Male Pattern Boldness is proud to be the world's most popular men's sewing blog!

May 13, 2013

Fabric Love at First Sight + Sewing with Silk

Readers, I'm stoked.

I went fabric shopping this morning for Cathy's 1940's dress with the gathered bodice and skirt front, Simplicity 4856.  I needed something with a beautiful drape and some weight to it.  At first I looked solely at solids.  I saw some gorgeous silk failles and satins, but nothing really wowed me.

I considered polka dots -- classic but maybe too safe.

Finally, I looked at prints.  I sort of liked this but did it have enough of a period feel?

And then I saw IT.

My heart started beating rapidly, like it does at the flea market when I see something I must have.  This fabric didn't just say "Forties," it shouted it from the rooftops.  I was in love!

I'm not sure if these are parrot tulips or carnations, but whatever they are, I love this charmeuse.  It has a gorgeous drape and a nice weight to it.  And that palette.  It reminds me of those beautiful wartime prints, which were often rayon since silk was being used for parachutes.

Parenthetically, did you know I have a Pinterest board devoted to 1940's fabrics?  You'll understand why I love this print when you look through my board -- dig those over-sized florals, rococco flourishes, and surreal prints, often on the verge of being too much

I was even thinking of adding matching piping to the seam where the skirt and bodice attach (Thank you, Bill J. for the idea).  I bought some pre-made piping at Daytona Trim, but also some cord to make my own silk piping from my fashion fabric.  Have you ever made piping before?  I think all you need is a zipper foot and a dream.

I also got Gutterman thread -- one spool of poly and one spool of silk (for hand-basting) .

I'm reading up on sewing with silk today, my primary reference being Claire Shaeffer's authoritative "Fabric Sewing Guide." 

Coincidentally, this morning I happened upon a photo of this Claire McCardell dress on Pinterest.  Couldn't you see adding button loops to the side of the dress with the gathers?  (They wouldn't have to be functional since there's a zipper on the opposite side of the dress.)

Anyway, readers, I find myself with my work cut out for me once again.  I'm very excited, though:  I love the pattern and the print.  Cross your fingers!

In closing, any tips for sewing with silk charmeuse? I've heard conflicting things about difficulty cutting it: some people say it's shifty, some people say it's not so bad; I guess we'll see.  As far as cutting goes, I may try that sandwiching-between-tissue-paper method.  Can you use spray starch for added stability?

I'll use my fashion fabric for the facings (there's just one around the neckline).  I have silk organza on hand if anything needs to be stiffened -- perhaps a strip to reinforce the zipper seams?  Since there's a surplice bodice, two layers of the fabric are already atop one another across the front for added body.  I don't want to compromise the drape.

Do you believe in fabric love at first sight?   Ever been smitten and lost all reason?

Have a great day, everybody!


  1. Lovely! Lovely! Lovely! Perfect all the way around.

    Yes, I have made piping before. Zipper foot is the main instrument and just make bias strips and there you go. I've done it with non-bias strips because I was looking for a specific color in a stripe for the piping. It wasn't optimal, but worked kinda sorta.

  2. Jen at Grainline has a great tutorial on cutting silk here :)

  3. I echo Claire's recommendation of the tutorial at Grainline. My first silk project was an unmitigated disaster. My second, following the Grainline advice of a paper sandwich, worked out great.


  4. Long time reader, first time responding!

    I second the grainline tutorial. I've done 1.5 dresses in silk charmeuse in the last month, one was cut with two layers of tissue (above and below the fabric), the second with only one below. You won't be surprised to hear that the first method just made everything so much easier, even though it took a bit longer.

    I also left the tissue pattern pinned in place until I actually needed the piece, and where possible I sewed all stay stitching/gathers through the tissue.

    I found silk charmeuse to be a bit more forgiving than poly, less pulling and puckering and so on. It does, of course, go without saying that you should use new needles and such.

