How to sew silk

How to sew silk
How to sew silk

Silk is a luxurious and sensual fabric coveted for centuries. Derived from silkworm cocoons, it is also the most resistant of natural fibers. The smooth and slippery texture of this fabric poses some difficulties that require a delicate approach in sewing. However, there are some simple techniques that make silk easier to handle and sew for each step of a handmade sewing project.


Part 1 of 5: pre-wash the silk

Sew Silk Step 1

Step 1. Wash the silk by hand

Silk fabrics tend to shrink which can change the size and appearance of your sewn item. Pre-preening the fabric will ensure that it will shrink much less when you wash it after the sewing project is completed. In general, silk will shrink 5-10%. Some fabrics with a looser weave may shrink up to 15%.

  • Use a mild detergent such as Mir wool or Persil wool and silk care and wash the silk in lukewarm water in a sink or bucket. You can also use a mild shampoo.
  • It is also possible to wash some silk fabrics in the washing machine. Select a delicate laundry program and use a mild detergent.
  • Some types of silk, such as doupion, should only be dry cleaned.
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Step 2. Wash strong colors separately

If you have silk that is bright or dark in color, it is better to wash it separately. The dyes used for silk tend to run off and you don't want the fabric to bleed. Take the time to wash the fabrics separately to prevent them from rubbing off on each other.

Pre-washing strong colors also helps prevent the dye from running off after you finish sewing your item

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Step 3. Rinse the fabric with cold water and white vinegar

The vinegar will help remove the soap residue on the fabric. Mix the vinegar and water in a bucket or sink, using 50ml of vinegar for 3.5L of water. Stir the silk in the liquid to remove all the soap. Drain the water and leave the fabric in the sink.

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Step 4. Rinse the fabric again with clean water

Rinse the fabric a second time, without vinegar this time. Clean water will remove the remaining vinegar as well as the vinegar smell.

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Step 5. Do not wring out the silk

Once you have finished washing the fabric by hand, do not wring it out to remove excess water. Simply lay the fabric on a bath towel and lay another towel on it.

You can remove some of the water by ironing the top towel with an iron on medium heat

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Step 6. Dry the fabric

There are several methods of drying silk fabrics depending on your preferences. Try to partially dry the fabric in the dryer. Take out the still damp fabric and hang it out to finish drying.

You can also dry the silk between two towels or hang it on a clothesline to let it dry overnight after washing it

Part 2 of 5: prepare the materials

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Step 1. Use sharp scissors

The silk is slippery, so use very sharp scissors to cut the fabric neatly.

It can be helpful to have basic sewing scissors as well as serrated scissors. These will allow you to cut small triangles along the edges of the fabric. This can help the silk to fray less, which it tends to do

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Step 2. Equip your sewing machine with a fine needle

A thin, pointed needle will leave smaller holes in the silk. The holes tend to be easily seen in the silk, so use a small needle to sew your item.

  • A universal needle or Microtex No. 60/8 is ideal.
  • Have a few spare needles when you sew. It is advisable to replace the needles from time to time so that the needle is always sharp. Silk fibers are quite strong and can easily dull the needles.
  • If you are sewing by hand, use a very fine, sharp needle.
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Step 3. Use good quality cotton or polyester thread

Choose a yarn that matches your fabric. Polycotton or 100% polyester yarns are good choices. Some people prefer to use silk thread for silk fabrics, but the silk thread is not very strong and easily frayed.

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Step 4. Equip your machine with a flat presser foot

The presser foot of a sewing machine presses against the fabric as the needle moves up and down. It is advisable to use a flat foot, as it will not catch the silk when the fabric passes through the machine.

Otherwise, use a conveyor presser foot to prevent the silk from sliding all over the place

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Step 5. Clean and dust the sewing machine

It is generally advisable to use a clean, dust-free machine when sewing, but this rule is especially important when sewing fragile fabric such as silk. Wipe down the machine to remove traces of dirt. To remove dust, use a canister of compressed air to blow air into inaccessible parts of the machine.

Part 3 of 5: cutting out the silk fabric

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Step 1. Wash your hands before handling the silk

When you are ready to work with the silk, wash your hands with soapy water. Dry them well. This will remove any dirt or oil residue from your hands that could stain the fabric.

This is especially important if you are sewing by hand

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Step 2. Lay a layer of muslin or tissue paper under the fabric

Tissue paper, muslin, or even kraft paper will help prevent the silk from slipping when you cut it with scissors.

Tissue paper is especially useful because you can continue to use it to stabilize the fabric, even as you pin and sew it

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Step 3. Apply fabric stabilizer spray

You can also use an aerosol stabilizer to make the fabric less flexible and easier to handle when you cut it. You can buy this fabric stabilizer at a fabric store or on the internet.

