Silk Fabric Care • Sewing Silk Fabric • Silk Fabric
Sewing Guidelines for Silk Fabric
Silk fabric is produced in such a variety of weaves, textures and weights that any suggestions for sewing and care should be considered in light of the specific product you are working with. As a rule, use the very best materials available to you on your silk fabric project. These projects tend to have a longer life span. Skimping on interfacing could result in serious regrets and a garment that never leaves the closet.
Pre-treat your silk fabrics using the same cleaning method that you plan to use for the garment after construction. You may want to purchase a little extra fabric for experimenting with cleaning methods.
Some silk fabrics actually look better when washed, as dry cleaning can sometimes cause a garment to look dull.
Silk fabrics typically soften when washed. If you want your silk to stay crisp, consider dry cleaning.
Silk fabrics tend to shrink. The amount of shrinkage is dependent on the characteristics of the silk fabric. Allow at least an eighth of a yard per yard if you plan on washing your project, more if the fabric is loosely woven or has a high level of sizing (the starchy substance that is sometimes used in processing yardage).
Silk dyes beautifully. However, this ability to absorb dye means that many silk fabrics are prone to releasing color. A little fading over time is not unusual. Strong intense colors may bleed and damage other items or portions of a project. Dry cleaning for silk fabric projects using intense colors should be considered even if all the fabrics used are know to be washable.
Launder silk fabric in a mild detergent or soap and avoid the use of harsh bleach and chemicals. Some professionals will even recommend a mild "people" shampoo with few additives. Avoid excessive twisting, and wrinkling unless you are attempting to build in texture. Test your washing process on a swatch to determine if you prefer hand washing to machine washing. Rinse your silk fabric twice. In the first rinse add a small amount (¼ cup per gallon) of white vinegar to remove soap residue. The second rinse will remove the vinegar leaving your silk delightfully fresh.
When laundering the completed garment, you may consider machine drying your silk fabric. If you do, remove it from the dryer while still slightly damp. Arrange on a hanger, smoothing as much as possible. This will reduce the amount of pressing needed. You may wish to press the garment while slightly damp.
Silk fabric tends to shine or slick when pressed. Use a press cloth when pressing on the right side and consider using a lower temperature. Wrinkles, folds, and pleats pressed into silk fabrics tend to be very difficult to remove. Use care in pressing.
Dry cleaned silk fabrics can and will shrink. As with washing, purchase additional yardage and pre-treat prior to cutting out.
With some projects all the components may be washable including the fabric, interfacing, buttons and embellishments. However, if you have any concerns about the silk colors bleeding, the completed garment should be dry cleaned.
Most silk fabrics are best when cut following the napped layout, and most can be cut folded in two layers. A rotary cutter and mat can be helpful, especially for the more textured silks. Very slippery silk fabric can be laid out on a slightly napped fabric such as a sheet. Other silk fabrics that are very soft or slippery, might do better layered on top of sheets of tissue paper. The pattern would then be pinned to the tissue as well as the fabric and all layers cut out together.
When marking notches clips may be used. However, avoid them in very course or loosely woven silk fabric. Avoid using wax based markers. A tailors tack really does not take much effort and is generally more accurate.
Most silk fabrics can be sewn with any good quality thread, either cotton wrapped or 100% polyester. Silk thread for construction of the garment may not be as good a choice. Frequently the fibers in a silk thread are short. While they spin together and look marvelous, they may not be as strong as the silk they are sewing and they may fray and break easily. Save your expensive silk thread for top stitching and embellishing.
Use a Universal needle suitable to the weight of your fabric. However, very fine silk fabric may require a "sharp" needle. Sew a test seam to determine the best stitch quality. Generally 8-12 stitches per inch will be best. Again a test seam is the best way to tell. Being a natural fiber, silk does not dull needles as quickly as synthetic fabrics. However, you should still consider starting with a new needle.
The slippery silk fabric that was difficult to cut out may also be difficult to sew. You might try laying the fabric on top of strips of tissue paper and sewing through all layers. Some seamstresses have had luck using adding machine tape or even toilet paper as a support. These can be set in your lap and unreeled as you sew. Should the silk fabric tend to poke down into the hole under the presser foot, consider using a single hole throat plat or create your own by putting a small piece of tape over the opening. Sew a few stitches to make a nice hole in the tape, then sew through a scrap of fabric to clean any sticky residue from the machine needle.
Serged seams are often a very good choice. Sergers with differential feed offer additional adjustments. Test to make sure you get the results you are after. Press this test seam to evaluate if and how badly the bulk of the serger threads impact the look of the seam.
Silk fabrics tend to ravel or fray easily. Therefore, seams should be finished to prevent the garment from showing unsightly frayed threads or raveling apart.
Serging edges prior to constructing with traditional 5/8" seam allowance may help avoid ridges showing on the right side. Press seam over a half round wooden seam stick, sleeve roll, or pressing ham and press from the wrong side.
Other suitable finishes include hand-overcast, zigzag, simple seam binding and Hong Kong bound edges. As a rule, avoid bulk whenever possible.
Interfacing should be matched to the weave, texture and weight of your silk fabrics. Pretest several options if in doubt. Either woven or non-woven interfacing can be used depending on the project and personal preference. Pre-treat your interfacing using the cleaning method you intend to use for the finished garment.
Iron-on interfacing may not be suitable especially if the silk fabric is sheer, thin or lightly textured.
Sew-in interfacing is recommended for tailored projects although there are a number of very good knit fusible interfacings on the market which work nicely. In addition to commercial interfacings, consider silk organza, silk organdy, silk chiffon, and silk voile. These fabrics may also be available in either cotton or polyester. An additional layer of self fabric may be the perfect choice. In some cases, cotton broadcloth will be suitable. Even cotton flannel (washed at least twice) can be used to interface/underline a very heavy silk fabric.
Another factor that can influence the choice of interfacing as well as seam finishes, button holes, etc. is the intended use of the garment. A trendy project intended to be worn for only one season might be completed more quickly using iron-on interfacing and time saving sewing processes. A classic style, a very detailed garment or one intended for long term use and laundering might require a more time consuming treatment.
Consider adding a lining to your silk fabric project.
A lined garment will be more comfortable to wear. It will "breathe" due to the lining moving moisture away from the body. The garment will move with the body and the sleeves will slide off an on easier, especially when multiple layers are worn.
A lined garment will drape nicely. Garments will cling due to moisture and static, both of which can be eliminated with a lining.
A lined garment will look nicer on the inside. Construction materials and seams are hidden and the garment is more stylish and luxurious.
A lined garment will have a longer life. The lining protects the fashion fabric from perspiration while the inner structure absorbs the stress and strains of movement. There will be fewer strained and opened seams. Silk dupioni for example appears to have good strength but really benefits from the support of a lining.
ice. It is light weight and comes in many colors. Silk organza can add a little structure and silk crepe de chine can add a little weight. You may even consider a silk jacquard or silk print to add a little "zing" to a garment whose lining might show such as a jacket or coat. A contrasting lining can add interest as well as actually affecting the color of a garment. A hot pink lining in a white wedding gown can add delightful warmth and glow to the dress without actually being seen.
Linings can improve both the structure and visual appearance of your silk garment.