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Sewing 4 ply silk

jblong | Posted in General Discussion on

I feel really dumb for asking this but I have been sewing for 45 years and have never sewn on silk.  I am about to embark on the journey of make an outfit out of 4 ply silk at $60.00/ yd.  I’ve got to admit…I am terrified. 

Any advice would be greatly appreciated.  Thanks


  1. ElonaM | | #1

    I always machine wash and briefly dry my silks before sewing them, because I don't ever want to worry about water spotting. It can take away a bit of the luster in very shiny silk, but surprisingly often, it does not.

    For very slippery, difficult silks, I do something a little rude to them: I smooth them out flat on a clean sheet on the patio, and then I spray the heck out of them with spray starch. When they're dry, they don't even need ironing, and they have an interesting "papery" hand that makes them very easy to work with. The starch washes right out in the laundry when the garment is finished. If you think this is an interesting idea, test it on a swatch first, to see if your silk looks good after washing and drying. I have never had a problem, but there's a first time for everything, right?

    For successful working with silk, practice is the key, so cut some swatches off your silk, and make a bunch of samples, both single and double thickness.

    Silk is made from extremely fine threads, so you'll want a fairly fine, "sharp" needle, as opposed to a "universal."

    As to thread, I generally use a high-quality polyester, like Mettler, but many people favor cotton as being less likely to produce puckery seams, since cotton thread is less stretchy. Silk thread is usually not advised for seams, because its great strength can actually tear out a seam that is stressed.

    To avoid puckery seams, again, practice, practice, practice. Make sample seams, trying out various stitch lengths. I find that the narrowest zigzag stitch is a GREAT help in preventing puckers. It gives the seam a bit of stretch, allowing it to drape and flow with silky, slippery fabrics.

    Test-drive various interfacings. Personally, I only use very lightweight, knit, sew-in interfacing, but some people say they've had success with fusibles.

    If you're going to put buttonholes in your garment, make some samples of them, too, using various types of stabilizer underneath, to see what works best.

    With practice beforehand, you should feel much more confident working with your expensive silk, and I'm sure your garment will come out beautifully.

    1. jblong | | #2

      Thanks for your help.  I have a serger and I wondered if you clean finish the edges of a garment or if it is best to make french seams.  And when pressing do youhave to worry about the seams making an impression on the outside of the garment.

      Thanks again


      1. ElonaM | | #3

        Depends on what kind of garment you're making. For an unlined jacket-type top, where the seams would be visible, French seams or Hong Kong finish would be best. But if it's a top or dress where the inside of the garment is not meant to be seen, I'd just serge the seams.

        Regarding imprints when pressing silk seams, that can be a problem. Test it on one of your samples to see if it's bad. Sometimes you can maneuver around it by using a nice, round pressing roll, or by pressing on the wrong side and sneaking the iron tip in under the seam allowance, if the edges of the allowance aren't inclined to be very wrinkly.

        But you will probably want to cut lengths of brown paper or manila envelope into about one-inch-wide strips to slide between the seam allowance and the garment when you're pressing.

        1. Mairmie2 | | #20

          Hi there:

              Just read your advice in the Threads forum..Sounds good but I`m wondering what is a "Hong Kong" seam. I know what a French seam and a Flat fell seam are but haven`t come across the term "Hong Kong" seam before.    Thanks in advance for the info.      Mairmie

          1. Jean | | #24
  2. callie1 | | #4

         Be sure to do a test garment either in muslin or in a cheaper fabric with a hand similar to your silk.  You don't want to spend all that effort sewing and pressing and find out it doesn't fit right!

         I agree with prewashing silk.  I do it with all silks except those I know will be made into dry clean only garments, and I hate dry cleaning.  Only if you need a crisp finish do you need to dry clean.  One of the great benefits of sewing for myself is that I can preshrink everything and not have to dry clean.

  3. kayl | | #5

    Cut your silk on paper... it will stabilize the silk and keep it

    on grain. See Connie Crawford's article in Threads a couple

    of years back if you've never cut on paper before. (It'll

    also help keep your fabric from wrinkling and raveling between

    cutting time and sewing time).

