What is satin?
There are a surprising number of misconceptions about what exactly ‘satin’ is. It’s often lumped in with silk, as in ‘they were all at the ball in their silks and satins,’ but those two aren’t necessarily related. Satin refers to how a fabric is woven. The thread patterns of a satin weave make one side of the material smooth and lustrous. Satin can be made from many different fibres, including silk, cotton, polyester, and even wool. Each of those different types of fibre creates a different fabric, ranging from Duchess satin—a stiff satin material made from silk and often used in bridalwear—to the fairly common crepe-backed satin used for everything from blouses to dresses.
Now that you know your satins from your silks, it’s time to get started. Check out these tips for stitching up the perfect project in satin!
1. Cut one layer at a time
No matter what kind of fibre was used to create them, satins tend to have one thing in common—they are slippery! Never try to cut multiple layers at once. Instead, use a non-slip cutting mat on your cutting table and lay out your material in a single layer. With pattern weights holding down your pattern pieces and a fresh blade in your rotary cutter, you’ll be able to make quick work of your cutting without the hassle of fabric sliding all over. Working on a small space? Be sure to fold up or roll your extra fabric so that it’s all supported by your cutting table. Draping the excess over the sides of the table could cause it to slide and pull your work onto the floor.
2. Use the right size needle and thread
Satin is not at all forgiving when it comes to needle marks. Though you should always change your sewing machine needle when starting a new project, this is a step you absolutely can’t skip when working with satin. You may even want to change your needle in the middle of the project, especially if you notice it starting to snag. The fine fibres in satin are particularly prone to this, and there’s no way to disguise those pull marks, so spare yourself the hassle and switch out your needle.
When you do, be sure you’re using the right type and size. A standard needle should be fine, though a slightly smaller one might be even better. Avoid large, heavy-duty needles, which pierce large holes in your material, or very fine pointed needles, as these are more likely to develop barbs. A lightweight thread is similarly important; too heavy and you’ll end up with puckered, bulky seams and broken threads.
3. Ease up on your tension
Satin doesn’t handle tension very well. It’s not a good fabric for skin-tight garments—seams under tension quickly become visible as the threads pull larger and larger holes. Similarly, too much tension in your threads can cause your seams to pucker and pull. Dial back your tension and test on scrap fabric until you’re happy with the result.
4. Beware the water spot
Satin is notorious for water spots. Avoid spraying the surface with water when ironing or steaming, and be sure to check the care instructions when preparing your fabric before beginning your project.
5. Smooth rough surfaces
Just as satin can easily snag on a barbed needle, any other rough spots will also snag and damage your fabric. Be sure to check your sewing and cutting tables for rough edges or damage that could pose a hazard. You may also want to check your own hands! Rough nails or calluses can also snag the fabric, but avoid using lotion or hand cream just before you handle your fabric—satin shows oil stains as badly as it shows water stains!
6. Don’t press with steam
Remember that problem with water spotting? If you press your seams with lots of steam, you’re risking adding water spots to your material. Plus, steam while pressing heats your fabric to greater temperatures than a dry iron, and this, combined with pressure, can change the lustre of your satin in the areas you’ve pressed. Not a good look!
7. Use a wide seam allowance
Satin tends to fray easily, so be sure your seams are secure by using a slightly wider seam allowance. Some sewists prefer to use a serger or overlock machine to finish their edges, but depending on the type of satin you’re using, these finished edges could show through as bulky. Stitch some test seams with your fabric to see what finishing techniques work best for you.
8. Store your fabric rolled
Of course, the fabric you shouldn’t press is one that holds creases like crazy. Avoid this issue by rolling your fabric on a cardboard tube or bolt until you’re ready to use it. Folding leaves creases that are tough to get rid of.
9. Use a “with nap” cutting layout
While “with nap” layouts are typically meant for fabrics with pile, like velvet or minky, if you hold your satin up to the light, you’ll notice that the sheen changes slightly from one angle to the next. That holds true once it’s been cut and sewn, so you should make sure all your pattern pieces are running in the same direction if you don’t want your finished project to appear multicoloured.
10. Invest in good pins
Pinning satin is tricky. It’s slippery, so your first instinct may be to pin heavily, but it also shows every single pin mark, so you’re limited to only pinning in the seam allowance. Trying to use your everyday pins brings the added peril of snagging your fabric with blunted tips. Instead, opt for extra fine dressmaking pins. These are a bit longer than your standard pins, slightly thinner, and much sharper. You won’t believe what a difference it makes until you try it!