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Learning how to sew ripstop nylon fabric can be difficult for sewing beginners.
For instance, ripstop is notoriously slick and prone to slippage. It also frays and can leave your machine a mess. Other potential issues include seam puckering, skipped stitches, and even lightweight pieces jamming in your machine.
Want to learn to troubleshoot these issues?
Here’s a big list of tips for sewing ripstop nylon fabric using a home sewing machine!
What is ripstop fabric?
Ripstop is a tightly woven, lightweight fabric characterized by a raised grid-like surface that resists tearing and ripping. These crisscross weaves, quite simply, stop rips from occurring in the fabric.
Ripstop fabrics have wind-resistant properties, and many are made water-repellent or waterproof with specialized coatings. When a coating like polyurethane is included, the fabric is less breathable, which can be a plus if you’re using it to make an inflatable or kite, for instance.
Also, ripstop fabrics come in a variety of weights. I find that the slinkier, lighter-weight nylon ripstop fabrics (left in the picture above) are the most difficult to sew with my machine. Heavier weights with more pronounced ridges (the right) are much easier to work with.
Fiber Composition of Ripstop
While synthetic ripstop is most commonly made from nylon, there are ripstop fabrics made from polyester, cotton, silk, and a combination of these fibers.
Fabric care instructions and even intended usage depend upon the fiber composition.
What is ripstop used for?
Thanks to its construction, ripstop is very durable, strong, and has a wide range of uses in clothing and accessories.
Ripstop is commonly found in lightweight windbreaker jackets, wind pants or shorts, and even rainwear like ponchos.
It’s also common as a utility fabric used for drawstring backpacks, umbrellas, kites, reusable bags, inflatables, canopies, tarps, flags, duffel bags, tents, and more.
It also has a prevalence in the military, showing up in parachutes and other equipment.
Tips for Sewing Ripstop Nylon Fabric
Let’s talk about how to sew ripstop now to give you the best chance of success with minimal frustration. I’ll start with washing and preparing ripstop and end with tips for the best ripstop sewing settings.
And, always remember to test all settings and treatments on a scrap piece of fabric before working on your project. Ripstop has different compositions, coatings, weights, manufacturers, and more, so what works for one type of ripstop might not work for another.
1. Prewashing Ripstop Nylon Is Not Necessary
Nylon ripstop does not need to be preshrunk, so prewashing is not necessarily recommended, especially for the waterproof variety. Cotton ripstop may shrink a tiny amount, but prewashing is ultimately up to you.
Due to the varieties of ripstop, check the bolt of fabric for the best wash and dry settings.
If unable to locate them, wash in warm water and hang to dry or lay the fabric flat. You can try a low-medium heat setting on your dryer, but be careful at first, especially if your ripstop is coated. Over-aggressive washing and drying can affect waterproof properties.
2. Be Careful When Ironing Nylon Ripstop
Ripstop nylon is best stored rolled, not folded, to prevent creasing. However, once the wrinkles are there, most can be ironed away.
Again, thanks to variety, check the fabric bolt for exact instructions, and make sure to test iron settings on a small piece of scrap fabric first.
If you cannot locate the proper pressing instructions, err on the side of caution and use a low heat iron and pressing cloth. Be especially cautious when pressing coated ripstop.
If the fabric is too vulnerable to heat, try spritzing with water and using a seam roller or finger to press out bigger wrinkles.
3. Be Careful with Pattern Layout and Avoid Pinning
Pins leave holes in nylon ripstop, so when laying out pattern pieces, use pattern weights or only pin in the seam allowances.
The same applies when sewing two pieces together. Only pin in the seam allowance, or choose to use sewing clips, washable fabric tape, or fabric glue. The best type of pin to use is a thin, sharp pin that will pierce the tightly woven fabric with minimal disruption.
When cutting pattern pieces from coated ripstop, ensure the side with the coating will be facing the outside of the project.
And lastly, small seam allowances are more likely to get jammed in the machine, so aim for 1/2″ or larger when possible.
