It's about exploring and sharing my creative adventures (mostly sewing these days) ~
~those activities that sometimes obsess, usually inspire, occasionally frustrate
~and always provide a delightful maze to wander through.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Few Tips for Working With Silk - Luscious, Luxurious, Silk!

I love Silk - the feel against the skin, the rich, luxurious luster of the fabric, the richness of the colors, the way that light and color play with the drape, and on the practical side, the warmth & breathability of the garments, .....but sewing with it & achieving perfect results?   Hmmm, that can be more of a challenge than an easy-flowing love affair....

I'm talking about the finely woven threads here - the stuff that frays when you look at it, the fabrics that slip and slide all over under your fingers when all you want it to do is stay still.  The fine charmeuses & slippery linings; the light weight habotais & the chiffons that float off your fingers as you're trying in vain to tame it with a needle & thread...

I've made a few silk garments this past year - my learning curve has been rather steep, and while I'm no expert at working with any fabric, I hope it might be helpful to gather my thoughts around a few of the techniques I've learned that have added to my joy, and eased the angst, of working with this special fabric.

Washing.   For several reasons (frugality is certainly up there), I prefer to be able to wash my clothes at home, and I haven't yet met a silk that I'm afraid to wash.   With very few exceptions, the first time I wash a cut of silk, it goes into the washer, on a delicate cycle, and I let it ride out the whole cycle.   A sturdier silk will sometimes go into the dryer as well, but I pull it out before it's completely dry, and finish by letting it hang dry, giving it a press while still a bit damp.    More delicate fabrics get hand washed - I use a delicate soap like Eucalan, and dark colors, or anything that bleeds, will get a vinegar rinse as well.   All hand washed silk gets lifted from the water (without squeezing it), laid on a towel, and rolled up to let the towels soak up the moisture, then I hang it to dry, and again, give it a press just before it's completely dry.  

After the garment is made, I'll either hand wash it (the more delicate fabrics), or wash it in the machine, using the following method:
Gentle soap, Delicate Cycle.
Remove the garment before the final spin - if it's still very wet, roll in towels
Hang Dry
Press while it's still just a little bit damp.

Cutting.  Two techniques changed my silk-cutting life forever!
1.  Starch, or spray starch, the fabric.  A light starch treatment can make all the difference in stability, both while cutting, and during the sewing process.    I also use a rotary cutter, to avoid any lifting/distorting of the fabric.
2.  Place your fabric over a layer of tissue paper to cut.   My Frugal Self (I should just give her a name - she emerges so often - MFS?) collects all the free patterns with large pieces that come her way - things like 60's caftans, big skirts, oversized jumpers - garments I will never sew, and don't know anyone else who will.   It's the perfect paper to stabilize delicate fabrics while cutting.  Simply lay your fabric over the paper, pattern piece on top, weight it down, & cut.   (Aside:  Oh. My.  Goddess.   I bow to the rotary cutter deities!  LOVE this tool, which I didn't know existed before re-entering the sewing world last year!)

Sewing Techniques:  I know there are many, many more techniques ahead of me to learn, but here are a couple of my favorites at the moment:

Silk Thread.   Fine, thin, strength in the sewing machine - Yay!  I'm still learning about which brands are good, (TIRE is one) but it's really nice using a fine thread that sinks into the fabric and actually seems to reflect the color of the fabric around it, so that it doesn't jump out at you & say "Look at me!  I'm a row of crooked stitching!" ;-)   It should (I think) go without saying that a sharp, new needle is important as well.

Here's a pressing technique that I love!  I know I read about this either on someone's blog, or a PR review, and I have to apologize that I don't remember where.   For accurate pressing & stitching on narrow turns & edges,  the results absolutely rock!

This is a charmeuse, with an edge that needs to be turned and top-stitched in place.  I measured the turn, clipped the curves, and pinned it directly onto the ironing board with glass head pins:

Press all along the edge, and leave the piece in place on the ironing board until it's cool, and you have nice sharp, accurate edge.  By the way, I've mentioned it before, but I still LOVE that Reliable V100 iron!

Pin in place, & you're ready to stitch!

How is your relationship to silk?  I would love to hear any tips & techniques that you have to share......

On another note, I'm breathing out with a smile for all our East Coast readers, knowing that Hurricane Irene chose to mellow, rather than grow in wrath.   I hope your damage, if any, was minimal :)


shams said...

Yeah, silks can be a pain, for sure. But Perfect Sew is amazing. It's made by Palmer Pletsch and I HIGHLY recommend it.

Did you buy your iron based on my recommendation? I LOVE mine too. LOVE.

Not much else I can think of - you've covered the bases. I love my rotary cutter too. During my quilting years, I developed a real appreciation of them (and only one injury, but we won't go there....)

shams said...

Another thing that can help with silks. If you have a machine with a straight-stitch throat plate, that can help tame the silk monster.

I don't, but I bet you do. :)

Jilly Be said...

I've not heard of Perfect Sew - will definitely check it out, thanks!

I actually bought my iron before I knew you had it. After so many disappointments with irons that had actually been recommended by numerous people, I was still leery about the Reliable, but this one is definitely a winner! And now I know more about whose recommendations to trust lol!

And yes, my finer silks are all being sewn on my SS machines :) My newest Featherweight seems to just LOVE silks!

CreativeMama said...

Interesting post on sewing with silks. Ask me, i sew a lot of silk projects with chennai being the silk retail point to the Silk Town of Kancheepuram! I sew saree blouses to traditional indian silk skirts. Always handwash all the silks! Rotary cutter is on my list of things to buy along with a dress form, if i get them both then my sewing gizmos are all in place!

Thanks for your compliments for my guest post at Frabjous Couture.

I have a month long celebration of skirts in September called Sew Skirt September, where starting from basic skirt draft, we shall delve deeper into making of skirts, different styles, what suits whom and so on and so forth, please do join in!

Adithi's Amma AKA Lakshmi from Adithis Amma Sews

CreativeMama said...

Oh yeah! i forgot to mention, i am your official follower now! Thanks for Following Adithis Amma Sews

Aroura said...

Thanks for all the great tips! I especially like the idea of pinning right to the ironing board, how efficient! And....I really really need a rotary cutter. :) I've never sewn with silk, but with some other slippery fabrics, so these are great tips. Thanks!

j.kaori said...

I love silk -- thank you for sharing your tips! I agree that the rotary cutter is an amazing tool for cutting silk. I loved reading your party dress saga in your prior post. I was thoroughly impressed with your work-arounds for various challenges that came up during the process -- and the finished product is amazing. Great project and thank you for sharing the process.