Do you yearn to be a “smooth operator,” a sewist who knows how to fix puckered fabric?
Fabric puckering when sewing is a common woe that can frustrate even the most experienced seam worker.
In this article, we’ll cover:
- Why puckering happens
- Why it’s important to fix
- Preventative measures and quick fixes
Relax, your sewing projects are on their way to becoming as smooth as silk. (Yay, fabric simile!)
Prevention is Key
Puckering occurs when the fabric bunches up or gathers during sewing, creating an uneven, wavy, lumpy seam. (I think a puckered seam is a dead giveaway of a homemade garment.)
Fabric puckering is most noticeable on shiny materials, where the bumps and tucks catch the light. Satin might be the worst fabric for showing off puckering.
Here are preventative measures you can take.
Choose the Right Fabric
One of the most important things you can do to prevent puckering is to choose the right fabric for your project.
Lightweight fabrics such as silk or chiffon are more prone to puckering. Fabrics that are stretchy or slippery also are likely to pucker.
Heavier weight fabrics, to compare, are less prone to puckering.
RELATED: What Does Weight of Fabric Mean?
Set the Proper Stitch and Machine Tension
Correct sewing machine settings and tension are crucial for preventing puckering.
In general, use a shorter stitch length for lightweight fabrics and a longer stitch length for heavier fabrics. Zig-zag ( or any type of lateral) stitches are more likely to cause fabric puckers.
Adjust the tension based on the weight of the fabric — for lighter weight fabrics, use a lower tension, and for heavier fabrics, use a higher tension.
Use the Proper Needle and Thread
Make sure you’re using the correct sewing machine needle type for your fabric.
A needle that’s too small can cause puckering, so choose a larger size needle for heavier fabrics.
If you’re using a lightweight fabric, consider using a microtex (sharp) needle to prevent snags.
And use the lightest-weight sewing thread type that’s appropriate for your fabric (for 95 percent of projects, all-purpose polyester will treat you right). Thread that’s too heavy can create an ugly seam.
Test the Machine and Needle Combinations
Speaking of tensions, stitch lengths, and needles, TEST YOUR SETTINGS (yes, I’m YELLING) on scrap fashion fabric before you get underway.
Avoiding puckers starts with tweaking your machine and needle to find which setting DOESN’T CAUSE PUCKERS (MORE YELLING).
And, if you’re still riding the struggle bus, first try rethreading the machine, and if that doesn’t work, try a fresh needle.
Don’t get attached to old needles; they will do you wrong.
RELATED: Why is My Sewing Machine Skipping Stitches?
Proper pinning can also prevent puckering. Pin perpendicular to the fabric edge, and place pins closer together for lighter weight fabrics. For slippery fabrics, try using clips instead of pins.
Pressing your fabric before and after sewing can make a big difference in preventing puckering.
Use a pressing cloth and a low heat setting to avoid damaging the fabric, and press on the wrong side. (No shiny spots on the right side, please.)
Be sure to press each seam as you sew to keep the fabric smooth and flat.
Quick Fixes for Minor Puckering
So, what do you do if you have, like, 1-2 puckers in a seam? I got you.
Steam and Press
If you notice minor puckering, try using steam and pressing to smooth it out. Use a pressing cloth and press the fabric with steam from your iron.
Lauren Taylor of Lladybird, one of my all-time-favorite sewing bloggers/educators, likes to say “that’ll steam out.” And she’s right.
Tweak the Tension
Sometimes adjusting the tension can fix minor puckering.
If you notice puckering while sewing, try increasing or decreasing the tension slightly and see if it makes a difference.
Adjust the Stitch Length
Again, if you notice puckering while sewing, try lengthening the stitch and see if it fixes the issue.
Use Your Fingernails
Sometimes I have luck eliminating rogue puckers by rubbing out tiny gathers with my nails.
What I do is place the seam on a flat surface and gently stretch it at the puckering location while I run my fingernail over the pucker.
This lets the surrounding seam/stitches take up the extra fabric. It’s kinda like easing, I guess?
Then I press the formerly puckered spot to set its smoothness. And use a clapper to really mash those fibers flat.
Try this technique at your own risk, because I recognize that I could EASILY damage fabric with it.
