How to Sew Silk, Satin, Taffeta and other Fancy Fabrics

How to Sew Formal Dress Fabrics - Satin, Taffeta, Silk - Melly Sews #sewing

When creating holiday dresses, we often are drawn to fancy holiday fabrics – but these aren’t always the easiest to sew with. So today as we kick off the Amaryllis Dress sewalong, let’s talk about how to sew silk, satin and taffeta, three commonly used party fabrics.

First of all, let’s clarify what these fabrics are. Taffeta and Satin actually refer to the weave of the fabric, while silk is a specific type of fiber. So you can actually have silk taffeta and silk satin.

Taffeta fabric has a sheen on both sides, is tightly woven and is very crisp. Commonly available and affordable types of taffeta include acetate taffeta, nylon taffeta, and polyester taffeta. Silk taffeta is also available, but much more expensive.  Nylon and polyester taffeta is machine washable and durable. Be careful with acetate based taffeta – this is prone to water staining and even major shrinkage if it gets wet. I avoid it. I used nylon taffeta for the Tulip Skirt shown below. You can see  how the crispness of the fabric helps support the petal shape and make it stand out from the body. Taffeta would be perfect for a “swishy” Amaryllis Dress – taffeta also makes that characteristic swishing sound.

Taffeta Tulip Skirt by Melly Sews

Satin fabric, like taffeta, also refers to the weave of a fabric. It is characterized by fabric that is very glossy and shiny on one side, and (unless it is double faced) dull on the wrong side. It is commonly available and affordable made of polyester and rayon blends. More expensive is silk satin. Depending on the thickness of the fibers, it can be very fluid and drapey, like the sleeves on the Cutwork Dress, or stiffer and more full bodied like the pink side of the Amaryllis Dress. Both of these are polyester satin, which is machine washable and usually machine dry (though you should check your care info to make sure).

Cutwork dress by Melly Sews

Pretty in Pink wearing the Amaryllis Dress PDF Sewing Pattern by Blank Slate Patterns

Now let’s talk about silk. As I said earlier, silk is a type of fiber, spun by silkworms, and can be woven into taffeta, satin, and many other types of fabric. A good overview of some common silks can be found here. I love to work with silk cotton blends, as these often have the sheen and softness of silk combined with the machine wash and easy sew properties of cotton. But I’ve also made 100% silk projects, like this Christening gown I made for Baby Girl.

Silk Christening Gown by Melly Sews

Even though silk has a reputation as a very difficult fabric, I actually like it a lot, and I think most silk is easier to work with than polyester taffeta or poly satin. And contrary to popular belief, you CAN wash it. It’s just important to wash BEFORE you start cutting out your project if you want it to be washable, so that any shrinkage happens before you do all your sewing. I wash mine on the delicate cycle in cold water and hang to dry.

Alright, enough about types of fabric. Lets talk about specific sewing tips!

How to Sew Silk, Satin and Taffeta

  • If you’re going to wash, wash the fabric BEFORE starting. It’s also a good idea to run an overlock or faux overlock stitch along raw edges before washing, as these types of fabric are really prone to fraying.
  • Press on a low heat setting, and with a clean iron. You may want to press from the back side or put a pressing cloth over especially delicate (or expensive) fabrics.
  • Make sure your scissors are SHARP. And know that they might end up dull if you cut a whole lot of any of these fabrics. Silk fibers are very strong, and since nylon and polyester taffeta and satin fabrics are made to mimic silk, they are also pretty strong. So it’s always good to know where your local knife sharpening shop is (pictured: The Knife Sharpist in Austin, from my Instagram #DailySewingTips posts).

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  • Pinning these fabrics should be done with Silk Pins  (affiliate link) , which are sharp and thin. Keep pins in the seam allowances to prevent holes from showing on the finished product, since these tightly woven fabrics will show pin and needle holes. Or consider using Wonder Clips (affiliate link) or even binder clips to hold your fabric together.
  • Slippery fabrics can be easier to control if you place them between sheets of tissue paper, and then cut right through the tissue paper and fabric. Tissue paper won’t dull your scissors in this case any more than the fabric will.
  • Lay pattern pieces out the same way – all these fabrics have a little bit of sheen to them, and it will shine differently from different directions.
  • Use the smallest, sharpest needle you can – a 60/8 or 70/10 Microtex needle will help prevent runs in the fabric.
  • With very slippery fabrics, you may want to hand baste seams, particularly curved seams
  • Take time for a if it’s a new pattern! None of these fabrics get along very well with seam ripping.
  • If you absolutely must seam rip, rub firmly over needle holes with your fingernail on the wrong side, then wet and iron to minimize holes. Make sure you’ve wash fabric first if you’re going to get it wet while ironing.
  • It might help to hold fabric from the front and back as you sew to avoid puckering – this is particularly a problem with taffeta.
  • All of these fabrics tend to fray easily, so don’t skip seam finishing.

So hopefully today you’ve picked out your Amaryllis Dress fabric and you can cut it out, so that tomorrow you’re all ready to talk about Gathering Techniques. See you then!

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