7 Tips on Buying and Working with Silks

Buying silk fabric for an historical project can be an intimidating experience.  It is expensive, the choices are endless and any mistake is a costly one, both in time and money.  So some hints after making a lot of 18th century gowns.  

#1 Weight/Hand

Fabric that is too light will not hang well, fabric that is too heavy will be difficult to work into pleats.  A sacque gown can tolerate heavier fabric than an English gown or a Fashionable gown.  Fold the fabric between your fingers and pinch.  A fabric that will take a nice pleat will be a pleasure to work with.  If the fabric is bouncy and slippery, it is probably not a good choice. 


# 2 Weave

Slubby silks such as Dupuoni are not suitable for most 18thc historic costuming.  While less expensive, the look is not quite right.  18th century silks were lustrous and for the most part smooth.  Patterned silks can sometimes have wonderful 18th century designs, but the weave is such that when cut the edges disintegrate and are horrendous to work with.  Pay attention to the cut edges of the fabric, if it is fraying horribly, it might be wise to take a pass on it.

#3 Keep It Smooth

If at all possible keep the silk on a roll until you want to use it.  Sometimes fold lines just won't come out of a taffeta or a silk satin.  While you are working on it, the rolled up in a basket method of storage is not so good.  Keep the fabric as flat and neat as much as you can.  Hang it up!  The iron is your friend too! 

#4 Cut Large

Silk has no give, the linen foundations of our garment do have stretch.  Cutting a little larger on the silk pattern pieces will help to compensate a little for the lack of stretch to the silk. 

#5 Color

Nothing can kill a lovely reproduction like the wrong color.  Use extant garments and portraiture as a guide when choosing your silk color.  If possible always buy enough to make a matching petticoat when making a sacque or English gown.  The fashionable gown is often seen with another fabric as stomacher and petticoat. 

#6 Stripes

Stripes are a very period choice.  BUT.. the right stripe for the right job.  Choosing a very wide stripe for an English gown can be problematical at best.  Save the wide stripes for a sacque.  Use original striped gowns as inspiration.



# 7 Buy Enough

Don't try to squeak by on not enough fabric, especially if this is your first project.  Piecing is a totally correct method of eking out fabric, but a novice seamstress does not need the anxiety of worrying about fabric.  Having extra on hand in case you make a mistake is money well spent.  Or heaven forbid a red wine stain on the bodice of your gown!