How to Sew Ripstop Nylon

boy with backpack image by sonya etchison from

Ripstop nylon is a great fabric for all sorts of outdoor gear. From backpacks and bags to all-weather jackets and trousers, this versatile fabric is lightweight, durable, and comfortable to wear.

Originally difficult to find for the sewing hobbyist, more fabric stores are now carrying ripstop nylon as well as patterns suitable for this fabric. While you must handle ripstop fabric with care, the finished product is well worth the extra effort. Even if you don't plan to sew ripstop nylon into garments, knowing how to handle ripstop can let you mend purchased ripstop nylon garments.

Wash your hands before handling ripstop fabric. Oils from your hands can affect the waterproofing in the fabric. For the same reason, you must wipe all oils from your sewing machine feed dogs and presser foot before you sew ripstop nylon on the machine.

Cut the fabric for patterns with a rotary cutter with a new, sharp blade. If you use scissors, be sure they make a clean cut. Another option for cutting is to use a soldering iron to hot-cut the fabric and seal the raw edges at the same time. Place a sheet of glass underneath the fabric while you use the soldering iron to protect the surface underneath it.

Use the smallest sewing machine needle possible. This makes small enough holes that the thread can easily fill them.

Avoid the use of pins as you sew ripstop nylon. Use fabric weights to hold the pattern to the fabric as you cut it. To sew seams together, you can temporarily hold edges together with bulldog clips or use a glue stick. If you must use pins, use them only in the seam allowance.

Keep the tension tight on the ripstop fabric as you sew it on the machine. Don't pull or tug on it, just keep the seam as smooth as possible. If you have an even feed foot (walking foot), it can also help you keep the fabric from slipping. Another option is to place tissue paper under the ripstop nylon and sew through it as well. Tear it away when you finish the seam. Practice on some scraps so you can get used to sewing the ripstop nylon.

Finish raw edges of ripstop nylon to keep it from ravelling if you didn't use the soldering iron to cut it. Fold hem edges to the inside before sewing the hem closed. For other seams, consider using flat-felled or French seams to enclose the raw edge.

Remove bad stitches with embroidery scissors rather than a seam ripper or a razor blade. A mistake can easily put a tear into the ripstop nylon.