Tips on sewing with Satin

You know I am more of a day wear sewing girl.

Give me some tailoring any day, and I’ll be happy. But, as they say, “Calm seas have never made a good sailor”, so I’d decided to get out of my safe zone and take on some bridesmaids’ dresses. And how many bridesmaids’ dresses have you seen that were not made in satin? Not many.

I was given 10 – odd metres of poly satin and 3 different dresses to sew. The lessons I’ve learnt over the last several weeks will stay with me forever, sort of like a deep emotional trauma. I went through all stages of creative process that go like this:

1. This is going to be great.
2. This is hard.
3. This is shit.
4. I am shit.
5. Oh wait, it’s not bad.
6. That was great.
And so here are some lessons that I’ve learnt and some that I knew before, but repetition is the mother of learning.

In no particular order, here they are:

  • Satin has to be cut in single layer, always. Use any non-slip underlay on your table to stop the sliding – I used velveteen before, but learned that average cotton shirting does the rick even better (the chalk marks are sharper).
  • Don’t mark the face of the satin. Ever. Chalk marks are nearly impossible to remove, and even if you succeed, the ghost marks will stay.
  • Satin frays. A lot. Cut wider seam allowances.
  • Overlocker hates satin, especially curved edges. I had to set differential feed to 1.5 to get a good stitch, then press the edge with steam to flatten it.
  • Your sewing machine hates satin too. Tight seams look bad on anything, but on satin they are horrendous. To stop this from happening, loosen the top thread tension as much as possible without compromising the stitch quality, also reduce foot pressure.
  • Always keep fabric taut before and after the foot, as you sew. This produces even smoother seam.
  • When you are sewing an invisible zip, keep the fabric taut and zip tape loose. This way you’ll avoid fabric gathering along the zip.
  • Satin hates needles, they leave visible holes in it. If you scratch the needle holes with your fingernail, they become less obvious.
  • Any scratchy bit on your hands or on your sewing machine will snag the fabric.
  • Never sew satin while tense, believe me. Relaxes state is desirable, trance state would be ideal. Slow movements, gentle touch, and don’t forget to breathe.
  • Overlocking shows on the outside as a ridge, especially if you press it. The less overlocking on the inside, the better. If you must, press the seam with a strip of paper under the overlocked bit.
  • Everything upsets satin, including overhandling. The less handling the better. Practice on scraps, not the project.
  • Think twice before you place your iron on the face of the satin and push “steam”. Satin might not forgive you such a thing. Steam without touching the fabric.
  • Pre-made satin bias binding makes perfect channeling for Rigilene boning.

These are the main points, but please add to the list in your comments, I’d love to learn!

Lena Merrin
Lena Merrin

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

18 thoughts on “Tips on sewing with Satin

  1. Wendy says:

    Well I survived the weekend and the formal dress. Unfortunately there are a few puckery seams. The first seam I sewed was the centre back, and it was perfect. But the others are less so. I think it’s because the cb seam was shaped putting the fabric off grain. Anyway Miss 17 is happy with it. It’s currently hanging before I finish the hems.

  2. MNBarb says:

    You’re brave. What a nightmare! I must be a calm seas kind of sewist. Give me linen, cotton or wool and I’m giddy.

    • Lena Merrin
      Lena Merrin says:

      Barb, I can say I’ve made friends with chiffon, now satin’s turn. Next will probably be velvet :))

  3. Wendy says:

    Perfect timing Lena. i will be sewing my daughter’s formal dress on the weekend. Some helpful tips in there, thanks. Unfortunately the dress is very fitted so I’m concerned about puckering seams.

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  5. Mary says:

    Yes, this fabric is vile , but as a dressmaker I sometimes can’t avoid it . I do try telling a client that it is not worth paying me to make a garment in such cheap fabric.
    When I do sew it I remember what my needle work teacher told me ( 50 years ago), you are the boss of the fabric you make it do what you want it to.
    It is possible to cut it on the double with a large cutting table and sufficient fabric weights.
    I use a walking foot, never attempt to overlock it, always pink the seams and ALWAYS line the garment .

    • Lena Merrin
      Lena Merrin says:

      I agree, most of the work takes place in one’s head, “win the war before the battle” so to speak :)

  6. mrsmole says:

    This crappy bridesmaid fabric will be with us as long as brides get married…at least some gowns have a layer of chiffon over the top to hide all the ugliness and puckered seams. You need an attitude of “you will not defeat me” and just go for it. Good tips in your list, Lena. Using a 2 thread serger stitch works a little better, less thread in the seams or pinking shears to help with raveling at the same time. Lots of thin pins inside the seam allowance and always holding the seam taut front and back like with most things. Poor you!!!

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