This past weekend was my mom’s wedding. Because I’m the only one in the family that sews, I was volunteered to do all the alterations. I also decided to make dresses for myself and my two daughters. So, I’ve been inspired to write about working with silk fabrics.
I’ll also include some descriptions of different types of natural silk and their uses. Take a look and let me know what you’re making with silk!
General Sewing Tips For Silk
- don’t use pins for the pattern. Iron pattern weights will be faster and more accurate (pins only hold down the edges of the pattern. Because silk is so slippery, it’s possible that the rest of the pattern could still move around a bit during pinning or cutting).
- if the fabric you’re using is very slippery, try first pining it in a single layer to tissue paper or other light-weight paper. Place the pins around where the pattern pieces will go (not on the pattern pieces). This can help stabilize it.
- You could also cut about 2 inch strips of parchment paper to the pattern paper totaling the length of the seams. Then place the fabric, right sides together, and pin the seam allowances and the parchment strips together (stitching with the paper layer on the bottom). Softly tear the paper away.
- It may be best to start off with a 60/8 needle with polyester thread. Alternatively, you could use a ballpoint needle or even universal needles.
- For ironing, make sure to test your iron on a scrap first and use a press cloth on top of the silk. A good option for the press cloth is silk organza because it withstands high temperatures and is transparent. To make your own press cloths, cut some silk organza into squares about 12″ in size. If you have a leaky iron, it’s best to dump out the water and use the iron dry to avoid drip spots.
- I strongly recommend testing everything first- stitch length, tension, needle size, pressing, etc.
Types of Silk Fabrics
TIP: for very delicate types of silk fabrics, I recommend dry cleaning. Machine washing can give silk a rough quality causing it to lose its smooth and sleek look and feel. Some silks can be machine washed as long as you use the delicate cycle. Make sure to check the manufacturer’s care instructions!
Tip: soak this fabric in a solution of 1 tsp gelatin powder to every 2 cups of water. Then roll the fabric gently inside a towel to eliminate excess water. Finally, air dry. This step can make charmeuse less slippery and easier to sew.
There are a lot of different types of satin (silk, viscose, crepe-backed, etc.) The word ‘satin’ simple refers to the appearance created via a weave of long floating yarns in the warp (giving the fabric a smooth and lustrous look).
Light weight satins can be used for tops, loosely fitting jackets and lingerie. Heavier weight satins are appropriate for evening-wear and bridal dresses.Double-faced satin and satin-backed crepe refers to satin fabrics where the wrong side is as important as the right side (in terms of feel). Polyester satin is definitely easier on your budget, however, many believe it has a more stiff, less elegant appearance and can also be hotter and sweatier.
Tip: always start your satin projects with a new sharp needle appropriate for the weight of the satin. Satin is very easy to snag so take extra care when handling it.
This fabric has a satin-like sheen on one side while the other side has a matte finish. It’s of medium to heavy in weight. It also has a slightly firm hand that can be used to create dramatic designs. A very versatile fabric, it can be used for a range of applications from strapless dress mini dresses to full-length ball gowns.
Tips: duchesse satin has a tendency to curl once cut. To ease the machine sewing process, it may be worthwhile to hand-baste the seams just outside (so that the holes will not be noticeable) the seam line with silk thread.
CHIFFON AND GEORGETTE
These fabrics are sheer and delicate. The main difference between the two is that Georgette has a slightly denser crepe appearance and is also easier to work with. Both Chiffon and Georgette are suitable for ruffles, sheer insets, top layers (to be placed over opaque layers), scarves, or draped extensions. Beginning sewers may prefer to use synthetic forms of these fabrics as they look almost as nice as the silk versions but are easier to sew with.
Tip: to avoid your fabric from getting caught into your sewing machine’s plate and bobbin area, do not start sewing from the edge. First, place a piece of pattern or tissue paper at the beginning of the seam and slightly overlapping the fabric. Then sew from the paper to the fabric. Tear away the paper and tie the thread ends together to secure the seam.
When possible, hand-baste instead of pinning as it will make it less likely that the fabric will shift around while sewing.
Tulle is a type of woven mesh often used for ballet tutus or to give skirts their puffy appearance (it’s also named after the French city of it’s origin). The majority of tulle is actually made of nylon- this tulle is tougher in feel and a lot cheaper compared to the silk variety. Silk tulle is a lot more soft and fine. It’s ideal for layers and gathers in formal evening wear applications but can be more pricey.
Tip: use a stabilizing tape as it can be tricky sewing tulle given all the gaps in the fabric. It’s also best to leave the hems raw.
Gazar is a plain light-weight silk with a crisp hand. This fabric can be used to create dramatic flounces, ruffles and other architectural details. This fabric feels a little more rough compared to heavier organzas. Some types of gazar also have a linen or guazy appearance.
This fabric comes in silk, nylon and polyester varieties, is nearly transparent and is very sheer. It’s ideal for press clothes because of its ability to withstand high temperatures while also allowing you to see what you’re pressing (as it’s transparent). Organza is used for a wide variety of applications such as lining, sheer blouses, ruffled dresses, or flounces.
TIP: Organza tends to shift a lot so I recommend using heavy pattern weights to hold it in place while cutting. French seams may be best for sewing the body of a garment as this will produce a neat appearance.
CREPE DE CHINE
Crepe de chine is produced using a plain weave. It has a subtle texture, comes in matte or with a very subtle sheen. When buying crepe de chine, you have 3 options for weights: two-ply, three-ply, or four-ply. As you probably guessed, two-ply is the lightest. This weight is made by veaving two strands of silk together. Depending on it’s weight, crepe de chine can be used for blouses, CDC jackets, coat lining, dresses, wide-leg pants, tops, and lingerie. Crepe de chine is also one of the few silks that can be machine washed.
HABUTAI (CHINA SILK)
Habutai is also a plain weave silk that comes in a large variety of weights and colors. It’s also one of the least expensive silks. Light-weight habutai can be used for linings while the heavier weights can be used for blouses or tops. It often softens up after machine washing.
TIP: Use a sporty top-stitching as washing can create wrinkled puckered seams. If using for jacket liing, ensure that it’s opaque enough to conceal the seams and inner workings. If your habutai is especially shifty, try hand-basting or stitching seams using a 2″ strip of parchment paper underneath. Then gently tear away the paper after sewing.
DUPIONI AND SHANTUNG
These fabrics consist of raised bumps called slubs. These bumps are created when the fabric yarn thickens or twists during the weaving process. Silk dupioni is crisp and has a soft sheen as sometimes seen in Indian saris. Shantung is lighter in weight and less slubby compared to dupioni. Both dupioni and shantung can be used for simple dresses, pants, tunics, and home decor.
TIPS: these fabrics fray a lot so it may be best to serge before sewing. Dupioni may be best finished using bias binding. These fabrics are dry-clean only.
Faille fabrics (pronounced ‘fye’) has a subtle sheen and stiff drape. This fabric evokes the ribs of a grosgrain ribbon with small cross-grain cords. It’s often used for pockets, collars, evening wear, spring coats, jackets, and covered buttons.
This fabric is known for its use in creating party dresses and ball gowns. It’s light weight, crisp, and has a softly iridescent sheen. Tafetta also comes in many synthetic varieties.
TIPS: if you’re making a garment that requires more body, line taffeta with organza, tulle, or flannel. Be very careful when pressing as creases will be difficult to remove!
Thanks for reading and keep an eye out for my next post on synthetic silks!
Mood Guide to Fabric and Fashion.
Photos provided by Unspash.