cotton

The best stitch for cotton depends on the type of cotton you are sewing: light, medium, or heavy cotton. Based on these variations, the stitch width and sewing needle changes, and so does the different types of stitches.

Some of the best stitch for cotton depending on the type of cotton include:

  • Extra heavy-weight cotton: Stitch width is between 3 and 4 with a needle size of 120/20 or 100/16.
  • Heavy-weight cotton: Stitch width is between 2 and 2.5 with needle size of 90/14 or 100/16.
  • Medium-weight cotton: Stitch width is between 2 and 2.5 with needle size of 80/12 or 70/10.
  • Light-weight cotton: Stitch width is between 1.5 and 2 with needle size of 70/10 or 60/80.

Generally speaking, sewing cotton fabrics together requires straight stitch with zigzag or overlock stitch to finish seams

When hemming the garment, you may choose single or double hold hem to keep the aesthetics of the garment. 

What is the best thread for sewing cotton?

The best thread for sewing cotton is cotton. Cotton thread is perfect for cotton fabric and is generally used for quilting and patchwork. Sewing lovers often believe that the same thread as that of fabric goes well with the sew quality and finish.

Cotton threads are perfect when sewing cotton. They has a little give and is also weaker than other threads like polyester, however it is ideal for delicate and lightweight projects. 

The thread should be delicate or weaker as compared to the working fabric. This is to avoid seaming stress resulting in thread breakage on the sewing machine instead of tearing the actual fabric.

Sewing machine settings for cotton

When sewing with cotton, there are certain machine settings to be set for appropriate stitch and neat finishes. Always thread the sewing machine and follow the proper way to thread the bobbin so you are ready to set the machine for cotton and get started. 

Whether you have Singer or Brother sewing machine, there is no preference when it comes to sewing cotton fabric. However, every sewing machine has slight different adjustment needed when it comes to setting up the machine for the cotton material.

The following machine settings for cotton are used as a general guideline for each brand:

  • Brother: Set the tension to 4 for cotton. Based on the test stitching on cotton, tighten the tension by scrolling below 4 or loosen it by adjusting to above 4. For medium cotton, use standard 2 to 3 mm stitch length. For light cotton fabric, use short stitch length such as 1.8 to 2.5mm.
  • Singer: Set the tension as 4, which is the standard setting. For medium weight cotton, use 2.5mm, and for lightweight cotton, try 1.5 to 2.5mm.

Sewing and finishing a seam of cotton fabric is no different on Singer or Brother when it comes to tension. However, the only difference of these two brand is the stitch length. 

Depending on the weight of the cotton, select the stitch length accordingly.

Cotton tension for stitches

To sew cotton, the tension for stitches needs to be a moderate setting, which is between 3 and 4. For an ideal stitch, the lower and upper tension settings ought to be balanced. 

Begin adjusting the tension settings in your upper tension because cotton is a fabric known for medium-weight.

  • Lower tension:Control this setting with a front screw of the bobbin casing. First set the upper tension, and then use the lower tension setting. Adjust the bobbin tension by turning it to right or left ¼ turn.
  • Upper tension:Control this setting by an LCD or a dial control at the front on the faceplate of the sewing machine. The tension setting is to be at moderate, between 3 or 4. Begin with upper tension settings, and then lower the tightness.

Test the tension setting by taking a scrap cotton fabric piece and sew a straight seam. The seam comes out to be flat on both the lower and upper sides of the joining when the tension is in balance. 

If not, you will see puckers or lumps. Adjust the tension such that the seam comes out flat on both sides in balance.

How to sew cotton?

It is very easy to sew cotton, that is why many beginners are fond of working with the material. Also, it is very stable and does not slip when sewing. 

In order to sew cotton properly, follow these steps to simplify the process.

Step by step tutorial to sew cotton fabric:

  • Prepare the fabric: Start by gathering the basic sewing tools like cotton thread, tape measure, sewing patterns, fabric scissors, and pins. Next, select a fabric that suits the pattern, or simply go with recommended fabric indicated on the sewing pattern. Pre-washing cotton fabric is recommended for bleeding, starching, and shrinking, and always iron flat before cutting and sewing.
  • Identify the cotton: Light, medium, or heavyweight is essential to understand when setting the machine per its requirements. The thread and needle size will also vary accordingly.
  • Cut the fabric: Cut the pattern lines, fold and align them to pin in the correct positions. Mark as required using tracing wheel or tailor’s chalk.
  • Sew the fabric: Set the machine settings, needle, and thread to meet the specifications of the fabric. Check the tension settings right and test it on a scrap cotton fabric. Begin sewing along the pattern lines with appropriate seam allowance. Use sewing pins to sew over along the seam allowance to get more control of the fabric. It will help you to sew straight on a sewing machine if you are having difficulty as a beginner.
  • Finishing: Use a zigzag or a serger to finish the seam neatly. Simple double-fold hemming is best for cotton fabrics, or you can also use a blind hem. Whether you choose double fold hem or blind hem, replace the regular sewing foot to execute these special hemming and finish the garment with a professional look.
How to sew cotton

Sewing Cotton: Final Thoughts

Sewing cotton is one of the simplest fabric to work with as it is known as a sturdy fabric that does not slip or slide when sewing. You can easily create a crease and iron the cotton fabric for seam allowance and necessary measurements. 

Use a standard universal needle 90/14 which is reflected by the weight of the fabric. Make sure the needle is sharp so that it can easily punch through the fabric.

Thread selection should be a 100% cotton thread or a cotton blend. By matching the thread and fabric content, it will allow you to take care of garment more effectively.

According to the sewing machine brand and fabric weight, set the machine by starting with tension 4 and with a 2 to 2.5 width to execute the perfect stitching.

Lastly, the best way to finish the inside seams for cotton is to overlock. Use serger to overlock or zigzag stitch to reduce the amount of fraying on the cut edge. 

Additionally, a single or double fold, or a blind hem will give less bulky seams. 

With the right machine adjustments and tension settings with appropriate needle size and thread, it becomes easy to sew cotton. Follow these steps when sewing cotton for preparation and execution to give a professional finish to all your cotton sewing projects.

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