4. Cut Ripstop the Right Way
Choose sharp sewing scissors or shears or a sharp rotary cutter for the best results.
Dull cutting tools make fraying worse at the edges and don’t provide a clean cut. Sew pieces soon after cutting rather than storing also to discourage fraying.
5. Minimize Fraying and Neaten Edges Before Sewing
Since most varieties of ripstop easily ravel and fray, decrease the likelihood by searing the edges through a candle flame (be very careful!) or using a hot knife or stencil cutter. This is, of course, if you don’t plan to encase raw edges in a seam when sewing.
You can also try pinking shears or adding a zigzag or overcast stitch before sewing pieces together. Serging the edges with a 3- or 4-thread overlock stitch is another viable alternative if you can finetune your serger settings.
6. Use Proper Marking Tools
Test any marking tool on a small piece of scrap fabric to ensure it will show up on the fabric and can be easily removed.
I prefer to use chalk, although water-soluble or air-soluble markers also work for marking ripstop fabric.
7. Pick the Right Needle
Choose a NEW and sharp needle with the size of the needle corresponding to the weight of the fabric.
Larger needles leave larger holes, decreasing waterproof qualities and making unsightly seams, so choose the smallest needle that works well and doesn’t skip stitches.
Ripstop nylon also dulls needles quickly, so inspect your needle before using it for other projects, and replace it immediately if you notice skipped stitches.
8. Choose a Compatible Presser Foot
Remember how ripstop is slick and slippery and some have coatings? It’s a beast to sew with the wrong presser foot.
If you only have a zigzag presser foot, you can add a layer of tissue paper on top of the ripstop to help if you notice either uneven feeding or the coated fabric sticking to the presser foot.
9. Use the Best Thread for Sewing Ripstop Nylon
As a general rule, synthetic fabrics work best with synthetic threads. Thus, for synthetic ripstop, the best thread is 100% polyester or 100% nylon thread.
Use the same thread in the bobbin as in the top thread, and match the color to the color of the ripstop.
10. Choose Lightweight Interfacing, If Needed
While rarely needed, some zippers, snaps, and other types of closures may require interfacing. Choose a nonwoven sew-in interfacing or fusible interfacing that adheres at lower temperatures.
Keep in mind that fabrics need interfacing lighter than the weight of the fabric.
11. Learn to Adjust Sewing Machine Settings for Best Results
Following these sewing tips will decrease the likelihood of ripstop puckering and give you the best possible stitch out.
First, choose a medium-length stitch (around 2.5mm) and sew slowly to avoid issues. A small stitch length may cause issues from too many needle penetrations.
If needed, stop and adjust tension (slightly lessen) and presser foot pressure (again slightly lessen).
Hold the thread ends with your fingers when doing your first stitches to avoid the ripstop getting jammed in the throat plate. Aim to use reverse stitching rather than reinforcement stitching at the ends of your stitching lines.
One beautiful thing about ripstop is you can use the grid to help you sew straight seams!
Next, always hold the fabric securely on both sides of the presser foot and help guide the fabric.
If you still notice puckering after following these steps, try using an embroidery stabilizer or tissue paper to give the fabric more strength. This is torn or washed off after the seam is constructed.
12. Explore Options to Make and Neaten Seams and Hems
Plain seams or double-stitched seams are common for ripstop. Other options are double-fold seams, French seams, topstitched seams, welt seams, and many more.
When sewing a hem, neaten your edges to prevent fraying or double fold to encase the raw edges.
13. Waterproof Ripstop Further, If Needed
While many types of ripstop are waterproof thanks to the fabric finish, large needle holes from seams in water-repellent fabric may decrease the effectiveness.
Consider using a waterproof seam sealant on the wrong side of the fabric along the seam if you notice leakage.
For fabrics that are uncoated or are less effective over time, one option for waterproofing ripstop is to use Scotchgard Fabric Water Shield.
Tips for Sewing Ripstop – Final Notes
That’s all I have for now. Any other tips you want to add? Best wishes on your ripstop project!