Keeping You In Stitches: Working With Washed Silk


Sally Cowan and her cat Thunder

Sally Cowan and her cat Thunder

Calvin Klein loves working with washed silks.  Washed silk and other fluid fabrics require new construction techniques and inner shaping components. Washed silk comes in a wide variety of fabrications:  the most popular versions available are China silk, habutai, douppioni, charmeuse and broadcloth. Washed silk yardage has been pre-treated in either a chemical bath or with fabric softeners to “alter” the fiber and create a sueded hand.  Washing does not change the nature or care requirements of the silk fiber, but does change the hand and look of the cloth.

Pre-washing a sample swatch of your purchased silk yardage provides you an opportunity for controlling changes in the color, texture, size, sheen and hand. Silk accepts dye well, but cannot be made color-fast without harming the fibers.  Most silks lose some color in sunlight and laundering.  Every type of silk shrinks somewhat.

Quality silks demand quality interfacings.  Batiste, organza and sew-in tricot are ideal choices:  they are lightweight, adding support but not stiffness.  Most fusible interfacings are not recommended on silks because the resins will “bleed” through the silk during fusing and because the two fabrics acting as one will inhibit silk’s natural drape.

Before you cut out your silk garment, prepare the cutting surface by taping tissue paper, examining paper or alpha-numeric pattern paper to your table.  Fold fabric with the right sides together.  Always use “with nap” layouts.

You can eliminate most common problems with sewing silk by using the right notions and machine settings.  Begin each project with a new machine needle.  Use machine stitch length of 3 (10 stitches per inch).  To avoid puckering and to allow seams to be more supple, maintain a loose and well-balanced machine tension.

When sewing with silk—I am not kidding – a new needle every time, really.


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