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Nerdy sewing tips: Sewing with sequin fabric

Since my last post on sewing with velvet, my interest in awkward fabrics is growing exponentially! I seem to have kicked off 2015 with an uncontrollable need to master the art of working with fabrics that I previously would have avoided like the plague. In the interest of documenting my findings and sharing some tips, I'm hoping this will turn into a little mini series that will shed some light on the more delicate, tricksy and unusual fabrics out there (suggestions always welcome!) Next up, sequins...

Before we get stuck in, I have to admit that it seems a little ambitious to be writing one single post about sequinned fabric, when it comes in so many different forms. In a nutshell, sequin fabric is fabric (woven, stretch or mesh) that little round (or square, or oval, or...) shiny plastic discs have been sewn or glued onto. For the sake of this tutorial, we're not going to cover fabric that has sequins glued on, as it doesn't really require the special treatment that sewn-on sequins do.

Types of sequin fabric: sequins sewn onto a non-stretch fabric

Fabrics such as organza, taffeta, tulle or mesh onto which sequins have been sewn. The woven, non-stretch kind of sequin fabric is most commonly used for dressmaking as it is well suited to designs that would be made from woven fabrics in general such as gowns, jackets, skirts and trousers. It is also excellent for embellishment details as it can be cut into a multitude of shapes and simply appliquéd onto other garments.

All-over sequins are stitched on in an organised overlapped row-by-row manner, all one colour or multicolour. They could even be two-tone - one colour if you brush them in one direction; a contrasting colour when you brush them in the opposite direction. 

All-over sequins can also be stitched on in a more haphazard manner, or in a pattern.

Embroidered sequins are sewn onto the backing fabric more sparsely in intricate designs and patterns. As the backing fabric is usually pretty sheer, this type of sequin fabric is perfect for layering over other fabrics to create dreamy dresses or veils.

Types of sequin fabric: stretch sequins

Sequins that have been sewn onto a stretch fabric such as jersey, stretch tulle and mesh or elastic, usually in an all-over pattern. This type of sequin fabric is ideal for bodycon styles and dancewear/gymnastics.

All sequin fabric samples shown above courtesy of the wonderful Joel & Son Fabrics. Mouth-wateringly delicious, eye-wateringly expensive. Oh well, we can but dream...

Ideas & inspirations: sequin dresses

For those occasions when you want all eyes on you, the solution is always a show-stopping sequin number. But remember - let the fabric do the talking - avoid fussy details like pleats, pockets or gathers. Instead opt for simple designs and clean lines.

Nadia Aboulhosn

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Giant ombré sequins and a big smile is all you need to stop traffic, as Kate Hudson effortlessly proves.

 

Kate Hudson in Prada, 2007

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And of course, the sequin dress to end all sequin dresses... Show us how it's done, Mrs Rabbit.

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Ideas & inspirations: sequin separates 

Sequins aren't just for the red carpet. Layered with contrasting textures and prints, a casual sequin separate will transform even the dullest of corporate outfits, be your festival staple, and take you from daytime to partytime without a second thought.

The easy-chic of this summery blazer-vest-cut-offs outfit is so appealing. And completely achievable with our Victoria Blazer pattern...

image source

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Proof that a floor sweeping sequin skirt can be dressed down and passed most acceptably for weekend daywear. I love this.

A pair and a spare

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Aaaaand further proof that a sequin maxi skirt can be totally casual and just the sort of thing you'd wear with a baseball cap to a brunch date (tip from the top: wait until the coffee and pancakes have been cleared before draping yourself over the booth).

 

Nasty Gal

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Tailored jacket, cashmere sweater and sequin trews = babe in the boardroom.

The Man Repeller

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Ideas & inspirations: sequin embellishments

If you're still not convinced that full-on sequins really are the bees' kneeses, then maybe I can entice you with a little something more on the subtle side...? 

I'm absolutely smitten with the strikingly simple embellishment on this 1950s dress. Strings of sequins delicately hand stitched into place are anything but showy-offy.

