Understanding Interfacing

on August 4 | in Featured Post, Quilting, Sewing + Quilting Tips, Sewing Essentials | by | with 5 Comments

Georgie Munro from FishPetals Do Fly is here to share info on the many kinds of interfacings available for various projects. Georgie built a design business with a huge variety of fantastic sun hat patterns. She has Look Books, a gallery of hat images and a blog too. Take a look around!

We have more information about the wide variety of interfacing available and their applications in our Fabric Interfacing Guide. You can also learn more about bag interfacing here and find advice on go-to interfacing brands here.

Learn more about Georgie in her introduction and take a look at a recent small business post she did for us: Product Idea to Profitable Business: Steps for Success.


It can be really daunting to select interfacing for a sewing project whether it’s a garment, bag or something else entirely. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a newbie to sewing or have years of experience; the tags rarely tell you much, the names are confusing and you have no idea how the product will perform in your particular situation. Interfacing is pretty integral to my fabric hats (I use it in the brim as well as in some crowns) so one day I set out to take stock, find out and flesh out. This is what I learned.

I use a range of interfacing types for my fabric hats from really light weight to heavy. It all depends on where I’m using it and the finished look I want. It’s the same for garment construction– some applications require just a little extra support like the button front on a blouse, while other applications may need lots.

There are basically three types of interfacing and I call them woven, non-woven and knitted (though they’re not really knitted)– just like the English language, there are exceptions to the rule. All interfacings come in different weights (i.e. different degrees of stiffness). They may be fusible or they may not. They’re each used in different ways and the way you apply it varies from product to product. There are lots of manufacturers making these products and, at least here in Australia, new ones pop up all the time. Unfortunately the manufacturer’s name sometimes get mixed up with the product’s name. And on top of that, the manufacturer themselves often call the product by a confusing code instead of an actual name. Nor do they usually grade the weight or stiffness of their various products. Confusing!

My Mum and Dad on their wedding day in January 1959. Mum’s gown is a heavy satin with the skirt fully interfaced to make sure it remained stiff and full throughout the day. Even though she lived in Melbourne in the East, Mum had it made all the way across the country in Western Australia. Back in those days she was a flight attendant so she booked fittings with her dressmaker whenever she was rostered to fly to Perth.

So let’s get started figuring this all out, beginning with the three main types:

1.Woven Interfacing
When you look at it you can clearly see the weave of a woven interfacing. These products can be really stiff or extremely light, and everything in between. They’re white in color or black. (Use the white product on a light colored project and black for a dark colored project.) Woven interfacings are frequently used in dressmaking for collars, cuffs, shirtfronts and waistbands. Years ago, many of these parts of a garment were required to be very stiff so a stiff interfacing was called for. These days it’s not so fashionable (or comfortable) to have super stiff cuffs or waistbands so often a much lighter product is used with just enough firmness to keep the shape of the garment.

Woven interfacing, left to right: Very light weight– will give a little extra body to a fabric; medium weight– as the name suggests;  heavy weight– adds lots of stiffness, you’re unlikely to use this one in dressmaking but you will use it in crafting or hat making.

Woven interfacing has a degree of drape and this is its big advantage (however, the stiffer it is, the less drape). It sort of maintains the fluidity of the garment and for this reason sometimes you might even use it for the main part of a dress. My Mum’s heavy satin wedding gown for example is fully interfaced with fairly stiff woven interfacing over the whole of the box pleated skirt giving it a fabulous fullness. And of course I use a firm woven interfacing for most of my fabric hat brims as it gives them a lovely shape and allows the brim to be turned up without kinking or creasing.

2. Non-Woven Interfacing 
These are meant to replicate woven interfacings by coming in the same range of weights, both black and white in color, and they’re intended to be used in much the same way as their woven cousins. They’re also much cheaper.  Non-woven interfacings are a completely synthetic product and are a cross between felt and paper.  The one problem with non-wovens is that they don’t have the drape of a woven interfacing and they crinkle and can shrink under a hot iron. I use them for trialling things more than anything. If I’m making a quality outfit or hat generally I prefer to use a woven product.

Non-woven interfacings are paper like, have no grain whatsoever (which means you can put the pattern pieces any which way on it– making it even more efficient and cheap) and come in various weights (stiffness).

