Fabric stabilizers are a miracle when working with silk or silk-like fabrics because they solve two headaches in one fell swoop, cutting and sewing. If you’ve been scared to try sewing silks I highly recommend giving them a whirl with the help of stabilizer. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised!
The catch with fabric stabilizers is that you must be able to wash them out when you finish sewing. Unfortunately this means you’re out of luck with dry-clean only fabrics. On the up side many silks can be washed despite what the ready-to-wear care instructions would have you believe. You’ll want to wash a test swatch first because hand washing can change fabric properties such as color, texture, sheen, and size. It is also true that some natural dyes will run, but to date I haven’t experienced this problem. For me a minor change in sheen, color, or drape is inconsequential when compared the savings on dry cleaning and sewing sanity I gain.
To hand wash silk:
- Add a mild liquid detergent such as Woolite, dish soap, or even shampoo to lukewarm water.
- Swish fabric in soapy water for 2 minutes.
- Rinse thoroughly in cool water.
- Spread fabric out on a towel and roll the towel squeezing out excess water from fabric.
- Hang silk to dry.
Once you’ve determined your silk is safe to hand wash you’re ready to go with fabric stabilizers. There are many tutorials and tips out there, but I thought I’d share the methods I’ve tried along with their pros and cons.
I’ve listed this method first because it is my favorite. Cheap. Easy. Effective. Winner.
Gelatine should be diluted to one teaspoon in 2 cups of warm water. I’ve found the best way to evenly apply the gelatine is to mix up a 8 to 12 cups of solution in a bucket and dunk my fabric. After the fabric is soaked through I air dry it overnight and I’m ready to cut. I have noticed that fabric dunked in gelatin water takes slightly longer to dry than fabric dunked in water probably because the gelatine retains moisture (I’ve watched many cooking shows that recommend adding gelatine to meatballs to prevent the meat from drying out while cooking). During my first gelatine experiment I was a little concerned that the fabric would never dry, but I went to bed and woke up with crispity crunchy silk chiffon. Great for cutting and sewing.
You can read more about stabilizing fabric in gelatine in this Threads article. My method is a bit lazier as I did not remove excess moisture with a towel before air drying, but this hasn’t caused my any problems to date. Plus it seems wet and sticky to struggle with freshly dunked fabric in an attempt to fold multiple yards of fabric neatly over one towel. Then again this might just be another one of my crazy rationalizations.
I discovered this product listening to Episode 21 of the Thread Cult podcast, Silk! Sewing Sewing Tip from Katrina Walker. This is Katrina Walker’s favorite product for stabilizing projects. It is available for purchase here at the Palmer-Pletsch store.
Although Katrina mentions dunking her silk in a bucket of diluted PerfectSew the instructions on the bottle read “fold (fabric) into fourths and pour PerfectSew in the middle. Spread with your fingers…Saturate the fabric in area to be stitched.” I never would have stabilized half my yardage with this method before burning through the entire bottle of PerfectSew. I will admit to using rayon challis for this experiment rather than silk. The rayon challis sucked the PerfectSew right up leaving nothing to be “spread with your fingers”. It’s possible that silk would have behaved differently, but I seriously doubt it would have completely changed the outcome. Since one 8oz bottle of PerfectSew costs $11.25 before shipping, around $18 dollars with shipping, this method is not economically viable in my book, plus how tedious to spread this product all over your fabric by hand. Three yards of smearing? Sounds messy.
Some further research on the Palmer Pletsch store revealed the instructions to Katrina’s dilution method. Well not exactly instructions, but a mention that PerfectSew can be diluted and applied to fabric to make cutting sheer fabrics and sewing silk chiffon easier. Unfortunately they gave no direction on how much to dilute the PerfectSew so I was left to my own intuition. I ended up using half the bottle (4oz) in about 10 to 12 cups of water. I was just able to submerge my 3 yards of very thin rayon challis, but that pretty much soaked up all my diluted PerfectSew.
The good news is PerfectSew did stabilize by fabric and washed out fine. The ratio of PerfectSew to water could certainly be titrated. My guess is that Katrina uses less PerfectSew when diluting and sews with fabric that isn’t quite as stiff as my rayon challis turned out. However if you’re going to take the time to stabilize fabric shouldn’t it be good and stiff? Less PerfectSew appeared to equal less crunch in my tests, but a little PerfectSew is certainly better than none when working with silk chiffon.
So my overall impression was is that this product works, but you burn through it quickly and it is quite pricey when compared to gelatine. Another downside of PerfectSew is that you can’t pop down to the grocery and pick it up whenever the desire strikes.
Sullivans Aerosol Fabric Stabilizer
If you don’t want to wait for your fabric to dry overnight Sullivans Aerosol Fabric Stabilizer is for you.
The directions on the back of the bottle do a good job of summing this product up. “Spray 6 to 9 inches from fabric. Spray till fabric is wet. Allow to dry completely. For faster drying use hair dryer or place ironing cloth over treated fabric and iron dry with a hot iron.”
This product worked well for me, but again goes fast and costs more than gelatine. The other issue when working with this aerosol spray is how to evenly stabilize the entire yardage. I tried my best to use even sweeping motions while spraying, but my application was inevitably not as even as the dunk method used with liquid stabilizers.
Flatter Starch-free Smoothing Spray
If you’re sewing with charmeuse or chiffon Soak Flatter Spray isn’t going to be much help, but man oh man does it smell like heaven! I’d reserve this product for making your everyday sewing far more luxurious. I love this product for adding a delicious scent and a hint of crispness to my projects.
Have you experimented with fabric stabilizers? What worked for you? I’d love to add more techniques to my silk sewing arsenal.