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Jan 14, 2011

Pre-Shrinking Interfacing or "D'OH!"

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.

Fuse-fanatics, your wisdom please!


  1. Umh, Can I add another question? How do you pre-shrink fusible interfacing without interfering with it's ability to stick to fabric? It seems like steaming or putting it in hot water or a dryer would cause the sticky side to melt.

  2. I almost never use fusibles. My theory is that fusibles are designed for manufacturing. If you are making 1000 garments, it is worth your time to test the interfacing and make sure you have the right one and that you are applying it properly. If you save 2 minutes per garment, you have more than made up the time it took to test.

    At home, if you are just making one garment, it is not worth taking the time to properly test your fusible. It is just easier to use a sew-in. In my experience, sew-in interfacings are foolproof.

    Others disagree with me on this point.

  3. I am not an experienced sewer, but I never use fusible. Of course that stems form not having a good iron, but as time went on I just realized it easier and quicker for me to sew it in place.

  4. I have had the same horrible results on pieces I've fused, too. I'm sad to say, I've even had them using interfacing that I've preshrunk....

    Most of the time, I use non-fusible interfacing. I can predict the results.

    Fusibles unfuse sometimes. They're not fond of the washer and dryer.

  5. I almost always use fusibles. I don't think I've ever met any that doesn't need pre-shrinking. Or, to put it another way, it's such a good way to ruin a finished project that I wouldn't consider not to.

    To answer Karin's question, I toss it in water as hot as it'll come out the tap, soak at least 5mn, and drip dry. OK, well, I've been known to use a blow-dryer a bit if I need it RIGHT NOW, but let's not talk about that part too much :-). Boiling water would definitely interfere with the glue, so don't do that, but you can get the water hot enough that you shouldn't put your hands in it.

  6. Bribe her with pictures of the Chihuahuas, that should do the trick :)

  7. Karin, I think others will confirm that the pre-shrinking method for fusibles involves soaking in warm water and air drying.

    Do NOT pre-shrink fusibles in the dryer.

  8. Yes, pictures of the Chihuahuas. Pronto!

  9. I've never pre-shrunk fusible because I've worried it would remove its stickiness/ fusibleness. Is warm water really enough to stop shrinkage? Doesn't it need to be at the same temperature at which it's going to be washed later?

  10. I preshrink my fusible interfacings in very warm water. "Very warm" does seem to be warm enough to shrink, without removing the glue.

    I do plan to increase my use of sew-ins. For me, it's part of my return to traditional techniques. I just find it more enjoyable to use the "old ways" and natural materials when I'm sewing.

  11. I've been properly paid (paid off?) so I can speak again.

    Marie-Christine: I use the Palmer/Pletsch "Sheer" and "Light" fusibles. They are poly and do not need any preshrinking. I've always been happy with the results.

  12. Hmm. Haven't pre-shrunk any of mine yet. The knit fusible in my hubby's shirt has been fine despite numerous washings. I haven't noticed a problem with the super-cheap non woven in some of my blouses. I've only used a sturdy woven in my jeans waistbands. Again, I haven't noticed a problem but maybe the denim is sturdy enough that I wouldn't. The stuff I've used most extensively is armo-weft, which is lovely and lightweight, but it occurs to me that I've mostly used it in coats which don't spend a whole lot of time in the laundry.

  13. i use fusible interfacings, either fusi-knit (or whatever they are calling the knit interfacing now), or texture weft. i preshrink it by putting it in a sink full of hot water, swishing it around, and letting it cool. hang it up to dry and you are ready to go.

    when fusing, i blast the piece to be fused with steam *before* i press down on it, sometimes it shrinks up a little more. then i press it down.

  14. To pre-shrink fusibles:
    1. Cut interfacing pieces as you usually would.
    2. Place the sticky side down on the fabric.
    3. Hover your iron as close as possible to the interfacing WITHOUT TOUCHING
    4. Steam the life out of it. The steam will cause the interface to shrink with out sticking to the fabric. It should pull away from the edges of the seam allowance so don't get scared when it does.

