Friends, you know that saying that goes "the more you know, the more you realize you don't know" or something like that? Well I learned how much I didn't know yesterday big time.
Just days before I had blithely responded to a reader's email asking, in reference to the Men's Shirt Sew-Along, whether or not interfacing had to be pre-shrunk. I tossed off a no like I'd written a book on the subject. Well, readers, the universe had a lesson to teach me as it so often does when we're just an itty bit overconfident.
I was interfacing a few pieces of my 1939 Dubarry men's shirt yesterday -- just with a hot iron, no steam, pressing for 10 seconds, dreaming about how much easier this will be when my Elna Press arrives: my usual routine. The results were not encouraging.
I was using a weft-weight (that's very light for you newbies) woven interfacing I had bought where I buy all my interfacing: at Fashion Design Books, a bookstore serving FIT students, just two blocks from where I live. It's a wonderful independent bookstore (unlike the official FIT bookstore which is run by Barnes & Noble) and they sell a ton of sewing notions there.
The problem with the fusible interfacing they sell however -- and they sell many varieties -- is that it is all pre-cut and unlabelled. It comes with no instructions, although some fusible interfacing is best fused dry, others with steam, and MANY need to be pre-shrunk. Or so I learned.
Slightly panicked with the results of my efforts at the ironing board, I immediately shot an email to sew-maven Debbie Cook who confirmed my worst fears. Many types of interfacing do require pre-shrinking, otherwise they will shrink on their own time when they are already fused to your fashion fabric, leaving bubbles, ripples, and various lumps and bumps resembling nothing so much as a bad case of prickly heat.
In all the sewing projects I've undertaken, I have only had this problem once -- if truth be told, I was avoiding fusibles because I lacked confidence in my/their fusing abilities -- on a white cotton shirt I sewed the summer before last (whose collar I replaced in anticipation of my high school reunion last fall). The old collar looked like this:
I'd assumed this was because I hadn't used enough heat or pressed long enough. But now I think this was due to a lack of pre-shrinking. I should mention that when wet, the cuffs look like they've been stricken with small pox.
Thankfully I hadn't begun sewing my 1939 shirt yet. After a whole lot more steam pressing, I decided that I would take all my fused pieces, soak them in warm water, let them dry (to allow them to shrink) and evaluate the results.
The inner and outer collar stands and collar pieces, which I had fused with the weft weight woven, looked OK: no lumps or bumps. I am cautiously optimistic about their longer-term prospects and since I'll be making a removable collar and collar stand with them, if they break down, I can replace them.
The cuffs, on which I had used a stiffer, more tightly woven fusible, looked like a stormy sea viewed from a 747.
This will need to be redone.
Friends, I can't talk about this topic any longer, it's giving me a bellyache. I want to hear from you.
1. Do you use fusible interfacing and if so, what kind?
2. Do you always pre-shrink it and if so, how?
3. What advice would you give to a new sewer who has never used interfacing before?
In closing, readers, I am so very grateful this happened before the sew-along began as it would have eroded my authority in a very public, very embarrassing way. This way no one will ever know about it but us. Of course there's Debbie Cook -- I may have to pay to keep her quiet.
Have a great day everybody and if you're fusing, please fuse carefully.
I'm a native New Yorker and self-taught sewing fanatic! I've been sewing obsessively since 2009 and today make all my own clothes using mostly vintage patterns and vintage sewing machines. Welcome to the warm and whimsical world of Male Pattern Boldness, where the conversation is sewing, style, fashion, fabric, and more!