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Oct 31, 2015

I'm Taking the Neoprene Challenge

Readers, I know.

One month ago I dissed this fabulously fake fabric, the synthetic lovers's synthetic.

I posted photos of jaw-droppingly awful neoprene outfits. 

Some of you think I'm a hypocrite.

But I had a change of heart.  Here's how it happened:

A few days ago I was fabric shopping when I stumbled upon the wildest looking wool knit I'd ever seen and decided I had to have it.  (You know when you just know?)

This despite the fact that these colors are not part of my cool summer palette but more Peewee's Playhouse.  This intarsia resembles nothing so much as a topographic map.  It's a wool blend woven by the Italian mill Bonotto.  I have roughly 1 1/3 yards -- a bolt end, just enough to make something with.  I'm just not sure what.

On a related note, whom did I run into at Mood but lovely Melissa Watson of the McCall's Pattern Company.  I was a little embarrassed to show her my purchase but thankfully she didn't judge -- at least not outwardly.

I was somewhat taken aback, however, when Diane, who works the cash register, looked at the fabric and asked who I was going to be for Halloween.  Ouch.  Parenthetically, Diane created this costume for Swatch, Mood's canine mascot, below.

Anyway, when got home, I quickly realized I'd need a solid fabric to tone down this knit.  I decided the fabric really ought to be blue.  Back I went to the fabric store.

I was open to almost anything, but it was difficult finding an exact color match in a suitable fabric.  That's when I stumbled on this neoprene.

It only works with the knit, imo, if the reverse -- a rich purple -- doesn't show.

But why hide the purple, which is a good color for me?  That's when I decided to create a completely neoprene garment that features both sides.  I bought two and a half yards.

I know, it's a somewhat roundabout story, but that's how life happens, no?

I've decided to make a coat.  I'm inspired by this vintage 1958 Vogue Special Design (below).  I'm thinking oversized, kimono sleeves, big hood.  Thoughts?

I've experimented with stitching my neoprene and found I have no problems on my Bernina 930 with the thread tension turned up to the highest setting.  But I'm still left with those bulky seam allowances.

I got my best results with my Brother 1034D serger.  I created a flatlock stitch by turning the thread tension way down and the lower looper tension way up.  (After serging, you pull the two pieces apart till the two edges abut each other.)  The results from my very first swatch, using the thread that was already in my serger, were excellent.  Here's the thread side:

And here's the lower looper side:

The seam is quite flat and, I think, very attractive.  This seam is also strong: try as I might, I couldn't rip these pieces apart.

I still have to experiment with turning collars and pocket welts. These may not work, so I may have to come up with my own techniques/solutions.

I found some good tips on sewing with neoprene here.   Another seam finishing option is lapping one end over another and stitching (below).  I think I prefer flatlocking to the exposed raw edge.

And that's it.  I'm cautiously optimistic but I have a lot of fabric testing to do in the days ahead.

Any neoprene techniques/caveats you wish to share?   Ever tried flatlocking?

Have a great day, everybody!


  1. This is way beyond my ken but neoprene in large swaths just doesn't hang: it juts out and makes artificial, anti-human shapes and the garments wear the wearer, quickly becoming costume-y. 'Tis the season. Yet when cut into smaller pieces with well-placed seams that follow the body's contours, it can be quite attractive -- even sexy (pants, especially). I saw a woman in what I think was a pair of neoprene longer shorts and she looked hot (in more ways than one). I can also imagine a garment that is built up from small sections, organic or more geometric. I think it has a lot of potential.

    I actually really like the knit you purchased and the combination with neoprene is intriguing. Can't wait to see what you decide.

  2. I am always amazed how one project always turns into 2, like the magic broom in the Sorcerer's apprentice.

  3. I could totally picture the neoprene as the body of that coat, with the wool for the hood.

  4. I've just made a T shirt out of neoprene bought because I really liked the colours, and it worked surprisingly well. Easy to sew, and in a simple T hangs OK. Downside of course is that it's very warm, so won't do for the height of summer in Melbourne, nor for wearing more than one day. Good luck with your much more creative use of the fabric!

  5. cant wait to see what you create!

  6. Another reader here who can't wait to see what you do with it, but I just see a sweat, or more likely, sauna suit in the making.