    For those of you with the book Tailoring: The Classic Guide to Sewing the Perfect Jacket; there is a section about pre-shrinking fabric and interfacing

  15. Oh and yes to the soaking in warm water and air drying but if u can't wait the steaming works as well

  16. My fave is easy-knit. For tailored garments that need more help, I don't use fusible. I put hot water in the sink, throw it in, and when I get around to it, drape it over the towel rack over the tub. Maybe because it is knit, it has never made those awful wrinkled bubbly problems out of the dryer.

  17. I've had great success with the interfacings from this site:
    The instructions are detailed for each type.
    I'm not affiliated with them but my bubbling interfacing problems are seemingly over.
    (and thanks for the NYC fabric info.)

  18. You can also preshrink your fusible right on the ironing board if you have an iron with great steam capabilities. Just place the interfacing over the fabric as usual, hold the iron above the surface, and steam. It will draw up before your eyes. Let the pieces cool in place, then press the interfacing onto the fabric. Let cool again before moving. Good to know if you're like me and can't remember if you preshrank the interfacing or not. Now I just do it.

    Other alternatives to fusibles are silk organza or even "self" fabric. IMO, either would look better in a shirt than fusible interfacing. Fusibles have their place but not in a shirt.

  19. the interface I use is all cotton (I couldn't find something else at my local shop) so i choose to preshrink just in case ... but I'd really rather the manufacturer did that before putting on that glue... I'd be willing to pay a lil extra for that...

  20. I'm with Niki on this one, and pre-steam before fusing. I use a lightweight knitted fusible for blouses/tops.
    I have one very handy hint - if you soak the length of interfacing in luke warm water until the water goes cold, and then hang it up to dry, do NOT then try and iron the creases out - Doh!! I have done this during a very blonde moment and wrote the ironing board cover and iron off!

  21. That's it...this sounds so confusing to me...from now on I will only purchase the sew in kind.

  22. I'm so glad you posted this. I am not very familiar with fusible interfacing but recently scored 4 bolt of fusible at an estate sale. I was planning on using it on my mens shirt for the first time. Thank you, thank you! You've saved many of us from some awful fixes.

  23. Pikojiko, I'd do a lot of experimenting first, since I'm guessing you don't know how old it is.

  24. Niki, I just tried your steaming suggestion and it worked -- I did see the edges shrinking back a bit, but it also seemed the fusible was starting to stick a bit to my fabric and I hesitant to pull it off for fear it wouldn't fully stick when I fused it.

    Maybe I was too close to the interfacing with my steam iron?

  25. No need to shrink fusibles, which are great to use by the way. Just take the amont of fabric you need for collar, cuffs, closure etc and block fuse the fabric before cutting the pattern makes for easy cutting and accurate marking as well

  26. I've had all sorts of fusibles, purchased from well-known reputable places (you would recognize the names), that shrank when they were advertised as something that would not shrink. In spite of pre-shrinking, it often happened while fusing, and even then after laundering.

    I think this is why David Page Coffin uses self-fabric, or muslin, to interface his collars and cuffs. The collars on my DH's Brooks Brothers shirts have no interfacing. I've turned enough of them to know. And,,, at the price one pays for those ... (and why I turn collars)

    Here's a first --- I'm making a shirt right now with Palmer/Pletsch's Perfect Fuse-Sheer and it has not shrunk at all during the construction phase. I should fuse a sample and launder it ....

  27. Just want to clarify my comment on DH's BB shirts -- no interfacing, at all, fused or fabric.

  28. I pre-shrink my interfacing in "worst case scenario" temperature of water. ;) (I do this with fabrics, too, b/c *sometimes* my husband does the laundry.

    Failing that, I use the steam on my iron to shrink it. Nancy Zieman showed holding the iron above the interfacing (on her show) and giving it several serious shots of steam. This works pretty well w/ my iron (a shark) but some irons may steam better than others.
    I have noticed that some brands and weights respond to this better than others.

