Outdoor Fabric • Sew Outdoor Fabric • Neoprene Fabric
Outdoor Recreation Sewing Guidelines
Guidelines for Sewing with
Outdoor Recreation Fabrics
Understanding “Technical” Terms
Sewing with this new generation of outdoor fabrics called "technical fabrics" to make "technical outerwear" need not be intimidating. The terms simply describe how the fabric or clothing is designed to function. Coatings, fibers, and finishes are technical features that contribute to how well a fabric works for a particular use, i.e. waterproof vinyl for rain coats, fleece for skiing apparel, etc. Technical outerwear refers to clothing that is highly functional and is probably a simple garment. These garments typically have specific design features (keep out wind, have unusual durability, etc.) and thus need fabrics that enhance their function. When each piece of an outfit is considered separately, one can see why a certain fabric is chosen and feel comfortable sewing with it.
While patterns can be found for outdoor fabric on this site, commercial patterns can be adjusted for outdoor clothing designs. Running suits can be adapted to make nylon pile outfits for cold conditions, and parkas can be made form raglan-sleeved shirt or jacket patterns.
Men or boys' designs usually have the full cut you will want for freedom of movement and capacity for extra layers of insulation. Men should choose one size larger than usual, and women can use smaller men's or large boys' patterns. Any pattern can be customized, and use notions more fit for outdoor apparel use than normal use.
Outdoor fabrics are typically more bulky and harder to cut on a table. Instead, rid a spot of of debris and pet hair on your floor to cut out pattern pieces. When sewing, make sure you keep hot light bulbs away from these synthetic fabrics, and go outside or stand near an exhaust fan if you need to heat-seal nylon seam edges or waterproof rain gear.
If you are planning to sew outdoor fabric for a serious mountaineering expedition, finish the needed gear early enough for adequate field testing. Sewing gear which your survival depends needs to be adequately tested to uncover problems in design and materials that cannot be predicted in the sewing room.
The Sewing Machine
While you may already have a sewing machine, if you sew on a regular basis consider an industrial machine. Most home machines are more versatile than industrial machines, but that means more things to go wrong. While it takes practice to learn to control the speed of an industrial machine, it shouldn't be a problem if you sew regularly. Carefully check out sewing machines before buying or renting as an hour in the store may save days of frustration at home.
Serger Sewing Machines
Also known as the overlock machine, serger machines can sew up to 1700 stitches per minute. They trim the seam allowance and overcase the edge, making any garment look like ready-to-wear, and is invaluable for sewing Spandex, knit, and woven fabrics. There are three primary differences in the serger when compared to a conventional machine: number of threads, use of loopers rather than a bobbin, and knives which trim away seam allowances.
This is an abbreviated list of some problems to look out for with these outdoor fabrics.
Nylon fabrics will fade and rot with prolonged direct exposure to sunlight. These fabrics are not suitable for outdoor furniture, awnings, etc.
Curves and Slippery Fabric
Sewing curved seams on lightweight, slippery outdoor fabric can be difficult. To test how the fabric sews, practice on scraps first.
Some waterproof coatings on outdoor fabric can feel sticky, preventing material from sliding under the presser foot of the sewing machine properly and/or pushing the top layer ahead of the bottom layer. Lightening the pressure of the presser foot or notching long seams to recognize a "creep" problem are possible solutions to this problem, or putting tissue paper under the fabric while sewing and then ripping it away from finished seam.
Breathable Waterproof Fabrics
Investing in these fabrics means putting lots of money at stake. Here are some tips to keep them as much intact as possible:
- Use weights instead of pins when cutting pattern pieces.
- Keep hands and sewing machine free of oils as they can ruin the waterproofness of the fabric.
- Pin as little as possible and keep the pin holes within the seam allowance, and remove any tape you use now rather than later so it doesn't delaminate the fabric.
- Seam-seal using seam-seal tape all places on the body of the project where stitches have been removed to prevent leaking during wear.
- Use smallest possible needle to handle the thread as the thread will more completely seal the hole.
Repairs & Maintenance
Some tips for repairing your outdoor gear
Zippers should be removed stitch by stitch with embroidery scissors instead of a seam ripper and NEVER with a razor. It is also a good idea to have snaps or velcro over all zippers. Sliders and stops can also be repaired if need be.
Patching is an opportunity to be highly creative, as most outdoor gear will need patching at some point during its use.
When a backpack begins to show signs of wear, it is a good idea to give it to a general maintenance overhaul: removing the frame, checking seams for weakness and raveling, replacing damaged zippers, and patching worn areas.
The causes of accidents to gear and clothing are typically due to impatience and carelessness. There is a need to shift into a lower gear, go more slowly, and think more powerfully in the wilderness. The carelessness that can cause a nuisance in the city may cause disaster in the mountains. There is no excuse for going into the outdoors unprepared.
Proper cleaning of outdoor wear will extend its life considerably as the buildup of grit within fibers is one of the major causes of weakened fiber. Wash out the grit with a mild soap, but leave the stains as harsh chemicals and "elbow grease" necessary to remove them can weaken the fibers and ruin waterproof coatings. Follow the hang-tag instructions for care. Raveling can be prevented with heat sealing - remember that once raveling begins, it can't be stopped
Store outdoor gear with care as it is an expensive investment and deserves adequate, well-ventilated storage space. Make sure all gear is dry, and store down bags and parkas free from crowding and compression.
Binding with spandex
Spandex binding adds a nice flat finish to a fleece-cut edged. The stretch of spandex gives a more fitted sleeve edge or hem, and can replace ribbing. Choose spandex with four-way or all-way stretch. It should stretch 75% or more along the length of binding strip. Nylon/spandex is best for this as it has more strength and lasts longer than Cotton/spandex.
Side Release Buckle
Sear all cut edges of webbing by running cut edges carefully through the flame of a candle or lighter. Take care to protect yourself and your work surface from burns.
2 options for stationary buckle ends:
- Feed a short piece of webbing through end of stationary buckle. Fold webbing in half, matching ends. Place raw ends in seam allowance and sew into place, or
- Feed one end of webbing though end of stationary buckle overlapping approximately 1 inch. Sew across webbing several times to secure.
Tooth Buckle End with Adjusting Slider
Thread webbing through the slider, scooting it about half way down. Thread the webbing through the tooth end of buckle, continue webbing through underside of slider. Follow the arrows with the webbing. The slider will have two layers over the center bar.