Quick Tips for Sewing with Silk

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Silk is such a luxurious fabric to wear, unfortunately, sewing with it is not so luxurious. In fact, it's a real pain in the butt if I'm being honest. So today, I wanted to share a few tips about sewing with silk (and other fine/slippery fabrics) that I've picked up in my time sewing with it, just in case you fancy making your Afternoon Blouse from it.

The major issue I've always encountered with silk is that because it's so slippery, it tends to move off grain during cutting. Unfortunately, you can muslin a garment as many times as you like to get the fit right, but if the pattern pieces slip off grain when it comes time to making it with your fashion fabric, chances are the final garment won't fit right. So...

1) Think about cutting one pattern piece at a time instead of folding your fabric to cut out 2 pieces. It might take longer, but generally, the pattern piece that is going to slip and go off grain is going to be the bottom piece. For pattern pieces that are placed on the fold, I would recommend re-tracing the pattern piece into one whole piece, and cutting in a single layer from that.

2) If you prefer to cut your fabric on the fold, try putting it between 2 pieces of tracing paper. Sounds weird I know, but the tracing paper has more grip than silk, which means it will hold those slippery pieces together. To do this, fold your fabric along the grain and pin your selvedges together. Place your folded fabric on top of a piece of tracing paper, and then put another piece of tracing paper on top of that. Pin your pattern pieces on top of the tracing paper, making sure to get all four layers secured, and cut your pattern pieces out.

3) Use silk pins AND pattern weights. For some reason, there is a mindset that you either need to be in one camp or the other when it comes to securing pattern pieces to your fabric, but this really is not the case, especially when it comes to cutting silk and other difficult fabrics.

Most people have their favourite way to secure patterns (mine is with pins) but use both if you have to. I use cans from the cupboard and weigh my pattern piece down in the centre (use as many as you like!), then pin the outsides of the pattern with pins (again, use as many as you like). It might sound a bit overkill, but if you've ever experienced the dread of ruining a lovely bit of fabric, you'll do anything to stop this happening in the future.

4) Which brings me to pins. If you don't have silk pins, and have no plans to buy any, ONLY PIN INTO THE SEAM ALLOWANCE! Pins will leave little holes all throughout your silk that are nearly impossible to make go away, no matter how hard you try to push them closed. And actually, even if you do have silk pins, I would still try to keep them within the seam allowance, just in case!

5) When it comes to silky necklines, you should think about stabilising the seam to give it a bit more structure. Silk is designed to flow, so if you have a neckline that needs to hold it's shape like the Afternoon Blouse, giving it a little extra love will help it to retain the original design lines.

Not sure how to stabilise seams? Check out my post here.

6) Take your time! You just can't rush sewing with silk - if you do, it will come back to bite you in the bum. Enjoy the process, listen to the fabric (fabric whisperer?) and you should end up with a lovely garment at the end.

If you have any more tips for sewing with silk, I'd love to hear them! I'm always on the lookout for ways to make it easier (and hopefully not ruin any more beautiful fabric!).

xx
J
23 comments on "Quick Tips for Sewing with Silk"
  1. Instead of using tissue paper (which I don't have, nor do I really know where to get it) I just lay the fabric out on a towel - you can also lay it out on the carpet (good for those of us who don't have a table to cut on anyway). The towel or carpet grip on to the bottom piece and stop it from shifting

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    1. Oooh, towels!!! I had totally never even thought about them! I wonder if flannel would also do the same thing because of it's texture?

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  2. There was a really great podcast on thread cult about sewing with silk. Another trick is to use a stabilizer. It makes silk as pliable as cotton & washes out after sewing. Sounded great. Check it out. It's called 'Silk! Sewing tips from Katrina Walker. '

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    1. Thanks so much for letting me know - I'll definitely need to head on over and check it out :)

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  3. I would say the best tip is number 6 - take your time! (And use silk thread...) :)

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  4. I've just made my up first proper silk top and I used a stabiliser and it worked really well. The only think is I'd test it first to make sure it washes out properly - my silk is printed with a splatter pattern and after the first wash the stabiliser didn't completely wash out but you can't notice it. I'd be gutted if it was a solid colour though! I cut mine out on the floor (carpet) and it was very well behaved.

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    1. Oh no!! Luckily you can't really tell - do you think if you washed it again it might come out?

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  5. I do the paper sandwich method of cutting silk, paper on bottom, silk, paper one top. I've got a big roll of craft paper to do this but have heard it works equally well with tissue paper

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    1. And probably cheaper than buying a tonne of tracing paper! I have a huge roll of newsprint, so perhaps I'll try with that next time :)

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  6. I've been sewing with silk a bit these last few months, for the first time, and I've not found it to be as hard as I expected. I keep thinking I'm missing something! I am having trouble with hems, and I also suspect my fabric has been a bit more easy to deal with than average. I did, though, just sew up a top in a cotton voile, and oh my, was that ever a breeze!

