Friday, October 7, 2011

Silk Practice Skirt

I just love the feel of silk. Who doesn't? But it's difficult for me to wear in this hot climate unless it's a very loose weave. Just when people in most parts of the Northern Hemisphere are gearing up for coats and sweaters for the coming snow, I can finally consider wearing some silk.

I have a few lengths of silk in the fabric hoard, some that I purchased and some that came through free gifts, bonus packs, mystery bundles, etc. Fabric Mart is especially generous when it comes to these fabric deals, and I’ve been able to get their “10-yard mystery bundle” on two separate occasions for free. You would not believe the gorgeous fabrics! I’ve received silk jersey, heavy crepe-backed satin, polished cottons, chiffons and many other wonderful things. Definitely not some old junky stuff from a dusty back room. (Although if they have a back room, I would love to dig around in there.)

One of the excellent freebies was 2 yards of this lightweight, nearly sheer, black and white rose print silk at 45” wide.

Although the luxurious feel of the fabric was very appealing, I was kind of meh about the pattern, and black and white doesn’t inspire me, so I decided to make it my silk experiment: learn how the fabric behaves, see what I can get away with in terms of lazy sewing, and make all my mistakes on a fabric that I wouldn’t mourn too much if it was ruined.

I did my go-to easy garment – the one-seam gathered rectangle skirt with selvedges at waist and hem. This time I did a maxi skirt, inspired by Lorenna on BurdaStyle. She has a lovely pattern and instructions on her site here, although I didn’t really follow it myself. I decided to use the full 45” width for the length and hem it as necessary after it was assembled. An alternative is to leave the nice selvedge edge unhemmed, but you have to think ahead to decide how long you want the skirt.

I gathered one entire selvedge edge of the silk. That’s a LOT of gathers – 72 inches shrunk down to 30 inches! I took some black lining and cut a shorter piece – about 50” – and gathered that. My thinking was that the lining should be slightly less bulky than the fashion fabric to prevent a gigantic bubble under the waistband. This made for a lot of duplicate work with the gathering though, so next time I might just cut, gather, and sew the fabric and lining as one. A long scrap of the black lining, reinforced with heavy interfacing, became the waistband.

(The waistband looks wrinkly because it’s straining to fit Maxie. She keeps growing!)

Once I finally managed to coerce all the gathers in both layers into the waistband, I took a long break and then went back and did the back seam and zipper. Nothing fancy, just a regular zipper in a centered placement which I took all the way up to the top of the waistband instead of the usual buttons or hooks. I’m lazy!

I took it for a spin around the house, and gauged that a 3-inch hem would be about right. I stitched that up, hemmed the lining slightly shorter, and it was done.

After finishing, I belatedly decided to try to find out what the fabric actually is. I’d initially assumed it was chiffon, but I don’t really know silks (or fabrics in general) so I checked in Claire Shaeffer’s Fabric Sewing Guide. I put a couple of threads to the flame test and they bubbled into beads like proper silk. I’ve now decided it’s charmeuse: smooth and tightly woven, shiny on one side, dull on the back, extremely lightweight (blows away with the slightest air movement) and semi-transparent.

I hand washed it a few months ago when I received the fabric package, and there was a small amount of dye loss in the water. This was probably due to the fact that I can’t get cold water from the tap during the summer – even underground, the pipes heat up to 80 or more. But the fabric held up well in the lukewarm water, although I realize now it would have been a good opportunity to test for shrinkage as well. It presses nicely with a steam iron on high.

I did not use silk thread, silk lining, or even silk pins, but I did use the smallest needle I had, which was a Schmetz 65/9. That seemed to work fine, but with the regular weight poly thread poking big holes in the fabric, it was probably not necessary. I also “softened my hands” repeatedly while handling the silk, because I have gardener’s hands and my rough nails and chapped skin catch on fabric all the time. Claire Shaeffer actually recommends a sugar and oil scrub to soften the hands prior to handling silk! I didn’t go quite that far, I just used a regular hand lotion.

The lining is an interesting problem. The Fabric Sewing Guide recommends rayon, microfiber, or silk linings for silk, but I work with what I have. This one was thrifted, (8 yards for $1.99!), so I didn’t get any content info. It’s probably poly or a blend, and I've been using it for all of my darker-colored garments. In this case, it has an extreme affinity for the silk and the two of them seem to have bonded for life. I don’t really mind the clinginess as long as they cling to each other and not to me, and as long as the lining stays where it is and doesn’t start climbing. Wearability will be the next stage of the experiment.

A successful project: 2 more yards out of the stash, a nice new skirt, and some lessons learned (I hope!). Now that I know a little bit more about silk, I should do something a bit more challenging…

What are your experiences with sewing and wearing silk?


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