Back in 1981, at the age of 22 when I first joined my father, Bob Steinberg, in our store, I was overwhelmed by all the different weaves and names for silk. My curiosity has turned into a life long love affair which I enjoy sharing with all our customers.
We often talk about a fabric's "hand" being soft or beautiful, firm or stiff and heavy or light. The hand of a fabric refers to the way the fabric feels when you touch it. It doesn't really matter how pretty a print is or how extraordinary a woven design is; if it doesn't feel right to your touch for the project you have planned, then you're probably not going to buy it.
Some fabrics that boast a soft hand would not be right for an upholstery project, for instance. You would be looking for a firmly woven fabric that had some substance to it. You probably wouldn't want anything that felt rough or sticky, either, especially if you wanted to cover a soft chaise for your bedroom.
A fabric's hand is just as important when you are making garments. Choosing the right fabric for a pencil skirt would probably differ from that of the hand of a fabric for a soft blouse. We love the feel of silk next to our skin, making it one of our go-to fabric choices for a Spring blouse.
As much as we love silk (or even fine synthetics), sewing with such a smooth and soft "hand" can present some challenges. We don't want you to shy away from buying a beautiful silk for your next blouse - we just want you to go into it armed with the tools and techniques special to this fabric.
We love this Deer and Doe Datura sleeveless blouse pattern from France. It's not especially difficult to work up even though the pattern envelope's "Advanced" description must have applied to using fabric with a soft hand, such as silk. (A soft woven cotton or rayon would be a great fabric to try first, if you're apprehensive). We will admit that the pattern instructions are very French - brief and to the point - and they perhaps assume that we are indeed advanced sewists. Even Laurel had to interpret the not-so-detailed instructions, applying construction techniques that she has been using for years.
Rule No. 1 when working with silk: Don't start your project after you've just come in from pruning your rose bushes. All kidding aside, silk is not very forgiving and does not like fingernail snags, body oils, or rough chapped skin. Silk feels dreamy in your hands, but it's also slippery and lighter than air. You may find that your hands feel large and clumsy handling this delicate fabric at first, but forge on...it will be well worth it.
Rule No. 2: Invest in some fine pins. Many of you, like Laurel, use the thin long quilting pins for pattern layouts. We love them too, but they are definitely a no-no when working with silk and silk-like fabrics. Pins can leave pinholes, so pick the finest pin you can find to use on your silks, organzas, and fine polys.
Rule No.3: What goes for pins also applies to sewing machine needles. We can't stress too often how important it is to make some trial stitches on your fabric. Test out several needles (and threads!) to see which size works best. Laurel started with the Microtex 70/10, but at one point she switched to a fine Universal needle - if you hear your machine groaning or clunking while sewing several layers, you may have a damaged needle.
Rule No.4: Don't always assume that the pattern maker knows best! If you've been sewing for a while, you know some tricks and techniques that have worked in the past with special fabrics, so use them, even if your pattern instructions omit them. For instance, Deer and Doe's blouse called for just trimming the armhole and neckline seams, but we know that sewing curves requires a little clipping to make seams lie flat. They probably assumed we knew that!
Rule No.5: Beware the iron! Make sure your iron's setting is right for delicate fabrics such as silk. It doesn't take to much to create a nasty "shine" on fabrics where one is not supposed to exist. Pressing silk is a slippery business, so take your time and don't be impatient.
Thanks again for sharing the love of fabric and sewing with me. I always love hearing from you, so feel free to post here or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your own experiences or questions. Please stop by the store and take a look at the many garments that Laurel has been sewing up for me - they are gorgeous and will inspire you to get sewing!
It's been a good year so far at Stonemountain. I am blessed to work with amazing people all focused on a vision of providing great quality fabrics, notions and patterns at fair prices. In my twenties I was inspired to "Find a need and fill it!" Well we sure have here at Stonemountain and are super excited about what more is possible in 2015!
Stonemountain & Daughter Fabrics
2518 Shattuck Ave. @ Dwight Way
Berkeley CA 94704