    It's inexpensive enough to buy a bit of types you might choose and check them out, running test shrinking methods on them to see what works well for you.

  29. I rarely use fusibles, and never in shirts.

    On the occasions I do use fusibles (stuff like supporting welt pockets and often in waistcoats) I will use a knit of some sort, usually fusible tricot or another heavier weft-infusion type if necessary. I don't use the hot water method; I spread the fusible on my padded cutting board with the fusible side up and steam it with the iron, being *very* careful never to actually touch it. I usually just move the iron over the fusible about 1 - 1.5" from the surface and make sure it's all steamed evenly. You can actually watch it shrink on the board.

    It will cool very quickly, and then it's ready to use. I've never had any problem using this method.

  30. I'm so happy you posted this! Everyone has such great advice.

  31. I use both, woven and fusible. I do pay a decent amount of attention to what's best for the garment. I am loving the knit fusibles, but I have a good iron for fusing. If I do pre-shrink, gentle cycle, warm water, layed-flat, air-dried, but really haven't had to do that too much.

  32. oh dear.

    I haven't read all the comments, but I have heard that Palmer /Pletsch doesn't need pre-treating and I have found Pam Erny's stuff to be reliable (does not need pre-shrinking)

  33. I never use fusibles, period. I really just hate the way that even the lightest fusible makes the fabric feel and often look different from the rest of the garment. I usually use silk organza.

  34. Yes, very useful post. First time I've ever heard the "shrink it under the iron" advice.

    But like many others I have switched back to self, sew in or no interfacing for most clothes, shirts and blouses, in particular. In fact I was more than delighted recently when I found how much better a linen collar looks when it is self-interfaced.

    And sew in and self-interfacing is quicker too. You just include it as you sew, no laboring over a hot iron and waiting patiently for it to cool so the glue bonds properly, then flip over and do it again on the other side, etc. Sew-in cuts about twenty minutes off collar and stand construction time.


  35. I also use the steaming method that Niki described. Always. I hadn't noticed that you sad not to preshrink fusible or I would have commented that you must. It sounds like you can rescue this, though!

  36. I preshrink all of my interfacing in very hot water and air dry (unless it is polyester then I don't preshrink at all).

  37. I mostly use fusible interfacing. I use a lightweight knit fusing on almost everything, even my wedding gowns! For coats I use a heavier weight weft insertion.
    Also - I never preshrink it! I've never had any problems with shrinkage. Although the fusing does shrink visibly under steam, I blockfuse - so the shrinkage occurs before I cut the panel.
    I've never had any problems with delamination, which is the result of a poor bond. You should check the bond after fusing - if they pull apart its not good enough! The lightweight knit fusing bonds quite well using a home iron, a lot of others don't. I get my coat fusing done professionally as that one does not adhere as well with my home iron.
    I agree the bubbling is probably shrinkage post-fusing. I haven't had that experience with my lightweight knit fusing - maybe it has more flexibility?
    You can see I highly recommend lightweight knit fusing!!

  38. (How many wedding gowns do most women need?)

  39. Steam is NOT your friend when fusing. I used to steam the bejesus out of it and wondered why it bubbled. Then I read somewhere that you should use a dry iron. As soon as I turned the steam off, I've had no problems at all.

  40. After reading all the posts saying "I pre-shrink" I began to panic because I do not.

    Then I realized, actually I do.
    I was taught to get the interfacing wet and wring it out lightly.
    Then with a press cloth on top of it, press it to the fabric starting from the center going outward.

    That's essentially shrinking it as you go.
    For some reason a drawing comes to mind and I think it was in the Palmer/ Pletsch book.

  41. Ha ha! I used to make wedding gowns. I still think of them as 'mine' - after all the work that went into them you get a little emotionally attached to each one!

  42. Just. Had. Lightbulb. Moment. Ahhhhhhhhhh 'ding'

    This would explain the result I got on a shirt that I made a few years ago. It got the worst bubbling on the cuffs so I just tossed the shirt. I had no idea why it had happened and put it down to dodgy interfacing that had come unfused...

