Laurens Top Tips for Sewing with Silk Fabric

Pattern ideas, how to launder, cutting out and much more!

Even if you have been dressmaking for a while, sewing with silk fabric is one of those things that somehow seems a bit scary!

Maybe it’s the price and that as a more luxury fabric you feel nervous about cutting into it or making a mistake, or maybe it’s that you are worried about it slipping all over the place and being hard to control?!

In this post I want to share my top tips and simple pattern ideas for sewing with the beautiful fabric! You can hear me chat about them in my latest Youtube video linked below or read on for lots of inspiration and encouragement to get sewing with silk!

Types of silk fabric

The silk fibre itself can be woven into different types of silk fabric and cloth and can also be combined with other fibres such as cotton. In this post I’ll be focusing on slippery and smooth types of silk such as Crepe de Chine or silk crepe and Silk Satin like these ones linked below that we have available in the shop.

Benefits of sewing and making clothes with silk

Aside from it’s beautiful soft flowing drape, luxurious sheen and super soft texture there are lots of reasons why clothes made from silk are a job to wear!

  • Breathability - it’s lightweight and breathable so reduces the chances of overheating as you go about your day.
  • Recovery - despite being lightweight, silk holds its shape well so clothes are less likely to bag and stretch out or get really creased as you wear them.
  • Thermal regulation - it’s good at maintaining your body temperature so great for keeping you cool when it's hot and warm when it's cold!
  • Comfort and freshness - the long, non-abrasive fibres of silk make it super soft, meaning it’s less likely to irritate the skin when it brushes up against you. It also naturally repels dust mites and resists mould and bacteria

Pre-washing, laundering and ironing silk fabric and silk clothing

When you purchase silk clothing from the shops, it will typically say that it must be dry cleaned as this method is most likely to preserve the fabric in the best possible condition.

However, if you are careful, you can launder the fabric at home - just DON’T stick it in the machine with all your other clothes on a regular cycle and bung it in the dryer!

A very gentle handwash with luke warm water and silk detergent is best. Immerse the silk in the water and gentle agitate it for a few minutes and rinse. Gently squeeze out the excess water, you could even layer it between some towels and compress it to gently remove the water before hanging it up to air dry.

If your washing machine has a hand wash function you could test wash a small piece first to see how it behaves. Go for a 30 degree or lower temperature on as short a spin cycle as possible and remove it from the machine as soon as it’s done. Hang up to air dry.

When it comes to pressing the silk with the iron, have it on a low setting and where possible stick with pressing on the back of the fabric with a pressing cloth. Make sure there is water in your iron so that steam is generated. This means you don’t have to put as much pressure downwards onto the fabric and can press it more gently. Pressing the silk when it is still slightly damp from prewashing can also help.

Tips for cutting out silk fabric

  • To help stop the fabric shifting as you cut it, give it something to ‘grip’. If you’re cutting on the floor then a carpeted surface can do this, but if you’re cutting on a table lay a stable fabric like denim or canvas underneath the silk and cut on top of this (don’t cut through the denim though!). It’s best to cut the fabric on a single layer when doing this.
  • Micro-serration scissors can also help with cutting. They have tiny teeth along the blade that help to grip and hold onto the fabric as you cut and prevent it from slipping about.
  • Get your best pins out! Sharp, fine pins will glide easily through the fabric and help to avoid snags and pulls.
  • Use a mini Rotary cutter and cutting mat - this will mean you can cut out without the worry that pinning the fabric and then having to slightly lift it up to cut it will move the fabric around.

Tips for sewing with silk fabric

What machine needles to use when sewing silk fabric?

  • Make sure you have a brand new, sharp and fine needle in your machine. Microtex are my favourite in a size 60 or size 70.
  • If you’re getting puckers in your seams as you sew then try lowering the needle tension down or (very!) gently hold the fabric taut in front of and behind the presser foot as you sew.

What type of pins to use with silk fabric?

As silk is so delicate it can be easy to snag it and end up with pulls as you work and sew with it. To avoid this, make sure you use extra fine pins when pinning any seams or turnings. We sell some lovely glass headed super fine pins by Prym that are excellent quality. Be super strict about keeping these pins separate from your regular dressmaking pins, they can bend easily with heavier weight fabrics!

How to stop your sewing machine from eating the fabric at the start of stitching?

If your machine is eating the fabric when you start sewing then try holding the thread tails taut as you start sewing. You could also place a scrap of tissue paper under the fabric at the start of the seam which you can simply tear off afterwards.

How to stabilise the neckline on silk fabrics?

Staystitching can sometimes cause very delicate fabrics to gather slightly due to the tension of the stitch. Stabilise areas such as necklines with forming tape instead. This woven iron on strip of interfacing is very light weight and cut on the bias so it easily moulds around the curves of a neckline as you secure it in place with the iron. There is a chain stitch throughout the tape that acts like stay stitching, so really it's like you are ironing on your stay stitching rather than stitching it on.

You can't notice it at all on the finished neckline and it will help to stop it from stretching out.

What is the best seam finish for silk fabrics?

Go all out with your seam finish and treat your garment to French Seams. These work well on delicate fabrics and are especially nice if your fabric is a little sheer.

How to sew a baby hem on silk fabric

When it comes to hemming, a hand rolled hem or a baby hem sewn on your machine help to keep the lightness in the fabric and not weigh the garment down.

First of all, sew a line of stitching slightly below your hem allowance measurement. Then press back to the wrong side of the fabric along this line of stitching, using it as a guide to make sure the turning is really even.

Next, stitch very close to the fold you have just pressed, this is usually easier with the wrong side or inside of the garment facing you as you sew.

Trim the raw edge close to where you have just stitched. Using duck billed scissors like these ones can help. If you don't have them, regular scissors are fine, just be very careful you don't catch the fabric underneath!

Press the hem again with a small turning to conceal all of the raw edges.

Stitch all the way around again on the fold. You will end up seeing two lines of stitching on the inside and one line of stitching on the outside of the garment.

What garments to make with silk fabric?

Tops and blouses look beautiful make up in silk fabric and all of the patterns I included in my tops and shirts/blouses round up posts linked below are all great suggestions.

Simple and straightforward patterns are great to try first as it will allow you to get used to controlling the silk fabric without complicated construction methods to deal with as well. I’ve linked some lovely options below!

Silk is also a lovely fabric to sleep in! Whether it is making a simple pillow slip, a comforting eye mask or a luxurious pair of PJ bottoms or shorts, you’re sure to have a restful night's sleep with silk in your bed! I used the simple and classic Tilly and the Buttons Jamie PJ pattern and the True Bias Ogden Cami to make a super luxurious summer PJ set - topped off with a matching eye mask using the scraps and the free patter on the Tilly and the Buttons website (linked here)!


More posts