Stabilising shifty fabrics with gelatine!

When I read about Sew Busy Lizzy using gelatine to stabilise slippery fabric, I was fascinated. I had the slinky polyester bird fabric (used for this blouse) in my stash for about a year and a half before this point, but as I loved it so much, I didn’t want to risk ruining it! So while I was staying at my parents’ house last August, I decided to use a ‘good drying day’ (as my Mum would say) to experiment. It only took me six months after that to use the fabric…

The bird print polyester fabric I stabilised with gelatine

This is a really easy technique for stabilising tricky fabrics – it won’t quite make silk satin sew up like quilting cotton, but it certainly makes it a lot easier. Although I found Lizzy’s tutorial here and this Threads article really useful, there are a couple of things I wanted to add!

I’m based in the UK, and didn’t find powdered gelatine in the supermarket – I could only find leaf gelatine. This stuff comes in packs of 4 leaves, and is pretty cheap at around £1-2/ pack.

I worked out that 1 leaf of gelatine was roughly equal to 1tsp gelatine power (err, I can’t remember how. But I do remember puzzling it out for a while…) I then made up the gelatine as per the instructions, diluting it with 1 litre of water per leaf of gelatine.

I treated 3 different bits of fabric at the same time – some silk satin, drapey polyester and drapey viscose. Altogether there was about 5.5m fabric. I think this was a little too much as the treatment was slightly uneven, so I would recommend using a metre per litre of the gelatine solution. All three fabrics were really well stabilised, although the man-made fibres seemed to absorb the gelatine even more than the silk.

Having now used the silk and polyester, I can say it made the sewing tons easier! Here is my method and tips:

1.       Work out how much gelatine you need for your fabric. Use the following as a guide
1 leaf gelatine: 1 litre water: 1m fabric
So if you have 3m, then use 3 leaves gelatine in 3l water (etc.)

2.       Melt the gelatine according to pack instructions. Once the gelatine has melted, add as much warm water as necessary – I would do this in a large bucket or basin. Mix well.

3.       Add the fabric to the gelatine solution, mixing it well again. Make sure your fabric is submerged in the solution.

4.       Leave to soak for at least an hour.

5.       After soaking, gently squeeze out excess water. Hang out fabric to dry. If at all possible, I would hang it outside, as the liquid can drip out and make a bit of a mess. Otherwise hang it somewhere you can easily clean!

6.       Use fabric as you normally would!

7.       Once your garment is made up, leave it to soak for around 20 mins in hand hot water. Rinse out and wash fabric with detergent. If this doesn’t wash all the gelatine out, you may find you need to repeat this step.

Once fabric is dry, you should be able to feel the difference in the fabric’s texture and drape. I would make up items as soon after the treatment as possible. I made up my birdy blouse 6 months after the gelatine treatment, and I haven’t noticed any detriment to the fabric. However, it did take a fair bit of washing to get the gelatine out of the fabric – I don’t know if this is because the gelatine had been in the fabric for quite a while, or if it always takes this long!

I ironed my blouse using steam, and it was fine, but again, the gelatine treatment had been in the fabric for several months, so steam may affect the gelatine if you have treated your fabric more recently. Try it out on a small section if you’re not sure.

Have you got any other techniques that you’ve used for stabilising tricky fabrics?


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