Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sewing with Silk

As you know, I've just embarked on a new sewing experience - the Sencha blouse, made in silk. I'm sewing with charmeuse, that woven drapey silk with beautiful hand, quite a bit of bias stretch and matte on one side / satin on the other. Apparently, it's not the easiest thing to work with.

It's my first time sewing with this fabric (actually, I haven't started the sewing part yet) but, already, I have some thoughts and feelings to share:
  • Sometimes, when everyone warns that a fabric is an absolute bitch, you might find it's not quite as horrible as you'd imagine. It's called "experiential tempering" peeps, and in this circumstance, I'm all for it. It's the pleasant metaphoric flip side of the movie everyone raves about that turns out to be totally overrated by the time you get to see it.
  • Having said this, I don't want to mislead you; it's a slippery mofo, so proceed with caution. Rotary cutting on a mat, with weights to stabilize the fabric, is the way to go. Pins and scissors can be tricky.
  • While I was freaked to try this, Claire Schaeffer, in her awesome tome the Fabric Sewing Guide, advises that one should steam press the silk before cutting (if one intends to dry clean it going forward), to shrink and prepare it. Believe it or not, it works. I first steamed (on the wrong side), then pressed (I didn't even use a pressing cloth for some of it), and the fabric shrank considerably, but didn't mar in any way. I even got some water drops on the silk. My usually flawless iron somehow managed to leak on the most delicate of fabrics?!, but somehow the water didn't stain. Phew. I do intend to use a pressing cloth as I sew. BTW, Scott and I once spent 4 hours going through this sewing guide when totally inebriated and he found it fascinating. A guy who doesn't even sew. If you sew, you are crazy not to own this book.
  • I suggest that the matte side of the fabric is better for those large of chest. It's less reflective.
  • The way I learned the awful truth that FabricLand at Yonge and Bloor (the only central TO location) is closing, is that I had to go there today to purchase sharps. 60s are the best gauge for delicate silk. Special sharp pins are also wise. In truth, it's not rocket science. Just buy the correct materials and you will vastly improve your likelihood of success. I mean, you really don't want unnecessary holes in your charmeuse.
  • I still don't know, exactly, how the placket and neck facing, self-fabric interfacing is going to work. I've thought it out in depth but you never know how it goes till it's gone. Keep your fingers crossed for me.
  • I'm making view 1 this time (formerly I have made view 3, with the keyhole). I figure, working with such a tricky fabric, it would be best to make the construction as simple as possible. I only hope it looks good.


  1. I look forward to see how you get on and will keep those wonderful tips in mind. I think you're quite right, the simplest design might be better for a complicated fabric.

  2. Suzy - I'm hopeful (but nervous) :-) Something tells me I may have an update to this post by the end...

  3. Looking forward to the finished project and your final thoughts on sewing with silk as I have a few yards of charmeuse in my stash as well.

  4. Sewn: Stay tuned. I'm very intrigued (even as I'm nervous).

  5. I've owned Claire Shaeffer's book for years. I'm very lucky to consider her a friend. She's a fascinating woman with a wealth of knowledge.

  6. Good luck! I'm eager to hear about it all -- the good, bad and ugly. I've never sewn with silk because I don't need blouses, but I DO need cocktail dresses...and I haven't made one yet because I'm intimidated by fancy fabric.

    The proper needles and pins for every project really helps. I realized recently that my regular pins were getting blunt and needed replacing -- something to keep in mind too, that stuff doesn't last forever.

  7. I'm working with a slippery polyester right now - nothing as lovely as silk - yet it reminds me how much I absolutely hate these slippery fabrics. I'm debating chucking and changing fabrics. Good luck with yours. You're tenacious. You'll make it work.

  8. Couture: OMG - you are so plugged in! Please tell her that her books have vastly enriched my sewing experience. xo

    LSCG: I know! But I hate throwing them out because it seems so wasteful!

    Myrna: Don't you feel, if you're going to work with slippery, you might as well get out the good stuff? :-)

  9. Thank you for the tip on Shaeffer's book, I'll definitely order it.

    Before I knew much about fabrics, I bought some fabric labeled "charmeuse" to make the Vogue 1207 Cynthia Steefe for Miss R. Near the end of the project, which took forever, someone mentioned needing to preshrink silk, and I freaked! It turns out, after re-checking the bolt at the store, it was polyester. A hard way to learn about labeling of fabrics. This "charmeuse" can be tossed in the washer.

    However, it was incredibly slippery, as I suppose the real charmeuse is, and that's why the dress took so long!

    I found myself basting EVERYTHING by hand first, before sewing, and hand stitching difficult seams like the bodice seams, the neckline under-stitching, etc.

    In retrospect, I should have bought better fabric, but on the lighter side, that project was really all about diving back into the world of sewing :-).

  10. OMG, will you kill me if I said I used to love sewing on silk? especially chiffon and charmeuse? Well right now my attention span is not up to it and my skills have slipped somewhere south of Antarctica so I may never get that back.

    I can't wait for your reports.

  11. Susan: I think you bring a certain amount of perfectionism to your sewing! Of course, it's good to take the plunge and even better when you find out the end result is machine washable!

    Mardel: Why doesn't that surprise me?!?! :-) I'm sure you will get it back very quickly when you have a chance to focus again. I like to think it's like riding a bike - or cooking...