Sewing silk: layout, marking and cutting


After careful preparation (see previous posts here and here) your silk is now ready for cutting.
First of all, you have to find the grain and make sure it is straight. To do so, first of all straighten your selvages. I usually align my selvage with the edge of the cutting table. Very often the fabric is cut on an angle, but with very fine  and slippery fabrics it can be hard to notice. To make sure your cut edge is straight, pull a single thread out to make a “snag”. Then trim your fabric along this snag to get a perfectly straight edge.

Now to the layout

First of all, single layer only. I know, it doubles your work, but double layers can and will shift, ALWAYS. So save your fabric and your nerves and cut in single layer.

Make sure your single fabric layer is laying flat. Bubbles on fine and very patterned fabric can be tricky to see, so to check I run a ruler over it (just gently slide it over the fabric). You’d be surprised how often I find a bubble or two.

Here is a tip – when you are laying out your silk, close that window and switch off the fan.
A gust of wind will lift the fabric and you’ll have to start over again.

Cutting

There are a couple of methods to ensure your fabric does not shift while you are cutting it.

    1.  A grabby underlay. You can use a piece of corduroy, wool, velveteen or something like that as an underlay. Simply cover the cutting table with a nappy fabric (nap up), lay out your silk and cut. This underlay will stop silk from shifting. Wool even sticks to silk with static – finally a good application of static! This method is good if you are using scissors.

velvet

    1.  Tissue layers. Lay out the silk on a sheet of tissue paper, put another sheet on top and cut all 3 layers as one. Silk between the sheets will not move. Good for rotary cutters.

tissue cutting

  1.  Double sided tape. I have never used this method. It involves putting bits of sticky tape on your pattern and then sticking it to your fabric. Be careful with the sticky residue!

Personally I prefer the first method, because I use scissors and loath a mere thought of cutting any paper with it. Also I don’t like waste (such as two layers of tissue paper). Call me weird, but  no waste is a major brownie point.

Pin or not?

If you insist on using pins, pin in seam allowances only,  because pin holes will be visible and often permanent. Use the sharpest pins possible or even better, forget the pins altogether and use pattern weights. I noticed that no matter how careful you are, you will shift the fabric while pinning it.

funky pattern weights

Marking

When you are marking silk don’t use chalk. First of all, you won’t get a good line. You’ll drag all the fabric with chalk, ruining your perfect layout. Save it for denims and tweeds. For fine fabrics, use water soluble or vanishing pens.
water soluble pen
Draw the line very lightly making sure the fabric does not shift. Also, test your pens and make sure they indeed vanish before making any bust dart marks and such. If in doubt, use tailor tacks instead.

Now I am going to reveal some shocking insider info. Often I have to mark a very patterned silk and no marker shows well enough. In these cases I use a silver Sharpie.
silver sharpie
Silver shows on EVERYTHING. Also, silver Sharpie is forever, ladies and gentlemen, so make sure your layout is final and cut off the sharpie line when cutting out. Don’t you dare marking bust dart points and buttonholes with it, outlines only.

Block fusing

Small parts are an absolute murder to cut out accurately. For these kind of jobs I highly recommend block fusing. Block fusing is when you interface a piece of fabric first, and then cut it. Your life will become infinitely easier, because interfaced silk is a completely different beast. Your cuffs and collar stands will be lovely and straight.

Test your interfacings, as only the best ones can be used on fine fabrics. Make sure the glue doesn’t come through to the right side and your interfacing doesn’t show through. Nude coloured interfacings are the best.

Do you know the secret trick that can help us work with silk? Do share!

Image sources:  www.cafleurebon.com, www.blogforbettersewing.com, modestlyostentatious.com, oliverands.com, www.dickblick.com

Lena Merrin
Lena Merrin

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

11 thoughts on “Sewing silk: layout, marking and cutting

  1. Lili says:

    Hello
    I will sew a silk double georgette, and I am concern about how to transfer or marking the pattern in the georgette fabric. You said to use a pen, but how to you mark darts?

    Thanks

    • Lena Merrin
      Lena Merrin says:

      Hi Lili, I transfer darts with two notches at the edge of the fabric and small chalk dot at the tip of the dart

      • Lili says:

        Hei again. Could I use Wool felt fabric as underlay for cutting silk? Will it work? I have never tried this method. Thanks

  2. Nat says:

    Thanks for all the great info on silk cutting / sewing!

    I have a large – 4′ x 8′ cutting mat (lucky to have a large area permanently set up for sewing). They are for the graphics trade so you can probably do a local search for them. They come on various sizes – smaller and larger. I also find fabrics don’t shift a lot on it.

  3. velosewer says:

    Next time I cut out silk, I’ll cut it out on my carpet floor while husband is away for a few hours. That’ll stop any distortion or arguments :)

  4. mrsmole says:

    Recently I have been using my Gingher serrated edge scissors that I normally use for slinky knits on silk and slippery fabrics…they do very well at holding the edges together while cutting. I thin Kai makes some too, it is worth a try if you have them handy.

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