Sewing silk: the preparation

So you’ve bought some silk and brought it home. Now what?

First of all, you have to prepare it. Just like all natural fabrics, silk will most likely shrink. On top of that it will probably bleed colour.


Washing silkWash your silk in warm (not hot) water using a special washing detergent for delicates. Hand washing is preferred, but machine washing on delicate cycle is also acceptable. Many silk purists claim that the best thing to wash silk in is shampoo. I haven’t tried it myself, but if you have, please share your experience.

When you are washing the silk, don’t rub, twist or scrunch. Rinse your fabric several times in cold water. If you rinse it in vinegar solution (1 tablespoon per 3-5 L of water) the colours will look brighter and the surface will look shinier. I heard it also helps to set the dye a bit.


jellyAt this stage you might want to consider gelatining your fabric. Gelatine rinse makes your fabric firmer, while preserving it’s flexibility. Gelatine rinses out without a trace and makes your slippery fabric sewing MUCH, much easier. This gelatine recipe got a huge feedback from online sewing community and I even received an email from Susan Khalje thanking me for sharing it :))

Just a quick thank-you for inspiring a student of mine – she tried your gelatine treatment on some fabrics a while back, and she mentioned it to me in a class this past summer in Houston.
We experimented a little further in class, and I’ve just written a blog post for Threads about it.

Thanks so much –
Susan Khalje
Contributing Editor
Threads Magazine

Then it appeared in Threads. I described the method here.


silk-hanging-3It is advised that most delicate fabrics are to be dried flat. I personally don’t have space to dry it flat, so I hang it on the line on top of the towel to make sure there are no snags on the line itself.

Dry your silk away from direct sun or heaters. Don’t overdry it, or pressing will be a total pain. However, if you have overdried it, don’t be tempted to press with steam (especially if your iron is prone to spitting: drops of water will dry as stains on silk*) – wrap the silk in a damp cloth and put it in a plastic bag for a couple of hours. This should evenly “moisturize” your fabric and then you can press it.
Silk chiffon always must be pressed with dry iron, because steam might cause it to crinkle.

Pressing and inspecting
Ladies Preparing Newly Woven Silk, Chinese, 8th century copy of a Zhang Xuan original, handscroll

Check the setting of your iron, make sure it is not too hot. Check the iron itself to make sure you don’t have snags on the sole of it. If you do, use a sheet of baking paper to protect the fabric. If your silk has some stretch, it is best to press it through another layer of fabric – cotton, silk, etc – the top layer will stick to the bottom layer and won’t let you stretch the fabric as you press it.

As you are pressing your fabric, take a good look at it. Notice small flaws and mark them with chalk or sticky dots so you can cut around them later.

Now our prep is done, we can move on to marking and cutting!


*BTW, the idea that water stains on silk are permanent is a complete bull*it. Is this how they get you to dry clean your clothes?? If you have stained the fabric with water, you need to rinse it in plain water and dry it. The stains will be gone.


image source,,

Lena Merrin
Lena Merrin

A dressmaker of many years, I enjoy drafting patterns and create custom garments.

4 thoughts on “Sewing silk: the preparation

  1. Margk says:

    Lena, this is fabulous information! I have sewn a couple of silk garments recently, without too much drama, thankfully, but I have a number of other pieces in my stash. I can understand your pleasure at Susan’s comments etc – she’s one of my idols! :D

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