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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/Habutai

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.

Caitlin Clark

Caitlin is the Colette Patterns design assistant. You can follow Caitlin at her blog, the story girl.



March 8, 2011 #

I think I’m going to like this series too. I’d appreciate hndling tips (e.g. starch to sew?) and storage tips (protect from moths) as well.

Chrissy Weeks

March 8, 2011 #

My sewing buddy and I are making the Crepe dress together. She is a beginner and chose a linen blend. I am crazy and chose silk charmeuse. I am hoping it will be worth the work. Has anyone made the crepe in charmeuse? Would lining it is a light shirting or something help it keep its shape? It is very clingy right now and I think I am going to have to line it with something.
We are only working on the dress once a week together – but here is the link if you are interested


March 8, 2011 #

Thanks so much for this series! I want to know more about different types of fabrics. Can you suggest Colette patterns that go with each of the fabrics?


March 8, 2011 #

Thanks, this is really helpful! Finally learned what crepe de chine is.

Can silk habotai be used to line synthetic garments? Will that mitigate the unbreathability of polyester? (I’m clueless on how to choose lining fabrics)


March 8, 2011 #

Great idea! I tend to stick to the basics because I’m not really sure about using new fabrics. I also have few shopping options in my area and get nervous buying fabric online. I think this will be a great resource for me!


August 16, 2011 #

Hi, I’m a silk supplier from China, anyone who need help, please feel free to contact me.


March 8, 2011 #

Thanks for explaining the differences between these fabrics.

Catholic Bibliophagist

March 8, 2011 #

Thank you, thank you for this blog post! I look forward to others in this series. My biggest hurdle in sewing is trying to figure out which fabrics to make a garment out of. The suggestions on the back of a pattern envelope aren’t helpful because I have no idea what the words mean. Charmeuse? Jersey? Pique? It might as well be Greek.

I live in the land of No Garment-Fabric Stores, so buying online is going to be my only option. So I think your series will be very helpful in steering me to the right stuff.

Carlotta Stermaria

March 8, 2011 #

Thank you for this post and those to come! As a foreigner I often find it difficult to translate the name of the different fabrics a pattern calls for (I still wonder what challis is) And as a semi-beginner, I didn’t know that crepe was actually elastic…

Also, when I read ‘crepe-back satin’ on the back of lingerie patterns, I always tend to assume that any lightweight fabric with a drape would do the trick, but does it mean this fabric has to be stretchy too?


March 8, 2011 #

Thank you for this post! I think this will be a great series. I would love some handling tips as well! Especially working with slippy silks – any tricks for keeping it on the grain? You mention sewing with charmeuse on the bias – but that sounds so frightening! any tips?? I read somewhere that you should also cut in a single layer with charmeuse’s and georgettes and other slippy silks – do you agree?


March 8, 2011 #

what about fuji silk?

I’m looking forward to this series, thanks!


March 8, 2011 #

GREAT feature! I feel smarter already! I can’t wait to learn more about fabric! Thank you!


March 8, 2011 #

You all must be mind readers. I’ve been trying to educate myself on the different types of fabric and their applications. This is fantastic!

When you say to “lead” chiffon with a piece of fabric to avoid knotting, what exactly does that mean? Thanks so much for the info!


March 8, 2011 #

Hurrah for the fabric series! It’s great to read, but would be even better if I could feel the fabrics, without having to hang out in a fabric store for hours. I’ve been seriously frustrated by the lack of touchy-feely resources. There’s one book on fabrics that has stroke-able samples inside but it’s sold out (and is seriously expensive anyway). I know some fabric companies do samples by post but this isn’t really a comprehensive way of covering all main apparel fabrics. Would Colette Patterns ever consider putting together a booklet with information such as this above and little swatches included? You could make a fortune…


March 8, 2011 #

I am so happy that you are doing this series. I have been trying to learn about every different kind of fabric. I’m hoping that the suggestion from tilly the comment before me happens. I’ve been wishing for a booklet of some sort with even a 1″ piece of fabric showcasing as many as possible. You would definitely make a fortune.


March 8, 2011 #

I am doing a swatch club (FabricMart’s, though Vogue Fabrics’ also looks good) and am finding it very helpful and quite reasonably priced. After just two months, I already have a much better sense of the different varieties of woolen fabrics.

I suspect that the cost of producing a booklet with fabric swatches in it would mean it would be really expensive and not that many people would buy it. Me, I would like someone to do a “guide to learning fabrics when all you have is Joann’s”. E.g., “silk georgette is like polyester georgette except more_____ and less______”.


March 9, 2011 #

Thanks so much for starting this series. I know I shall learn such a lot about fabrics which I did not know before. I found it especially helpful to learn about Crepe de Chine and how to treat silk.
I have started a little section in my favourites so that I can keep all this information together as a reference I know I shall need to refer back time and again.

Julie Robertson

March 9, 2011 #

Love the post! I feel my brain getting wrinkled every time I get your email posts.
Maybe, after the “fabric encyclopedia” series is finished, you could offer it in a formatted PDF file? That way we could download all the good stuff at once!
Keep up the good work!