    Just prepare, prepare, prepare and breathe (but too hard, because the silk will move).


  5. I regularly lose my mind and buy awesome fabric when it just screams to me. I think it's what makes sewing so awesome. =D

    And I vote a big HELLS YES to the buttons on the gathered side. BEAUTIFUL!

  6. I always cut out silk charmeuse single layer using weights and a rotary cutter, and sew using a walking foot.

  7. This is an exciting project! Yes, buttons on the side, they are lovely if you have the energy. I think this it he first time the backdrop of one of your pictures is Michael lying down on the sofa. It's a never-ending tableau!

  8. Single hole needle plate if available. Small sharp needle. Remember if you put a pin in silk it will leave a hole so pin in the seam allowances. Cut between two pieces of tissue paper and if you have serrated blade scissors use them. Susan Khalje's book Bridal Couture is wonderful reference for any special occasion dress. Susan Khalje has a craftsy class that's wonderful and they put those on sale all the time. Use sharp high quality pins. Oh and use a smaller stitch say 2 instead of a normal 2.5. Good Luck. Love the fabric.

  9. hell yes I have lost all reason for fabrics many times

  10. Oh, I have just taken a class on how to hand this sort of fabric. I echo the tissue paper for cutting and the single hole needle plate. You must use a fine thread, silk or a really good quality overlooking thread and a small stitch. French seams, wrap the arm hole seam, single thread darts and the best tip? Use a lightweight poly zip, they are strong enough, buy one that's too long , shorten it and wrap the zip tape when inserted. And don't forget a new small needle, a 70 should be okay. Good luck, I really like the fabric. Cathy is one lucky gal!

  11. If love at first sight didn't exist, I wouldn't have a stash! Definitely yes on those side buttons--lovely detail.

  12. I've had the love at first sight with fabrics at various times in my sewing life, so I understand the loss of reason! Tissue paper is a definite must for cutting silk charmeuse. I also agree with the need for a single hole needle plate, but failing that I find that a foot that has a single hole (a straight-stitch foot) is very helpful.

  13. I really like the buttons on the sides, particularly since these are covered in the same fabric. If they were shiny or too contrasty I don't think they'd work as well.

    Lovely fabric, lovely pattern. I look forward to seeing our favorite model in it.

  14. I *love* that fabric!!! It'll be stunning in that pattern, and absolutely do the buttons on the side.

  15. Love the silk!
    Yes to the button loops and covered buttons!
    ...I'd be tempted to move them forward of the side seam so they show a bit more.
    How about a strip of fusible tricot to stabilize the zipper area, and under the buttons?
    You can cover the needle plate with a double layer of scotch tape to create a single needle hole.

    1. I have a single needle hole (and straight stitch foot) so I think I'm set. I may stabilize with silk organza though fusible would be less trouble, I'd bet.

  16. Silk isn't bad to cut for pieces along the grain line but shifts a lot for pieces that need to be cut on the bias.

    Starch will work- I read somewhere that the traditional Japanese method of sewing with silks dipped them in cooking starch first. Wash the fabric before starching it to reduce the risk that the starch will interact with any chemical finish on the fabric and stain.

    Marking pattern arrows with tailor tacks is easier than using chalk on silk.

    Use silk pins not regular pins.

  17. Please, please, please implement the McCardell button loops, they are a divine detail!

  18. Lay out a layer of tissue paper, then the fabric then the pattern on top and cut the whole thing as a sandwich. Square up the silk to the tissue.
    Make sure that you use a fresh blade if you are using a rotary cutter. Use fresh pins and a microtex needle, Keep pins to the sas. I find that hand basting is the easiest way to control the fabric. I liked putting in the zipper in my dd's blouse by hand. It was fun.
    Use the silk organza to interface the facing. Sewing the outside edges right sides together in a 1/4" seam and turn back to the wrong side. Only the outer edges not the neck edge. Then baste the neck edges together. A beautiful finished edge.
    I love your fabric. It's perfect for the pattern. I think tulips.