  7. If you put the wrong sides together and bound the edges with bias tape, you'd have a great water-resistant picnic blanket.

  8. Boldly going where no seamster has gone before!!!!

  9. I don't know if you followed the Great British Sewing Bee (just about all 3 series are available on youtube) but I think in the last series, towards the end, one of the challenges was neoprene and they talked about the challenges it provokes. I don't remember very much because I can't ever imagine trying unless I ever want to make an awning! We look forward to what you're going to make with it so as not to resemble the Man from Atlantis!! The vogue pattern is really nice though although I can't help feeling it would be better in something a bit more luxuriant. Bon courage!!

  10. Whoa!! First of all, loved the opening looks so 60's Vogue, I kept hearing Diana Vreeland's voice booming "Duuuuhvine"!! in the background! Moving further on down the page, I dropped to the floor in hysterics at seeing that "human egg" in blue!!! Good night nurse!! LOL!! Peter dearest,,,,,, you've had many a challenge in your sewing career and this one is going to be your biggest yet! We're all waiting to see how you tame that fabric into something wearable and chic! Have a glass of wine and let your imagination soar! Neoprene might have even stumped that late great master of sculptural design Charles James! Good luck!!

    1. (static)...Hoodie Patrol...(static)...come in Cashmere Blend...(static)...Cashmere blend, do you copy?...(static)...

  11. I've used the flatlock for reversible garments before, but beware: it unravels like crazy from the edges. (Can see that from your pic). Grab your Fraycheck.
    Love the knit.

  12. This project episode should prove most interesting!

  13. Looking forward to seeing what you create. Some mentioned it will be very sweaty . . . maybe some well-placed grommets could alleviate that a bit?

  14. The blogger, Goodbye Valentino, has made some beautiful garments out of neoprene. She just posted about a sheath dress and how she handled the hem. I recommend searching her blog for her posts on sewing with neoprene as I think you will find the info helpful. Good luck!

  15. I can't wait to see what you come up with! If anyone can make something awesome from neoprene, it's you! I'm waiting to be inspired. :)

  16. I have no experience with working with neoprene, but if you find that it's not draping well enough for your coat, perhaps some strategic placement of strips of the knit fabric (maybe in the shoulder area and vertical strips in the lower part of the coat) between neoprene pieces would act as "hinges", preventing the "billowing" effect that's seen in your pic of the model wearing the blue outfit and adding some more flexibility to the coat as a whole.

  17. Neoprene seems like an interesting medium. I would probably make an overcoat with neoprene. Here's a design idea that I think would be great as a neoprene coat:

  18. This looks like sew much fun and the stitches you have made on it with your machine look like they can handle it. I can't wait to see what you make with it ; )

  19. Isn't it amazing how the creative process can take you in a direction that you never dreamed of? That's why I hate when I'm told to provide a "plan,". Doesn't work like that!

    The top photo looks like a close approximation if your pattern. You might need some sculpting seams to prevent Scorpion's human egg look.

    I look forward to following this project, no matter how it turns out. It will be a great experiment.

  20. Ha, ha, ha. You might have changed your mind, but I still think neoprene is Satan's own.

  21. I'm glad you changed your mind about neoprene, as I think you could make something really nice (and even classy) in it. Really! I made a black skirt in very thick spacer fabric (sometimes called 'airtex') and wore it to church!

  22. I'm late to the party, but I want to know - doesn't neoprene hold the sweat like a layer of sea water against your skin? Please, someone explain this fashion phenom to me.

  23. Well, it is pretty nice as a dive suit in the northwest in the winter. January water skiing only possible with neoprene.

  24. I just stumbled onto your page and was amazed at your choice of coat pattern. I'm 88 yrs old and have used that hooded evening coat pattern for years. Made it in" black velvet, white jacquard embossed with gold thread, pink lace, leopard print vinyl, and white lace for a daughter to wear on her wedding day, among others. Can't imagine getting a Vogue pattern for a dollar. The last Vogue pattern I bought cost me $25.00. Keep on creating. Cheers.

  25. Also, forgot to say: Yes it actually came with a cloth, embroidered label to sew into the coat. how divine.


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