We love to wear soft, pretty clothes. But, sometimes making them can be a challenge of our sewing skills and patience. I’ve highlighted a few tips and tricks to help you concour sewing silk. In How To Sew Slippery Fabric, you can confidently tackle your first silky, floating sewing project.
New Look 6685 Sew Along
Follow along as I make New Look 6685. In this video we will explore slippery fabric techniques that make sewing with persnickety fabrics easier. We cover:
- Silk stabilizers
- Cutting pattern pieces successfully
- Machine needles
- French Seams
- Baby Hems
Silk Fabrics And Other Slippery Fabric Types
Any fussy fabrics will benefit from these tips and tricks. Whether you are sewing with silk, rayon, voile, taffeta, sheers, or other delicate fabrics, you will benefit from trying a few of these tips and tricks.
Pretreating Slippery And Silk Fabric
Many sewsists prefer to use a fabric stabilizer. You spray it on your washed fabric and it gives the fabric the consistency of paper, taking the slippery out of it. This makes it easier to cut and sew. I’m not a fan of adding chemicals to anything unless I need to and there are other methods that work just as well. If you do use a fabric starch spray be sure to test your fabric first and spray outdoors.
I pretreat my fabrics simply. I wash and dry them the same way I plan to after the garment is made. Sometimes it’s the washer and dryer, sometimes it’s just the washer and air dry — it depends on the fabric.
Silk Pins And Other Tools
I am a self proclaimed pin snob. I like sharp, thin pins, like glass head pins, that glide through your fabric pieces. You can read my pin primer — Everything You Need To Know About Pins — and decide for yourself.
Hint: Glasshead pins are the best!
Tips For Cutting Slippery Fabrics
I prefer the tape and rotary cutter method. I don’t typically cut my pattern pieces with a rotary cutter, but with fussy fabrics, it works best.
Using a large cutting mat, tape (everyday tape works fine) a single layer salvage edge along a straight line on the cutting mat. This ensures you are cutting on grain.
Trip up your pattern pieces — you don’t want to cut the tissue with your rotary cutter. Using sharp pins, pin your pattern piece lining up the grain line with the salvage. Pin the pattern pieces in the seam allowance. Some fussy fabrics don’t like pins and you can end up with pin holes — Not good.
You will be cutting one piece at a time. Remember to cut mirror images.
Sewing Silk And Other Slipper Fabrics
Test, test, test. Set yourself up for success. Typically you will want about 2.0 stitch length, but it will vary with machines, fabric, and thread. I use poly thread, I find silk thread doesn’t work as well.
I sew silk the same way I sew everything else, just run it through the machine. If you are having issues, you can try a few of these tricks.
- Sew with the fabric sandwiched between tissue paper and then tear it away – make sure it doesn’t stain your fabric – test it first!
- Use a walking foot
- Increase the pressure on your presser foot
Test — Test — Test
Marking The Fabric
I pin mark, but you have other options here. Chalk will work – test first and old fashioned tailor tacks are my goto if I need more marking.
Try to mark in the seam allowance if at all possible.
Seam Finishes For Fine Fabrics
There are a few good finishing options when working with silky fabrics that have fraying edges.
Serging is the easiest and fastest method, however, many fancy fabrics do not like the serger. Test it out before running your fabric pieces through the machine to overlock the fraying edges.
French seams are the most common method of dealing with slippery or see-through fabrics. You can watch the french seaming technique in the video above. For a pattern with a ⅝ inch seam allowance, you sew the wrong sides together at 1/4 inch, then trim the seam down to 1/8 inch. Press flat, then sew right sides together at 1/4 inch. The extra 1/8 inch (1/4 + 1/4 + 1/8 = 5/8th) is taken up in the folding process.
Hong Kong finished seams require covering each seam allowance with a strip of bias binding. It is a beautiful technique, but the most time consuming of the three.
What you don’t want to do is leave your seams raw, they will fray and make a mess. Ultimately they may fray to the seam — making your garment unwearable.
Delicate rolled hems are the only way to finish fine fabric. You can use a rolled hemming foot or an edge foot.
I prefer the edge foot, I feel like I have more control over the process and the fabric doesn’t stretch out of shape.
Fold over and press 1/2 inch, stitch the seam with your edge foot. It will be about 1/8 inch. I like to stitch this from the back side so I don’t catch the extra fabric. Then trim the fabric with duck billed scissors close to the stitching. From the right side of the garment, roll the baby hem over and stitch again. This is demonstrated in the video above.
Voila! Beautiful hems.
Sewing Machine Settings
Set your stitch length between 2 and 3, maybe even smaller for some delicate fabrics. The best needles for your machine sewing are 60/8 — small, thin, and powerful.
You need to press, press, press. If your fabric is 100% silk and it can take heat, but steam can stain the fabric — Test, test, test. A pressing cloth will help for fabrics that are not compatible with high heat.
Avoid The Throat Plate Sucking Fabric Into A Knotted Ball
If your fabric is getting sucked into the sewing machine throat plate, you can alleviate the issue one of two ways.
First, use a started piece. Begin stitching on a scrap of fabric and chain stitch to the pattern pieces, this will help keep the stitches continuous.
Another option is to sew on tissue paper or paper towels, then peel off the paper — you do have to deal with little bits in your tiny seams so this is a final option if nothing else works.
Don’t back stitch — tie off your thread ends to keep them from unraveling.
How To Sew Slippery Fabric
Constructing beautiful garments out of gorgeous silky fabrics is easy once you know how to sew slippery fabric. Your silk garments will look stunning and last for years if you follow these tips for sewing slippery fabrics. Choose a pattern, find a yummy silk fabric, and get stitching!
PS For more sewing tips and techniques check out