I love highly detailed craftsmanship and using couture techniques in my creations, however for a certain look, I have found that other methods--like using a hot tool--can be used instead for a more invisible effect.
In this article I will be going in-depth, showing you how I use my hot tool to create a minimal-looking melted edge.
I will be going through all the things that I have learnt so far whilst using this tool, showing you my experimentations with different equipment, testing how different materials react, discussing how I set up my space and stay safe, the techniques that I use to achieve a neat finish, and more.
Editor's note: this technique is only to be used on poly fabrics, as synthetic fibres will melt into a clean edge. Do not attempt treating natural fibres with heat, as this may singe or set fire to your fabric.
Personally, I like to make my seams and hems blend in as much as possible so as to not interrupt the final look. This is especially important to me when working with sheer fabrics, though these techniques can also be used with opaque fabrics as well.
When working with sheer fabrics, the methods more commonly used for seams and hems can cause the fabric to layer up on top of itself, making it look more pronounced, for example when using techniques such as french seams (5+ layers visible), roll hemming (3+ layers visible) or binding the edges (5+ layers visible). These methods can weigh down that area due to the extra fabric and/or draw too much attention to itself by creating more noticeable or distracting lines.
It can also be fiddly to otherwise finish off irregularly-shaped seams and hems with the previously mentioned methods, and as sheer fabrics can be prone to a lot of fraying, securing them neatly is a must. Melting these edges solves this for me by providing a freedom to fully realise my designs, and it cleanly seals off fabrics like chiffon and corsetry mesh to provide a nice secure finish. All in all, I highly recommend using hot tools for both aesthetic and functionality reasons.
As I have mentioned above, this technique is great for designs featuring sheer fabric that can be prone to fraying; it allows you to design light, fluid silhouettes as you don’t have to worry about working around distracting seam or hem lines. This is why I love using this melting technique as it leaves such a minimal and effective finish, letting the sheer fabric lay naturally. I also find it very useful if you want to design something with intricate shapes, such as tight curves or sharp angles, as this might otherwise be difficult to achieve through other seaming or hemming means. I love how the hot tool can open up so many possibilities so that my designs can be more easily and quickly achievable.
When patterning for melted edges along seam lines, extra width will need to be added to the seam allowances as this extra width will eventually be cut off using the hot tool. For example, if your finished seam allowance will be 5mm away from your seam line, then your melted edge will be 5mm wide and your extra width would be added on top of this.
If you are hemming, your melted edge will be the same thing as your hemline; your seam allowance and extra width will be one and the same as well, so more width will not need to be added in this instance.
There are two different width amounts I normally recommend; you can pick and choose from these depending on your needs. For more accuracy on seam lines, for example, I would keep the extra width relatively small, approximately 5mm-10mm extra, so that you don’t veer off of your original lines. However I wouldn’t recommend going smaller than this as it can make the melting process more fiddly to work with, especially if your fabric is prone to fraying.
Or you could add a wider extra width--25mm or more--to leave yourself more room to take into account any inaccuracies that may occur. This would help for areas like hems as the length can shift depending on the fabric and the bias or give it has. This gives you more room to sneak up to your final length instead of worrying that you won’t have enough fabric left to work with.
When constructing with sheer fabrics using this method, you would need to consider what seaming options you’d like to use. I explain more about how to achieve these three different seaming methods in Step 7 of the step-by-step section of this article.
Usually I like to layer my sheer fabrics as minimally as possible for a seamless look. I prefer to have my seams pressed open so that there are only ever two layers of fabric on top of each other, however doing so with this melting technique can be more fiddly and time consuming as you will need to melt each side of the seam individually whilst the seam has already been constructed.
Another option would be to melt the edges of your pattern pieces before you construct your garment and then sew them together, but this would need to be factored into your construction process.
You could also plan to press your seam to the side. This means that you would have areas with three layers of fabric; however as both edges of the seam will be melted at the same time, this would save on time and would make this seam very secure as they would be fused together.
I would always recommend testing these different options before production to find out which option fits your design better.
I have experimented with a few different materials to find which I prefer to work on top of and have had different experiences with all of them, which I will discuss further below.
This was the first option I tried as it seemed like a great surface to start experimenting with; it is relatively accessible for most people and it can help you to reuse old packaging. When you melt your edges on top of this, the edge ‘sticks’ down to the cardboard, helping to keep the fabric in place and stop it from shifting. It doesn’t fully seal down to the cardboard though and can be easily removed with minimal tugging.
However, make sure that you use a sturdy bit of cardboard. If it is weaker or thinner, then the hot tool can create grooves in the surface which can get in the way and interrupt future cuts. Personally I think that it’s useful for experimentation, but I have found other surfaces that I prefer for longer-term use.
