Tips on Sewing with Silk

For my Party Dress, I chose a lovely silk dupioni in a rich teal colour. I sew a lot with cotton, rayon and wool, but silk is one of those very special fabrics that I am often afraid to cut and sew with! Love buying it and love wearing it though!

I thought I’d share some of the tips and tricks on sewing with silk. It’s one of those fabrics that’s so luxurious and expensive, some people shy away from sewing with it. Here are a couple of suggestions that worked for me!

Sewing with Silk: Tips and Tricks

  • Pin in the seam allowances. Silk is so delicate, and pin holes can damage the fabric permanently.

  • Sharpness is important! Use your best, sharpest pins and a brand new sewing machine needle. The sharper your scissors are, the better! (A rotary cutter would be wonderful to use with silk.)
  • Use a dry iron. I’m always tempted to steam everything for extra pressing power! But water can stain and spot silk. There’s nothing worse than ruining your project during the final pressing stages!

  • Measure twice, cut once. Silk is expensive! You don’t want to be re-buying fabric due to cutting errors. Pin ALL of your pattern pieces to the fabric before you start to cut, make sure you’ve laid out all the ‘Cut 4′ and ‘Cut on Fold’ pieces properly, and only when you’re completely confident, start to cut.
  • Wash your hands. It seems obvious for when you get started, but think about touching your face or your hair – oils, makeup and hair products could damage the delicate silk fabric. If you have to rub your face or scratch your nose, remember to wash your hands before handling the fabric again. I was so worried about damaging this fabric in the middle of sewing it!

I hope these tips were helpful! Don’t let the fear of sewing with silk (or other precious fabrics) stop you from sewing with these beautiful fabrics. Often, natural fibres like silk are easier to sew than slippery synthetics! (Although, I’m one to talk. I have a gorgeous peach silk brocade that I just can’t bring myself to cut, for fear of ruining it!)

Any other tips on sewing with silk? (Anything I’ve missed that would be massively helpful to know before I start on my peach silk brocade project?) Leave them in the comments, I’d love to hear your suggestions!

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25 Responses to Tips on Sewing with Silk

  1. claire December 8, 2010 at 7:37 am #

    I have never tried sewing with silks but i came across this post from colette pattern’s tutorial/tips/tricks section:
    http://www.colettepatterns.com/blog/tutorials-tips-tricks/sullivans-spray-stabilizer

    of course i immediately went to the nearest hancock right after work and bought two cans. a novice like me needs all the tools she can get! :)

    also – wonderful tips! this might be just the motivation i need to start on my nye dress (simplicity 2305 – cynthia rowley)!

  2. Trudy Callan December 8, 2010 at 7:39 am #

    Thanks so much for the tips. Your dress is gorgeous.

  3. Jill/laughbutnotloudly December 8, 2010 at 7:54 am #

    I just sewed with silk for the first time — it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, but still kind of scary. My biggest problem was that the seamlines of the skirt gathered and bunched. I’m not really sure what happened. I finished the seams with bias tape (I don’t have a serger or pinking shears), so I’m not sure if the bias tape, which was heavier than the silk, caused the problem, or if it was the way I stitched the seams themselves. Is this a normal problem?

  4. Amanda December 8, 2010 at 8:01 am #

    Good idea about pinning in the seam allowances! Wouldn’t have thought of that.

    One thing I’ve heard about (and hope to get my hands on soon) are serrated shears to help keep slippery fabric from moving around too much while you cut. Seems to make a ton of difference. Sarai at Colette Patterns also did a post on a spray stabilizer that makes slippery fabrics more sturdy for the entire sewing process (not just cutting)! http://www.colettepatterns.com/blog/tutorials-tips-tricks/sullivans-spray-stabilizer

  5. Karin van D. December 8, 2010 at 8:03 am #

    I love silk. And love sewing with it. It just feels so… good somehow :-)

    I can’t wait to see your final dress!

  6. Katy Rose December 8, 2010 at 8:11 am #

    I work with silk alot and love it. I think the “IDEA” of the spray stabilizer is great but I can see so many problems in the application of it. The whole point of having a drapey silky fabric is to see how it flows on the body. You’re not gonna get the flow of a silky piece if its starched and stiff. You’ll probably be disappointed with how it turns out and fits your body after it’s been washed and goes back to being drapey. Maybe that’s just me but I do alot of draping and I work with the flow of the silk rather than against it. The main thing I’ve found that works is basting, basting, basting! Especially for drapey fabrics like charmeuse and chiffon. Dupioni Is awesome to work with, although I like to have a cotton organdy (stiff) or batiste (softer) for the interlining It gives it much better structure and you have to work less about tearing the silk with your machine.

  7. daiyami December 8, 2010 at 9:37 am #

    I prewashed my silk dupioni so that I didn’t have to stress so much about water—I liked the way it softened up—the color didn’t change, but the stiffness and shine were reduced. I’m in the middle of practicing working with it by making a simple but beautiful tote bag for my mom for Christmas. All straight seams, so not tricky, but giving me a feel for the fabric.

    My question about silk, and specifically dupioni, because I like the texture so much—what sort of pattern and how to style it so that you can wear it even when you don’t have a grand party to go to?

  8. Judy December 8, 2010 at 10:39 am #

    Tasia, thank you very much for your tips on sewing with silk. Your dress looks really beautiful on you. I’m also undecided about which patterns to use for my silk and thinking of trying the patterns I have in mind with a cheap fabric first. I don’t think I’m ready to cut my silk yet!

