How to Avoid the B-Word — Bulk! — and Keep Your Sewing as Sleek as It Can Be

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Anyone who sews clothes is familiar with the B word. It's a nasty four-letter-word, so cover your ears: BULK.

That horrible stuff can creep up on you as you're happily sewing away. Too much bulk at intersecting seams, collar points and around facings can create ugly lumps that no one wants to see.

Thick fabrics like fleece , wool and double knits are the biggest culprits. Bulk lies in wait for you if you're working with those, so be vigilant. Knowing the various ways to reduce or eliminate bulk will net you a sleeker, more polished, more professional-looking garment.

You'll usually get bulk when more than two layers come together on heavy or thick fabrics: an opened and pressed seam creates bulk, intersecting seams are even worse. Facings can produce up to five or more layers, since interfacing is typically involved.

So it's no shocker that you'll end up with bulk. But you don't have to live with it. Choose one of these strategies for getting rid of bulk, and don't look back.

1. Opt for Lighter-Weight Fabric

Where facings go, bulk follows. One sure way to significantly cut down on this is to use a lighter-weight fabric in place of fashion fabric. Choose a material that's compatible with the fashion fabric and in the same color. The closer the match, the better.

2. Use Lapped Seams

Basic seams in heavy fabrics are bulky to begin with. At intersecting seams, the bulk starts to get out of hand. One way to cut it in half is to use lapped seams in place of conventional ones.

When you're using materials that won’t fray — like fleece, Melton cloth, faux or real leathers, and even some heavy knits —this isn't just a practical solution. It's an aesthetic decision, too.

3. Serge the Raw Edges of Seams

Another bulk-busting strategy is to serge the raw edges and finish seams with a four-thread overlock stitch. Serging compresses the edges of the seams together, squeezing out some of the bulk. It's only a partial solution, but it's effective in eliminating bulk on the underside of a garment.

4. Pick Lightweight Material for Collars

Collar points and square corners are other areas where bulk lurks. As with facings, try using a lighter-weight material for the underside, instead of sticking with a fashion fabric. Also, don’t interface acute collar points or square corner points.

Before you interface, just trim off the points of the interfacing altogether; this automatically gets rid of a layer of fabric. If you're using fusible interfacing, don’t press the interfacing until you sew the seams.

Now, sew the seams and then trim away the interfacing from the seam allowances. Trim down as close as you can to the stitching line as possible. Once trimmed, go ahead and fuse the interfacing to the fabric.

5. Trim and Grade Intersecting Seams

   
When you're working with heavy fabrics, you'll need to trim and grade any intersecting seams. Trim or remove the seam allowances by cutting them away close to the seam lines. To grade the seams, trim away one layer of the seam allowance at a time, starting with the layer that will be the outer-facing side of the garment.

Then trim the next layer slightly closer to the seam line, and trim the next one even closer, and so on. You get the picture. This grading of the seam allowances will prevent a ridge from showing up on the right side of the garment. When you're dealing with more than four layers, trim the middle layers completely away.

All that work will pay off; you'll see. After spending so many hours sewing a garment, you deserve the sleekest, smoothest, most professional-looking result!

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How to Avoid the B-Word — Bulk! — and Keep Your Sewing as Sleek as It Can Be