How to Sew with Satin

Satin is a beautiful fabric to use for clothing as it is fluid, glossy and has a good drape. However, the qualities the make it great to wear also make it rather difficult to sew. That doesn’t mean that as a home sewer you should avoid it at all costs, as with a few tips and time and patience it really isn’t too scary!

I have used satin myself to make a cocktail dress and a cropped jacket ( Pattern Review of Butterick 5529 ). Although sewing with a cotton would have been so much easier I think the final outcome was worth the swearing, stress and foul moods when things weren’t really going to plan…

Blue satin and lace cocktail dress
Organza and satin cropped jacket Pattern Review of Butterick 5529 .

Have a read below for my tips and tricks to sewing with satin.

Pin

Pinning satin can leave holes in the fabric so only place pins within the seam allowance.
Do not use your regular pins as they could snag and ruin the fabric. Use fine pins that are designed for use with satin.

Laying out the fabric

  • When you are laying out your pattern pieces ready to cut your fabric, make sure that all the pieces are going in the same direction. They should either all be on the straight grain or all on the bias etc. You should not have one piece on the bias and one on the cross grain. This is because satin has a shine to it and reflects light differently depending on how the piece is cut. If the pieces are all in different directions the nap will be obvious, each different piece will look a slightly different colour and the garment will be ruined.
  • You should also have a look at your pattern and how it will be cut. You don’t want to have too many seams, as the more seams you have the higher the chance of puckering.
  • Also, you should look at what grain line your seams lie on. Seams on the straightwise grain will pucker more easily than those on the bias. So it may be beneficial to cut your pattern on the bias instead. Additionally cutting on the bias will help reduce the amount of fraying seen with satin.
Sew satin
The same satin fabric cut in three different directions – on the cross grain, straight grain and bias.

Cut

  • Satin is tricky to cut as it likes to slide about. So to try to minimise the amount it shifts lay the fabric on top of some tracing paper. Place the pattern on top and pin through all 3 layers. Cut through the fabric and the paper together.
  • Always cut the fabric in single layers. It is more time consuming to do this, but if you don’t you will be left with 2 uneven pieces as the 2 layers will move when you cut.
  • Use very sharp scissors as this will prevent frayed edges and pulled threads that could ruin your fabric.
  • With satin I prefer cutting with scissors rather than a rotary cutter as I feel it gives a bit more control.
  • Give your fabric a rest before you sew. This will help to prevent the pieces from stretching out of shape which will result in fit issues.

Mark the fabric

  • When transferring darts, pleats or notches to your fabric use tailors chalk or an air soluble marker.
  • You should not mark the right side of the fabric. Chalk marks are very difficult to remove and you don’t want your garment to have ghost marks.
  • You should never use a water soluble marker (or any other method that requires water to remove it) as the fabric is prone to water stains and these are very difficult to remove.
  • Do not use a tracing wheel as that may snag the fabric.
  • Always test your marking method on a scrap of fabric first.

Seam allowance

Use a wide seam allowance. This is because satin frays a lot, so having a wider allowance gives you plenty of space to cut away the excess frayed fabric and finish the seams.

Additionally, it gives you more support on all 4 sides of the fabric as you feed it through the machine. This should avoid it getting chewed up by the needle plate.

Machine Foot

When sewing slippery fabrics you should use a walking foot. This will help both layers of fabric move through the machine at the same rate and avoid puckers in your seam.

Sew satin - walking foot
A walking foot (Picture from Amazon.com)

Needle

  • When sewing use a sharps needle as a regular needle may cause snagging.
  • You should also change your needle regularly to avoid snagging.
  • The needle will leave holes in your fabric but if you scratch over them with your fingernail they will become less obvious.
Sew satin - needle
Different types of needles. (Picture from https://masteryourmachine.wordpress.com)

Sewing

Sewing with satin can be a pain! This is because it slips around and if not handled properly forms ugly puckered seams. What’s worse is that these are really obvious and will ruin your final garment. Fortunately there are a few tips you can follow to help avoid this.

  • Hold the fabric taut as you feed it through the machine. Do this by holding the fabric firmly before and after the foot. Do not pull!!!
  • Reduce the top thread tension on the machine.
  • Remove any rings or bracelets that have scratchy bits on them as they could snag your fabric.
  • As satin is prone to slipping around as you sew, you should consider basting your seams, especially any curved ones. This will hold everything in place whilst you feed it through the machine.
  • Make your fabric a little stiffer by adding a soft fusing to the WS of the seam allowance and stitching line. This should help to prevent the fabric from getting eaten by the machine. If your SA is 1.5 cm attach a fusing strip of 1.7 cm. Alternatively, you could sew with thin paper under the seam.
  • Furthermore, use a single hole throat plate to prevent your fabric from getting eaten by the machine.
  • Sew with a short stitch length.

