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The Three ’S’s of Working with Silk


What a thrill it was to feature on The Quilt Show this week! You can find my show - episode #2902 on TheQuiltShow.com. A free week’s trial is available if you’re not already a subscriber. TQS really is a great resource for all kinds of quilters. I encourage you to explore!



I’m a quilter who loves to work with silk, and that was the theme of my visit with Alex Anderson and Ricky Tims. We discussed where to source silk fabrics, and which techniques to use to tame the challenging qualities of this slippery, fraying textile.



Most of the fabrics I use are reclaimed, coming from garments, furnishings, neckties and saris. I’m a regular at my local thrift stores, but I also found that once the word got out that I was making necktie quilts, friends would bring me bags of unwanted silk ties, blouses and more - even sheets!


If you’re curious to try your hand with silk, start with half a dozen neckties and try a few techniques to see how you like it. I find the amount of fabric you can reclaim from an old necktie is equivalent to a fat quarter, and costs a little less.

There are three things I recommend that make quilting with silk a little easier.

I call these The Three S’s of working with Silk.

1. To combat fraying, make your SEAM ALLOWANCE a little bigger. 1/2” is so much better than the typical 1/4” we use when quilting. If you’re making a simple quilt top with relatively large pieces, and using a stable silk like taffeta, a larger seam allowance (and a slightly shorter stitch length too) will make all the difference.



2. Add some STABILITY to your silk fabrics - and a further check on that crazy fraying tendency - by ironing on a fusible interfacing. Stabilizing interfacing can be found at craft- and dress fabric stores. Pellon makes a wide variety of weights, woven and non woven. I favor their P44F. For some reason it’s cheaper, and it’s also nice and lightweight.

When you are fusing interfacing to silk, turn the iron down to a medium heat. Silk can take a high temperature but most interfacings are polyester and will shrink - or even melt! - under too hot an iron. Alex Anderson introduced me to her Quilters Select Fabric Prep, an ultra lightweight iron-on interlining that drapes beautifully.

3. Add the SUPPORT of a fabric foundation. This technique brings stability and accuracy to your blocks. Foundation piecing is most often associated with paper foundations that have to be torn out once a quilt is complete. That amount of ripping and tearing is not optimal for fragile silks. Fabric foundations stay in place, locking away fraying edges, giving silk fabrics the strength they might lack, and reducing their tendency to stretch on the bias. Printed fabric foundations are produced by Benartex and EZ Piecing.

Benartex’s product is a muslin foundation which must be said, adds a little weight to your finished quilt top. EZ Piecing’s foundations are printed onto lightweight non-woven polyester - ideal for wearable pieces.

But wait! There’s a bonus 4th ’S’ to working with silk!

Lately I’ve been experimenting with STARCH to give silk a little crispness. I find it’s particularly helpful when making shapes for appliqué. Spray starch is the way to go; painting a starch solution onto the edges of an appliqué shape can leave a water mark. More on that in a future blogpost!


Feel free to post your silk-related comments below, or tag <