    Now I know better! And will possibly be looking into non-fusible for this sew-along.

    Thanks Peter!

  43. I use a nonwoven, weft-weight fusible interfacing that I buy in bulk from Joanns. They sell it by the bolt for $10, or if you do like me and buy multiple bolts when it's on sale, $1.99. I've never had shrinkage problems, and I've never preshrunk, but perhaps that's because I'm not using a woven?

  44. I dont like adhesive anything on anything I wear, sans a time in the 1990s when I put fabric paint on everything I owned. Im talking whole fronts of sweatshirts...
    But I digress.
    Peter, I think you are advanced enough to put in the effort of using non fusible interfacings. Preshrink a few yards of muslin to keep on hand for such a need. Especially since you are making a cool 30s shirt!
    Using more vintage techniques might prove rewarding.

  45. Thank you for posting about this! I have only had one successful experience with fusible interfacing in all my years of sewing, but it was on a purse that would never be laundered anyhow. Other than that, it's been Puckertown USA every time. All the tips in the comments about shrinking it will prove very useful if I ever decide to try it again.

  46. I have had mostly (99%?) lousy experiences with fusible stuff (non-woven) in fact I have a nearly finished slouchy blouse by Burda Style (#102 4/2010) which the interfacing has bubbled all down the front/collars and half peeled off too :( :( :( I need to unpick the seams steam it to see if I can peel it off & then I've decided to either use self-fabric (or muslin) instead. Having read your post, I'll try to stick to non-fusibles if I can now I think!

  47. I just give the interfacing a blast of steam before fusing it to the fabric. I learned this in a class I took years ago, its easy, more importantly requires no advance planning and so far has worked for me.

  48. I'm a returning sewer and I've been using this newfangled fusible interfacing very very reluctantly. After reading this discussion I'm going back to sewn-in and self-fabric interfacing. I have never trusted the fusible and don't like the idea of ironing sticky stuff onto fabric.

  49. Pat from MinnesotaJanuary 15, 2011 at 1:23 AM

    I've really only been successful with sew in interfacing. The iron on is a fickle friend that has only been dependable for a cheap fix.

  50. I've had bubbly disasters before. I do as others before have said and just shoot it with some steam before I press it on. I think I'd like to try sew in interfacings for the collar on the sew along. Might be worth you trying a few options for us to decide what to do ??? Well, you are hosting it after all !


  51. Hi Peter & readers! Just recently found your blog and have been enjoying it!

    I use Pellon 911FF and dry iron it. The one time I accidentally (out of habit, I am a steamer) steamed it, it did bubble but I pealed it right off and replaced it and it managed to work fine. I have made shirts for my husband with this interfacing and it looks great. I like that the collar and the cuffs (only ever made 1 long sleeve shirt before) look different and are stiffer and tend not to need ironing. Check out my shirts if interested:,

    For the sew-along I am planning to use sew in or fabric interfacing b/c I am using corduroy as my shirt fabric and it would get all weird and shiny and mess up the pile to iron interfacing to it. Trust me I have done it ;)

    So I guess my advise is it depends on your fashion fabric as to what interfacing to use. And if you do not have directions or info do some testing before you start on the real thing.

    Great topic! Thanks for all the discussion.

    Peace Out - Chrissy

  52. I am the worst offender for not pre shrinking anything :( I love the fabric all crisp from the manufacturer. When I wash anything I have made, I usually do it in cold, then line dry. I've never had a problem. That being said, you have just opened my eyes with the whole pre shrinking of the interfacing!!! I've never done this, and wondered why it was puckering. I thought being a synthetic, it wouldn't really need it.
    I have now been reborn with learning to preshrink :) Thanks Peter!!!

  53. Wow, I am amazed at how many people have trouble with fusibles! The two biggest problems with fusible interfacings are 1) improper application and 2) poor quality interfacing. You cannot buy good-quality interfacing at JoAnns! If you buy professional grade interfacings (such as those from Pam Erny) you will not have these problems with bubbling. I fuse 99.99% of my garments (with the exception of things like velvet) and never have a problem.