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    1. Maybe you just have a natural way with silk :) Wish I did!! Voile and Lawn are my favourite cottons to sew with ever :)

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  7. Great tips! I also like to cut silk out on top of muslin instead of using paper- I use weird offcuts and leftover pieces of muslin, or even old sheets, and just place the silk on top, use weights, and cut it with a rotary cutter. The muslin keeps it from slipping around, and doesn't dull the blade like paper sometimes does. Silk is really worth the effort it takes to cut it out- it's so nice to wear!

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  8. Oooh, I am so bookmarking these tips. I haven't sewn with silk at all yet, but it doesn't seem half so scary now.

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  9. Great tips, I haven't been brave enought to sew with such a luxurious fabric but I hope I will one day. Thanks for sharing. x

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  10. Great post and very timely! I am making my own wedding dress and bought silk shantung for it. I have made my first muslin and am now making a wearable muslin out of rayon to double check the fit and see how it is finished. Then I will be moving on the actual silk fabric. I am a bit nervous, because the closest thing to silk I have sewn is a vintage silky polyester of some sort. I do plan to cut the fabric open and not on the fold. I don't want to use stabilizer, since I don't want to have to wash it, so I am trying to figure out whether or not to use tissue or what! I was also wondering where to get big pieces of tissue paper. I also plan to interline it with something, either silk organza or cotton batiste, so hopefully that will make it easier to sew. So many choices! Anyway, thanks for posting this. I just need to feel confident about my choices and hope for the best. Taking my time is also good advice. Thanks again and wish me luck!

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  11. Great stuff. Here are mine. More handling tips for slippery fabrics!
    http://almondrock.co.uk/tips-for-working-with-slippery-fabric/

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  12. Hi, thank you for the tips. I also find it better to cut one peace at a time. And I find it is easier to sew with the overlocker and afterwards the usual mashine. O, and of course, the iron must never far away. And I want to share with you:-) a friend who had a material shop, gave me 11 rolls of silk. Can you believe it! It was an awesome gift!

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  13. I am trying to find out how to use stabiliser fabric. It may have another name. I have cut out, sewn and fitted the stabiliser fabric, then unpicked the seams and made the adjustments to the pattern. What I need to know is whether to sew the dress fabric directly onto the stabiliser fabric before sewing the main seams, or whether it should be a separately sewn section, sandwiched between the outer fabric and the lining. I can't find instructions anywhere for using stabiliser fabric, so I think it must go by a different name. Any help would be appreciated.

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    1. Hey Catherine!

      I think it sounds like you're talking about an underlining! I'd baste your main fabric to your stabiliser fabric and then just treat those as one pattern piece. I talk a little more about underlining in The Felicity Dress Sew Along - while Felicity doesn't then have an additional lining like the one you mention in your comment, the steps to integrating an underlining are the same for any sewing pattern.

      http://www.jenniferlaurenvintage.com/2015/03/the-felicity-dress-sew-along-selecting.html

      Scroll down to step 2. Hope that helps and that that is what you're meaning :) Let me know if it's not.

      xx
      J

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  14. Thanks, Jen. I took the plunge and did that and it worked. I'm at the point of handsewing the arm scyes and lace sleeves now. It's a scary process!

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    1. Oooh, lace! Sounds like it's going to be lovely!! It is a scary process, but I bet you'll come out the other end with not only a beautiful garment, but also feeling super proud you pushed yourself :)

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  15. I was feeling proud... until I had the dress nearly finished and the back right bodice is gaping terribly. It's a V back and I had no problems when I made the muslin, nor while constructing this dress, until it was nearly finished. On close inspection, the right front of the bodice is puckering sideways. It's not noticeable when I'm wearing it (though the back gape definitely is), but when it's off, it can be seen. I think it is to do with the lining and the armholes. I sewed those armholes and sleeves by hand. It took HOURS. It was too hard to tell if there was a problem while sewing there, but I suspect it could be related. I'm just not sure. I know I don't want to take out the handsewing, especially if it won't help the gape on the back. The whole dress is fully lined. Unpicking anywhere is going to be hell.

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    1. Apologies for the late reply on this one Catherine, it was in my spam folder (I've had so much spam lately it's been difficult sifting through to find the real comments!!).

      Oh no! Do you mind letting me know which pattern you're using? Is it gaping at the v-back? If so, because it's a V, it could have accidentally stretched out due to the fact that a V is a bias cut. So, the edges are more likely to stretch and even more so with a silk.

      Did you pop in a few stay-stitches? That would have helped, but any movement could have caused the stretching.

      Could you pop a few darts into the back, to take out the gaping, and then just call them 'design lines'. It could make an interesting and lovely feature, AND would save all of that hard work you put into your garment (and the lovely fabric).

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Thank you so much for stopping by to leave me a comment, like most people, I really do appreciate them all!

Due to the large amount of spam I seem to be receiving for some strange reason, comments may take longer to be published than usual. Apologies!

XX
Jen

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