Sewing with Silk fabric
We’re starting a little fabric series! There are so many kinds of fabric available it’s overwhelming to try to understand them all at once. So these posts will cover a little bit about some commonly used fabrics. This first post is about a fabric we use a lot here at Colette Patterns: silk! We often use silks to make up the clothing for our clothing photo shoots as well as for ourselves.
For all silk we recommend hand washing only. Silk stretches and looses sturdiness when wet, so be careful when hand washing. Silk thread is recommended for all of these fabrics except chiffon, which requires a thin thread such as polyester. These fabrics can be sewn with your usual thread if silk thread isn’t within your budget.
Crêpe de Chine
Crêpe de Chine is a thin fabric in the crêpe family. It has a flowing drape making it excellent for dresses, skirts and shirts. The elasticity of the fabric is due to a special process that occurs before weaving. The fabric is slightly textured with a little bit of crinkle due to excess twisting of the fibers in the weaving process.
Crêpe is one of the most durable silk weaves, which is great news for the life of your garment! Because the fabric is so versatile you will most likely see it available in many different prints and colors. It makes lovely dresses, flowy skirts and pretty blouses.
The most luxurious of all silk fabrics, silk charmeuse is often used to make special occasion clothing. It also makes lovely dresses, shirts and lingerie. Due to the nature of the fabric, it doesn’t hold its shape very well with dresses or complex patterns. If you’re making a dress with charmeuse, it’s best that the fabric be cut on the bias.
The fabric drapes similarly to crêpe, although some thicker charmeuse fabrics exist. Charmeuse is woven with a satin weave and is made with many different fibers, silk being the nicest. One side is quite shiny whereas the other side has a matte finish. It’s a very slippery fabric, making it difficult to sew with. The outcome is usually quite beautiful, so the extra effort is worth it to make a lovely garment.
China Silk or Habutai is often used as a lining fabric. It’s lightweight and has a slightly crisp feel. Instead of trapping air and sweat between you and your garment, silk fabrics breath easily. The natural proteins in silk allow air to flow through it as well as absorb moisture. Silk fabric makes excellent lining fabric because of this. Several types of synthetic fabrics replicate the feel of China silk, so always check the fabric content before purchasing. While the synthetics are slightly more durable and stain resistant, they won’t breathe like silk. This is good to keep in mind when you’re looking for lining fabrics.
Silk chiffon is a sheer, lightweight and very fine fabric. It’s delicate with a beautiful drape. Even the heaviest weights of chiffon are sheer. Chiffon is a plain weave and when made with silk it has a crepe-like texture. It makes simple blouses and dress. With dresses the fabric is always layered with lining or other fabrics. Use a spray stabilizer before you cut out the fabric. It is very difficult to cut on the grain with such a fine fabric, so stabilizing it helps immensely. Threads pull out easily, so take care when cutting and pinning the fabric so that there aren’t any snags. Use a piece of fabric as a lead when sewing with chiffon to avoid thread knots that sometimes form at the beginning of a seam. Using French seams is the best way to finish a chiffon garment.
Dupioni has a light sheen and often appears to be changing colors due to the weave. It has a stubbled surface. The natural fibers are uneven and spread out irregularly over the fabric. As a crisp fabric, it works best when made into simple skirts, dresses and jackets. Dupioni doesn’t wrinkle easily which makes it so nice for skirts. It sews up easily and requires little preparation.