  54. In Australia we don't use dryers in the same way that you Americans seem to, so I simply wash the length of interfacing in the machine with cold water, like I would the finished garment and then I hang it out to dry. I only have problems when I use cheap fusibles. You get what you pay for.

  55. Oh, this is bringing back bad memories of a shirt I slaved over. The results were gorgeous -- until I washed it and the interfacing pruned up like a raisin. Were there tears? You bet.

  56. That is exactly why I refuse to fuse! The first time this happened to me, on a French cuff blouse that was almost complete, I was so disappointed. I've switched to sew in, and love the results so much better.

  57. Ditto Chrissy Weeks comment of 1/15/2011. I use Pellon 911FF with a dry iron without pre-wash and it's worked fine. I bought my Continental Model 23001 dry iron from the Vermont Country Store. I rarely use a steam iron during construction of my shirts.

  58. A bit late to the game, I know, but I do have a question. The general consensus seems to be 'fusibles need shrinking' - but what about sew-ins? I'm working my way through a totally unlabeled bolt of sew-in interfacing (my mother's) and haven't had anything shrink or bubble on me yet, but now you guys are scaring me!

  59. TW, my rule of thumb is that unless this is a garment that will always be dry-cleaned, you should pre-shrink your fusibles (assuming they're washable, of course).

  60. I've taken the men's shirt sewing class at FIT, and you don't preshrink fusible interfacing, at least if you're using production methods. It's understood that there will be some shrinkage and you deal with it by trimming to make pieces uniform. In addition, you trim the fusible piece by 1/8" all round before applying it to the fabric.

    I assume you also would do samples. If a particular fusible shrank the fabric to the point where it was not usable, you'd select another fusible.

    My understanding is that every time the iron is put to the fusible it activates the glue. I once ironed a piece a second time to remove the fusible, not to shrink it.

    I have no idea if it's necessary to shrink a sew-in interfacing, but I probably would.

  61. I know this is an older post but what an itneresting business! In 35 years of using fusible interfacing - vilene, woven and knit, I've never cottoned onto this problem! Mind you, I don't like the woven kind and gave up on it years ago so I wonder if it is the culprit. I returned to good old fashioned vilene, in every single weight from butterfly wing light to cardboard thick, depending on the project. Now I'm off to read up on teh shirt sew along to see how it all turned out :)

  62. Hi fellow interfacers,

    I stumbled across this post while searching desperatley for info on how to preshrink Textured Weft. (I know HTC is bankrupt. Don't ask me where I'm getting the stuff.) Does anyone know whether you soak TexWeft or steam-shrink it?

  63. Follow the care instructions for the clothing. Avoid exposing it to temperatures higher than 150 degrees F. This is frequently the temperature at which the interfacing will start to de-bond.

    I bet you are ironing and maybe drying in temperatures too high. Most modern dress shirts can't take the old fashioned super hot cleaning and pressing techniques. They will shine, delaminate (as on your collar), get those glue stains in the tips of the collars. Wash in warm water, hang dry and/or iron lightly and quickly. Don't even iron a fused collar. Don't send out for pressing/dry cleaning. They will ruin your shirt after about 6 pressings.

  64. It was through reading Vogue Patterns magazine that I learned interfacings needed preshrinking. So what i began to do was what I did with any new sewing fabric-give it a handwash in tepid/warm water with a touch of detergent, regular or Woolite, (if the finished garment was going to be washed like that), spin the water out in the machine then hang the fabric/interfacing on a clothing line to air-dry.
    In fact, usually the same day I purchase a fabric, the fabric gets its wash too. Routine of getting the easy stuff done and building momentuum for the chore of pattern adjustment then pinning/cutting the pieces on the fabric/interfacing.
    I've had my shares of bubbles along my sewing journey. Finding brand name interfacing at the main sewing fabric store is a bit of a laugh. I can only dream of the various Vilene varieties that are mentioned in Burda Style magazines. Do love a fusible knit interfacing when I have it for the lightweight blouses and tops!.


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