Sewing with silk tutorial header

Tutorial: Sewing with Silk

April 6, 2014 · 19 comments

After sewing with silk for quite a few projects recently I thought I would compile a little list of the things that I find make it a little less challenging. There are two chief things about silk that make it so pesky to sew with: it’s delicate nature and it’s tendency to slip and slide around all over the place. In order to combat both of these characteristics as much as possible I have found the following to be helpful.

THE RIGHT MINDSET

Don’t ever expect that sewing up a silk satin blouse is going to take the same amount of time as sewing the same one up in a nice sturdy, non-slippery cotton. Approach your silk project knowing that it is going to be a labour of love and require more patience than the average garment. If you are all about the instant gratification then perhaps consider having a silk project on the go alongside your other sewing so you can pick it up and put it down whilst finishing some other speedier projects.

THE RIGHT EQUIPMENT

You will need a nice big surface for cutting out your silk project. If this is a dining table or the floor make sure it is perfectly clean and free of anything rough that could snag your fabric.
Be sure to have a really well-lit workspace as silk projects will inevitable involve hand stitching. I like to use a daylight bulb in my big desk lamp as I find this gives the best quality of light. Obviously this is especially important if you are sewing in the evenings but is also handy on dingy grey days or when you are sewing with black which is always pretty tricky to see details on.

Sewing with silk tutorial lamp

When cutting out silk it is much easier to use a rotary cutter than scissors as it will allow you to keep your fabric and pattern pieces completely flat against your surface the whole time. Get your hands on the biggest cutting mat going and a rotary cutter. Pin your pattern pieces onto your fabric with plenty of silk pins which are much finer than regular dressmaking pins and use the rotary cutter to cut around the edge. Make sure your silk pins and rotary blade are super sharp as if they are remotely blunt they will snag your fabric.

Rotary-cutter-and-mat

I spend a large amount of time on basting/ tacking my silk projects. This makes the sewing machine part sooo much easier- obviously you may chose not to do this on all your seams but with things like collars and cuffs it is absolutely worth it. Use the finest hand sewing needle you have available, a nice contrasting thread and if you find your thread is getting all knotty then try running it through some tailor’s beeswax. Be careful not to baste along the actual stitching lines as ideally you don’t want your machine stitches to go over the top as this will make your basting hard to remove. On the seams where you don’t hand baste be sure to stabilise your fabric pieces together with plenty of silk pins but NEVER sew over pins as not only is this really bad for your machine but when it comes to silk this will definitely create little snags/ pull lines in your fabric.

Tailor's-beeswax

When you come to sew up your project be sure to use nothing bigger than a size 70 machine needle and once again make sure it is a nice sharp one- I like to use a new one at the start of a project as they become slightly blunt much sooner than you would think. Cotton thread sews silk much better than regular sew all polyester thread as it seems to kind of blend into the fabric better- if you run your hands over a row of each you will be able to tell which is the cotton as it will be much softer. Obviously silk machine thread is another option but I have never actually tried that as I have never had any to hand!

Cotton thread and 70 needles

It will also make life much easier to use a straight stitch machine plate. These are available for nearly all models of sewing machine and only have a single tiny hole for the machine needle to go through. A normal plate can more likely chew up or rather suck down your silk (esp things like chiffon!) into the gap which is wide enough for decorative stitches. Obviously this is only any good for when you are sewing straight stitches! If you don’t have access to one of these or when you are finishing your seams with a zig-zag stitch you can place tissue paper under your silk to help prevent chewing/ sucking danger! When it does come to finishing seams the best stitch to use for this on fine and delicate fabrics is actually the three step zigzag- the zig zag made up of three tiny stitches rather than one stitch. This stitch doesn’t have the tendency to pucker the fabric up like regular zig zag or overcasting stitches will do.

Straight-stitch-plate

For pressing your silk use a DRY iron- this is particularly essential with certain silk finishes like satins that will stain super easily from water drips. I turn the steam option off altogether and make sure my iron is empty as well to avoid this particular little headache.
For interfacing silk I prefer to use a very lightweight 100% woven cotton interfacing. I use this as the composition ones can kind of disintegrate over time and I also find that they are more prone to leaving a gluey residue on silk. Always test the interfacing on your silk forst to check it adds the correct level of stiffness to your project. Another option is to boycot fusible altogether and stitch in some silk organza instead. If you chose to use organza do not extend it into your seam allowances as it will make them bulky and use plenty of basting stitches which you can remove once your interfaced panels are attached to your garment.

I hope some of that comes in a little bit handy when you next find yourself drawn to some lovely slippery satin or wispy chiffon.

