I’ve always wanted to sew with silks. There are so many lovely garments out there that I would love to use this beautiful fabric on. However I’ve never had the confidence. Good silk fabric can cost a fair bit and has a reputation of being difficult to handle when sewing. So I’ve always avoided it.
So I’ve been hmmimg and haaing for a while but have finally decided to take Linda Lee’s class Sewing with Silk: The Liberty Shirt.
My first issue is that living in a regional area of Australia I don’t have ready access to a good fabric store or sewing machine shop. To get good supplies I have to go to a major city which is a good 6 hours drive or get mail order. So my “test” project is being done on a taffeta rather than a silk. I also haven’t waited for all the different sewing machine feet and other notions that Linda suggests purchasing in her course materials and in the videos. I’ll let you know how I went as we go through the review.
Lesson One: About Linda Lee and The Course
Linda Lee has sewn all her life both professionally and for pleasure. She has owned her own fabric store, selling both beautiful fabrics and good quality sewing machines. She became associated with the www.sewingworkshop.com and started creating patterns, writing and teaching. She now travels America sharing what she knows.
The course will teach us:
- Mitred corners,
- Hemming with pressing templates,
- Collar techniques,
- Sleeve vents, and
- Setting in sleeves.
Linda recommends that to succeed in the class you need:
- To be familiar with your sewing machine,
- Have a good well operating and maintained machine, and
- Made a few garments.
Linda Lee is going to teach us how to work with silks, what the different silk fabrics are and all the steps required to make a beautiful liberty shirt.
Lesson Two: Preparing to Sew
Linda goes through all the different types of silk, explain the pro and cons of each and typically what you would use each silk for. The resources (PDFS that can be printed out) that come with the class also has these explanations –this allows you to take the explanations with you to the fabric store (or just as a handy reference).
Silk launders well, so it is best to pre-wash your fabric. However TEST first with a 4” x 4” test square using your usual wash sequence. Once pre-washed if you get water or liquid on your silk clothes it is less likely to stain. After she has made her garments, Linda tends to dry clean her silks as the colour is preserved for longer but it is entirely a personal choice. Strong colours or prints with rich colour may bleed and will probably be better to be dry cleaned. If you are only going to dry clean, this does not need to be done prior to sewing.
The silk needs to be straighten to the grain on one end. It is at this end that you start laying your fabric.
As you are only going to cut through one layer of fabric (this is explained in more detail in the next lesson), you need to prepare your pattern pieces. You will need duplicates for:
- Front facings,
- Collar, and
- A complete back rather than a back cut of the fold.
As pattern pieces are usually made for the right hand side, you will need to make a pattern piece for the left hand side. Using see-through tracing paper. Linda uses a roll of paper from a medical supplier that is gritty on one side and smooth on the other. I used baking paper and heaps of sellotape. My daughter uses large sheets of tracing paper found at a local stationary store.
Make the duplicate by turning the pattern piece to the wrong side and tracing it. Linda shows how to trace and make all the markings on the tracing paper. The resource materials show you the most important markings. The back pattern piece is quite wide so Linda shows you how to make the tracing paper wide enough. Make sure all the markings are in the correct places. I make sure I write on each tracing paper piece the pattern name, the side, and the size, so in the future I know exactly which piece is which.
Lesson Three; Layout, Cut-out and Structure
You now lay your silk out on your cutting table, hopefully using a gridded mat. You cut only a single layer of fabric at a time as silks shift against each other and you won’t get an accurate cut on the straight of grain. Place your pattern piece on the silk and check that your pattern is on the straight of grain. Linda demonstrates how to do this really well.
Linda discusses which type of tools to use when cutting out silk. Silk tends to cause the blades to dull (even faster than paper) so you will need to make sure your chosen tool is sharp. She demonstrates using a rotary blade and shears.
Linda gives lots of handy tips like:
- when using scissors or shears Linda uses the longest blade that she can and for greater control when cutting, and
- cut with the back of your hand facing the pattern piece i.e. if right handed, cut on the left hand side of the pattern piece.
Linda prefers to use tailor tacks rather than marking the fabric with a pen.
Interfacing is explained next. Linda suggests laying the interfacing on your fabric so its stretch is perpendicular to the selvage and then shows how to apply it to the fabric. All the interfacing piecing is cut after the interface is applied so that you can cut them more accurately. If you don’t cut as one fused piece the individual pieces of silk and interface distort and won’t match.
Lesson Four: Sewing the Silk.
Linda rarely uses polyester thread on silk material and explains why. Cotton or silk threads are best. It’s interesting that the lighter weight of cotton or silk thread is actually noted as a higher number – the best are 50 weight or (the lighter) 60 weight threads. For most silk sewing Linda uses a universal needle in her machine and has a number of sizes on hand from 70 to 80. Sheer will need a size 70 a heavier material will need the bigger size needle. Linda recommends doing a sample first as the stitch size has to be adjusted down to around 2.2 to 2.3. A number of factors can affect the overall quality and finished appearance of your project; the stitch length, the type of needle that you use, the type of thread that you use needle and even your machine condition. Do a 6” sample and sew a seam and see how it all works together.