    1. "Only the outer edges not the neck edge. Then baste the neck edges together."

      Nancy, I'm not sure I understand what you mean: do you mean just the front bodice edges (which form the surplice front) but not the back neck facings?

    2. sew the organza and fashion fabric facing right sides together, sew the outer edge, turn, press, and that edge is finished...then baste that to the garment.
      Use embroidery floss for tailor tacks, it doesn't slip out the way thread does.

  19. I honestly don't think sewing silk charmeuse is all that bad. It's certainly not the same level of difficulty as, say, chiffon.

    For cutting--
    It works much better if you first cut the pattern out of muslin, and use the muslin pieces to cut out the fabric. The muslin has more heft and the fibers of the muslin and charmeuse interlock a bit, which helps keep the fabric from shifting.

    Use pattern weights instead of pins. The very act of pinning causes the fabric to shift, and then pins distort the fabric and prevent it from laying flat. You don't have to do anything elaborate for weights. I use anything I have on hand-- books, bags of beans, cans of food, beer bottles, smooth rocks...if it has enough weight to hold the fabric and pattern pieces still, you're good.

    Cut out the pattern pieces only as you need them. The bias edges of the fabric will stretch substantially, and the less you handle the fabric unnecessarily, the less it will stretch.

    For sewing--

    When you're pinning the pieces together, use lots of pins. Use SO MANY PINS. I've used pins every 1/8" when needed.

    Charmeuse will stretch an enormous amount on the bias. Will you be sewing anything substantial on the bias, Peter? I don't want to type up all of my tips if you won't need them...

    1. Please, don't short-stop now! Peter is welcoming, and his readers are ravenous (we luv tips and tricks, almost as much as we luv Peter!). The tried and true, along with happy accidents, all add up to invaluable advice. So wax on about sewing on the bias; this is your moment!

    2. The two front piece are on the bias.

    3. Okey-dokey. Well, as I mentioned, bias silk charmeuse stretches sooooo much. To get an idea of what I'm talking about, before you cut the fabric out, just give it a little tug across the bias. It stretches like warm taffy, folks!

      Because of this, a piece you cut on the bias will start to deform as soon as you hang it up. It will get longer and skinnier. You have a few options--

      OPTION 1
      Thread mark the grain lines on all of your bias-cut pattern pieces. Cut the pieces with truly enormous seam margins-- like 1 1/2", and baste them together. Give maybe 1/2" for the seam allowances on the basting-- you don't want to use the actual seam allowance, because you'll need extra fabric from within the seam allowances to make up the difference once the fabric stretches to become narrower.

      Let the basted-together garment hang overnight, or, better, about a week. At the end of this time, undo all the basting and re-cut the pieces. Now sew it together like normal.

      OPTION 2
      This was recommended to me by a pattern-drafting book, but I've never tried it. Basically, get some charmeuse of the same weight that's cheaper. Through trial and error over various iterations, you can figure out how the piece needs to be cut so that it will eventually droop to the size you want.

      YMMV. I've only made floor-length charmeuse skirts, so the stretching issues were surely more pronounced because of all the extra weight of fabric.

      Since charmeuse is soo stretchy when you sew it on the bias, your seams will ripple. Some of this is due to stretching after the fact (see above). One skirt I did, I didn't take any of the precautions I listed above, and just stretched the fabric out as I fed it through the machine. That worked OK for lining, but I'm not sure I'd want to repeat it for the fashion fabric.

      I used a walking foot, to keep the presser foot from dragging the top and bottom pieces of fabric through at different tensions.

      For pressing. Charmeuse will show off every little wrinkle and pucker. I would press the seam flat from one side, press it flat from the other side, and only then press it open.

      With everything, go really slow and take a lot of care. Sheer patience can solve a lot of the problems you'll run into.

