How to sew with faux fur
Faux fur is almost an essential for some costumes. I’m thinking of barbarians, royalty, creatures, holiday or winter-themed versions of almost any cosplay, and others. You can find glossy or shaggy fur fabrics in every imaginable color and pattern, depending on what your character demands. But fake fur can also make an awful mess, and I know there are some people out there who find it intimidating to work with. Here are a few basic tips that will help make your fur-sewing experience easier.
Faux fur is typically made from polyester, acrylic, or another synthetic material. It consists of a long fiber “pile” and a fabric backing, often a fray-resistant knit. (Most have only minimal stretch, however.) Some backings are scratchier than others, so you’ll want to take a look at what you have and decide whether your project needs a full lining. If you don’t need the lining to slide smoothly over other layers, a breathable cotton will help to prevent you from getting too warm in costume. Otherwise, look for rayon lining materials that are easy to handle and pleasantly cool to the touch.
Cut fur from the back
Whacking into your fur with a pair of shears is a sure recipe for a fluffy mess. In addition to the drifts of fuzz that will overtake your sewing area, you can end up with a patchy look around the seams where the scissors snipped through the pile. It can also make the area of fabric close to the edge less usable for cutting your next piece, which means more waste.
To prevent this, flip your fur over and do your cutting from the back. Keep track of the pile direction by chalking an arrow on the backing for easy reference, and make sure all your pieces are on grain and oriented in the same direction, so you don’t get weird unintentional contrasts across the seams. (Always use the “with nap” layout for your pattern.) You can get different effects depending on which direction you orient the nap—point it down for a sleeker look, or up to get a deeper, shaggier effect.
Use chalk to trace around your pattern pieces, then use a razor blade or sharp craft knife to slice through the backing only, leaving the pile intact. You can also cut with scissors, moving slowly and using the tip of the scissors to cut only the backing layer. This should allow you to separate your pieces with a minimum of shedding. Any fluff that escapes anyway can be collected with a loop of tape or lint roller.
Sew from the top
If you’re sewing a single layer of fur, it’s best to do it with the fluffy side up so the pile doesn’t get snarled in the feed dogs. If the pile is very long and interferes with your presser foot, put a piece of tissue paper or transparent tear-away stabilizer on top to keep it out of the way.
Since faux fur’s backing fabric doesn’t usually fray, and the seams will be hidden in the pile, one of the flattest, cleanest seams you can do is a butted seam. To do it, first trim off the seam allowances included in your pattern. Place your pieces edge-to-edge with the pile facing down, and lay a strip of single-fold bias tape, ribbon, or twill tape over the top. Baste both sides to the tape, by hand or with a wash-away basting tape. (Fusible tapes are an option, but should be used cautiously as fur fabrics can be very heat-sensitive.) Then flip the pieces over, brush the pile away to both sides, and sew with a wide zigzag or three-step zigzag along the join, making sure to catch both edges and the tape underneath.
Keep your seams narrow and flat
If a butted seam won’t do the trick, (for example, if you’re joining fur to another fabric) then your goal should be to keep the seams as small and bulk-free as possible. Here are a couple seam types you might want to consider for your project:
– Sew an ordinary straight seam, press it open, and flatten the allowances to the backing with a zigzag or hand whipstitch. In some cases, you may want to trim or shave the pile out of the seam allowances as well.
– You can get a very narrow, compact seam by sewing the seam with a standard straight stitch, trimming your seam allowances to 1/4″, and zigzagging over the edge.
– Serged seams are narrow and neat, and the wrapped threads compress the fabric to reduce seam allowance bulk. To avoid a mess, brush the pile in away from the seam allowances before you bring your project anywhere near the cutting blade. If you can trim the seam allowances ahead of time and disengage the blade entirely, all the better. If your serger has a flatlock stitch, give that a try as well – it produces a very flat join, though it can be difficult if the fur is very thick.
Finishing and edges
After you’re done with each seam, use a yarn needle or comb to free up any pile fibers that got caught in the stitches. Give the fur a good brushing from the right side to smooth everything out. Depending on your fabric, the seam should be all but invisible from the outside. (If you’re short on fabric, you may be able to add extra piecing seams without anyone being the wiser.)
To avoid a lot of excess bulk, it’s best to avoid creating multiple layers of fur. If you have a collar that turns back, cut the under-collar from a thinner fabric in a matching color. Instead of a standard turned-up hem, consider lining your project all the way to the edge, binding the edges with a decorative trim, or using a narrow bias facing cut from matching cotton or organza. Depending on your fabric, you may not need to hem at all—just serge, zigzag, or trim the edges neatly and leave them alone.
Faux Fur resources:
Finding good quality fur fabrics can be a challenge. Shopping in person is best, since it’s difficult to accurately determine pile length, texture, and softness from a photo. If you’re ordering online, see if they’ll send you a small sample or swatch before you commit to an expensive fabric. Here are a couple stores with sizeable fur sections to get you started. You can also sometimes find good options on Etsy and eBay if you experiment with different search terms.