Tips + Tricks | Cutting Silk

I get asked a lot what my tips for working with silk are and honestly, I don’t have that many. One thing I do every time I’m cutting silk, either for myself or at work, is cut it through paper. This is how I learned to cut silk in school and it was reinforced once I got out into the working world. If your company works with silk and you’re too small to have it cut for you (most places use one of these two methods) then you’re most likely cutting it through paper. The most I’ve cut at once is somewhere around 6 layers that included charmeuse, habotai and organza, but my boss remembers cutting upwards of 15 layers of silk when she started out years ago at a company in Chicago.

When you cut your silk between paper the silk behaves just like the paper and is really easy to cut. It’s also much more stable and cost effective than cutting it with muslin, which I’ve seen around the blogs, and when you’re done with the paper you’ve cut you can just recycle it. I have also seen tutorials where people stabilize their silk by saturating it with starch or a similar substance and I’m pretty sure this is easier and definitely more stable, though to each their own of course.

Now I know some people are going to be freaked out about cutting through the paper with your fabric shears but it’s really not a big deal, I promise! It does dull your scissors faster than if you were just cutting fabric but I haven’t found it to be super noticeable. I have two pairs of shears and between my own sewing, hound, and work I find that if I get them sharpened every 3 months or so I’m good to go. I’m pretty sure I cut more than the average sewing blogger (I probably cut 2-3 silk wedding dresses a week, most through paper, plus whatever I’m sewing in my studio) so you may not need to do it as often. Anyway, without further ado, here are the details.

Lay out your paper and place your silk on top of it aligning the selvedge of the silk with the edge of the paper. For this tutorial I’m cutting silk crepe de chine in case you were wondering. When I’m at home I use this white butcher paper that I get downstairs at our local paper supply place (Andrew’s Paper on Randolph if you’re in Chicago). I want to say it’s around 20lb, but I’ve peeled the label off my roll and it’s long gone so that’s just a guess. When I’m at work we have a deluxe setup with the paper rolls suspended above one end of the table so I can just roll it off easily. There we use 40lb kraft paper on the bottom and marker paper on the top. I’m not so fancy on my small table at home so I make it work. You also don’t need to tape your paper to the table unless you have a very curious cat with the habit of jumping up on the thing you’re cutting and knocking the whole production onto the floor.

Place another sheet of paper on top of the silk to complete the paper silk sandwich, then you’ll start tracing your pieces out on top of that. You’re going to need to cut all of your pieces flat (nothing on the fold) but that’s really the way to go if you’re concerned about fabric yield anyway and I am ALWAYS concerned with fabric yield. The more I can cram on a piece of fabric the better!

You can pin through the paper and silk at the edges of the pieces if you like or if you’re using smaller pattern weights but if you’re using regular weights that is pretty optional. Another tip I have for cutting in general (two for one day!) is to share cut lines between pieces when possible. This saves time, fabric, and wrist action, three things I love to save.

Then go to town cutting out that garment! If you’re like me and have a small table you may have to repeat the process to get your entire garment cut out.

Look how smooth that cut edge is! So smooth!! Yes!!!

And just to show you I’m not insane here is a little video I made so that you can see for yourself just how easy it is to cut silk this way. If you didn’t know I had silk sandwiched in there it would be hard to tell it wasn’t just paper I’m cutting through, that’s how easy it is! This technique is about more than just ease of cutting though. When you cut this way your fabric stays on grain making it infinitely easier to sew and your finished project will look so much better. I would say that cutting silk through paper is actually my number one technique for sewing silk. Hope you find this helpful / interesting / whatever. If you have any questions just leave me a comment below!

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48 Responses to Tips + Tricks | Cutting Silk

  1. Superb! I almost asked readers for tips on cutting silk recently. Now, I don’t need to. So well-explained, and in such a friendly voice. Thank you!

  2. nice video lady! smoooooth :)

  3. Carolyn says:

    ohh I hadn’t heard of this method before! awesome

  4. Almond Rock says:

    This is great. And imagine it would work on other similar fabrics right? Like georgette or french crepe?

  5. Sunni says:

    This is AWESOME! I have to admit that I use muslin, though I don’t actually cut the muslin, just use it as a cutting cloth. I pin the silk and pattern pieces to the muslin and then cut on top of the muslin and its worked fairly well, but this method looks awesome! Definitely will be giving it a try soon!

  6. sallie says:

    This is a great idea! I hate when my silk gets cut off grain – it totally ruins everything! I’ve always just cut it flat on a cutting mat using rotary cutters (and a Hail Mary) and usually get good results. No crazy tricks. But your tips and tutorials are always so right on, I’m definitely going to give this a try!