  20. love that fabric, I iron it on a wool blanket and the static holds it in place for cutting.Use weights and look at interfacing with cheesecloth (muslin). Iron that on the blanket first and then the silk over the top, perfect

  21. Love it, and the buttons are amazing in the same fabric.

  22. I just LOVE silk. Charmeuse not too difficult to cut (as someone has already mentioned, no where near as tricky as chiffon!). Spray starch may help (but do a test first).

    As to piping - I think self fabric piping would be fantastic - premade piping would probably spoil the look - it wouldn't be silk, would it? And piping is not too hard to work with - in terms of effort expended for results achieved, its on the top of my list!

    You may find it helpful to interface/stabilise the seam allowances for the zip. I make a silk dress last summer, and after unpicking two wonky attempts, I applied a thin strip of very light iron on interfacing along the seam allowance. the invisible zip went in like a dream.

    Can't wait to see Cathy modelling the finished product

  23. Gorgeous fabric--perfect for the dress!

    I recently cut out a shifty fabric by laying sheets of tissue--the gift kind--on the floor (my cutting table), overlapping the edges. I laid the fabric out in a single layer, pinned the pattern to the fabric and tissue and had zero problem with shift. I didn't have enough tissue to do a sandwich and now I'm glad because this worked just fine and I could see what the horizontal lines I had to match were doing.

    Good luck with your project.

    1. Jeannie, at what point did you unpin the fabric from the tissue paper, or can you leave it pinned till you stitch it -- or stitch it with the tissue paper and pull the paper gently out of the seam?

    2. Hi Peter--I stitched through the tissue and then gently removed the tissue tatters, which wasn't a ton of fun, but doable. I dampened my fingertips slightly to get the smallest pieces out (okay--I licked them). I found that the tissue breaks down with very minor moisture--not enough to marr the fabric. It's important to secure any overlapped tissue edges beneath a pattern piece so they don't flop loose when you lift your fabric. Tape works well. An actual roll of continuous tissue would be an excellent investment.

  24. All fantastic tips here!
    As far as losing my mind over fabric, the lovely and talented Oonaballoona went and posted this...

    I'm in love with what one commentor called "Butterfleopards"!! *lol*


  25. RUN do not walk over to Gretchen Hirsh's blog Gerties New Blog for Better Sewing for a tip about tissue for cutting slippery fabrics and great supply source for said tissue.

  26. Unlike some will tell you, I pin my pattern pieces when cutting out silk. I use fine, sharp silk pins. I keep the pinning in the seam allowances and use a few pins as possible. I detest using weights for pattern layout--the stuff just shifts too much.

    I'd try a few experimental seams and if you do find it slipping too much, I'd suggest hand basting before sewing. I know it's tedious, but it's the best way to get an accurate seam placement.

  27. I actually only stash when it's a fabric that makes my heart flutter or skip a beat. So, your response is totally normal to me. ;-)

    Beware of the charmeuse fraying on the non-bias cut pieces. I've had problems with this in the past. I would keep pieces pinned to the pattern pieces until I'm ready to use them.

  28. I bought super beautiful expensive silk in italy recently that was love at first sight and I'm soooooo afraid to use it and ruin it forever. I will be totally looking forward to reading your posts about working with silk.

  29. You know, you could use the buttons-on-the-side over the zipper to camouflage that element ... that occurred to me just as I saw that picture above. I know - an unsolicited opinion that had nothing to do with sewing silk. I'll try to stay on topic in the future. :)

    1. I appreciate your opinion, Mblow. I think the button loops (if I make them) are more dramatic on the gathered side. I guess I could even put the zipper there, but it would be more challenging with all those gathers to deal with.

  30. Gorgeous fabric! I can see why you swooned! Hand basting is your friend with silk charmeuse-- I baste every seam by hand before stitching and that really helps to lessen the puckering or rippling you might get otherwise.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Related Posts with Thumbnails