    I prefer to use full patterns (not half-patterns, cut

    on the double) and cut single thicknesses for very nice

    fabrics, and it sounds like that's what you're working with.

    Enjoy! It's nice stuff to sew with!

    Kay Lancaster [email protected]

  4. rzgreen | | #6

    I love, love, this fabric.  It's so much nicer to sew on than microfibers (and so much more luxurious), but of course, pricey!

    Alternatively to some suggestions posted, you might try making samples with a straight stitch plate and even feed foot.  I tend not to have problems with puckering seams, either.  I do recommend a microtex or sharp needle, also.

    Depending on the fabric, I may spray starch, cut backed with paper, and use microserrated scissors when I am cutting for more control.   I try to dry clean as little as possible these days.

    For interfacings, I would test bi stretch pellon, a personal favorite.  Or use scraps of lighter weight silks (usually have some floating around the room). 

    I've never played much with it, but I hear bias cut is sublime on this fabric, too.

    Enjoy the sewing process and your garment.


    1. Madeleine | | #7

      I've been reading this thread about sewing on silk and hate to admit my ignorance and lack of experience as well.  I will be making my daughter's bridal gown from doupionni silk and have never sewn on silk either.  Do the suggestions that people have made for the 4 ply silk apply to this fabric as well?  I don't really know what 4 ply silk is.  Do I need a sharp needle?  Should I actually wash the fabric before I start cutting??  I must say that rather scares me.  The fabric has been ordered, but I don't actually have it yet, so anything I can find out before I start the actual cutting would be greatlt appreciated.  Thanks1

      1. sarahkayla | | #8

        Naaah - dupioni is a totally different animal - 4 ply likes to slide aroind when you cut it. Dupion is well behaved there. Dupion is easy for a machine to handle - it won't ride and slide around and make you nuts.

        it does have one nasty habit. .. dupion loves to shred at the cut edges. enclose those raw edges. you may also want to use a thin fuseable interfacing for some of your work.. I'm not so good in the tailoring/dressmaking department so i defer to others with that expertise... and listen to their wisdom.

        But it's easy to sew and vey forgiving ...and fairly inexpensive as silk goes... you get a rich look for the money. i love it and use it a ton.

        sarah in nyc

        1. GhillieC | | #9

          I went to a lecture given by Claire Shaeffer a few days ago. She said when buying silk you should consider how much you enjoy ironing. Cheap silk creases, the expensive stuff does not.

          I love four ply silk. If I were rich I would live in it and sleep in it. It is fairly thick for a silk but has a gorgeous drape and feels wonderful against the skin. It does like to slide around, but it is not as bad as Ambiance lining - and it does not crease!

          Dupion, dupioni, douppioni, call it what you will, is quite crisp. You should test a piece before you start work on it, both for water spotting if you do not wash it and for loss of crispness if you do.

          However I would try to avoid pre-washing. It is not as though you are going to need to wash this dress frequently.



      2. Elisabeth | | #10

        Silk dupioni is an easy fabric to work with in my opinion. Easy to cut, stitch, and press. I like underlining silk dupioni with silk organza. The organza keeps the light and a little crisp quality that is so nice in dupioni. I know it is sometimes recommended to underline dupioni with a fusible interfacing of one sort or another but I feel the silk organza makes the garment breathe and move better. It is definitely important to underline with something since dupioni can crush, wrinkle, and pull in the seams if it is taking the weight and stress of a full length garment all on its own.

        If you have a rotary cutter and cutting mat that is a great way to cut out the smaller pattern pieces in the dupioni and organza.

        I hope you keep us posted on the progress of your daughter's gown. What a wonderful project to have!


        PS I get silk organza in 54" width from http://www.thaisilks.com. I have found good prices and good service with them.

        1. Madeleine | | #11

          Thank you for your advice on the silk douppioni!  I'm in the process of thinking about the underlining right now.  I will keep you posted on my progress and hopefully post a picture of the finished product.  The wedding is in August.  We have done a muslin and we are waiting for the douppioni that has been ordered.  We have a beautiful lace for the bodice.  I hope it turns out as well as we hope.  I used to do quite a bit of sewing when I was younger, but I've never tackled a project of this magnitude.  It's so comforting to have the advice and support of all the experienced sewers here at Gatherings!

