More Tips and Tricks - Sewing with Silkcomments (7) January 18th, 2008
Silk is the queen of all fabrics. Like royalty, silk often demands special treatment to get the right results. Silk is one of my favorite fabrics to sew and wear. The hang and drape are second to none. With a little care, you can achieve fantastic results on this regal fabric.
Use very sharp cutting tools - When cutting silk, make sure you are using very sharp cutting tools. A nicked blade can cause pulls and picks that will ruin your fabric. If you use a rotary cutter, use a fresh blade with each new project. When using shears or scissors, test them out to make sure there are no nicks in the blade before cutting in to your fabric. If there are, have your scissors or shears sharpened.
Use a single-layer pattern layout - Because silks tend to slip and slide, I always cut pattern pieces on a single layer of fabric. By doing this, I ensure that the fabric grain is aligned correctly and eliminate distortion due to the fabric sliding over itself.
Use a paper underlay for very slippery silks - You can minimize fabric movement and distortion when cutting out chiffon, crepe de Chine or other very slippery silks by placing a layer of Kraft or butcher paper on your cutting surface and then laying your silk over that. The paper has enough "grab" to prevent the fabric from sliding while you pin and cut.
Stay inside the lines - Pins leave holes in finely woven silks. When pinning your pattern to your fabric, or when pinning pieces together in preparation for sewing, make sure that your pins are within the seam allowances so you don’t see holes in your garment.
Use tailor tacks for marking - Instead of using a marker or chalk, make all markings on your pattern with tailor tacks. Tailor tacks are made by running a doubled length of thread through your fabric at notches, dots, and other marks. I use cotton basting thread, which doesn't leave any marks.
Clip notches within the seamline - I often mark where notches are on the pattern by making a small (1/4 inch) clip within the seamline. This is fast and accurate, and it works well on most silks.
Use polyester thread for stitching - Once in a while, a student will ask me about using silk thread to sew silk fabric. It may seem like the logical thing to do, but you will get better results from good old polyester thread. Silk thread is frequently stronger than the fabric, and it can cut through your fabric at stress points.
Use the smallest needle you can - When stitching your fabric, use the smallest needle you can get away with. If you would normally use a 70/10 needle on a similar weight cotton or wool, take it down to a 60/8 with silk. I use a Universal needle, but you can also use a Microtex needle.
Use selvages for stays - If your pattern calls for stay tape or other reinforcements, use the selvage from your fabric, or from organza. I keep a supply of silk selvages in a basket for easy access when making pockets, rolling lapels, or reinforcing shoulders. An added bonus? They're free!
Press seams flat before you press them open - To get the best results with silk, after sewing each seam, press the seams flat on each side before you press the seams open. This "melds" the stitches into the fabric and produces a smooth, pucker-free result
Use a press cloth - Whenever pressing silk, I use a silk organza press cloth. This is super-simple to make. Simply tear or cut a length of white silk organza large enough for your pressing needs. I like to use a length that is 18 inches by the width of the organza, usually 44 inches. If you wish, you can finish the edges with a serger. When pressing, place this between your silk and the iron. This protects your silk from excessive heat, spitting steam, and "over-pressing" mishaps.
With these tips and a little practice, you'll find that silk provides a wonderful, rewarding sewing experience!