3. Knitted
As I mentioned, these are not really knitted (although some of them are), it’s just that they look that way from a distance. I’m talking about products like Armoweft and Whisperweft  (these are proprietary brand names but there’s no generic word for this type of product– even though other manufacturers make them as well). These are tailoring products often used all over a main component of a garment (like on a suit coat front and back– I don’t think they were available in 1959 when my Mum’s wedding dress was made). I’ve used these products to create a tailored jacket out of chiffon. They give amazing drape so the fabric becomes firmer but still retains its hand.

These interfacings also come in both black and white, and different versions produce different weights once applied to your fabric. Of all the interfacings they’re the trickiest to use and it’s imperative you get the instructions for the particular product you’ve purchased and follow them. Some need to be pre-washed. Mostly they’re applied with steam but as I mentioned, you always need to check. Another tricky thing is gauging how your fabric will turn out once you’ve applied the Armoweft or Whisperweft as the product is super floppy until it’s fixed to the fabric (giving no indication whatsoever of its finished firmness).  How I cope is by having a ready supply of these products in different weights and I apply a small test sample to my fabric to discover the right weight for the project I’m planning. The only downside of this is that these interfacings are not cheap. Still, trying it out on a small piece is a whole lot better than buying a meter or 2, applying it to your fabric and finding its all too stiff, or not stiff enough (in which case you could save the day by applying a second layer).

This is black Armoweft, one of the “knitted” interfacings often used all over a garment. Despite its floppy appearance this one ends up the stiffest of all the knitted products. I’ve used it to back chiffon so I could make a suit jacket.

Even though these interfacings are tricky and expensive they are amongst my favorites. I often use them to firm up a hat crown (they’re not stiff enough for a brim unless you want a soft one like on a bucket hat).

4. Thick Interfacings
Hang on! Didn’t I say there are only three types of interfacing? Well, yes and no. The fourth one isn’t really a dressmaking product but you might want to use it for a fabric bowl, craft project, curtain pelmet, dance club headdress or hat brim (yes, if I’m not using a woven interfacing for a brim I use this). I’ve also glued and stitched an awful lot of sequins to this product when my daughter was dancing and 20 sparkly headdresses were required.

I can’t remember whether this is Peltex or Fast 2 Fuse. Either way, they’re very similar products made by different manufacturers and which one you get probably depends on what is stocked at your local store. I’d be surprised if you found a use for these super thick products in dressmaking, but once you’re thinking juices get going you’ll find tons of ways to use it in crafting. Buy it if you ever see it on sale and just keep it in the cupboard.

Often known by the manufacturer’s name as Peltex or Fast 2 Fuse (again there are other makers of this product but these are two of the most well known), these interfacings are about 2-3 mm (1/8 inch) thick and are non-woven. They have no drape whatsoever which makes them great for the applications mentioned above. I’ll be getting to fusing shortly, but suffice to say here, these products come either not fusible at all, fusible on one side or double sided fusible. It depends on what you’re making which product is best for you but generally I use single sided fusible for hat making (probably because it’s the easiest to get!).

These products are not cheap and if you have to add a fusible surface (e.g. Wonder Under) that’s another cost but there’s nothing quite like them!

Fusible or Non-Fusible
Generally, the woven and non-woven types of interfacing come either fusible (one side only) or non- fusible. The “knitted” ones, as far as I know, are always fusible. Fusible simply means that one side of the product has a fine layer of glue on it. When ironed this glue melts (fuses) into the fabric the interfacing is being applied to. It’s important to find out the correct way to fuse the product you’re using. Some require steam to fuse, others won’t fuse if you use steam. If the tag doesn’t tell you (and usually they don’t) you’ll have to experiment with a small sample. Beware of the temperature of your iron. Too low and the glue won’t melt but too hot and you can shrink some non-woven products.

Should you use a fusible or non-fusible interfacing? Some people swear by one and would never use the other, but who’s right? Here’s the advantages and disadvantages of each:

Fusible: A fusible product is so much easier to apply. Simply iron on and you’re done. However, fused interfacing can interfere with the drape of the garment (like on a shirt front) and you might not like that. Another disadvantage of a fusible interfacing is the risk of disaster if you accidentally iron your interfacing to your ironing board or even worse, stick it to your iron. You need to identify the fusible side and cut out your interfacing to match your pattern piece before fusing them together.

How do you identify the fusible side? Look for the glue– it could be smooth and shiny, it could be shiny but patchy, it could be lumpy. If you find any of those features that’ll be the glue so you’ll be applying that side to the back of your fabric. Over time and with washing the fusing may start to come unstuck but by then it’s stitched into the seams so it’ll stay in place.

