Sewing silk can be tricky. In this video, Sarai shares her favorite tips and tricks for working with this delicate fabric. Learn how to pre-treat your fabric, how fabric stabilizer can make sewing silk a breeze, the best method for cutting, what needle to use, and how to finish seams and hem your silk garment.
- Silk fabric
- Lining fabric
- Spray stabilizer
- Rotary cutter with new blade
- 60/8 microtex needle
Sewing with silk can be a little bit tricky, especially if it’s a really lightweight silk. So, today I’m gonna be showing you my favorite tips for sewing with really lightweight silks, like chiffon.
Hey guys! I am Sarai. I’m the founder of Seamwork. You can find us at Seamwork.com, and we are a community of sewists, and we’re all about designing and sewing your own wardrobe. So, go ahead and check us out at Seamwork.com. Today, I’m going to be showing you one of our patterns—which is the Laura pattern—and how I completely transform the look just by sewing it in a different fabric. I sewed it in silk, and added a few little details, which we’re going to talk about. But the reason I made this skirt, is my sister is getting married in a couple weeks and originally I wanted to make a dress for the wedding and I wanted to do something kind of floaty and pretty. It’s an outdoor wedding, something kind of 70s-inspired, and I was sort of looking around for patterns, and I realized that it’d be really cool to make a separate skirt and top instead of a single dress. And if I made it in the same fabric, it could be worn together and it would look like a dress, but I could wear the skirt separately, you know, to work with a sweater with boots, that kind of thing when the weather gets colder.
This is the original pattern, so the Laura skirt is just a really basic wrap skirt. It’s got kind of an A-line shape. The sample here on the cover and on our photos is a—I think it’s a chambray, so just a kind of a cotton fabric. Very simple, very easy to sew. I wanted to change it up! So what I did is I sewed it in chiffon and I lined it and I added a ruffle and I’ll talk a little bit a little bit about that later in the video. Today, I wanted to share with you my favorite tips for sewing with really lightweight fabric like chiffon, because it can be kind of tricky.
So, the first tip that I want to share with you—this is one of my absolute favorite game-changing tools for sewing with silk and this is something called spray stabilizer. This is a brand called Sullivans and I bought this at our local fabric store. What you do is you just spray this right on your fabric before you sew it. So, the first thing you want to do is make sure that your chiffon or other silk is pre-washed. The reason you want to pre-wash is because you have to wash it after you stabilize it, and you want your fabric to be in the same state before and after you sew it, so it’s not, you know, shrinking or changing in any way. After you pre-wash your fabric, take it outside and hang it up. This stuff can be kind of stinky. It kind of smells like glue, so I definitely recommend taking it outside. Don’t do it indoors, and hang it up. And this is a piece of chiffon that hasn’t been treated yet, so you can see it’s really kind of floaty, very lightweight. You spray it and it gets this kind of almost papery texture that is a lot easier to work with. It’s a lot easier to sew, it’s a lot easier to cut. Just to kind of show you the two things side by side, you can see they look pretty different. Then when you’re done sewing, you just wash your finished garment and the spray stabilizer just washes right out and you get your original floaty chiffon back! If you’re worried about spraying something on your beautiful fabric you can always test it on a little scrap. You do have to be comfortable with washing your silk fabric, so if you’re worried about it changing the sheen or the texture at all, I again would just take a little scrap and pre-wash it and see if you’re okay with that.
The next thing that I want to share is cutting. So when you cut a light fabric like this, I really recommend using a rotary cutter. I’ve got one here. I always use a new blade with a fabric like this because it snags easily, and if you have any little burrs or anything on your blade, it can really hurt your fabrics. So, you just lay the fabric out in a single layer on your cutting table. If you have pieces that are intended to be cut on the fold, you just mirror them so you just cut one side, and then flip it over and cut the other side, and you can actually save a little bit of fabric that way, too. It takes a little bit longer, so that’s something that you want to take into account, but it’ll make it a lot less frustrating. So just give yourself the time and do it that way.
When I sewed this, I used a Microtex needle and I used a 60 slash 8, which is a very small needle. A really sharp tiny needle like this is gonna really help you to sew without a lot of problems. Like, if you’ve ever had your fabric getting kind of sucked down into the throat plate of your machine, like the needle is just pushing it down, that’s often because the needle is just too big or too dull. So, instead of going straight through the fabric it’s just pushing it down and then you get your fabric kind of getting eaten by the machine. So, if you ever experience that—it’s annoying! It’s, you know, it’s really really frustrating. So, start with the clean, fresh, sharp tiny needle and you’ll avoid a lot of those problems.
