As I am no longer travelling to teach, I have decided to share my tips for sewing silk with all those who would like to try using it in their quilts.
SILK SECRETS FOR QUILTERS - Judith Ross
N,B. These notes are for
your personal use only. Please do not use them to teach with or publish them without my permission.
Silk is a natural fibre produced in a strand by the silk worm as it makes it’s cocoon. The most common silk worm is Bombyx Mori which feeds on mulberry leaves. Many countries produce silk, but most of the silk we get is from China, India and Thailand. The perfect cocoons are unwound in a single strand, then plyed and woven into the finest, most even silks.
Damaged cocoons and those which contain twins have knots in them. In China they are largely used to make duvet inners and other products, but in India they are woven into Dupion silk, hence the slub appearance.
Silk has a wonderful lustre and adds ‘life’ to your patchwork. Particularly beautiful are the ‘shot’ silks, which are woven with different colours for the warp [loom thread] and weft [shuttle thread]. These give a sense of movement and colour change.
Most silks have a place in patchwork, particularly in fabric manipulation techniques. For piecing, Dupion and the heavier Thai silks are the most cost effective and easiest to handle.
All natural fibres are sun-sensitive and should be stored or hung out of bright light. I have found Quilt Protect Spray by Sullivans effective as a u.v.barrier. Silk also readily absorbs water and should not be kept in a damp environment. If you are reusing old silk, most can be hand washed seperately using a gentle detergent. Slow spin, line dry, and iron when slightly damp to restore crispness. Muli coloured finished silk items should be dry-cleaned as the colours may not be fast.
I often print on plain silks and particularly enjoy using hand carved Indian wood blocks for an authentic look. If you are buying these blocks, check first that they are completely flat, as a warped block will not print evenly. I use heat-set textile inks for printing as they are thick and will not run into the silk. Apply a thin even layer of ink to the wood block with a roller. Scrub the wood blocks after use.
and the slipperiness of silk tend to scare quilters, but need
not as there are tricks to help you!
1. RESTRICT HANDLING
Once your strips or pieces are cut, put them in a bag or set aside.
2. STABILISE for non-foundation piecing
Lighter weight silks may be sprayed with starch or ‘Fabulon’ to add crispness and reduce fray. Make sure the spray is fine and even to avoid spotting. Iron dry. This works best for simple piecing - squares and rectangles cut on the straight of the fabric.
For more elaborate piecing where some sides of the piece are on the cross, silk can be stabilised by fusing a light weight woven interfacing to the fabric before cutting. I recommend ‘Amfuse’, a muslin type fusible with a smooth fusing surface. Do not use dot-fuse fusibles, as the dots may show. Steam iron your silk first. Pin the fusible flat on the ironing board, shiny side up. Iron your silk onto the fusible with a dry iron, starting from the centre and working out. This stops wrinkles forming.
If piecing silks of different weights you may wish to stabilise the lighter ones.
A rotary cutter will give you a clean cut and reduce fraying.
Rotary cutting techniques are based on cutting shapes from strips. Dupions have a finer warp thread than weft thread. THEREFORE CUTTING STRIPS PARALLEL TO THE SELVEDGE REDUCES FRAYING AND STRETCHING.
This method is the best way of piecing narrow pointed designs, such as stars. I DO NOT RECOMMEND THE TEAR-OUT PAPER METHOD FOR SILK. Tearing out papers after sewing may cause the points to distort and fray.
Instead use a very fine non-woven non-fusible interfacing which can be left in your work. Your seams are protected as the fabric is sewn down and flipped. For wall hangings I use ‘Easy Trace’, a material for tracing dress patterns. it does not stretch, will handwash and remain stable, but do not iron directly with a hot iron - lower the temperature or use baking paper over it.
If you do not like the rustle of this product in clothing, use the finest non- woven interfacing available. However, this needs care as it has some stretch and may distort your pattern.
Cut your pattern from ‘Freezer Paper’, shiny side down. Mark the straight of fabric on the shiny side. Pin to the back of your silk, matching the straight, shiny side facing you. Cut more than 1/4 inch seam allowance. Fold over the edge of the allowance to the shiny side of the paper, and iron down. Hand or machine stitch the pieces onto your backing as usual. Remove freezer paper through a slit in backing fabric.
Vliesofix or similar products may be used for applique. Fraying may occur with handling, so I recommend close edge stitching, with a decorative stitch if desired. Misty Fuse is good for sheer silks.
6. SEAM ALLOWANCE
If working with unstabilised silk I use more than 1/4 inch seam allowance. Measure the width of your standard presser foot and use this.
Whether hand or machine sewing, use the finest sharpest needle you can thread. I like to use Microtex sharp machine needles, 70 or 80 gauge. Use either a fine silk thread or normal machine thread. I prefer Mettler to Gutterman as it is softer and finer. Pressing seams to one side is stronger if the fabric is not stabilised.
IRON ON FUSIBLES AND INTERFACINGS ADD GLUE TO ALL FABRICS AND CAN AFFECT LONGEVITY OF THE FINISHED ITEM.
METALLIC QUILTING THREADS CAN WEAR INTO HOLES, SO ARE MORE SUITED TO WALL HANGINGS.