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Step 4. Use silk pins and pattern weights

Silk pins are very fine pins that leave tiny holes in the fabric. They are useful for pinning patterns to the fabric without leaving visible marks on the fabric. The weights are used to hold the fabric on the countertop to prevent it from moving when you cut it. You can also hold the fabric in place with heavy objects such as cans.

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Step 5. Cut out the pattern pieces one by one

With other types of fabric, you can usually cut two pieces of the same shape at the same time by superimposing two layers of fabric. However, for silk, it is better to cut each piece separately. The floss is slipping too much so if you cut two layers at a time you could make cutting errors.

For the pattern pieces that are supposed to be cut along a fold, redraw the piece as it would be when unfolded. This way you won't have to cut two layers of silk at once

Part 4 of 5: preparing the fabric for sewing

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Step 1. Use silk pins

Silk pins are very fine pins that leave tiny holes in the fabric. They are useful for pinning patterns to the fabric without leaving visible marks on the fabric.

You can also use note clips or drawing clips to hold the fabric in place

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Step 2. Position the pins at the seam allowance

The seam allowance is the part along the edges of the fabric that will not be seen when the item is finished. Since the holes in the silk are easily seen, place the pins in the seam allowance to avoid making holes in visible places. Usually, a seam allowance of about 1.5 cm is left.

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Step 3. Iron the seams with an iron on low heat

Iron the silk so the seams can be seen when you sew. This will also help keep the seams in place when you sew. Set your iron to a low temperature and place a tea towel on the silk to prevent it from coming into direct contact with the iron.

Many irons have a floss setting that you can use for this step

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Step 4. Trim the frayed edges

Silk tends to fray easily and after washing the fabric the edges may be more frayed than on new fabric. Trim the frayed edges so they are straight. Cut any excess thread.

Part 5 of 5: sew the silk fabric

Sew Silk Step 21

Step 1. Baste the fabric pieces by hand

Hand basting is a technique of holding pieces of fabric together with long, loose stitches to make sewing easier. Since silk is very slippery, it can be helpful to baste the pieces with a seam that resembles a dotted line.

You will find many tutorials online to learn how to sneak

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Step 2. Lay a piece of tissue paper under the fabric

If the silk slips too much as you sew, try laying a layer of tissue paper underneath the part you are sewing. The needle will go through the fabric and paper and sew the two layers together.

Once you are done sewing this part, you can simply tear off the tissue paper

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Step 3. Apply fabric stabilizer

You can also use a spray fabric stabilizer to make the fabric a little less flexible and easier to work with. You can buy this stabilizer at a sewing store or online.

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Step 4. Test the seam on a scrap of silk

Observe how your sewing machine settings work with silk by doing a scrap test. Adjust the tension and thickness of the sewing thread before proceeding to the sewing project itself.

Try to make between 3 and 5 stitches per centimeter. The stitch length may vary depending on your project

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Step 5. Pull the spool and bobbin threads back

As you install the fabric in the machine, pull these two threads to the rear. This will ensure that they do not wrap around the presser foot, which could puncture or stretch the fabric during sewing.

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Step 6. Pass the needle down through the fabric by hand

Turn the side dial by hand to insert the needle into the fabric. This will ensure that the machine will start very slowly, preventing the fabric from wrinkling or catching on the presser foot.

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Step 7. Hold the fabric straight

Gently flatten the fabric so that it stays straight as it passes through the machine. However, do not stretch it, as the finished item may have creases.

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Step 8. Make a few stitches and then sew in reverse

Start by sewing a few stitches and then hold them in place by ironing over them in the back stitch. This will prevent the seam from coming undone. Use great care to prevent the silk from puckering or creasing at first.

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Step 9. Sew slowly and evenly

Silk tends to pucker so sew this fabric slowly. Try to keep a steady pace so that the points are even and regular.

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Step 10. Check your work frequently

Slow down or stop sewing to make sure the fabric passes through the machine properly. Observe your seams to see if the fabric is sewn flat with no wrinkles.

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Step 11. Be careful if you unstitch

Plucking stitches in the silk with a seam ripper is a risky process, as you could leave holes in the fabric that will show even when the item is finished. Decide if it is necessary to tear off stitches. If so, work very slowly and gently.

To make the holes less noticeable, rub the holes with your fingernail on the wrong side of the fabric. Dampen the fabric by sprinkling it lightly with water, then iron it with an iron on a low to medium temperature

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Step 12. Finish the seams

Silk frayed easily and your sewn item could be weakened if the fabric frayed to the stitch level. Finish the seams with an overlock or English seam.

  • To overlock, you need an overlock machine. This is the most efficient method, as it allows the edge of the fabric to be sewn and held in the part where you overlocked.
  • You can also use other finishing methods like the zigzag stitch, the bias or the overcast stitch.

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