 

Vintage dress, Etsy

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Bored of your same-old same-old winter uniform of jeans and jumpers? I know I am. Easily updated with just a smattering of loose sequins...

image source

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A panel of sequin fabric stitched to the hem of a dress not only shakes things up a bit, but makes for the perfect remedy when you accidentally cut a hem obscenely short!

 

Dress, Sandro

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And finally, this sweet little sweater with sequin heart elbow patches. Maybe a little obvious and cheesy, but so what. Undeniably adorable.

 

Sweater, Etsy

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Working with sequins: cutting & prepping your sequin fabric

Before you begin laying out your pattern pieces, the first thing to do is identify the "nap", or the direction of the sequins. It is of utmost importance that pattern pieces are cut so that the sequins all go the same way, and this is usually done so that the sequins face down. If you're using the super amazing fabric that has two-tone sequins, cut so that the colour you you want to show off the most is facing down. 

Some sequin fabrics may not have a nap, for example those where the sequins have been sewn on in a haphazard sort of way (like the fabric I'm using), so you won't need to be as precise in terms of your "up" and "down".

Cut your pattern pieces from the wrong side, and from a single layer of fabric, as opposed to cutting pairs from folded fabric. Keep pattern pieces in place with weights and cut with a rotary cutter for best results.

For pattern pieces that require you to cut a pair, a bodice back for example, remember to flip your pattern piece over once you've cut the first side to avoid cutting two of the same.

When cutting a pattern piece that requires you to cut it on the fold, cut one side and then carefully flip it over, keeping that centre front line intact.

Warning! Watch out for renegade sequins shooting into your face as you cut - maybe even consider wearing a pair of glasses to protect your eyes.

Working with sequins: sewing & pressing

First things first, you'll be needing some extra sharp fine point needles for your machine - size 70 is ideal - and make sure that you have plenty spare!

Cut a scrap of your sequin fabric and put it aside. The spare sequins will come in useful if you need to hand sew a few on to cover up any bald spots near seam lines later on.

Before sewing, it's an excellent idea to mark out your seam lines with a contrast basting stitch - this is so that you can remove all the sequins that fall along the seam allowance, thus making the fabric easier to sew, less likely to break your machine needles, and preventing bulky seams. I found a seam ripper to be better than even teeny tiny scissors for removing sequins.

If your sequins are quite fine, you could try simply sewing through them as you would a normal seam. For this, I'd recommend using a stronger needle for your machine - a leather needle perhaps. You'll find that you get some sticky-out sequins that have been half-trapped in the seam - just snip these away carefully once it's all sewn up if need be.

When you come to pressing your seams, remember that sequins are plastic and likely to melt! Turn the heat down, press from the wrong side of your fabric, and use a presser cloth (a scrap piece of cotton for example) to protect your sequins.

To avoid irritating your skin, always line your sequin fabric makes with a fabric that's nice and easy to work with, and that's kind to your skin like cotton lawn or voile. A lining will also hide any raw seams, ridding you of the need for fiddly seam finishes.

Working with sequins: sewing with stretch sequins

First rule of thumb - avoid the temptation to use your overlocker/serger! The sequins will damage the knife and needles and it'll generally end up causing you a lot of unnecessary frustration. Instead, use the zigzag stitch. Other than that, all of the above also applies to stretch sequin fabric. When it comes to lining, choose a soft jersey that will match the stretch of the sequins.

Caring for your sequins

This may go without saying, but... Do not pre-wash! Dry clean only! In fact, just keep it away from your laundry room full stop!! Invest in professional after-care that reflects the level of pre-care that you put in in the first place.

As ever, if you have any tips or tricks for sewing with sequins of your own, please feel free to contribute in the comments below. Let's see if we can compile the definitive guide!

Comments on this post (34)

  • Jun 27, 2017

    This is a very helpful site. Trying to hand stitch a sequin glove(Michael Jackson type) with sequin fabric for my granddaughter. Very helpful hints, I’m glad I read into this. Crossing fingers, hope all goes well!