Advanced Fixes for Major Fabric Puckering
Sometimes you have to take extreme measures to eliminate those horrible little gathers. Here are next-level remedies for puckered fabric.
The Slash and Spread Method
When using the slash and spread method to fix fabric puckering, you cut into both layers of fabric along the seam allowance.
Cutting into the seam allowance of both fabric layers ensures the adjustments are made consistently across both layers.
Here’s how to perform the slash and spread method to fix puckering:
1.) Determine the location of the puckering and mark two parallel lines perpendicular to the seam line, within the seam allowance, on both layers of fabric.
➡️ The distance between the parallel lines will depend on the severity of the puckering and the amount of spread needed. Start with a small spread, such as ¼ inch.
2.) Carefully cut through both layers of fabric along the marked lines. Cut to, but now through, the seam. Take care not to cut into the main fabric beyond the seam allowance.
3.) Gently spread apart both layers of fabric along the cut lines. Adjust them to the desired position, distributing the excess fabric evenly.
4.) Secure both layers in their new positions by pinning or basting them together. This step ensures that the fabric remains aligned and prevents additional puckering.
5.) Sew along the new seam line, which will be slightly further out from the original seam line due to the spread fabric. Make sure to stitch through both layers of fabric, following the new alignment.
6.) Press the seam with an iron, using the appropriate setting for the fabric. Pressing helps set the new seam and smooth out any remaining puckers or wrinkles.
Unpick and Start Over
If you notice major puckering, it may be best to unpick the seam and start over. (I know, I know, it sucks a lot.)
Make sure to re-press the fabric before stitching.
This can be time-consuming but will result in a smoother finish. Plus, sometimes unpicking a seam is the best way to NOT overwork/stretch out the fabric to correct the puckering.
Try Interfacing or Stabilizers
Using interfacing or stabilizers can help prevent puckering and create a more stable fabric surface. Choose an interfacing or stabilizer that matches the weight of your fabric.
If you’re sewing a particularly lightweight fabric whose hand you don’t want to ruin with interfacing, investigate water-soluble or tear-away stabilizers. They won’t be a permanent part of the garment.
Add Pleats or Gathers
Sometimes adding pleats or gathers can help smooth out puckering. Be sure to choose the right fabric and method for your project.
Also, because seam puckers are essentially one-off gathers, adding gathers as a design feature is clever camouflage. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, I guess, kinda?
Other Causes of Fabric Bunching
What else can cause ugliness at the seams?
While incorrect machine settings and poor fabric choices are common culprits for puckered fabric, there are other reasons why your fabric might be bunching up.
Here are some of the lesser-known causes of puckered fabric:
Uneven or Stretched Seams
If your seam allowance is inconsistent or if you stretch the fabric while sewing, you can end up with puckered fabric. To avoid this, make sure to use a consistent seam allowance and support the fabric as you sew.
Incorrect Bias Cutting
Bias cutting involves cutting fabric at a 45-degree angle to the grain line. If you cut your fabric on the bias incorrectly, you can end up with stretched or distorted fabric that bunches when sewn. Make sure to mark and cut your fabric on the bias carefully.
Distorted Fabric Grain
If your fabric is distorted, it can cause bunching and puckering when sewn. To fix this, try steaming the fabric to relax it, or re-cutting it along the grain line.
You can “block” your fabric by re-shaping the fabric piece so that the warp (grain line) and weft are perpendicular. Lay the fabric cut on a large, flat surface and pull at its corners and sides to get those grain lines back at 90 degrees.
BTW, correcting the fabric grain is done on uncut pieces of fabric, not on fabric pattern pieces.
Incorrect ironing techniques can cause puckered fabric. If you iron your fabric too aggressively, it can distort the fibers and cause bunching. Use the right temperature and pressure when pressing your fabric, and avoid pulling or stretching it.
Final Thoughts on How to Fix Puckered Fabric
Puckered fabric can be frustrating, but with the right techniques and tools, it’s a problem you can solve.
The right fabric, machine settings, and sewing techniques can help you avoid puckered fabric in the first place.
But, if you do end up with puckered fabric, don’t panic. There are a variety of quick fixes and advanced techniques you can use to smooth your fabric and create a professional-looking seams.
OK, smooth operators: If fabric is puckering when you’re sewing, what is your go-to trick to fix it? Please leave a comment. Thanks for reading.