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 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.
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?
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.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.
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.