    — Lolly

  • Apr 25, 2017

    awesome way of looking at sequin, have also been running away from it but had the urge to do something daring this month and found myself reading this article and being inspired to try…you can only try, right?:)

    — Eetea

  • Mar 22, 2017

    I found it was easier to clip the sequins with nail clipper or slant cuticle clippers depending on the size of the sequin than using scissors when trimming the seam allowance.

    — Diane Millington

  • Dec 16, 2016

    Thanks so much i have turned away so many jobs of sequine dresses you have empowered me to give it a try. On myself first of course. I will be buying some goggles. thanks again

    — Gail Galloway

  • Dec 10, 2016

    Please wear glasses or goggles when you are cutting sequin fabric! A half cut sequin actually shot up into one of my eyes and it was quite frightening! It hurt too! I couldn’t get it our for a good ten minutes and I was in panic mode the whole time. Ever since then, I ALWAYS wear eye protection.

    — katie k

  • Dec 05, 2016

    Very apt that I’ve just found this post! I’m finishing off a top made from the Kim dress pattern in a white sequin fabric to wear for my work christmas dinner this Friday…I should have removed the sequins in the seam allowances but was afraid to do so in case they started unravelling and shedding sequins along all the seam lines. Turning the sequinned back bodice pieces through Kim’s narrow shoulder straps was NOT fun, as you can imagine!!! Looks awesome though, so all worthwhile!!

    — Junespoon

  • Oct 04, 2016

    Hi Linda,

    Sorry to hear this! I’m afraid there isn’t any tool that I know of to help you flip sequins quickly and efficiently… Are they the kind of sequins that flip easily when you run your hand over them? If so, and you don’t like the silver side, you may want to reconsider this fabric for your dress as they’ll be constantly changing side throughout the big day! If they stay put once they’ve been flipped to the white side however, then you’ll most likely be fine once the dress is done, but I don’t think there’s any quick way around getting them all there in the first place. Either way, make sure that the sequins are facing down when you position your pattern pieces – they’ll be less likely to flip back up that way.

    I hope this helps!

    ~ Elisalex

    — Elisalex - By Hand London

  • Sep 28, 2016

    You mentioned two toned sequins. My wedding dress is supposed to be white sequins but the flip side is silver. The sequins are randomly flipped and it looks horrible. I am flipping them over one by one but it is so time consuming and seems like a lost cause because they so easily flip back to the silver side. Do you have any suggestions to keep the sequins from flipping and is there an easier way to flip them so they are all white side up? Is there any kind of tool that might work? I am imagining with horror my wedding pictures because the silver side makes the dress almost look like there are moth holes throughout. I am really at a loss as to what to do and quite desperate. Any help would be appreciated.

    — Linda

  • Aug 28, 2016

    I am so glad that I took time to read this article i am not a professional sewer but make costumes for a hobby and may first instinct was to use my overlocker I found this very useful and easy to understand I mean no jargon will definitely be looking out for more of your blogs

    — Jerry Cannon-Moore

  • Jul 16, 2016

    Thanks for this post! I had a hard time sewing a sequin dress recently. Taking the sequin from the seam allowance was taking way too long and I lost my patience lol. I just did a blog post about it. Check it out if you get a chance :)

    — ChaCha N'Kole

  • Jul 05, 2016

    Thank you for your help as I have been trying to overlock the edges of some dance costumes I am making. The overlocker copes with one layer of plain fabric and one layer of sequin, but when I try to move over where the darts are the needle instantly breaks, but then doesn’t seem to happen as badly when the plain fabric is on the top, only when the sequin fabric is. Why do you think this happens? I am going to go back to using the old sewing machine and zig zag like you suggested. Can’t be bothered trying different size needles. See how I go now. Thanks again.

    — Jennifer

  • May 19, 2016

    was looking for ideas on how to repurpose my daughter’s old dance costumes as she still wants to keep them – in some fashion. I love the idea above of the fabric skirt with sequined trim at the bottom. That may work perfectly for the old costume. Thanks!

