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Tips to Overcome Fear of sewing silks

We just got a huge shipment of "famous American designer" silk prints at the Mood Fabrics NYC store. All the more reason to try your hand at sewing with silk.
  Do you suffer from silkaphobia? You know, fear of sewing silks. You can admit it, because this phobia is actually quite common. Just look at all the people who entered our recent silk giveaway, only to comment that they hadn't sewn silk before because they were afraid of it. Readers, I also once suffered from silkaphobia. But I got over it and so can you, because silk is too beautiful and classic a fabric not to have in your repertoire. Today I'm sharing a few simple tips that helped me overcome my fear of silk: Go pick up the excellent fabric guides by Claire Shaeffer and Sandra Betzina: Claire Shaeffer's Fabric Sewing Guide and More Fabric Savvy by Sandra Betzina. Both are great resources. Invest in real pattern weights like the professionals use. The accuracy of my cutting greatly improved once I bought these weights, which you can find online at sewing supply sources. (Do not, I repeat, do not use food cans to hold down your pattern when you are cutting out silk. Ask me about the lovely ring that's subtly imprinted on my gray silk-blend jacket.) Heavy weights keep all fabrics, especially slippery fabrics like silks, securely in place when you are cutting.
I love my iron pattern weights! The handle allows you to hold them securely so you don't drop them on your toes (ouch).
In lieu of professional pattern weights and if your silk is shifty, pin your silk in a single layer to tissue paper or other lightweight plain paper. Pin silk to paper around the edges and in the center, but only in places that aren't a part of your pattern. Pin holes can show and mar your lovely silk. Use the right needle for your type of silk. This is a mandate for all fabrics but especially so for silks. Test results with a 60/8 needle and polyester thread, not silk thread. A Microtex needle may work well but I often have equally good results with a Universal needle. The hallmark of a well-made garment is in the pressing, and this holds true for silk. Always use a pressing cloth. I'm partial to my silk organza press cloths, which I made by buying a yard of white silk organza, cutting it into large squares, and then serging the edges. If your iron spits or drips water, empty the water out completely and use a dry iron: Don't risk water spots. Press your seams flat first to meld the stitches into your silk, then press them open. To prevent show-through ridges from appearing on the right side when pressing seams open, use a wooden seam stick pressing tool like the ones made by Golden Hands. Test everything first on a large scrap of your silk. Needle, size, stitch length, pressing and marking. Make sure your marking method completely disappears on a scrap before you try it on your garment; plain old chalk may be your best bet. Plan your seam finish before you sew. I could fill up pages with all the different types of seam finishes you could use on silks. For the silk maxi skirt I just made I sewed French seams, which work best on straight seams with no curves and on lightweight silks. I've also hand-overcast my silk seams, and on 4-ply silk I've pressed open, stitched close to the edge of the seam, then pinked the edges. Do not serge or zigzag on lighter-weight silks--your machine will be too likely to eat your silks. Don't you just hate when you practically have to take your machine apart because your fabric was eaten at the start or end of a seam? Here's a trick: Begin your seam on a small strip of paper that overlaps with your silk and continue sewing onto the fabric. When you're done just tear away the paper and knot the thread ends together. Never backstitch to secure a seam; just clip the threads and tie a knot in them and your machine won't eat your fabric. Watch how you hold your pieces together when sewing seams. As I mentioned earlier, pins leave holes in silk. If you pin, do so in the seams where the holes won't show. I keep meaning to try out Clover's WonderClips; let me know if you've used and liked them and I'll see about stocking them here at Mood.
I hope these tips make you a little less apprehensive about sewing silks. Silk is such a rich and timeless fabric that I bet you'll find your handmade silk garments never end up in a bag for Goodwill. Do you have any tips for sewing silk fabrics? Please feel free to share your silk sewing tips here. Thanks!    

13 thoughts on “Tips to Overcome Fear of sewing silks”

  • Natty Paint

    Great post! Using a layer of paper when cutting is DEFINITELY important.

  • RD

    Thanks for the wonderful tips on silk. I have used Clover Wonder Clips on slippery fabric when I was sewing my curtains. They are a good investment. I definitely recommend them.

  • WendyE

    Thanks for the great ideas. Can't wait to try them.

  • Ginger

    Thanks for the tips! I have silk ready to go for a summery tank, but haven't been able to work up the nerve to cut into it. Perfect timing!

  • Marina v.K.

    I am planning an hour of shopping at Mood today :)

    Thanks for great tips, Meg!

  • Sewer


    Some people pin the silk in between two layers of tissue paper before cutting.

    Freezer paper can be used as a temporary stabilizer. The paper is attached to the material with a very light touch of the iron. You can draw the pattern on top (or beforehand, I supposed) and then cut. Obviously, you would test a scrap first.

    I've read that scissors with serrated (not pinked) edges work well. The edge grips slippery fabric.

  • Sewer

    Silk pins, which are lighter and narrower than normal ones, also help. I think Claire Shaeffer said on a video that she uses only new pins on silk. After one use, she puts them aside and uses them on sturdier materials.

  • cidell

    Thanks! I have lots of gorgeous silks I've never sewn because of nerves. I've read to use a straight stitch plate and presser foot too.

    • Meg

      I've managed so far without a straight stitch plate, Renee. If you start sewing on paper at the beginning of a seam, it helps.

  • Elle C

    I love Clover Wonder Clips, I first bought the little package of 10, and then when I realized how wonderful they are, I bought the box of 50. I like that 1/4 and 1/2 inches are marked on them as well.

    You can't completely replace pins with them, but I use them more than I thought I would.

  • Andrea


    Thanks for all the tips. I just purchased a gorgeous piece of silk from a local designer. I've been drooling over it, definitely experiencing 'silkophobia'. It's unique and I do not want to ruin it.

    When cutting silk, do you prefer scissors or a rotary cutter?



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