          1. JMW | | #14


            Just read about your project - sewing your daughter's wedding gown. I sew and alter wedding gowns. Many of the most beautiful and well constructed wedding gowns are underlined in cotton battiste at the bodice. This will work very well for a silk dupioni gown that will be worn in August. Then, underline every single piece of the skirt with silk organza. Your bodice and skirt lining should also be cut of a breathable fabric. Ambiance should do the trick. 

            What a lovely time for you and your daughter. Don't stress out over this. Just enjoy!


          2. Madeleine | | #16


            Thank you for your recommendations!  I already purchased Ambiance for the lining and silk organza for the underlining, but maybe I will buy a small amount of cotton batiste for the bodice.  It's $13 a yard here at the only store I could find it an hour from here, so I thought I would use the silk organza. But if I just buy some for the bodice it won't break the bank.   Another Gatherings member recommended thaisilks.com for silk organza and I must say I was pleased with the quality and the service.  It's been terrific to have this resource for support and information. 

      3. SewNancy | | #12

        Silk comes in different weights and 4 ply is the ultimate in luxury.  I found that it is definitely easier to sew than lighter weights.  It is stronger than duppioni and while it is harder to cut, just lay it out with paper and cut with it, a new rotary blade is ideal.  leave attache to paper until ready to use.  Use taut sewing and you should be fine,.  Sewing with silk thread would be good as it makes a finer seam.  Pants are absolutlely lovely in 4 ply silk, they don't wrinkle and feel amazing.  I never washed it but if it isn't a dark color, I agree try it.  Wash a square and see if you like the change.


        1. Sashita | | #13

          Hi everyone,   I am new to this but have to tell you my experience with silk.  Bought five yards of a beautiful teal silk shantung for a dress--pattern, etc, not known.  Then, because we lived in an RV, I put it in a plastic storage box and stored it in a shed.  BIG mistake.  Everytime the shed was opened, the sun would shine on that box and when I took it out to sew (finally!) the sun had bleached all the folds that were exposed!  I was shocked and the fabric still lies in my stash five years later as I ponder what to do with it.  It will take a lot of time to find something that will fit where the streaks of white are!  No longer live full time in the RV, but have a house and a sewing corner again.   


          1. SewNancy | | #15

            Since you can't really use the material as is, you can use it to experiment.  Wash fabric first, then you can experiment with dye.  You can use color remover and then redye  it.  Also, you could tie dye it.  You could use discharge dyeing with bleach.  See Threads index.  They did an article about it a few years ago.  Or, you could cut it up and piece it.  Lots of possibilities.


          2. Sashita | | #17

            Thanks Nancy!  Like a dodo I didn't even think of dying the fabric.  Maybe I will give that a try.  If I do I will let you know how it turns out!  Thanks again, Sasha

          3. SewNancy | | #18

            When I was losing weight a couple of years ago I used over dyeing to give a new look to clothes that were older but now in my size again.  It can be a lot of fun, but you do have a certain amount of unpredictability in the process.


          4. Margeaux | | #19

            I love sewing with fine silk and I read a fabulous tip some time ago that works really well.  Iron freezer paper onto the back and sew with it attached.  The paper pulls right off after sewing without any damage and keeps the pieces from moving around all over the place.  Hope this helps!

          5. Sashita | | #21

            Hi Nancy--Haven't been on my computer for a while.  Thanks for that tip.  Maybe dying is the solution to the pale and white lines on my silk.  I will surely keep it in mind, and thank you for responding.   Til next time,  Sasha

          6. SewTruTerry | | #22

            I would not use bleach on the silk. According to Claire Schaeffers Fabric Sewing Guide "do not rub, bleach, or leave silk to soak." I would definitely try the dye and or find a coordinating silk and piece or color block a garment from it.

          7. callie1 | | #23

            No bleach on silk. It just dissolves it.  Not good.

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