After posting my Modern Geisha dress on The Sew Weekly, I saw a few comments and received a few emails about working with silk. Totally petrified to work with silk? Let’s see if we can’t change that a bit. I’ll give you some of my tips on how to handle this beautiful cloth.
Silk is harder to work with and handle than say, cotton or wool, though each have their own vices as well. Why is silk harder? Well because usually it slips around, sometimes its hard to puncture with your needles and when you do it can snag or worse, create unsavory drag lines and it can fray like nobody’s business. So how do you combat all that? Surprisingly there are several things on the market that really help. Let’s go about this from start to finish as if we were making a garment out of silk, alright? OK.
For silk fabrics, especially the slippery ones, it’s nice to have a very nice and very sharp pair of dressmaking shears and a very sharp rotary cutter. I have two separate sets of dressmaking shears, both Gingher. I have them sharpened every so often and one pair I use only for cutting out delicate fabrics like silk. I’ve found that certain fabrics, like wool especially, can dull the shear knives and since I work with both silk and wool quite a bit, I like having two sets of shears. I also have a very nice Gingher rotary cutter which I also use, but not as much. I find that the shears are less hard on my wrists and I have wrists that have seen years and years of flute playing so there you go. After I’ve laid out my pattern on the fabric, I also use pattern weights to stop the fabric from sliding around as I cut. Nothing really exciting either, but canned food! They really work too! Easy and very inexpensive! Just make sure you wipe the cans down before use. Cut away and there you go!
~ Marking ~
For silk, I use tracing paper and a hera to transfer the pattern markings. Usually I just pin mark because I’m lazy and its faster. But with silk, pins can have a damaging effect so I use the long way here. I use the hera because it has a less damaging effect than a tracing wheel. It uses pressure rather than poking little holes everywhere which can have the same effect as pins for this fabric type or so I’ve noticed.
Let’s start this section by talking about pins and how to pin. There are actually specialty pins for silk and you can find them pretty much anywhere. Mine are from Dritz (got them at Hancock). Sadly they don’t have those nice glass heads and can get lost in the carpet and such, so use these with care. (Keep them close, like on a wrist pincushion, which is to say that sometime this week, you’ll be seeing some of these fun notions from me!) They do work. They have the ability to puncture silk cleaner and easier than your standard pin being as they are sharper and smaller. When pinning, pin inside and parallel to the seam allowance. I’ve seen and used this tip alot and its a good one, yields much better results.
Use a brand new sewing needle for your sewing machine that’s for thin delicate fabrics. Using a brand new needle out of the package is so nice because it hasn’t dulled yet (unless your needles are really old) from piercing through other fabrics. And if you have the option to, a walking foot for your sewing machine really really helps. It keeps the fabric from slipping and sliding around on your sewing machine and makes sewing seams so much easier! I highly recommend them! I have one for my Bernina and though it was quite expensive (about $170) it was worth the price just to use with silks (they also work wonderfully for knits too).
My favorite seam finish for silk is french seams, although I’ll use the serger when I’m in a hurry. I think french seams yield such a wonderful result on silk fabrics, so clean and pretty. They work espcially well when working with chiffon that will act as an overlay. For seams that are enclosed, I like using my pinking shears because a serged edge can leave a mark after ironing. This is especially good for hems.
If you’ve worked with silk before, then you know that this cloth has a somewhat severe tendency to fray. The dupioni silk from my Geisha dress was the WORST! Holy cow! One tip to keep in mind is to make a muslin and work out all the bugs in the pattern and fit before cutting out the final fabric. After you cut the final fabric, refrain from trying on or handling the silk too much. The fray-age will get worse if you do. It can be somewhat manageable if you handle it the least amount possible before seam finishing.
~ Pressing ~
There is a great blog post from Gorgeous Fabrics on this very subject and she uses silk no less. Read it! You’re whole perspective on pressing seams will change!
Hopefully these tips are helpful. I don’t know all there is to know about working with silk, but I’ve picked up a few things just from trial and error. Have any tips to share about working with silk? What keeps you from using it?