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How to Sew Formal Dress Fabrics - Satin, Taffeta, Silk - Melly Sews #sewingWhen creating holiday dresses, we often are drawn to fancy holiday fabrics – but these aren’t always the easiest to sew with. So today as we kick off the Amaryllis Dress sewalong, let’s talk about how to sew silk, satin and taffeta, three commonly used party fabrics.

First of all, let’s clarify what these fabrics are. Taffeta and Satin actually refer to the weave of the fabric, while silk is a specific type of fiber. So you can actually have silk taffeta and silk satin.

Taffeta Tulip Skirt by Melly SewsTaffeta fabric has a sheen on both sides, is tightly woven and is very crisp. Commonly available and affordable types of taffeta include acetate taffeta, nylon taffeta, and polyester taffeta. Silk taffeta is also available, but much more expensive. Nylon and polyester taffeta is machine washable and durable. Be careful with acetate based taffeta – this is prone to water staining and even major shrinkage if it gets wet. I avoid it. I used nylon taffeta for the Tulip Skirt shown below. You can see how the crispness of the fabric helps support the petal shape and make it stand out from the body.Cutwork dress by Melly Sews Taffeta would be perfect for a “swishy” Amaryllis Dress – taffeta also makes that characteristic swishing sound.

Satin fabric, like taffeta, also refers to the weave of a fabric. It is characterized by fabric that is very glossy and shiny on one side, and (unless it is double faced) dull on the wrong side. It is commonly available and affordable made of polyester and rayon blends. More expensive is silk satin. Depending on the thickness of the fibers, it can be very fluid and drapey, like the sleeves on the Cutwork Dress, or stiffer and more full bodied like the pink side of the Amaryllis Dress. Both of these are polyester satin, which is machine washable and usually machine dry (though you should check your care info to make sure).

Pretty in Pink wearing the Amaryllis Dress PDF Sewing Pattern by Blank Slate PatternsNow let’s talk about silk. As I said earlier, silk is a type of fiber, spun by silkworms, and can be woven into taffeta, satin, and many other types of fabric. A good overview of some common silks can be found here. I love to work with silk cotton blends, as these often have the sheen and softness of silk combined with the machine wash and easy sew properties of cotton. But I’ve also made 100% silk projects, like this Christening gown I made for Baby Girl.

Even though silk has a reputation as a very difficult fabric, I actually like it a lot, and I think most silk is easier to work with than polyester taffeta or poly satin. And contrary to popular belief, you CAN wash it. It’s just important to wash BEFORE you start cutting out your project if you want it to be washable, so that any shrinkage happens before you do all your sewing. I wash mine on the delicate cycle in cold water and hang to dry.

Alright, enough about types of fabric. Lets talk about specific sewing tips!

  • Press on a low heat setting, and with a clean iron.Silk Christening Gown by Melly Sews You may want to press from the back side or put a pressing cloth over especially delicate (or expensive) fabrics.
  • Make sure your scissors are SHARP. And know that they might end up dull if you cut a whole lot of any of these fabrics. Silk fibers are very strong, and since nylon and polyester taffeta and satin fabrics are made to mimic silk, they are also pretty strong. So it’s always good to know where your local knife sharpening shop is (pictured: The Knife Sharpist in Austin, from my Instagram #DailySewingTips posts).

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