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!