Glass was my second thought as it has a smooth surface that is heat resistant and is clear so I could see the marks of my cutting mat through it for more accuracy. However, finding a piece big enough and storing it may be an issue for some people, unless you already have something like a glass top table you could use. In the image below, I used the glass from a picture frame, but be careful as the edges on this were not rounded off so were sharp.
Glass also doesn’t have the added benefit of being able to grip fabric in place due to its slippery surface, so weights would be needed to keep the fabric from moving as much possible. For slippery and lightweight fabrics, this may be an issue as it could reduce accuracy. This surface might work for you if you can find and store the glass adequately and if you use it for less fluttery fabrics, but personally, it is not a preference of mine.
Lastly, I thought a silicone baking mat might be worth a try and personally I have found that this is the best surface for me. I specifically looked for a mat with a smooth surface and that was either semi-sheer so I could see my cutting matt through it, or had guide lines on it for accuracy, but this isn’t required. The silicone provides a nice grip to keep the fabric in place and can be used again and again. Though it can collect dust and debris due to its grippy nature, I use packing tape to pick up the majority of this and store the mat rolled up and covered to keep it protected. All in all, it ticks all of my boxes for a good surface to cut on top of.
When using this technique, please wear either a respirator or an appropriate mask and make sure you are working in a well ventilated area. Remember that you will be melting plastic materials and this will give off toxic fumes that you don’t want to breathe in.
Hot Tool: Gas vs Corded
I initially went for a Dremel VersiTip, which is run on butane gas, for the ease of use. I also felt that it would be more beginner-friendly. I love that I don’t have to worry about wires: it is lightweight, heats up quickly, comes with lots of accessories that help me use this device, and a tin to keep it all organised. You can either use it whilst pulling the trigger, so it will automatically shut off if you let go, or it can be locked whilst on for extended use and then switched off when no longer needed. It can also stand freely as the base is flat, so it could be set down whilst still switched on, however I would not recommend leaving it on for long periods of time as you would waste a lot of gas and it could be easily knocked it over. I have enjoyed using this tool as its so compact and handy to use, however as it needs gas to run, when this supply runs low, the device can fluctuate in temperature. Refilling this gas can also take time, which can add up if you want to use this for a big project. I feel that this was a great tool to start with and am glad I have it.
I have also used a corded Meterk soldering iron, as I wanted to see which I preferred. I have found that, though it takes a bit longer to heat up, it has a more consistent and accurate temperature which I find useful. It can also easily be left on whilst you work as it can be set in its protective stand, but caution must always be used as you don’t want to accidentally touch the heated end or pull the wire and knock it over, so I am always a bit more cautious when using this device. It was also more difficult to find out which model, of the many I found online, would be best for my needs, so wading through all of these different versions can be confusing. I bought mine because it had an on/off switch so that I didn’t have to constantly plug and unplug it; it looked thin and lightweight, it came with a box so that I could store it properly, it included lots of useful bits and bobs, and the reviews looked good. From my experience with it, I am very happy with this tool.
Personally, after trying both, for longer term use and/or on bigger projects, I prefer the corded tool as it gives me more consistent heat and it came with tips that look much finer and more detailed than the tips that came with my gas tool. However, I am glad I also have the gas tool as it taught me a lot about how to use this type of tool; and for smaller or quicker projects I prefer this device as it is so quick to heat up and much more compact.
Generally I prefer using air erasable ink pens I find that they work well on light- to medium-toned sheer fabrics--even tulle--without leaving any residue, unlike tailor's chalk which I find can often leave behind marks if not removed properly. However the pen won’t show up on dark fabrics, so chalk would need to be used in those instances. I haven’t noticed the chalk affecting the melting process on darker fabrics, but would be cautious of using it on lighter fabrics. It's just a personal preference for me to use the invisible ink pens when I can.
I’d also recommend, when using a tailor's chalk, to use a mechanical pencil with tailor's chalk lead in it as I find that it provides much more accuracy and less tugging. Using regular tailor's chalk might show up more on the fabric, but it can also be less accurate as it might leave a thicker line. A roller chalk device works well, however I find it leaves a lot of excess powdered chalk when used.
I love to use a metal ruler as it won’t melt at the temperatures we will be working at; it offers me more control over my cuts and it provides a neat edge to melt against. If you use the same ruler when pattern drafting, however, remember to clean off the edge so as to not transfer any pencil lead residue onto your fabric.