Stay stitch. Sew a stay stitch at necklines, curved areas and any where that needs to be clipped. Stay stitching is both a guideline and a stabiliser. Make sure you line up to your 5/8” mark on your machine and go slowly. Remember that curves are cut on the bias and will stretch so the stitching will stop the stretch and help them keep your shape.
Remember when you sew silk go slow and take it easy.
Make two cardboard templates from an old manilla folder; one 2.5” and one 3”. Linda uses these templates to get a clean ironed fold for the hemline of the front pieces. Linda shows how to produce the side vent. I watched the video a couple of times just to get it right before I sewed the vent edge. Linda’s instructions are very clear and make it very easy to do. I don’t have a point presser to help press open the seam, but I managed the process with a small wooden cutting board and my trusty iron. I did feel it would be nice to have extra hands to hold everything, and a proper point turner would be so much easier. So my shopping wish list now has a point turner on it. I need to get one!
Lesson Five: Back Hem and Mitred Corner
Use a pin or some other mark on the fabric so you know which side is the right side. Linda folds and irons the bottom hem on the back using the 2.5” and 3” cardboard templates. Then she makes two more cardboard templates; 1 7/8” and 1 3/8”. Using these new cardboard templates she folds and irons the side seams.
Now for the mitred corners. Yikes! Using two pins to mark and some chalk Linda shows how to make the mitred corner by just folding and marking. She takes you through it very slowly. Again I went through this part of the video a couple of times before I tried it. I went straight to my project and did it successfully first go. You might want to do a test first, it was a bit nerve wrecking the first time around and my mitre wasn’t quite straight if you want to be pedantic about it.
Turn it out and check the mitre looks ok before you trim and press. Again the point presser. I really need one of these! It makes pressing those points so easy.
Top stitching is next. Linda show how to use hand basting to know where the edge of the hem is as you will be sewing on the right side and won’t be able to see the edge of the hem. The top stitch is the same length as all the other stitches. Take out the basting thread and that bit is done.
Lesson Six: Sewing French Hems
Starting with the shoulder, put wrong sides of the front and back together and sew a ¼” seam. You can a ¼” foot for most machines which makes this very easy. Then using the “third hand” or the “bird and clamp” (another thing for my shopping list) trim the seam to 1/8”. By the way I compromised and used two bull dog clips tied together this a piece of string. This method worked really well for me. Press the seam to one side from the other side. Fold the right sides together, and then sew a seam 3/8” wide. Again a 3/8” foot will make this easy. Press the seam to the back from the right side.
For the side seams, just note that the tailor tack will look that they are in the wrong place just ignore that. Put a pin through the tailor tacks on the front and back pieces so that you have them lined up together. Sew a ¼” seam right sides together, making sure you leave the pin on the tailor tacks. Trim the seam to 1/8” using the bird and clamp and press. Fold the right sides together (you can remove the pin when you refold and replace it again) and sew a 3/8” seam. Press the seam towards the garment back.
Lesson Seven: Collar Construction
Linda shows how to mark out where to turn at the corner of your collar. Pin and sew the two pieces together, along the outside edges. Trim the seams – Linda discusses how to grade the seam if you have a bulky fabric. Linda uses a tailor stand to press the collar seam open; another thing for the shopping list!
Press approximately a 1” length of the seam allowance of each corner edge towards the interfaced under collar. Linda then shows how to turn the collar corner. Press the seam. Now edge stitch the collar. Again you maybe able to get a special foot for your machine to assist, which Linda recommends using to get a stitch line that is close to and parallel to the edge.
Pin your collar into the main garment, matching notches and marks. Hand baste the collar and garment together placing the stitches at 5/8” from the raw edges.
Lesson Eight: Adding Facing and Finishing
Sew together the front facings and the back facing and press the seams open. As it’s easy to get the pieces sewn together incorrectly lay them out on the table when you pin them to make sure they look correct. Along the outside edge press the facing edge over along the stay stitching line. Trim.
Linda now shows us how to attach the facing to the garment. Its okay the facing is shorter at the front bottom as long as it is flat. Sew together, trim and then press the seams open. Carefully clip the curves, before pressing open. Linda then shows how to press and turn the corners. Turn the facing back. The facing is then pressed down, sometimes it is best to steam and then finger press. If you have a tailor’s ham, you can use it to help press the curve softly. Again another thing I don’t have. I managed to make do with out but a ham would make it so much easier and faster.
