How To Sew Chunky Seams With Ease


Thick fabrics are not easy to sew when you don’t know what to do, especially when you get to bulky seams that can’t be climbed, or downward slopes that tip your presser foot into a bad position Most of us have been there and have had the thread nest messes and broken needles to show for it! But sewing thick fabrics can be both easy and fun – as long as you know how.

There are several different ways people get around this problem, so let’s see what’s out there and how they all measure up! We’ve made this little video for you so you can easily see and compare them all, but if you prefer to read all about it, then just scroll on past and we’ll show you with pictures instead! I’ve also snuck in some bonus tips for sewing with thick fabric at the end.

You can find all the sewing machine feet featured in this tutorial in our Thick Fabric Sewing Machine Feet Collection.

How To Sew Over A Thick Seam

If you don’t sew with thick fabrics often, or you’ve found yourself in a pickle that needs sorting right now, then chances are, you might not have a special presser foot handy, so this is the quickest and easiest way to sew over thick fabric and uneven fabric without any tools.

How To Sew Thick Fabric Without A Special Presser Foot Or Tool

Once you have stitched up to the seam, lift your presser foot, grab a piece of cardboard, and slide it behind the foot. Now the back of the foot is the same height as the seam. No tipped foot means no broken needles! Hooray! Just stitch a couple of stitches until you are about to come down the slope.

How To Sewing Over Bulky Seams with Cardboard

Then swap your cardboard to the front of the chunky seam and you can stitch forward again. Stop just before you hit your cardboard, and then you’re good to whip it out and carry on sewing. You may also have seen “hump jumpers” which are little plastic fork-looking tools that do exactly the same job of balancing the fabric out.

But what if you don’t want to keep a scruffy old bit of cardboard in your pretty sewing box? What do other people normally do?

How To Sew Over Thick Fabric With A Self Levelling Foot

A Self-Levelling Foot, which is also known as a J Foot is the most commonly used sewing machine foot for sewing over thick seams. You might be wondering what is the black button on the side for? When you get to your seam, all you need to do is to lift the presser foot, press in the back button and hold it in position as you lower the foot. This holds the foot in a flat position, so you can ditch your cardboard and sew your seam without the foot tipping. Some of these feet will need pressing to go up chunky seams as well as back down them, and you’ll find others that are better able to go up seams, and only need the button pressing to travel back down.

But it is still a pain to stop at every seam or pleat or over every thick trimming you’re trying to stitch over. So what is the best sewing machine foot for sewing over thick seams? Hands down, I think it is the Thick Fabric Foot.

How To Sew Chunky Fabrics Easily With A Thick Fabric Presser Foot
What Is The Best Sewing Machine Foot For Thick Fabrics

The thick fabric foot doesn’t need you to stop at all! This clever little presser foot is sprung with suspension. Like a car going over a bump, this foot will automatically adjust itself to stay level. It’s a snap-on foot, so it’s easy to quickly attach. Just make sure that your needle is all the way up so that the wire spring at the front can easily rest against the front of your ankle without getting caught as you get it into position (this is the little adapter that your snap-on feet click into). Once it’s snapped on, you’re good to sew. And the best part about it? No stopping at every seam not only makes it more enjoyable to sew, but the more consistent your stitching speed is, the more consistent your stitch length looks, so you’ll also be able to create a more professional-looking finish.

How To Top Stitch Thick Fabric

What can you do when you want to along the edge of your thick fabric? The outer side of the presser foot is going to tip sideways, which again is going to mean broken needles and potential quality time spent with your seam ripper undoing thread messes as the foot-to-needle angle is going to affect the precision and tension of the stitches. But don’t worry, there are always ways around it!

How To Easily Sew Thick Fabric Seams And Top Stitch With Cardboard

We could go back to our trusty piece of cardboard and balance out the sideways tipping that way.

The most commonly used sewing machine foot to sew along the edge of thick fabric for topstitching, hems and seams is a compensating foot or a bilevel foot. These feet have one side of the presser foot at a higher level than the other side so that it is actually the thick fabric underneath the higher side that levels out the foot to sit it even (so don’t be tempted to use this foot to top stitch on thin fabrics!). It is perfect for top stitching because it will help you stay a beautifully uniform distance from the edge. However, you can’t stray from the edge! As soon as you want to change direction, or if you want to sew along a fabric edge that frequently changes height, you need to change feet.

How To Top Stitch Thick Fabric With A Compensating Bilevel Foot

What Is The Best Sewing Machine Foot For Thick Fabrics?

How To Top Stitch Thick Hems And Chunky Seams Sideways

Remember the thick fabric foot we used to bump up and over the thick seam? Well it can also balance itself sideways too! You can spin the fabric and change direction, sew along the edge to top-stitch, then hop on and off the thick seam as you please. It will keep adjusting itself as you sew, so you don’t have to. If you see me sewing thick fabric, this is the sewing machine foot I use because it is so versatile and I never need to stop my sewing just because I’ve reached a bump or want to change where I’m stitching.

General Tips For Sewing With Thick Fabrics

There are just a couple of other things you might want to consider for sewing with thick fabrics.

What’s The Best Needle For Thick Fabrics?

Here’s a rough guide to which needles you might want for sewing thick fabrics, but keep in mind that more fabric layers may mean you need a sturdier needle.

  • Size 14/90 – Best for medium-heavy fabrics like twill, light denim and canvas.
  • Size 16/100 – For heavier fabrics like faux leather and upholstery fabrics.
  • Size 18/110 – For lighter-weight leather, thick denim and thicker canvas/upholstery fabrics
  • Size 21/130 – This is extra strong which makes it best for extra heavy fabrics like thick leather, upholstery vinyl and heavy duty canvas.
  • Specialist needles also exist for fabrics like denim and leather.

It’s important to match your needle to your fabric type. If the needle is too thin, it is going to be more likely to bend and break. If your needle is too fat and big for your fabric, you’re more likely to create visible holes in your finished project which can also damage the fabric itself. If the thread has too much movement in the needle and in the holes, you may also get more thread breakages and skipped stitches so always try to match your needle to your fabric type if you want to increase your chances of sewing it perfectly first time!

What Settings Should My Sewing Machine Be Set At For Thick Fabrics?

In general, the thicker the fabric, the higher the top thread tension usually needs to be. This is because it helps to pull the bobbin thread up to the top.

The stitch length will determine how much fabric your feed dogs will pull through with each stitch. Because this fabric is heavier, it needs more effort, so you may need to increase your stitch length a little to help move it through the machine.

Each sewing machine will be slightly different, so it is best to have a practice on a scrap piece of the same fabric to see where you get the neatest stitch formation depending on what stitch length you select versus where you move your thread tension setting.

Which Thread To Use With Thick Fabrics?

It is usually best to match thread type with the fabric type. E.g. to sew cotton with cotton thread and synthetics with polyester thread. However, regular cotton thread is very unlikely to be strong enough to sew a heavy cotton canvas. So if you are sewing a medium-heavy weight fabric, polyester thread will often be your best bet. However, for thicker fabrics or multiple layers of medium-heavy fabrics, you may need to invest in some heavy-duty thread.

How to sew with thick fabric by Linda at Sewing Bee Fabrics

I hope you’ve found some tips in here to make it easier for you to sew thicker fabrics, and realised that once your sewing machine is set up ready for it, and you’ve picked a way to keep your presser foot stable on the edge, then thick fabrics can not only be easy to sew, but they can be fun to sew too!

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