When looking at my stash of equipment, I realised that I also have clear rulers that have metal edges on them. At first I thought these would be perfect to use with my hot tools as they even have grids on them, which would help with accuracy. However after looking at them more closely, I'd be cautious of using these in this scenario as the hot tool could melt the clear acrylic if it came in contact. This is specially important when using a gas-powered tool, as this device uses a flame, and depending on the angle of this tool as well as the heat escape opening, this tool could melt the acrylic. The reason I’d be cautious even when using a corded tool is that, at least on the rulers I own, the metal part that is on one edge is either is a thin rod or a narrow strip of metal, with the acrylic still visible above and below it. This means that the tip of the heated tool could come in contact with the acrylic at any point, and thus could melt it. More experimentation would be needed to see if this is a viable option, so if you have a go or find a clear acrylic ruler that has a fully covered metal edge, please do let me know in the comments section. Otherwise I’ll be sticking with my trusty metal ruler in the meantime.
Ruler vs. Freehand
Personally, I prefer to use a ruler when using a hot tool as I feel that it gives me much more precision and better accuracy. The ruler helps to clamp the fabric in place, meaning that it is less likely to shift. This allows me to work more methodically. I don’t have to worry about the heat spreading too far since the tip of the hot tool is only running along the edge of the ruler, so it is only touching the thin edge of the fabric for a crisp edge.
When using this tool freehand, I just feel like I have less control and am more cautious, so in turn work slower. When you work slower or are not able to clamp the fabric in place, this can create thicker edges rather than thinner, minimal ones. However, as you can see from the image below, the final results on this poly chiffon are close to identical, so really it's all down to testing with your chosen fabrics and your personal preference.
It is always really important to test a sample of your fabric before you use this technique as you can learn many things about the material, and it will make the final process much smoother. Here are some fabric samples that I have experimented with and what options I have found that have worked best for me. These can still vary though, due to many factors, so please use this as just a guide; I encourage you do your own experiments.
Mask (3M 4251 Mask)
Silicone baking mat (with guide lines)
Hot tool (Meterk soldering iron with knife tip)
Hot tool stand with sponge
Air erasable pen
Make sure your area is clear, set up and that all safely measures have been met. It might also sound obvious, but remember to press your fabric beforehand so that it doesn’t have any creases. The smoother it is, the easier it will be to lie flat on top of your surface and lay underneath your ruler to prevent any accidental bumps or oddities.
If your fabric frays a lot, I would recommend melting after the fabric has been freshly cut so that the loose threads don’t get in the way of the melting process. Also, keep a scrap piece of the fabric you will be melting near by to test the hot tool as you go. This is to make sure the tip of your tool is clean and that it is still at the right temperature, which is especially important if you use a butane hot tool. Better safe then sorry!
If your fabric is light and fluid like chiffon or organza, let it drop as you usually would. This is so that areas like the bias can shift freely into its new position before you start melting it. If this is required, I would let the fabric drop again after melting the edges just incase it wants to shift further, then go back and re-melt any sagging areas.
Smooth your fabric down flat on top of your chosen surface, line up the edge you intend to melt on your mat--either as straight as you can or against a guide--and then place your ruler on top of the fabric. Clamp down the ruler with the index finger and thumb of your non-dominant hand--in my case I’m right handed so I do this with my left hand--and drag the hot tool along the edge of the ruler with your dominant hand to cut and seal off the fabric. Do not press down, as the heat and weight of the actual tool should melt the fabric without any force needed. This creates your melted edge.
Also, I normally position my head about 30cm away from where I am melting so that I have a clear view of what I am doing, which is why wearing a mask--and tying back your hair if it is long--is very important.
Make sure to clean off the tip of your tool using a damp sponge when needed to stop any buildup of melted fabric on the tip of your tool from transferring to your future melted edges.
If you use a silicon mat, remember to use tape in between cuts to remove any residual fibres so that they don’t disturb your future cuts.
Try not to go back and forth over your melted edge as this can rough up the edge instead of giving you a neat finish.
For the same reason, also be cautious if you need to trim off small parts of fabric, as instead of cutting the fabric, the hot tool can sometimes just melt it into a lump instead of cutting it off and sealing the edge depending on the temperature. To prevent this, make sure to use a sharp tip on your tool, like a point or knife edge, and use a ruler as this can make your melted edges really crisp and precise. If a melted lump occurs after you have melted your final edge, cut it off as close as you can with scissors, line up the ruler flush against the raw edge, and run the tool over this area to seal it.
As I have mentioned before, I like to keep the contact of the tool to fabric as minimal as possible, so when you start a new cut, try not to dither and keep the tool in one spot for too long. When ending a melted edge, if you have reached the edge of your fabric, you can just glide along over the edge as usual. However, if you want to continue your melted edge, for example if your surface or ruler is too short and you need to reposition the fabric to continue your cut, then I recommend dragging the knife off of the fabric away from your final melted edge to help create a smooth transition. If you prefer not to drag the knife off the edge, you can just stop in place, but make sure to lift your tool up quickly.
