Learning to sew with silk? We’ve got 10 top tips that will ensure flawless finishes each and every time.
Sewing with a new fabric for the first time can be challenging for even the most experienced sewers, and silk is one that requires great care and attention, but if executed correctly can produce the most beautiful results.
We would recommend already having mastered the basics of sewing with cottons or linen type fabrics before taking the next step to handling delicate, drapey fabrics such as silk. The slippery nature of silk can cause some issues along the way, so be prepared to take it slowly and allow for a few frustrating moments during the process.
However, our top 10 tips for sewing silk should have you creating perfectly stitched projects in no time!
1. Washing your silk
Have you prepped your silk? If not, don’t sit down in front of your sewing machine just yet.
Pre-washing silk is important for a number of reasons. Not only does this clean the fabric and give you chance to get any minor shrinking out of the way prior to sewing, but it’s a crucial step to take in order to prevent staining the fabric with water marks when it comes to steam pressing.
Another reason to pre-wash is to make sure any remnants of dye have been removed from the fabric, to prevent any colour bleeding later on, particularly if you were going to be colour blocking.
While most silks nowadays are generally fine to stick in the washing machine, always make sure you double check first. Ask for advice from the salesperson and if they recommend dry cleaning only, definitely avoid putting it anywhere near your washing machine. Take it to a dry cleaners, or simply soak it by hand in warm water if you have any concerns.
2. Cutting your silk
Perhaps the most dreaded step when it comes to sewing with silk – cutting the fabric.
Getting the perfect cut can be make or break when it comes to the outcome of your project, and the ease of which it can be sewn. The lightweight nature of silk is what makes it the perfect fit for creating gorgeous, flowy designs with lots of movement – but it’s that same movement that can make it a bit of a nightmare when it comes to cutting.
A. Stabilise the fabric
Keeping your fabric stable is a must when trying to achieve a flawless cut, so you might need a bit of help when it comes to stabilising your silk fabric. We would recommend using a light spritz of a starch spray for a temporary fix which will make it easier to lay the silk out with less movement.
If you’re concerned that this may leave marks on your beautiful silk, another option is to sandwich the silk in between two sheets of other fabric or paper whilst cutting to keep it in place.
B. Get rid of the stragglers
Frayed edges? Cut off all the stragglers first and foremost. Don’t leave them there with the mindset that you’re about to cut them off anyway, as there’s a chance that they will get caught on something and disturb the laying of your silk, and that’s something we definitely want to avoid.
C. Get yourself a rotary cutter
A fresh, sharp rotary cutter is always favourable over a pair of shears as this avoids lifting the fabric altogether, minimising the movement of the silk and disturbing the placement of your patterns. Things you’ll need: a cutting mat to protect your worktop and some pattern weights to keep everything in the correct position.
D. Work little by little
Don’t go in all at once. Avoid laying out all of your pattern pieces at the same time, and instead work in more manageable chunks.
4. Utilise silk pins
Sometimes regular pins aren’t up to scratch when it comes to silk, as they can leave a hole in the fabric. If this is the case with you, invest in some silk pins – that’s what they’re there for. Silk pins are super sharp, fine and extra long to be better suited to such fine and delicate fabrics.
5. Have a practice
For first time silk sewers, it’s not always a good idea to dive in both feet first, so we would recommend testing out your silk before going full steam ahead with the sewing machine.
Take a smaller cut-off of the silk and run it through your sewing machine to see if your current set up is suitable in terms of the needle, tension and stitch length. If you’ve got a good length of leftover silk, you can run this test a few times to ensure you get it right without ruining your creation.
Hand sewing your silk? Remember, you’ve never worked with this material before so the same applies. Test it.
6. Hand baste your silk
We’re still not ready to hit the machine just yet. The difficulty of getting the edges of silk to stay while sewing is like no other, so we would always recommend hand basting your seams first in order to make it a much simpler process when you eventually feed it through the machine. A time consuming task, but you’ll thank yourself (and us) later.
7. Choose the right needle
The right needle for sewing silk is an absolute must. Fine fabrics need slim, sharp needles. A universal machine needle won’t cut it here – and skipping this vital step will cost you your design.
8. Always us a French seam
It probably doesn’t come as a surprise to hear that silk is very prone to fraying, which is a hinderance at best.
Unsightly frayed edges can ruin the overall look of your design, and can also reduce the lifetime of your seams. To avoid this, always adopt a French seam. That way, you’re covering yourself against the chances of fraying seams as the any frayed edges will be enclosed within the seam – out of sight, out of mind.
This, combined with the double durability of a French seam ensures that your designs look great, and last a long time.
9. Sew with cotton threads
Whatever you do, don’t make the mistake of purchasing silk thread for your seams. Sure, silk thread has its place – more for emboridery and thread tracing, but certainly not in keeping the piece together.
For this, opt for something a little stronger such as a cotton thread to ensure that your seams are there to stay, and keep the silk thread for any finishing touches or added details.
10. Use a pressing cloth
Now, you’ve managed to create your beautiful design and want to keep it in tact, of course. So, the last thing you want to do is stain it with water marks.
For this, we would recommend using a pressing cloth to avoid directly pressing steam on to your fabric. Use a strong, sheer fabric that can suitably withstand a high heat, such as as organza silk and you’ll ensure that your creation is safe from the dreaded water marks.
Last but certainly not least is patience. Having patience is the key to success with any silk sewing project. Understand that you might not get it right the first time, but don’t just throw in the towel there and leave it at that. Practice makes perfect, and once you’ve nailed the process, you’ll be well on your way to creating stunning silk creations and thankful that you never gave up.