Have you ever been at a quilt show and stopped to look at a particularly luminous quilt only to realize it was made with silk? Many of us have admired a silk quilt, but the vast majority of quilters cringe at the imagined cost and difficulty associated with quilting with silk. Here, we are going to explore why you might want to give silk a try in your next project. We will give you some tips on how you quilt with silk fabric and make your quilt a success.
Why should you make a silk quilt?
Silk lends a richness and depth of color that is very hard to create with cotton. The easiest silk to work with is Dupioni silk. It has a deep sheen and quite a bit of texture that adds interest to the quilt top. Many Dupioni silks are also “shot” meaning that the warp and the weft in the fabric are different colors giving further depth and interest to the fabric.
Some types of silk are rather unstable for quilting but often this can be ameliorated by the use of iron-on interfacing on the back of the fabric. Dupioni is very stable, arguably more so than standard quilting cotton. It is easy to press/iron during the quilting process.
Is it expensive to make a dupioni silk quilt?
At the time of writing, the most affordable place we have found to buy dupioni silk is silkbaron.com. Their dupioni is 54” wide and retails at $19.00/yard. In contrast, typical quilting cotton costs $10.00-13.00 per yard. If you want something exotic like Liberty of London or Japanese imports, that price goes up dramatically – way past the price point of dupioni silk.
Most quilting cotton is 40-44 inches wide. To make a comparison, dupioni silk from Silk Baron is 0.97 cents/in2 whereas quilting cotton runs about 0.79 cents/in2 of fabric. In other words, silk is about 20-25% more expensive than quilting cotton so it may not be what you sew dog blankets from but how about a stunning wall quilt or bed cover?
Can you wash dupioni silk?
The answer is both yes and now. Yes, you can wash silk dupioni gently, but it will start losing its luster and take on a matte hue instead. I don’t recommend that you don’t make a dupioni silk quilt as a utility quilt that will need to be washed regularly. Instead, consider dupioni as an option for bedcovers that you don’t sleep with or for wall and display quilts.
Is dupioni silk hard to quilts with?
No, not at all. Silk dupioni is very easy to work with and with a couple of simple additional steps, you will create great quilts.
The main difference between dupioni silk and cotton is that dupioni tends to ravel and it has a low number of threads per inch. That means that an entire ¼” seam allowance can get lost if just a handful of threads unravels on the edges. This is easy to take care of with a featherweight fusible interfacing and fray stop as you will learn below.
Dupioni silk is perfect for both pieced quilts and fused raw edge machine applique. In the latter case, the fusible web is securing the threads of the fabric and unraveling isn’t an issue.
Tips for quilting with dupioni silk
- Use a featherweight fusible interfacing on the back of your silk. When you are making a large dupioni quilt consider buying an entire bolt of 20” wide. Both Pelion and Heatn’Bond make good options. Also, consider the color of your silk. If using very dark-colored silk, consider using black interfacing rather than white. When I make large quilts where I will be cutting a lot of fabric, I iron the interfacing onto the back of the silk in large sections at a time before cutting the shapes (like strips for a log cabin quilt).
- Handle the cut pieces gently. Keep your cut pieces in neat stacks and avoid unnecessary handling of the pieces. For the log cabin quilt featured here, I kept the cut strips of interfacing-backed dupioni hanging neatly on clothes hangers next to my sewing station.
- Consider the technique. Dupioni silk is great for both piecing and applique. For the first time working with silk, consider foundation paper piecing (FPP) which leaves you with wider seam allowances and minimizes the dangers of fraying. Fused machine applique is another excellent option. You will often see dupioni used in quilts with simple pieces (and intricate quilting). The more little pieces you have the more potential you have for unraveling issues. Consider choosing simple piecing for your first silk quilt. You can always increase the level of complexity as you gain confidence.
- Fray-Stop is your friend. For large blocks, groups of blocks, and for the final quilt top, it is a very good idea to go around the edges of the quilt or block with a fast-drying fray-stop before subjecting the quilt top to too much handling. Here are some examples:
- If making a machine applique quilt with silk dupioni as the background block, secure the entire edge of the background block with a fray stop before starting to applique on it.
- On a completed quilt top, use a fray-block around the entire edge of the quilt before removing any papers from FPP.
- Add fray block before basting and quilting a quilt top.
5. Use a warm/hot iron in a dry setting. Dupioni silk can take a fair amount of heat. Test your fabric and iron to find the setting that works with your particular iron. It can be a good idea to empty your iron of water because accidental leaks from the iron can permanently mark your fabric.
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