The luxurious appeal of silk lies in its softness and sheen – the characteristics that make sewing with silk strike fear in the hearts of many sewists.
Step 1 – Fabric Preparation
It is always a good habit to pre-wash your fabric before embarking on a sewing project. (Our sincere condolences to you if you have ever poured your heart and soul into making a garment, only for it to shrink in its first wash ☹.)
It is especially important to pre-wash silk fabric as it can shrink up to 15%. Differing shrinkage rates are related to the weave of your silk fabric. The more tightly woven the fibres, the less it will shrink and vice versa. Think of the difference between dense crepe de chine versus gauzy silk chiffon.
Another reason to wash silk before sewing is to prevent staining the fabric with watermarks when steam pressing and to remove any dye remnants.
The only time you would skip this step is if your piece of fabric is dry clean only.
Step 2 – Pattern Laying And Cutting
Start by prepping your fabric for cutting by pinning the matched selvedge edges together – the right side of the fabric facing inwards. Placing tracing paper between the layers of fabric is a less risky way of stabilizing it than using spray-on starch.
Because of silk’s subtle sheen, make sure that your pattern pieces are placed in the same direction. Rather than damaging your silk with pins, use pattern weights to keep the pattern pieces in place.
The best cutting tools for silk are super sharp scissors or a rotary cutter with a fresh new blade. When pinning the pieces together, use silk pins within the seam allowances to avoid holes that may be visible.
Step 3 – Getting Ready For Sewing Silk
- Thoroughly wipe down your machine and overlocker.
- Use fine sewing machine needles – 60/8 for lightweight fabrics and 70/10 for medium weight. Schmetz or Microtex are good needle brands.
- Rather than silk thread, use durable cotton thread.
- Use a stitch length of 1.5 – 2 for thinner silk and 2 – 2.5 for thicker silk. Test the tension of your stitches to avoid puckering.
- A Teflon foot or a plastic foot is recommended when sewing with silk and silk-like fabrics.
Step 4 – Sewing Silk – Ready Steady Go
Tedious but worth it, basting your seams overcomes the challenge of getting the edges of silk to stay together.
Depending on the weight of your silk, French seams may be the best way to avoid the fray of silk. Alternatively, you could use your serger to edge the pieces right after they are cut or apply strips of interfacing on the edge of the seams. Hems can be done with a rolled hemming foot or old-fashioned hand sewing.