Press

As well as being an awkward fabric to cut, mark and sew it is also awkward to press.

  • As satin is prone to water staining you should use a dry iron and avoid using steam.
  • Press on the wrong side of the fabric wherever possible. If you do need to press on the right side use a pressing cloth.
  • Do not press using too much heat as it may cause the fabric to glaze.
  • When pressing seams open you should place paper under the seams as this will avoid creases or impressions on the right side of the fabric.
  • Always test your iron on a scrap of fabric first!

Finish the seams

  • Finishing your seam is really important when working with satin as it frays so easily. Using the zig zag stitching on your machine is a good option as it is light weight and won’t show through on the right side of the garment.
  • Overlocking tends to show on the right side of the garment, especially if you press it. If you must use an overlocker use a light weight thread or woolly nylon to prevent any imprints and press with paper underneath the overlocked seams.
  • You could also hide the raw edges by adding a lining or using French seams.
How to sew satin
A frayed satin fabric

Practice

  • Before you start sewing your garment test your stitches on an off-cut fabric piece. Ideally you should do this on a piece where the practice seam will fall on the same grain as the garment seam. Check the stitch length and tension and have a practice of handling this awkward fabric.
  • You need to practice to avoid a puckering seam as once a seam is puckered it can’t be pressed out. Furthermore, seam rippers aren’t very compatible with satin so a mistake could mean that you have to start from scratch.
  • Additionally, practicing first means you won’t over handle your fabric which is another thing that satin doesn’t like.

Make a toile

When you start any new project you should always make a toile. However, it is even more important to do this when working with satin as using a seam ripper to correct a mistake is likely to cause holes and ruin all your hard work.

Buy a really cheap satin just so you can practice construction using a slippery fabric and test the fit of the garment. It is better to make a mistake on a toile than ploughing in head first and ruining your expensive fabric.

How to sew satin
Sew a toile.

Storage

Store the fabric by folding it neatly or loosely rolling to avoid getting creases. Any creases that form will be obvious on the garment and as satin hates the iron trying to get them out could ruin the fabric.

Washing

  • Make sure you wash your fabric before you start your project.
  • If the fabric store provides washing instructions then obviously you should follow those. However, if there are no washing instructions I would err on the side of caution and do a handwash.
  • To hand wash fill a bath with warm soapy water at approximately 30˚C. I use a meat thermometer to help judge the temperature. Lay the garment/fabric flat and allow it to soak. Do not agitate, squeeze or rub vigorously. To remove the soapy water fill the bath with fresh water and gently squeeze out the suds. Do not twist the satin or wring it out, as this will cause it to lose its shape. Lay flat to air dry.
  • I have read that to remove excess water from the fabric you can lay it on a clean dry towel, roll it up and apply gentle pressure.
  • Some satin can be machine washed, and if that’s the case I would suggest using a cool gentle cycle.

Water stains

I thought I would include a brief section on how to remove water stains, as from personal experience, it is absolutely devastating to splash a drink on a satin dress that you have spent hours making!!! Water stains are really ugly and obvious but fortunately there is a way to get rid of them.

Fill a bath with warm soapy water at approximately 30˚C. Take a leftover scrap of the satin fabric that you used to make the dress (if this is not available use a white satin). Dip it in the bath water and then gently blot the affected area. Do not wipe too vigorously as this could distort the fabric. Then wash your fabric following the hand wash procedure described previously.

Just give it a go!

I realise that when reading this blog post sewing satin may sound all doom and gloom. However, as long as you practice by making a toile, test your stitches on a swatch of spare fabric and take your time, you will be fine! When you start to get stressed or flustered, take a break before you make a mistake that won’t be easy to fix. The satisfaction of your final product will make the hard work worthwhile in the end!

How to sew satin
Satin dresses: Marni, Alexa Chung, Marchesa, Prada (left to right). Picture credit: Net-A-Porter.

References

https://www.craftsy.com/blog/2013/04/tips-for-sewing-with-satin/

http://www.ifashion.co.za/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3193&catid=78&Itemid=114

http://iconicpatterns.com/2014/09/23/tips-on-sewing-with-satin/