  7. maddie says:

    You’re completely right – there are many tutorials, tips, and tricks to cutting silk but the easiest and simplest way is to use paper when cutting.

  8. How does this method compare to a huge cutting mat and rotary cutter? I don’t work with silk too often, but that’s how I cut just about everything I work with.

    Also, I’m intrigued about all these wedding dresses you’re cutting!

    • Sewer From Across The Pond says:

      I know people who use a mat and rotary cutter. You have to get the fabric taut. The paper method offers more control.

  9. I did this recently and it did work pretty well for a difficult fabric. Thanks for the tutorial though – it is helpful to see the method described so well.

  10. Amy says:

    I love Calexico. Thank you for sharing–great insights! I started cutting silk with paper a year ago and I’ll never go back. I love the ease of tracing off the pattern, too. Sometimes I use large tissue paper (cuz it’s cheap) and that works really well.

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  12. Sky Turtle says:

    wow, I would have never thought about that. great tip!

  13. tassadit says:

    I’ve just successfully cut one layer of silk, one layer of lace and one layer of lining all at once thanks to your brilliant advice, THANKS!

  14. Elise Lin says:

    That’s a smart trick, thanks!

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  16. laricci smunch says:

    Thank you I love your tips! Even the obvious ones like sharing cutting lines – duh! I can’t believe I never thought of that. Keep them coming, I think I have a lot to learn from you!

  17. Becky says:

    This is perfect–I’ve recently finished up the muslin part of making my own wedding dress, and am about ready to cut into the real thing. It sounds like this will let me cut the underlining and outside at once, and cutting is my least favorite part of the sewing process anyway, so anything that will let me streamline the process and make it easier is great! Thanks for sharing!

  18. This just gave me the confidence to cut some silk I dyed over a year ago! Thanks for this great tip!

  19. francesca says:

    Thanks so much for this! I usually use the cutting out on m uslin (without cutting through the muslin) which helps, but not as much as this would. Do you think it would work with tissue paper underneath and on top? I say that as tissue paper would probably mean you would need to sharpen scissors even less often :).

    • Sewer From Across The Pond says:

      I’ve never done it, but I know a professional who said at work she cut with tissue paper.

  20. sophie o. says:

    very interesting! I have not yet had the opportunity to cut that much silk, but it can be very difficult..

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  24. Kacie says:

    I cannot wait to try this! I’ve always gotten flustered when sewing with silk before. I just ordered a beautiful printed silk from Britex so I’ll definitely be using this method once it’s been delivered. Thanks for the tip!

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  26. Hanna says:

    so clever! Now I want to run out and get some silk.

  27. this method is the BOMB. i just used it to cut out fabric for a silk dress, my first true foray into sewing a silk garment. it was easy, though maybe it took a bit more time, and the edges are beautiful. thank you!!

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  29. meggameuf says:

    Hello, I just used this tutorial to cut out some silk and I loved it. However, I found pinning the pieces through two layers of paper really difficult because I couldn’t get enough of a bend to push the pin back up through the fabric (unless the bend was in the pin, and permanent!). Eventually I carefully slid my hand under the bottom layer of paper to help create a slight bend. I’m worried however, that this negated all the benefit of the paper in the first place. Do you have any tips? Also when using pattern weights, do you use a rotary cutter or do you find you can still use scissors? (Thanks!)

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  32. Claire says:

    thanks for the tip I love silk and silk like fabrics, but they never come out just right. One side is always longer than the other…I suspect from cutting on the folds.

    I do keep butcher paper, but only for making my own patterns (altered from commercial patterns)

    But please tell me about the cat! I have just gotten a new cat, about a 6 weeks ago and he loves to watch/interrupt my sewing.

    I have gotten quite serious about my sewing and I hate to spray him with water when when he hops on my fabric and lays in the middle of my cutting line pawing at the scissors. At first I thought it was cute, but now…not so much.

    Love my Silk, Love my Cat, just want to keep them separate. I’ll state with the tape…

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  37. Audra says:

    If I want to cut multi layers of silk, would I have to place paper in between each layer of fabric? Where it would be like a lasagna? For example, paper, silk, paper, silk?

    Hope to hear from you soon!

  38. Hattie says:

    Hello. I was just wondering, I am making something in silk satin which has lots and lots of long thin triangular pattern pieces which make up part of a skirt. To make the most of the fabric I want to arrange them so that the triangles point in two directions slotting into each other. I hope thi makes sense. But does all the silk need to be cut in the direction it will hang in? By this I mean will the look of the fabric or the shine be different on the pieces if I cut them in different directions? Sorry. I’m finding what I mean hard to explain. Thank you.

    • Sharnita says:

      Hi, I’d like to know about this too!^^ I’m cutting several full length panels on an a line gown and using the matte side of a 120g silk satin.

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