Sew Rayon & Batik

Barb Alexander
Barb Alexander

Tips for Success When Sewing With Rayon…

RAYON…NATURALLY…

By Barb Alexander 

Here’s a question for you…  Is rayon a “natural fiber”?  Well, it is made from wood fiber and cotton linters, so…I suppose that would be “yes”.  Why then is rayon often excluded when we hear a discussion about natural fibers?  Linen, cotton, silk, wool…even hemp…they’ve all made the list, but rayon is often not included.  It hardly seems fair!  One thing I know for sure – in the tropical heat, rayon is my fabric of choice for keeping cool.  It breathes and drapes over the figure without clinging and to me, an admitted “heat wimp” from Canada, these things are important for my comfort.  But don’t think of it simply as a summertime favorite, rayon is suited to year-round wardrobe planning.

The rayon batik fabric made in Bali is truly a work of art.  Each piece has been hand-dyed, stamped or screened using both ancient and modern techniques combined with quality dyes.  In a world of mass-produced fabric, these pieces hold “the personal touch”.  The workers at the batik factory take the artwork I bring them and apply my color ideas to them making my fabric dreams a reality. 

Over the years, rayon’s quality has dramatically improved.  It used to be rayon had to be drycleaned to prevent shrinking or stretching out of shape.   That’s not the case anymore…if you buy quality fabric. I use only the very best rayon available in South-East Asia.  It is fully washable and the dyes are colorfast.  The fabric has a lovely smooth hand and drapes beautifully, skimming over “figure challenges”, making it a flattering choice for everyday fashions for work, leisure and special occasions.

PRE-TREATMENT OF THE FABRIC…

Pre-washing rayon batik is important to properly rinse any residual dyes and waxes from the fabric and to bring the selvedges back into shape after having been stretched during the hang-drying process.  Wash the fabric in warm water with a mild detergent and dry it in a warm (not hot) dryer.  There will be some shrinkage even though the fabric has been wet and dry several times in the dyeing process – you may lose 8 - 12 cms. per meter so purchase extra yardage to accommodate this.

Before cutting your pattern out, determine which is the right side of the fabric.  Look for an area where the dye is a solid color.  The right side will have the clearest image and most distinct color; the wrong side will have more “spotting” in the image.

When cutting the fabric, prevent shifting by pinning frequently and ensuring the grain-line is straight.  Fine pins (such as silk pins), scissors with a serrated blade or a rotary cutter will all help here.

INTERFACING…

A good quality, lightweight fusible knit/weft interfacing will avoid changing the hand or drape of rayon.  (My favorite is Palmer/Pletsch’s Perfect Fuse, “sheer” weight).  Pre-shrinking interfacing is a good idea.  Soak for 20 minutes in a deep bucket of hand-hot water then hang over a shower curtain rod to dry.  Apply the interfacing with the greatest stretch running on the lengthwise grain of the garment.  This permits the rayon to relax as it hangs and will prevent that “puddling” appearance.

A great way to add structure to a jacket or top made from rayon is to interface and line the entire garment.  Pair the top with drapey pants or a swishy skirt made in the same fabric for a smashing outfit.                                                                                               

STITCHING YOUR GARMENT…

Sew your garment using a new size 80/12 “sharp” needle with all-purpose/polyester thread and a stitch length of 2.5.    On long, straight, vertical seams prevent puckers by stitching with a slight zigzag of .5 - 1.0 and a stitch length of 2.5 - 3.0.  Seam finishing is necessary – keep thread build-up in seams to a minimum by using a two-thread serged seam (or do as the Balinese women do, sew French Seams).

CARE AND FEEDING OF YOUR FINISHED GARMENT…

To keep rayon batik garments looking their best, washing on the machine’s gentle cycle and hanging to dry is recommended.  Once dry, tumble the garment for a short time in a warm dryer to soften the fibers before ironing.   Prevent shine on dark-colored fabrics by ironing from the wrong side, using a press cloth or a Teflon “iron shoe”.  For best results, place the iron on the “wool” setting with some steam.  Avoid stretching the fabric when ironing, especially in areas of bias.

Rayon garments make great traveling companions, especially to warm climates.  After unpacking, hang your garments in the bathroom on the shower curtain rod, fill the bathtub with hot water and close the door. The humidity will cause any wrinkles to fall right out.

I hope you will add rayon batik to your list of must-sew fabrics this summer season.  Be prepared for the compliments you’ll receive on how cool and comfortable you look in the heat!

Barb Alexander lives in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.