Finishing – Linda now shows how to finish the hems on the front. She sews the hems on the facing and the front first. Trim the facing seam allowance, then trim the garment seam allowance back until the start of the wide hem, press and open. Pin the facing and the wide hem together then sew just them together. Pin and hand baste the facing to the main garment; mark the top stitch sewing line on the right side of the garment. Carefully topstitch all the way around. Go slow and steady.
Remove any of the stay stitching, hand basting or tailor tacks that you can see prior to pressing.
Lesson Nine: Sleeves
Linda uses a serger to finish the long edges of the sleeves using a 3 stitch serge. Using the 3” and 2.5” templates press the hem edge up. Set your machine to a 5cm length stitch and baste your sleeve head between the notches. Now sew the sleeve seam , starting at the top. Press the seam open. Linda recommends another groovy board – a sleeve board. Now where is my shopping list?
Linda shows how to do the sleeve vent next. It’s pretty tricky but the way Linda does it its actually quite easy.
Preparing the sleeve head is next. Linda shows you how use the iron and steam to get it ready to put into the garment. Have a look at the notches (there should be both single and double notches) and make sure you have the sleeves the correct way around. Match the tailor tacks. This is an unusual garment in that the garment side seam and the sleeve seam do not match up. Match the notches; double to double and single to single. Linda shows you how to build in the ease to the sleeve cap as you pin it into the armhole. A ham is so useful and Linda shows how to use it. Now to sew in the sleeve; Linda takes it slow, explaining what she is doing and why she does it. Press the seam towards the sleeve. Very carefully serge the arm scythe seam allowances.
Lesson 10: Buttons and Button Holes
Linda suggests to practise your button holes on a scrap of fabric and to know how your machine works in making buttonholes. When you have made the practise buttonhole on the scrap check for puckers or tucks. If they are present, Linda suggests using some stabiliser to stop the fabric puckering. A chisel can be used to cut the hole. Check that your button goes through the hole.
Mark a vertical line ¾” away from the edge on the front of your blouse, only using the tailor tacks previously marked as horizontal guides. Mark the top of each button hole, if your machine does automatically or you can program the buttonholes. If not mark both the top and bottom of each button hole. On the button side mark the placement of each button.
Before you start sewing your button holes on your actual fabric, Linda suggests actually ripping out a practise buttonhole to see how it will look if you make a mistake. If in doubt about doing buttonholes do lots of practise on scrap fabric.
Linda’s instructions on buttonholes is very clear and easy to follow. She gives tips on how to do the often tricky buttonhole near the neckline and suggests a product to stop any lose threads fraying in the actual hole.
Linda shows how to mark where the actual button is placed. Then she goes on to explain how to sew the buttons on to the garment. I found it interesting that she did not knot the thread before sewing on the button. Linda’s way of sewing on the buttons prevents having a big blob of stitches on the back of the fabric.
Once done the shirt is finished!
Lesson Eleven: Alternate Seam and Hem finishes
Linda explains a number of seam options and why you would chose that option. The options that Linda explains are:
- Serge – serge or overlock the edges of each piece first then sew the seam. Vertical edges are sewn first.
- Stitched or pinked edges – sew the seam, pink the edges press open then sew another line of stiches down each side of the seam (only on the pinked fabric, near the each edge).
- Turned and stitched seam – Linda explains how to do this seam on a super fine fabric. You need an edge foot on your machine. She makes it look easy and the finished seam looks impressive.
- Hong Kong finish – You need to have bias strip to produce the finish on these seams. Linda suggests a contrasting colour and ably demonstrates how to apply the bias to each edge of the seam. Again you need an edge stitch foot to do this finish.
Linda talks us through 4 hem finishes; 1 hand stitched the others machine finished. She explains why you would chose the different techniques and the different sorts of fabric that each would be better for:
- Slip stitching – hand stitching very clearly demonstrated on how to start, how to stitch and how to finish.
- Zig Zag Hem– Again you need the edge foot for your machine. You also need a set of appliqué scissors. Linda explains how to do this technique to produce a very little hem on the fabric edge.
- Baby Hem – Edge foot required.
- Handkerchief Hem – Edge foot required.
Linda’s explanations are very clear and I wish someone had explained how to do these techniques in such a clear way previously. I would have a lot fewer tears on some of my projects that I just couldn’t get right.
The examples that Linda shows really demonstrate why you would use each different technique.
Linda’s takes you through the course step by step. Her explanations are easy to follow and shown clearly through out.
I really enjoyed the class Sewing With Silk; there are a few challenges but I took things slowly and Linda is very good at simply explaining the harder bits in a way that I could understand. Some of explanations even included how to get out of a tricky spot if you made a mistake. Linda explains in advance which techniques to practise on scrap materials and how to test the techniques so you don’t ruin your project.
Whilst I managed with out all the accessories and tools, it would have been so much easier with all the tools that Linda suggests. If you can afford them they are worth getting. I was really pleased with my taffeta jacket and will definitely be making more shirts using the same pattern. Next time I’m in the “big smoke” I’ll be getting some silk.