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Sewing with Silk 101: Even More Tips For You

Like many home sewers, I suffer from TGCS, or Too-Good-to-Cut Syndrome. Since I started interning at Mood, I’ve hoarded amassed some truly exquisite fabric. I have visions of swishy silk dresses, collarless jackets lined with charmeuse, and classic silk shells. I even have the perfect fabric for a ballgown. When was the last time you went to a ball?, you ask. That is strictly beside the point, reader. It should of course come as no surprise that I mostly sew cotton dresses. To put this in perspective, I own more silk than I do all other fabrics combined. Problem? Me?

When I heard Sarai Mitnick of Colette Patterns would be teaching a seminar on sewing silk at Mood, I was determined to be the first in line. Have you seen her silk makes? She sewed her own wedding dress out of bias-cut silk charmeuse. I got the vapors from typing that.

Sarai Mitnick That's Sarai on the right posing with a fan after her seminar on sewing with silks at Mood NYC.

Sarai let us in on a little secret: Sewing silk is not that different from sewing anything else. Lunacy! If you know how to troubleshoot your issues, you’re well on your way to a fabulous garment. Flyaway fabric? Use some spray stabilizer. Puckering French seams? A teeny zigzag stitch does the trick. In fact, the hard-to-tame fabrics, like charmeuse, give silk an unduly bad rap. Silk twills and dupioni are relatively unfussy and are a great gateway into the wild and wonderful world of silk.

Colette Patterns Handout The prettiest handout ever.

We also got a really nifty silk sewing guide. Under each fabric, there are cutting tips, suggestions for needle sizes, and hemming instructions. Superficially, this handout is too attractive for words. It's certainly pretty enough to tempt me into sewing with silk.

Armed with my silk cheat sheet, I think I'm ready to try a few of Sarai's tricks.  Who's with me?

Silk Crepe de Chine Swatch Shorten stitch length to prevent puckering. 2.5mm stitch on the left, 1.5mm on the right.

1. Shorten stitch length to prevent puckering It never quite occurred to me that stitch length---not tension, or needle size, or the position of the moon relative to Saturn---affects puckering. Armed with a fresh 60/8 microtex needle and Gütermann sew-all thread, I went at this piece of silk. It's only slightly visible here, but the line of stitching on left was sewn with a 2.5mm stitch length and it. is. rippling. Like magic, a shortened stitch length gives a smooth look.

French Seam Side by Side On the left, a wee zigzag stitch, and on the right, the turned out French seam.
2. A tiny zigzag stitch prevents pull on a French seam. Have you noticed that sometimes French seams can cause your seams to shrink a bit, lengthwise, so that your hem is uneven?  I used a .5mm-width zigzag stitch and voilà! Even hemline. Confession: this is cotton batiste from our store, but the tip works well, nonetheless.
Chiffon on Muslin Using a bit of muslin to stabilize unwieldy fabrics, like silk chiffon.

3. Placing an old sheet under unstable fabrics makes cutting a dream.  It does! It does! I constantly hear tips about sandwiching your fabric between tissue paper, but doesn't that go against one of sewing's cardinal rules?  Thou shalt not cut paper with your fancypants shears. Cover your cutting table first with an old sheet or other large piece of fabric, then place your slippery silk fabric atop of it. The sheet adds traction so your fabric doesn't fly about and slip off your cutting surface. Care for an unsolicited tip from a brand-new silk cutter? Serrated shears make the job much easier, too.

How about you?  Do you have any tips or tricks for sewing with silk, or are you (like me) afraid to take a pair shears to it? Meg at Mood has some marvelous tips for sewing silk, and we've also shared the paper stabilizer trick.

10 thoughts on “Sewing with Silk 101: Even More Tips For You”

  • Lola

    I don't have any tips because like you I am afraid to sew with silk...but....this has helped and maybe my next project will be silk.

    • Charlotte, Mood Intern
      Charlotte, Mood Intern April 21, 2013 at 3:18 pm

      I'm so glad this helped. Patience might be the biggest secret. I think I might have to make a silk shirtwaist dress (perfect for the fickle weather we've been having). Do let us know what you have in the works!

  • Donna

    I've have a dupioni curtain project that I've been sitting on for months out of fear. What makes it worse it's for my best friend who has done EVERYTHING for me! I'm tackling it this week!!

    Thank you so much for these helpful tips!

    • Charlotte, Mood Intern
      Charlotte, Mood Intern April 22, 2013 at 8:35 am

      Yay! Sarai says dupioni is relatively easy to work with, so you can go forth and sew (kind of) fearlessly. We'd love to know how it turns out.

  • oonaballoona

    i'm lusting after that handout. and i LOVE your writing, charlotte!

    • Charlotte, Mood Intern
      Charlotte, Mood Intern April 23, 2013 at 4:53 am

      Oona, you're far too kind.

      Also, that handout is basically prettier than anything I've ever owned or made.

  • Ginger

    Awesome tips-- thanks for sharing! I was majorly bummed to miss out on the silk class, so I'm glad you snuck us some of the great info! Nice to see you here on the blog, Charlotte!

  • Anne Pokoski

    Hi Charlotte,
    I just stumbled onto your blog about silk. Thankfully, I don't suffer from TGC Syndrome, but I have several sewing friends who do. And they have fantastic stashes too! Loved your tip about the slight zig-zag on French seams and the smaller stitch length. Both of those suggestions are new to me and will help address issues I do face when sewing some silks. The fabric-covered cutting table is a Must with chiffons and charmeuses.

    I I've in fly-over land, not near either the NYC or LA store, but I'll plan a field trip soon. Good luck with your silk sewing projects.

    • Charlotte, Mood Intern
      Charlotte, Mood Intern April 26, 2013 at 11:27 am

      Hi, Anne. So glad the tips helped. Sarai Mitnick really does know her way around silk. It sounds like you already have a good handle on the wily beast. Hopefully, I'll kick my TGCS and be in good sewing form.

      I'm so very jealous of you! I always wonder if your first trip to Mood is the best one. You have to let us know how it goes.

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