What is interlining, and why do I need to use it in my sewing?

We’ve all done it; fallen in love with that beautiful fabric because of its colour or print, but then when we come to use it in our dressmaking, disaster! It curls up as you try to sew with it, or is too bulky, or creases the minute you touch it. And your finished outfit has a somewhat shabby, odd, and generally very disappointing look about it. The secret is interlining. Until I discovered this modest yet vital part of the sewing process, I had no idea how important it was to learning how to make my own clothes. Now I wouldn’t sew without it. Read on to find out why.

Firstly, what is interlining?

For anyone who, like me, had never heard of it when starting out with dressmaking, interlining is an additional layer of fabric that is added to the inside of your clothes. Not to be confused with a straight forward lining, or interfacing, interlining actually sits against your fabric pieces; either sewn in place or secured with adhesive. So it becomes part of the fabric you are sewing (whereas a lining is a separate layer altogether).

And why do you need it?

Well, interlining serves different purposes:

  • To add thickness – interlining can enable thin and lightweight fabric to have more substance, so that it hangs nicely, prevents creasing and gives a professional finish.
  • To add opacity – linked to the above point, a layer of interlining can also prevent fabric being too ‘see-through’ when used as clothing.
  • To strengthen – some parts of the dressmaking process can add strain to fabrics, causing them to stretch or distort. Interlining makes these fabrics more robust so that they can be constructed into clothing without risk of this happening.
  • To add durability – again, through strengthening your fabric for the construction process, you are also ensuring longevity when wearing and washing, giving your lovely handmade clothes a much longer shelf life.
  • To sculpt – sometimes you just want a certain effect from your fabric; to fold and pleat beautifully, or to manipulate into fantastical shapes. A strong interlining can enable you to play with fabric to create whatever is in your mind’s eye.
  • To change colour – its subtle, but adding a coloured interlining underneath certain fabrics can add a hint of colour, creating a slight sheen to an otherwise pale fabric (a particularly nice touch to bridal wear to have the colour of bridesmaid’s fabrics an as interlining within the wedding dress itself).
  • To change fabric properties – this kind of summarises all of the above points. Interlining can enable fabric to be transformed so that its fit for purpose regardless if its initial properties; lightweight fabric can be made into a suit, stretch fabric can be used for occasion wear. The world becomes your oyster!

What types of interlining can you get?

As with fabric, interlining can come in all types of thickness and colour. You can buy interlining that is lightweight through to very heavy, it can have a stretch to it for use with knit fabrics, and it can come in light and dark colours. Some interlining is manufactured purely for this purpose, and often has an adhesive added. But you can also use other fabrics as interlining, such as cotton lawn. Choosing the right type of interlining for the project you have in mind is an important part of the process, otherwise you run the risk of it having the opposite effect and giving your fabric the wrong properties for the clothes you are making. For example:

  • If you are making a summer dress out of lightweight cotton, you might use an interlining to stop your lovely fabric being too see-through to wear, but that interlining still needs to drape beautifully, otherwise your dress will become bulky.
  • Or you might want to use that same lightweight cotton to make an a-line skirt for work. This time you would need to chose an interlining with more substance, so that the cotton hangs well and curves nicely with your shape.

How do you use interlining?

Generally speaking, interlining is cut to the same size as your pattern pieces (although I often prefer to trim my interlining down so that it is slightly smaller, particularly when using the adhesive variety as it just ensures nothing is going to stick to the ironing board). You then attach it to each of your pattern pieces before following the rest of the pattern. This can be done by basting, or if you have adhesive interlining you would use an iron to activate the glue. You’ll need to transfer all your markings such a notches which, whilst it can feel a bit of a chore, makes the process of sewing together easier in the long-run.

So if you want to add a professional finish to your sewing, and also open up a whole load of creative possibilities in how you use different types of fabric, then I highly recommend introducing interlining into your sewing. Its an extra stage in the dressmaking process, but you’ll find is very worth it.

And if you love to sew, why not join my Creative Sewing Challenge? We sew to a different theme each month, and I send out lots of ideas and inspiration along the way. Just a fun way to help keep our sewing fresh and not be overlooked during these busy lives we all have. Find out more here or sign up below:

And here’s a handy pin for later…