    — Lisa

  • May 16, 2016

    Hi Anadeane,

    I would hem sequin fabric in the same way as the seams – snipping away all sequins within the hemming allowance and then just fold up and hand stitch the hem into place. I hope this helps!

    Elisalex

    — Elisalex - By Hand London

  • May 11, 2016

    Love this site. I am just getting started on a jacket for a cruise. I don’t see anything about hemming? Do you have some suggestions there?

    — Anadeane

  • Apr 13, 2016

    Great post. I want to make my wife a sequin ball gown that has a real wow factor. The problem is finding the sequin material, any ideas

    — Neil Stace

  • Apr 08, 2016

    Thank you for your wonderful tips. I hadn’t sewn sequin fabric for 20 years and needed to read up to get back on to that “bicycle”!
    Also, for Breanna (March post), you can get nice sequin fabric in US from Urquid Linens (yes, they specialize in linens but sell the fabrics by the yard too). They will send samples at your request to see the sequin color. Another US site is Syfabrics.com. Those are the best priced options.

    — Sheryl

  • Mar 01, 2016

    Hi Breanna, are you based in the US? Off the top of my head I don’t know of any bricks & mortar haberdasheries that definitely sell sequin fabric, but I’m sure if you search online you’ll find loads! Hope this helps ~Elisalex

    — Elisalex - By Hand London

  • Feb 29, 2016

    Where is a place I can find this fabric? I’ve gone to Joanns and handcock and I can’t find it.

    — Breanna

  • Feb 13, 2016

    Lovely,I am a tailor,Nd I learnt alot,God Bless you! Now I am ready to make my sister’s birthday gown!
    Thanks A lot more
    Qomfort

    — Qomfort

  • Dec 18, 2015

    HI Elisalax,

    A little late to this sequin party but I’ve just finished sewing up my first sequin top and I’m in love. Your tips here really helped especially when It came to turning the fabric under at the hem.

    I actually washed my sequin fabric in the bath with small amount of non rinse ‘soak’ in cool water and hung carefully on a clothes horse to drip dry using all the areas to support the fabrics weight to illuminate stretching.

    The resulting scum in my bath showed how much the fabric needed a good rinse. So dusty! The fabric didn’t change during the wash. Still as lovely as it was before the wash.

    Those man repeller trousers have got me considering a pair of sparkly hudson! Is the world ready? I am ! xxx

    — Elle @ lauralovespugs

  • Dec 14, 2015

    Hi Jolanta, check out the fabric shops on Goldhawk Road, we got ours from A1 fabrics. All the best!

    — Elisalex - By Hand London

  • Dec 13, 2015

    Love the golden sequin jacket, amazing post! Where would you recommend to buy sequin material in London? I want to attempt to make this jacket for my work Xmas party ;) Thanks

    — Jolanta

  • Dec 04, 2015

    Super article! I’m an experienced sewist, but have always been intimidated by sequined fabric. I recently found a gorgeous sequined knit that would make a fabulous cocktail dress for the holidays. After reading your post, I feel way more confident about taking the plunge. Thanks so much for sharing your sewing knowledge!

    — Barbara

  • Nov 28, 2015

    thank you… I have been struggling for a week with sequin fabric for ballet costumes, and a whole packet of broken needles….your post is generous and informative…back to the sewing machine with much more enthusiasm!

    — Shannon

  • Nov 15, 2015

    i have to sew a sequin project, fabric fantastic but sequin was so thick triple sequin in a chain. when i put seam together i have 6 sequin thick to stitch. no way the needle could punch through. i used factory walking needle heavy duty sewing machine.(union special) I had broke a pack needle not even near finish. i was using size 18 needle than I switched to size 22. still not as helpful. finally I have to remove sequins close to stitch line & using hand roll control , roll needle up & down stitch by stitch to prevent from breaking needle. once while i found skipping stitches, don’t know why but i have to went back to stitch it again. I have found many sequin fabric with design using 2 to 3 sequin in a chain to rise up its design pattern. beautiful but such a pain to sew.

    — lena

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