I made a few little changes to the pattern so we actually have a pattern hack for this on our website if you if you want to go to Seamwork.com and and look it up. But I gave it this kind of scooped-out tulip hem in front. We have instructions for doing that at Seamwork, if you want to try that yourself with this pattern. I added this ruffle to it, and that’s really, really easy to do. All this is it’s just kind of a big, long rectangle that you gather on one side and sew to the hem. The way I did it is I measured the entire hem all the way around and then I doubled it, so the ruffle is twice as long as the hem of the skirt. And then I gathered it to fit and the ruffle is sewn almost all the way around. Because it’s a wrap skirt, and it wraps under on the other side, I didn’t want to sew it all the way up to the other side of the skirt—all the way up to the side seam here—because that could create some extra bulk on the hip. So you’d have that ruffle kind of underneath that lap there and, you know, that’s just adding a lot of extra fabric that you don’t need. So I sewed it up just to just below the hip.
The seams I used are a narrow French seams. Obviously the fabric is sheer, it’s see-through, so you’ll be able to see the seam. And a French seam is a really nice, clean finish. I did a narrow French seam both because it is less conspicuous, it’s smaller, but also with these long seems like this, you want something that’s just going to lay really nicely and it’s not going to kind of buckle and curve and get all twisted. I used a narrow zigzag stitch instead of a regular straight stitch. I used a half millimeter in width zigzag. The length of the stitch is about the same, which is about two and a half millimeters, 2.4 or two-and-a-half millimeters, but the width of the stitch is only half a millimeter so you really can’t tell that it’s a zig-zag stitch but it just adds that little bit of stretch. Another change that I made is that I lined the skirt. Obviously this fabric is sheer and so I wanted a lining. So, if you pull it over, I used a silk habotai—sometimes called China silk—it’s a very lightweight silk fabric. It’s light but it’s still opaque, so that’s what you want when you’re lining a really lightweight chiffon like this. You want something that’s not going to change the drape too much, but it’s opaque so you won’t be able to, you know, see your underwear. The last little change that I made to this pattern was that instead of doing a tie at the sides, I did a little trouser clasp here at the side and then at the other side, so it lays a lot more flat and looks just like a waistband on a dress.
And then the last tricky bit that you might want to think about is the hem. What you want is something that’s very narrow—again you want it to be inconspicuous because of this sheer fabric—but you also want to make sure that the fabric still has that kind of floaty quality to it, and if you have too big of a hem, that’s going to kind of impact the way the hem lays. And so you want to do a little tiny hem— either a narrow turned hem or a baby hem. I can do a tutorial on a baby hem in the future. If you guys want to see that, just let me in the comments!
The last thing that I’d really say about sewing with silk and especially with something like chiffo, which is a little bit tricky, is just take your time with it, because if you rush, you’re gonna get so frustrated. Things will go wrong, I guarantee it. It’s happened to me a million times, so just take your time. You know when I sew this pattern just out of the envelope with a regular fabric, like cotton or linen or something like that, you know it would probably take about about three hours. It’s a pretty simple pattern. When I add all these changes, and I line it, and I do the French seams, and work with this fabric and cut in on the single ply, and all that stuff—this skirt took me probably eight to ten hours, so that should just give you an idea of the kind of time commitment that you have to think about if you’re gonna sell with a trickier fabric like this.
So, that’s how I transformed my Laura skirt and made something really, really different just by changing a few detailsand changing the fabric to something really special. If you like this pattern and you want to try out something like this yourself, you can find it on our website at Seamwork.com. You can buy the Laura pattern there, you can just look it up there, or if you want to become a member, you get new patterns every month. Plus there’s really supportive awesome community and lots of tools and resources that we offer. So, go ahead and check it out Seamwork.com. We also have a free planner there for your sowing that you can download. It’s totally free, you just enter your email and we’ll send it to you. So go ahead and check it out. And if you like this video, go ahead and click like and subscribe to our Channel. This is a brand new channel and we’re going to be adding lots more videos in the future. And if there’s something in particular that you want to see, just let us know in the comments we’d love to hear your thoughts!