Thanks for reading!

 

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Kim April 6, 2014 at 11:46 pm

Thanks for a the hints…have never tried the 3 stitch zig zag. Will give it a try!

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Annette April 6, 2014 at 11:50 pm

Great post! You covered some of the most essential points to know. Unfortunately, I learned many of these the hard way.

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Lady Stitcher April 7, 2014 at 12:00 am

Thanks for all these great tips! I think I should look into investing in one of those plates before starting into fine silk projects – I’ve managed to save some light fabric pieces from being totally sucked in while working on them but don’t think silk would be as forgivig. Thanks again! :-)
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Gabrielle UpSewLate April 7, 2014 at 12:09 am

Great tips, and I’ll try using cotton thread for my next silk project.

There’s one other tip that I find helps make the silk a lot easier to cut out and sew, and that’s to pre-treat your fabric with gelatine – I used this on a couple of silk tops recently and it makes such a difference.

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WendyBee April 7, 2014 at 5:13 am

Brilliant! I have never actually sewn with silk, but I dream of it a lot! So, I’m living a little (OK, a lot) vicariously through posts like yours. Someday, I’ll stick a crowbar in my wallet and buy some silk and make a blouse. someday…
Once again, I’ll say it, I love your blog, and enjoy each and every post.
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Hollie April 7, 2014 at 8:46 am

Your A sewing goddess! I’ve always been very wary of silk and now I know that it’s ok! Thankyou a lot of tips there! Could you do a tutorial on gathering? Whenever I do it, it doesn’t go right:(

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Tialys April 7, 2014 at 8:46 am

Thank you for all these tips. I have some lovely chiffon which I wanted to use to make a skirt and I guess these same tips would apply. Just need to get up the courage.
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Charlotte April 7, 2014 at 9:28 am

Thank you for all these tips! I’ve only sewed silk once before but I found it was a complete nightmare to work with and I don’t think I even finished the garment because I was so frustrated with it!…but you’ve definitely inspired me to make another attempt

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Charlotte April 7, 2014 at 9:29 am

Thank you for all these tips! I’ve only sewed silk once before but I found it was a complete nightmare to work with and I don’t think I even finished the garment because I was so frustrated with it!…but you’ve definitely inspired me to make another attempt

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Gemma April 7, 2014 at 11:07 am

Excellent advice!!

Gemma
fadedwindmills.com
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Flower Wild April 7, 2014 at 11:37 am

Thank you for this tutorial, some great tips that I’ll hopefully get a chance to put into practice soon! :)
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Kati April 7, 2014 at 12:15 pm

Thank you for posting all these tips. I’m sure they will come in handy.

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Ann Sinclair April 7, 2014 at 3:39 pm

Hi Ami
What a great tutorial. So clear and concise. I’ve been sewing for years and never realised you could buy special pins for silk. Nor have I ever thought of using my rotary cutter for cutting out the pattern pieces. No more fighting with slippery, slithery fabric and chunky fabric scissors for me! These tips have just arrived at best time as I am about to cut the silk lining for a 60’s Vogue Vintage Pattern which is completely underlined, and I have been putting it off. Thank you so much for sharing. Ann x
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Karen April 7, 2014 at 9:28 pm

Excellent suggestions! I also find that Gingher shears with the micro-serrated blades are superb to use for cutting out silk. I couldn’t sew without them.
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Joe April 8, 2014 at 12:24 am

Excellent post, thank you for all the info on sewing with silk. It will definitely come in handy on future sewing adventures.
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Kate hampshire April 8, 2014 at 7:27 am

Great tutorial, in addition I would recommend using a walking foot so that your seams stay together through the sewing procedure. I love silk, it is my favourite fabric and usually use French seams as I like the inside to look as good as the outside. I’m just about to make a top from the free Collette download, very similar to yours. Oh and I always stop off in Tewkesbury whenever I go to the West Country, for a look and a coffee. One of my favourite places!

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Danielle April 8, 2014 at 10:06 pm

Oh, how I wish I’d had this post before beginning my last project! Thank you so much; I’ll be referring back to this every time I can’t resist silk :)
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ellebougies April 9, 2014 at 6:10 am

These are such useful tips. Thank you so much! Especially for the reminder that it’s absolutely OK to slow a project down and take the time to carefully hand baste and tack and do all the little extras that will help get a good final result.
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Alicia April 18, 2014 at 6:04 pm

Thank you so much for this. I just tried this on a simple pattern (the Sorbetto by Colette) it took a bit more time but hand basting totally made the fabric way less slippy and I was, in return, more happy! Thank you again!

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