If your edge is curved and convex, I like to mark my final melted edge using an air dry pen to maintain accuracy and so that I don’t have to manoeuvre my fabric more than necessary to line it up to my mat guideline. I like to work on small lengths at a time, running the tip further than needed past the final melted edge so that I’m not stopping on the actual fabric. I then slowly rotate my ruler in stages as I go around for a smooth shape.
For concave shapes, the method is similar to convex shapes. I again mark my final melted edge and work in small bursts, lining up my ruler to the final melted edge and dragging the tool over to prevent any notches or steps in the final melted edge.
When working with chiffon, organza, or any other lightweight fabrics, due to their weaves, I heavily recommend stretching or spreading out the raw edge of the fabric as much as you can as you go along, especially near the bias. This is where the material will move and distort the most. This can create a frilled edge, but if you don’t do this, then your melted edge will pucker and sag as this edge will be tighter and more restrictive than the rest of the fabric. This frilled edge can be minimised with pressing if needed, but might not totally disappear.
Pressed open post-construction
Depending on your fabric, you can either press the seam open before you melt the edges or after, depending on your preference. Pressing first helps with lighter-weight or heavy-bodied fabrics as this makes it easier to manoeuvre them, however if your fabric is prone to fraying or has lots of loose threads like embroidered fabrics, then melting first would be better, as then all of the loose threads will be sealed together, making it easier to press correctly.
I lay the seam out so that the right sides of the fabric are folded in and touching each other, then lay the bottom layer of the seam--which is the side I will be melting--so it is flush with my surface. I then fold the other side of the seam away with the rest of the fabric so it does not accidentally get cut whilst melting, and lay my ruler down to keep everything in place. Caution and vigilance will be needed when you line this up, as you don’t want to melt a crooked line compared to your straight seam line.
Pressed open pre-construction
This method might be less fiddly than the above as you will be melting the edges just like you would when melting a hem. However, you would need to make sure you have accurately marked down your seam allowances onto the fabric to make sure that the pattern piece is the right size. You can press this seam after it has been constructed.
Pressed to the side
For this seam, it's up to personal preference if you press first or not. I prefer to press after so that I can lay my seam nice and flat on top of my mat. Line up the edge of your seam flat on your surface to make sure it's not crooked; make sure that the rest of your fabric is also smooth and flat and hasn’t snuck underneath the ruler, the same as before. As you will be fusing two layers of fabric together, make sure your temperature and speed of melting are correct--test this beforehand--as a different method might be needed to make sure that you get a good result. With lighter-weight fabrics, this is not always an issue, but if your fabric is thicker then this may be needed.
Your melted edge can be pressed; just be cautious of the temperature of your iron as you don’t want to mess up all of your hard work. If your melted edge is on a seam line, make sure you don’t press down too hard, as you don’t want your melted line to stick or indent onto the outside fabric layer.
Be cautious with fabrics that needed to be stretched whilst melting, as they will need to be ironed the same way to maintain this edge; otherwise the melted edge can pucker and crack. Pressing can also help if your melted edge looks fluted from this stretching, though I find that this can’t be pressed out completely.
This melted edge is pretty resilient, but still delicate, so I would recommend hand washing only and treating the fabrics delicately so that the melted edge doesn’t get too stressed. I hand washed one of my chiffon samples and it looks almost identical to an unwashed sample above it.
At first when I was starting to play around with this method, it almost felt like I was cheating: my aim for my brand was to create couture-esque garments, but this method wasn’t a ‘traditionally’ couture technique. However at the end of the day--for me--the final look and feel of the garment overrides this technicality. It doesn’t always have to matter how you get to the end result; as long as the techniques that you use help you achieve your chosen aesthetic, then that’s all that matters! Plus, I think it’s a skill in itself to create a beautiful melted edge, so maybe I can class this as this as a ‘modern’ couture technique instead. Let me know what else you would consider a modern couture technique!
I love using my hot tool. I feel like it is such a good way to edge sheer garments whilst maintaining its light and airy feel. Aesthetically I really enjoy this method as it provides a neat way to prevent the fabric from fraying, without distracting the eye with unneeded layered seam lines; and I find it much quicker to achieve a beautiful effect. I've also really enjoyed experimenting with the best ways to use this tool and testing out how it interacts with different fabrics. It has inspired so many new ideas for ways I can incorporate this method into future designs and I hope it has done the same for you.
Do you have any questions about hot tools? Or are there other types of hot tools you’d like to learn more about? Please do let me know down below in the comments.
Join me on my social medias to keep up to date with how I use this technique!
More photos from my No Grit Collection: https://www.emiah.co.uk/collections
Some of the equipment I used (Amazon UK Links):