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Slinky Knit, You Flatterer, You

Threads #70, April/May 1997
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What do you think of when you hear the word acetate? Fabric that’s not so great, right? Well, think again. The acetate/Lycra fabrics called Slinky Knit (a term trademarked by Horizon Fabrics but commonly used to describe similar fabrics from other manufacturers) has been taking the fashion world by storm, appearing in the lines of top designers and manufacturers and in all the clothing stores. And, of course, home sewers want to know how to get in on the action, too.

slinky knits patternsThe name “Slinky Knit” suggests that it would look good only on women with perfect bodies. Actually, this stretchy knit flatters all figure types, draping like a waterfall and skimming the body in a way that doesn’t accentuate flaws. The fabric has enough body to “float” over lumps and bumps and give the impression of a smooth body contour underneath.

This updated version of acetate (it’s different from the old stuff that, when wet, smelled bad, got limp, and bled color) is just one of a new generation of man-made fabrics that have few of the difficulties of synthetics, while retaining the advantages. Slinky sheds wrinkles, travels like.a dream, and works well for dressy occasions or everyday garments. Breathable and comfortable to wear, it has a soft, supple hand and a luxurious drape (with a great “twirl factor”!).

And maintenance is simple. Just wash Slinky by hand or machine (gentle cycle). It dries quickly when laid flat (don’t hang it-the fabric’s weight will cause it to stretch). And garments can be stored in a drawer or even a bag.

A survey of slinky fabrics

As you can see from the samples, acetate/Lycra fabrics are available in a wide range of styles and finishes. The ones you find in fabric stores are probably manufactured by Symphony Fabrics of New York, since they distribute fabrics for the home-sewing market (although some stores sell offcuts from designers’ workrooms). You can also order Slinky fabrics by mail.

The original Slinky-style fabric is the one you’ll see most, with a lustrous, slightly distressed rib that reflects light. It’s available in rich solid colors and several prints; in the same fabric with random, glittery dots; and in an embossed version, with subtle designs pressed into the surface. The Sculptured Sheer resembles a stretch cut velvet; Bubble Knit is a soft, puckery fabric with a honeycomb texture; and the Chenille has a velvety finish. Stretch Ottoman and Tree Bark, thicker, heavier versions of Slinky, work well when you want a garment with more body. And the Slinky Crepe has a more subdued, matte look; it’s an easy fabric to start with because it’s less slippery to sew.

Simple shapes work best

Because Slinky Knit is stretchy, choose a simple pattern with few pieces for minimal construction and fast, easy sewing. A pattern designed for knits is ideal. Slinky tends to drape and follow the body, so it’s important to cut the pieces with sufficient ease. For a flattering dress or tunic, make sure your pattern has at least 4 in. but easily up to 10 in. of ease at the bust and hip. Don’t worry about the garment appearing too full-the fluid drape will fix that.

In the photos at right and on the facing page, you’ll see examples of the simple styles I love to sew. For more information on specific patterns, see the sketches on p. 49, which include pattern numbers.

A neat, drapey neckline- Like many stretch fabrics, Slinky offers a number of neckline options. You can use crossgrain strips of Slinky like a standard ribbing; to do so, cut the strip a quarter to a third shorter than the opening, and stretch the strip to fit. Or create a bound edge by cutting a crossgrain strip, sewing it to the neckline right sides together, then smoothing the binding over the seam allowance and stitching in the ditch to secure it.

Slinky Knit makes a great turtleneck. One of my favorite tricks for a soft cowl neck is to sew on the first edge of a turtleneck, then mismatch, or skew to one side, the inner edge by several inches (3 in. works well on a 4-in.-high turtleneck) before stitching in the ditch. The result is a permanently swirled cowl that’s very flattering.

Acetate never looked this good. Slinky Knit’s updated blend of acetate and Lycra results in a lush, fluid fabric that’s available in a wide variety of styles. Keep an eye open for these: puckery Bubble Knit in white; original Slinky in tan, celery, lavender, and taupe, surrounding soft Chenille in dark teal; matte-finish Slinky Crepe in eggplant; Sculptured Sheer in olive; Stretch Ottoman in peacock; and, finally. Cracked Ice in olive.

How to cut Slinky Knit

Slinky Knit comes in an unusual 48-in. width, so follow the withnap layout for 42- to 44-in.-wide fabric (although it’s hard to observe, Slinky definitely has a nap). Because Slinky is heavy and tends to shift and stretch as you lay it out, it can be tricky to cut. First, don’t let the excess fabric hang off the cutting surface. I support the extra fabric on two stools so it won’t distort the area I’m cutting.

Since the fabric is difficult to pin, I prefer weights to anchor the pattern and a sharp rotary cutter. If you use scissors, avoid shifting the fabric as you slide the scissors under it. If you have difficulty, try putting a layer of tissue paper under the fabric and cutting both layers at once.

