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Sewing tips for brocade

Planning to sew with brocade? Here are a couple of time-honored tips that are guaranteed to make your work easier and more enjoyable.

sewing with brocade

What makes sewing brocade so tricky

The rich patterns we associate with brocade are actually woven into the fabric as it is made, not added afterwards as embroidery is. To create the pattern, weft threads of various colors, sometimes even silver and gold, are woven through the underlying warp threads.

To make the pattern really stand out, a variety of weaves are used side by side, almost invariably including a satin weave, which creates smooth, glossy areas but is also quite loose. That’s why brocade has a tendency to fray and roll at the edges. Both problems, however, can be avoided if you just know how.

For some examples of brocade fabrics, visit our selection; we carry authentic historical reproductions as well as a broad range of classic brocade patterns.

Uses for brocade

Brocade is gorgeous in formal styles as well as everyday pieces, historical costuming, fashion accessories, and interior decor. Really, it can be found just about anywhere. Here’s where we’ve used it in our own tutorials:

  • Throw pillow: A great project for beginners
  • Circle skirt: A classic you can dress up or down
  • Brocade bomber: A statement piece for every day

Tips for sewing brocade

To shrink or not to shrink

So, you’ve brought home some brocade and laid it out in all its glory on the sewing table – now what? Do you put it in a tub of water to shrink?

Most of our classic brocade range is made of polyester or a polyester and rayon blend. Polyester is not affected by water at all, while rayon may shrink slightly. That means a polyester brocade needs no pre-washing. Rayon blends can go in a lukewarm bath and then be allowed to air dry after excess water has been gently pressed out.

sewing with brocade
Two samples of polyester brocade. Can you tell which has been washed? It’s the one on the right, but you’d never know.

Silk brocade should be taken to a professional cleaner. If you decide to wash it at home or need to get out a stain, always test a scrap first. To learn more about washing silk, see our great silk washing test.

Caring for brocade

Keep your cool

Polyester may not mind water, but it dislikes heat. Hot water or reckless ironing can cause synthetic fibers to shrink, break, even shrivel up. Wash in cold water (30°C), set your iron on the lowest setting (synthetics). Avoid steaming, or test on a scrap first.

Silk brocade can be ironed on the silk setting. Press from the back, do not use steam, and protect it from water droplets. Wherever you have to press it from the front, lay a cotton cloth over the fabric and proceed with extreme care.

Be gentle

Brocade tends to have smooth, satiny areas with lengths of loose thread that are easily damaged by rough handling. Try turning the finished garment inside out before washing and select a low spin cycle (max. 800 RPM).

When sewing brocade, beware of rough fingernails that can snag these delicate threads. And, of course, keep it away from any four-legged (and some two-legged) helpers!

Marking and cutting brocade

You can use ordinary tailor’s chalk or a chalk wheel on brocade so long as it doesn’t have sharp teeth that could catch on a loose thread.

sewing with brocade
Tailor’s chalk and a chalk wheel – the one from Prym has, in our experience, the loosest wheel and seems to be best for marking up brocade. The Clover wheel didn’t do so well – it works better on plain weaves, where it makes precise, thin lines.

Disappearing markers and washable pencils should be tested on a scrap first, as they can leave stains.

For basting, use a thin needle and ordinary thread, not basting thread. And reach for your extra fine pins (size 0.4 mm).

Make sure you have a good, sharp pair of fabric shears. Dull scissors will just chew up the ends of the thread, and the fabric will fray more.

How to stop fraying

The main thing to look out for with brocade will raise its head on your very first cut – fraying. Especially when cutting across the grain (crosswise), the weft threads start immediately to slip free of the warp and come loose on all sides.

It’s the very structure of brocade that’s to blame. A fine, dense warp is interlaced with thicker weft threads that are dying to come loose. On top of that the threads are slick and smooth (for a nice gloss) and really slip over each other.

sewing with brocade
Brocade is easy to pull apart. The dark green fringe is the warp, the multicolored threads of the weft create the pattern.

So how do you keep the whole seam allowance from coming apart as you sew? You really can’t be too careful. The best thing is to finish the edges for all pieces immediately after cutting, either with a zigzag stitch or an overlock on a serger. Just keep in mind that this narrows your seam allowance slightly, so when you sew make sure to follow the seam line instead of keeping to the original width of the seam allowance.

Fray-checking glue, like Fray Check by Prym, can help a lot too. These are really useful for smallish areas like pockets and seam ends, but less so for the whole length of the seam allowance.

Unfortunately, pinking shears alone won’t do the trick when it comes to brocade, especially not for cutting across the grain.

Přípravek proti třepení brokátu - Fray Check od Prymu

Choosing needle and thread

For sewing brocade, you can use a universal needle. The only exceptions may be for especially fine silk brocades and damasks. If you get threads pulling up around the needle, change to a sharp/microtex needle.

Sew with universal polyester thread (for both polyester and silk brocades).

Finishing the seam allowance

You can finish your seam allowance with a zigzag or overlock stitch; of course, if you edged your pieces when you cut them, you can skip this step.

Most brocades are fairly thick, so they don’t really lend themselves to French seams or flat felled seams. Use these only where the thickness won’t matter (straight seams that don’t have to be especially flexible, e.g., trouser legs).

For a nice looking and especially sturdy finish, try bias tape. It takes a little more work, but gives a very polished result.

sewing with brocade
Finishing options: Overlock stitch (serger machine), zigzag stitch (regular sewing machine), bias tape.

A few last words about brocade

Don’t let brocade scare you. It has its quirks, but so do most fabrics, and learning your way around them is part of what makes sewing so fun.

Provided you watch out for fraying and stick to recommended temperatures for washing and ironing, you will find that brocade is really great to work with. It holds its shape, stays put on the cutting table, and doesn’t twist under the needle.


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