As a new sewist, I know how intimidating it can be to work with silk. One, it’s expensive. So if you screw up it’s money down the drain. Two, it can be slippery–which can be a total turnoff and make it challenging to work with. And three, how to care for it? Is it worth the time, money and effort? Well, I can tell you 100 times over, the answer is yes, yes and yes. Silk is absolutely phenomenal. It’s a natural material that works with your body. When you’re cold, silk retains your body heat (which is why expensive wool coats are often lined with silk!). When you’re hot, it lets your skin breath–fabric magic!
Featuring silk products from my Alice Alexander collection. I designed and stitched the wrap dress, wrap blouse and knit/ silk top. A sample sewer assisted with the black silk joggers.
Here are my top tips for working with silk.
- Research different types of silk to best match your project. Mood Fabrics lists 29 different types of silk on their website, 29! Silk isn’t just the heavy, shiny, bridesmaid-sy type of fabric you may be thinking of. It’s incredibly diverse! Do your research (Mood is a good place to start for ideas) and order lots of different types of swatches to get an idea for how to fabric feels, moves and behaves.
- Know the weight. Silk weight is measured in momme (pronounced mummy). Eight momme = 1 square ounce. The higher the momme the heavier the fabric. Silk weighing less than 20 momme is considered lightweight. Silk 20-28 momme is mid-weight and anything higher is heavyweight. Obviously, expect to pay more the higher the weight. I’ve found that $18-22 per yard is normal for starting price of silk. If you can find high quality silk for less than that buy it now.
- Interface when necessary. If you need more body or structure with your silk project use interfacing–I like the tricot interfacing found here. When I made the formal gown pictured below I was using a fairly lightweight silk. In order to give it the appropriate structure I interfaced each pattern piece with tricot interfacing. I then applied an underlining to each piece and added a lining in cotton voile (had this been going to a client I would have lined in silk, but as it was for a show I lined in cotton voile to save money). In my black washed silk dress on the Alice Alexander site I used this interfacing to reinforce the neckline, which is a high stress area.
- French all the seams. Silk screams to be French-seamed. When making the silk wrap dress, the silk joggers and silk blouses as part of my Alice Alexander collection I frenched everything (with exception of the princess seams as they are encased in the lining). Frenching a set-in sleeve in silk can be a challenge but is totally worth it. Make sure to use lots of pins, press and take your time. If you’re using a lining and the garment is not meant to be washed (such as a formal gown like above) a lining alone is fine.
- Use a 60/8 needle and silk pins (lots and lots of pins!). Silk requires very sharp pins to be successful. I’ve found that using the 60/8 size schmetz needle is your best bet when working with silk. Change it often. Note, these break so easy (compared to their thicker counterparts). I don’t recommend running over your pins when stitching with silk and the 60/8 needle. I pin perpendicular to the fabric edge then slide each pin out as soon as I get close. Takes a little longer but you’ll get a cleaner finish.
- Decrease your tension and increase your stitch length to avoid puckering (and note that heavy duty industrial machines may be too aggressive for your silk fabrics). I’ve found that keeping the tension at about a 3 and the stitch length a little longer at about a 3 works best for silk. I also found that a Juki industrial machine was too aggressive for the delicate silk (the feed dogs need to be changed out to something gentler). I used my Singer 4411 to construct my silk garments.
- Use a lining (preferably in your fashion fabric or a lighter weight silk). Depending on the application, you’ll definitely want to line your project to preserve the beauty. I use the same fabric to line for a really luxurious finish on most silk garments. Simple silk blouses, flowy dresses and skirts can be left unlined long as you’ve frenched all your seams.
- Figure out how you plan to care for your silk before you start your project. Contrary to popular belief many silk types can be washed. I suggest hand washing in cool water with a soap that is designed for silks. You can also place in a lingerie/ garment bag and wash on delicate. I lay flat to dry. Some silks, specifically sueded silks, often called “washable” are wash and dry friendly.
So, now that you have all this information and you’re feeling more confident to tackle a project using silk where to buy it? If you’ve got a big project in mind I highly recommend RagFinders in Los Angeles. Minimum order is 20-30 yards but the prices literally can not be beat. I sourced all of the silk fabrics for my Alice Alexander collection from Rag Finders. For smaller orders I highly suggest EmmaOneSock. Prices are fair, they carry nearly every variation of silk and nearly every color and often have limited edition print silks from a variety of suppliers. Currently, I am looking at JB Silks in NYC as a long-term supplier. Again, every silk under the sun. Great customer service (an actual human answered the phone on the first ring), no minimum orders and prices are fair for the quality. Always ask for swatches before buying so you can see how they feel. I even like to wash my swatches in the sink so I can see how they behave (personally I prefer hand washing over dry cleaner for my silks).
I hope you now have the confidence to tackle a project using silk. Got a question? Let me know in the comments below.
Happy sewing and styling,