As long as you keep your wits about you thus avoiding any sticky disasters, and if you’re a bit lazy like me, you’ll probably prefer fusible interfacing most of the time.

See those shiny splatters? That’s the glue and that’s the side that fuses to the back of your fabric. Sometimes the glue is spread more evenly and other times you can barely see it so move the product in the light to catch a glimpse of the shine. On the other hand, some fusible products are not shiny at all but have little white opaque beads of glue instead. These one’s are quite rough which makes it easy to work out which is the fusible surface.

Non-Fusible: You have to stitch this in so it’s a lot more work. Generally you stitch it onto your fabric piece before you go any further. However, if you don’t like the “stuck to my fabric-look” of fusible interfacing a non-fusible will give you firmness in the garment without it looking like cardboard. If I was making a fine silk shirt I would use non-fusible down the front just to provide something firm to stitch the buttons to.

Here are some additional terms you’ll want to know!…

Stretch or Non-Stretch:
Almost all interfacings are non-stretch, though the lighter weight ones have some degree of crosswise stretch just like a woven fabric. These days, if you go on the hunt, you can also find a few stretch interfacings. I have to admit to not having used them yet but I guess they stretch with the fabric. I imagine you’d need to match the stretch direction of the fabric as well as carefully following the instructions for how to apply them.

Buckram:
This is just the name for a super stiff interfacing. I can’t imagine using it for garments. Generally it’s meant for curtain pelmets but I’ve used it for dance headdresses and, you guessed it, hat brims. In the past there was only one type, woven, but I’ve now often seen a non woven super stiff product that the manufacturer calls buckram.

Buckram has been around for decades though new, synthetic versions of this stiffest of products are now available. Wherever you might use Fast 2 Fuse or Peltex you might also use buckram which is much thinner than those products. Traditionally it’s been used for curtain pelmets, millinery and sometimes parts of garments that needed ultra firming (semi-boning)– if you didn’t care about comfort. I use it for my firmest hat brims.

Stabilizer:
This is where it can get really confusing because stabilizer can be interfacing, but it isn’t always. So, going back to interfacing, its main purpose is to make a fabric a bit stiffer so it drapes differently or is firmer in a key part of the garment where that is required (either for aesthetics or function like where you’re attaching buttons). Stabilizers stabilize the fabric, i.e. stop if from stretching or changing shape. Interfacing can act as a stabilizer but there are also products made specifically as stabilizers. Machine embroidery is often done with a stabilizer backing that prevents the embroidery threads sinking into the main fabric. In this case a tearaway or wash-away product is used so that the excess product is removed once the stitching is complete. If you use stabilizer to stop a fabric from stretching you could use a woven or “knit” interfacing. For example, there are lots of lovely knit fabrics but they’re not suitable for hats unless I first stabilize them with Armoweft or something similar.

Pellon + Vilene:
You may think these are the names of products but actually they’re the names of manufacturers that make lots of these types of things.

Grading:
You would think interfacings would come with a grading system (i.e. 1-10, very-light-weight through to heavy-weight). They don’t. You simply have to stand in the store, compare, and pick the one that seems right to you. One manufacturers “light weight” will be the same as another’s “medium weight.” One manufacturers “light-weight fusible” will be different from the same manufacturers “light-weight NON-fusible.” So confusion reigns, but hopefully a little less if you’ve read to here.

Both hats are made from the same fabric; the one on the top has a brim interfaced with a heavy weight fusible product. The smaller brimmed bucket hat on the bottom has a very light-weight brim interfacing. The choice is up to you and the finish you want.

Happy Sewing!

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5 Responses to Understanding Interfacing

  1. Thanks Liz, Dana, Debbie & Amy,
    Interfacing had been so confusing to me, specially when I started making hats, that I was compelled to try and work it out. I’m so glad my research was helpful to you too!

  2. Amy says:

    Thanks a lot for your break-down here!
    I had a rough idea on a couple of them but knowing what each one is and when you might want to use it, helps!

  3. Debbie Deneke says:

    I found this to be a really informative overview of interfacings. Thanks for taking the time to share this. It was presented in just the right way for my brain to say, ” Ahhh, now I get it “.

  4. Dana says:

    Very informative! I’m saving this for future reference. Thanks for the helpful tips. Dana

  5. Liz says:

    Thank you so much for posting this very helpful article – interfacing options are so confusing so thanks for making it all a bit clearer!

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