  9. Sherry December 8, 2010 at 10:58 am #

    Great tips Tasia! I get my brides to wear gloves when trying on their gowns, because they can ruin it with traces of hand lotion. And when making them I try and avoid makeup too – sewing with whites can be a nightmare!
    My advice is don’t be scared of silk! Stiffer silks such as dupion and duchesse are some of the easiest fabrics to sew, and they make up and press beautifully. No such luck with polyester and the like – the extra time it takes to get cheaper fabrics looking good outweighs the extra cost of most silks in my opinion.
    Drapier silks are harder to handle, but with a bit of experience you soon learn how to handle them – think ‘light fingers’ and practise on scraps! I agree with Katy Rose re spray stabiliser – you should go with the characteristics of the cloth. Precise cutting on lengthwise and crosswise grain is important too.

  10. Anita December 8, 2010 at 11:27 am #

    Great tips. Thanks. Your dress is beautiful and beautifully sewn.

  11. Catherine December 8, 2010 at 12:48 pm #

    I have some silk stashed away – nice stuff too ombred charmeuse and some Betsey Johnson paisley that I love. But man, finding the courage to use it has been harder than finding the fabric! ;) Thanks for the nudge!

  12. Nina December 8, 2010 at 1:42 pm #

    My biggest tip for working with silk: use a pressing cloth!!! It makes all the difference in the world. It keeps the silk from getting “shiny” where seams, darts, etc are.

  13. Alli (One Pearl Button) December 8, 2010 at 3:56 pm #

    Great tips, thank you! I don’t think I’ve ever sewn with real silk, just synthetics. That’s something I need to remedy – silk is so beautiful!

  14. Casey December 8, 2010 at 5:22 pm #

    Fantastic tips! I am scheming up a few projects at the moment that involve silk, and these were a great reminder on how to handle the fabric properly. I also second Amanda’s suggestion to check out Sarai’s tip regarding the spray stabilizer–I am keeping that in my hip pocket for when I sew with really thin, slippery silks!

    ‚ô• Casey

  15. Jessica December 8, 2010 at 9:51 pm #

    Oooooooh … this is very handy, I just thrifted a silk dress that I need to refashion for my org’s upcoming holiday party … but I’m a little hesitant to use it with the princess seam pattern I have in mind since I’ve never sewn with silk before, and the idea of princess seams with slippery fabric is making me scrunch my nose. This could be one swear-heavy dress. Or maybe it will just be a skirt :-P and I’ll have to figure out something else for the top!

  16. Christina December 12, 2010 at 12:22 pm #

    Great Post!
    @ Jill: I found, when working with chiffon that the only thing that prevented the seams from doing crazy things like ruffling was loosening the upper thread tension to almost non existent.

  17. Erika December 14, 2010 at 4:28 am #

    Great tips! Your dress is beautiful, I love the colour!
    One more tip for sewing – or rather cutting – silk: If the fabric is of really, really thin and slippery it makes cutting way easier if one tapes the fabric to the table. Of course covering as little fabric as possible, say 1/2 cm. With stabilized edges the grainlines won’t shift and the garment will drape correctley. Just a tip my mom gave me along with 5 m of super thin japaneese silk =)

  18. Ana January 7, 2011 at 7:51 am #

    Hello there!
    Thank you for these very useful tips. I’ve only made a shawl with dupioni silk, and I have so much of it stashed (I bought it on sale) that I think it’s time to put it to good use. This may seem like a dumb question, but I’m a beginner so excuse me: how do you know what the “right” side of the fabric is? Seems like it looks pretty much the same of both sides…
    Thank you!

  19. Tasia January 17, 2011 at 11:56 am #

    @Ana: Hi Ana, it’s not a dumb question! I found that both sides of my fabric looked the same, too. For me, I underlined my dress so as soon as the underlining was attached, I could tell which was right and wrong. If you use tailor’s tacks, you’ll know that the tufty side is the right side, and the flatter side is the wrong side. It doesn’t totally matter if you interchange the sides if they’re identical – BUT sometimes the shine or colour will be ever-so-slightly different on one side. To be extra-sure, I’d suggest marking the right side somehow. Either use chalk, or basting, or something that won’t damage your fabric. Even if you marked the pieces inside the seam allowances with chalk, fadeaway marking pen, or thread-basting that would help. Glad the rest of the tips were useful and hope this helps!

  20. Ruthy February 25, 2013 at 10:02 pm #

    Where did you get your silk? I’m getting married in July and my mother and I are making the dress, I really want to use Dupioni, because I tried on a couture dress made of it and it felt so wonderful. But I’m having trouble finding a good one that’s not too heavy for a July wedding in Texas!

    • Tasia February 27, 2013 at 5:06 pm #

      Hello Ruthy and congratulations! I bought my silk at Fabricana, a local store in Richmond, BC. Depending on where you live that might not work, but here’s the link: http://www.fabricana.com/ They don’t have an online shop but they do mail-order.

      It’s not too heavy for a summer wedding, it all depends on the style of the dress of course. Good luck! I bet you’ll be able to find something similar that’s closer to home. Try Mood Fabrics, or Hart’s Fabric – http://www.hartsfabric.com/silk-dupioni-fabric.html

      • Ruthy March 1, 2013 at 8:32 am #

        Thank you! I’m very excited! I finally did find what I needed at House of Fabric’s online store, I ordered a sample first of course!

  21. Joy January 9, 2014 at 2:55 pm #

    Thanks for the tips! What should I do about silk in the neck curves and under the arm? I have serged all the edges, but the neck curves concern me. If I clip the curves, they will fray, if I do not clip the curves they will not lay smoothly. How do I stabilize them?

  22. Bille March 27, 2014 at 4:04 am #

    I’m a complete newbie when it comes to sewing! But felt brave enough to buy a gorgeous brocade to match some over the top shoe I have. Go big or go home, right? A suggestion was made to me about using tissue paper, or a water soluable paper between the fabric to help keep it from slipping and sliding so much.

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