It can be hard to sew a narrow 1/4-in. seam accurately. For best results, cut 1/2- to 5/8-in. seam allowances and trim away the excess either while serging or after sewing.

woman in a slinky knit vest and tunic
Simple shapes are ideal for this weighty, stretchy fabric (outer vest and tunic: Neue Mode 2 1 7 3 6 ; short top: Neue Mode 21 9 8 3 , widened at the hem; pants: Neue Mode 21 670).

Construction tips

Most Slinky Knit fabrics have handling problems similar to velvet’s: the texture acts like a pile, and resists feeding. A serger with differential feed offers the easiest construction method, but with care, you can get good results on any zigzag sewing machine.

If your serger or sewing machine has an adjustable presser foot (to adjust the amount of push the foot exerts on the fabric), loosen it to medium-light pressure to reduce any stretching of the fabric. Use a strong filament polyester thread like Gutermann or Swiss Metrosene for construction.

I either use fine silk pins or hold fabric layers together with small, plastic clothes pins. When getting a seam started in the machine, smooth, slow starts will help to prevent bunching, as will a 1- by 4-in. strip of Solvy (a water-soluble stabilizer) placed under the beginning of each seam with 1 in. hanging off. As you begin sewing, hold the thread tails and the Solvy and pull gently. On some machines, you may need a strip on top of the fabric as well.

Occasionally, when you stop or sew around a curve, the fabric will fail to feed smoothly. Stop with the needle in the fabric, lift the foot, smooth and reposition the fabric, and begin sewing again slowly.

woman in a long slinky knit dress
Whether you’re model thin or full figured, Slinky’s heavy drape refuses to cling, skimming the body for full-time flattery. And besides, it’s fun to wear just try twirling! (Patterns for everyBODY 1 01 (see sources above) with a reshaped V-neck.)

On the serger- I suggest using a three-needle setup and a mediumlong, 3- to 3 .5-mm stitch for seams that give. Increase the differential feed to prevent stretching and wobbly seams. On most sergers, a standard needle works fine, but use a new one to prevent skipping. If skipping still occurs, try a Schmetz 75/ 1 1 H-S (stretch) or a ballpOint needle.

On the sewing machine- If you’re constructing Slinky on the sewing machine, use a satin-stitch or embroidery foot with a wide groove on the bottom to reduce stretching, and a Schmetz 75/ 1 1 H-S needle. For long seams, use a medium zigzag stitch (2 to 2.5 mm wide and 2 mm long). For construction details like inserting a pocket or attaching facings, try a baby zigzag of 1 mm wide and 1.5 mm long.

Go easy on the ironing- I use plenty of steam to flatten seams and hems on Slinky, and sometimes use the tip of the iron on a seam allowance from the wrong side. Take care not to choose a high-heat setting, which can “cook” the fabric.

Are zippers okay?- All but the smallest and most stable neck openings will stretch to fit over the head, so most garments don’t need a zipper. If yours does, use an invisible zipper.

An easy hem to finish- As for any stretchy knit, the hem must stretch, too. A 2.5-mm-wide twin needle (75/ 1 1 H-S) gives a clean finish with stretch. For flat topstitching, use a textured serger thread like Woolly Nylon in the bobbin, loosen the upper tension, and loosen or bypass the bobbin tension. Be sure not to stretch the thread as you wind the bobbin; you may want to wind it by hand.

Marking a hem on a full Slinky Knit garment can be quite challenging, since the seams are often longer than the rest, and the fluid fabric changes length every time you move. I use an old-style, chalk hem marker and join the dots to establish the hemline. Trim, then turn up a 3A-in. hem and stitch from the right side at 3/8 in.

Stabilize when needed- Because Lycra has such great memory, you won’t need to stabilize Slinky in all the seams, but sometimes a little structure helps. I use Lastin clear-plastic elastic, sewn right into the seam, to add stability to shoulder seams. Elastic in the seams of a full-length garment like the full, sweeping dress at bottom left helps prevent drooping. And you can sew elastic to a wide neckline, then fold over the edge and stitch with a twin needle for a clean finish.

Facings, pockets, and elastic- When inserting a side-seam pocket, try a nonfusible interfacing like Sewin’ Sheer in place of the upper pocket. It reduces bulk and stabilizes the opening, helping to prevent gaping.

Understitch edges like facings and pockets after clipping, to flatten and prevent roll-out. Anchor facings by stitching in the ditch of any intersecting seams, like the shoulder seam on a neck facing.

Slinky’s weight will overwhelm most waistband elastics. I suggest a strong, firm elastic, like Handler No-Roll monofilament elastic, to prevent droop.

start a seam
To start a seam in this squishy fabric, place a strip of Solvy under the fabric edge, hold the thread tails, and begin sewing slowly.

soft, draped cowl
To create a soft, draped cowl that keeps its shape, mismatch the inside layer of a turtleneck by a few inches before stitching.

And that’s about it. Don’t be afraid to sew with Slinky. I know that once you try it, you’ll create quick and easy, hard-working staples for your wardrobe.

Gale Grigg Hazen teaches sewing across the country. She’s shown below at her store and school, The Sewing Place in Saratoga, CA.

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