Ripstop nylon is really a unique fabric, unmatched for the combination of light weight and durability it offers. However, it can be a bit intimidating if you never worked with this type of fabric. Don’t worry, though – sewing ripstop nylon on a regular sewing machine is not only possible, but also quite easy if you know what you are doing. Just follow these simple tips below.
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About Ripstop Nylon
The word “ripstop” actually refers to a type of reinforced weave in fabrics. So, technically, it doesn’t have to be nylon. It could be any kind of synthetic fabric, and sometimes even cotton or silk. However, ripstop nylon is by far the most common type of ripstop fabric.
Ripstop, of course, refers to fabric that is difficult to rip (not impossible though!). This effect is achieved by adding a thicker reinforcement yarn into the weave. The reinforcement yarn is woven in a crosshatch pattern. This is why you will always be able to see a subtle grid pattern on your ripstop fabric. Decades ago, this grid pattern used to be very visible, but these days ripstop is far more sophisticated, and sometimes you’ll barely see the reinforcement.
Ripstop nylon can come in various weights, but it is usually quite lightweight, which is one of its main advantages. Depending on the type of coating used on the fabric, it can also be quite slippery.
Overall, it’s a great choice of fabric for various utility items. Ripstop fabrics have traditionally been used for things like sails, kites, and even hot air balloons. These days, ripstop nylon is commonly used for hammocks, for example. However, the possibilities are endless! Use ripstop nylon for anything that needs to be lightweight but strong.
What You’ll Need for Sewing Ripstop Nylon
The good news is, you can sew ripstop nylon with any sewing machine. The fabric is fairly lightweight, and there should be no issues there. It is possible to sew ripstop nylon with a regular foot, but using a walking foot can be helpful. The walking foot can help to keep the feed even with ripstop nylon which can be slippery. However, don’t worry if you don’t have a walking foot. Try sewing with your regular foot, and you might find it works just as well.
When it comes to needles, you’ll want a needle that’s fairly sharp and thin (but not too thin). A universal 70/10 size usually works quite well. Of course, you can experiment and see what fits the fabric you are using the best. You want a needle that is strong, but not too thick. This is especially true if you are sewing an item that should be waterproof/
When it comes to thread, an all-purpose thread made from polyester or nylon works quite well (avoid cotton as it’s less durable and too bulky for the nylon fabric). If you’d like a perfect match, go with nylon thread, but polyester also works rather well.
Another thing to think about before you start sewing ripstop nylon is how you will cut it. As we mentioned, nylon can be quite slippery, although it is not always the case (this depends on the weave and the coating on the fabric, if any). In any case, you’ll want to use either very sharp scissors or a rotary cutter. Pattern weights or masking tape can help you keep pieces in place if you notice they tend to slip around.
Another thing to keep in mind about ripstop nylon is that it tends to fray easily. For this reason, it’s best to sew immediately after cutting. Since nylon melts in contact with heat, it’s also possible to use a hot knife to cut it. This will simultaneously seal the edges and stop them from fraying. However, if you decide to try the hot knife method, be careful, and try on a piece of scrap fabric first. It can be a bit tricky.
Sewing Ripstop Nylon
Once you have cut your pieces and found the right needle and thread, all that is left to do is start! You can do basically anything you want with ripstop nylon, and the type of seam you choose will depend on the item you are making. In any case, we recommend you test everything before officially starting – your needle; your thread; and the stitches you want to use. See how it all fits together, and if it looks satisfying, then you can start stress-free. As mentioned, a lot of technicalities will depend on the project in questions; but we can offer a couple of general tips:
Try to Sew Straight
Almost every kind of ripstop nylon fabric has visible reinforcement treads in a grid pattern. Whether they are noticeable only depends on how hard you look. For this reason, it’s a good idea to try to sew straight along those lines. It will give a nicer, more professional look to the final product. Keep in mind that ripstop usually stretches on the diagonal (exactly due to the position of these reinforcement threads woven into the fabric). Of course, you cannot always sew straight, and that is completely fine. Just keep in mind that the seams could look a bit strange.
Keep the Stitches Long
No matter what kind of stitch you use, don’t make your stitches too short. It might be tempting to do so with such a lightweight fabric as ripstop nylon, as it might seem you will get sturdier stitches. However, if the stitch length is too short you could achieve the opposite effect. The fabric could start ripping in between the stitches, or you might end up with your seams looking puckered. For best results, make it 10 stitches per inch or less.
Consider Reinforcing Your Seams
In general, a zig-zag stitch is a good choice for safely working with ripstop nylon. However, using a top stitch to reinforce your seams might be a good idea, and it will give a unique look to your garments. This is especially important if you are sewing an item that will need to carry a considerable amount of weight.