Hi everyone, Jen from Grainline Studio here again! Today we're going to talk tips & tricks for making one of those amazing silk button up shirts you see popping up everywhere. From the French brand Equipment to J.Crew and Madewell and everywhere in between these shirts scream spring, and while the silk may seem intimidating it's really not bad if you've got the right tricks up your sleeve. For this tutorial we'll be using my recently released Archer Button Up pattern paired with this super dreamy Britex knotted rope print habotai, but these tricks will hold true for any shirt pattern.
Tip #1 | Cut your silk between two layers of paper
One of the most important things to consider when working with silk, especially in something as structured as a button down shirt, is grain. If your shirt runs off grain or the grain is just pushed a bit here and there your shirt isn't going to sew together with the smooth ease you want. To remedy this I cut my silk between two layers of paper, a trick I learned working as a patternmaker for a custom/couture bridal salon here in Chicago. The paper stabilizes the silk and removes its tendency to move around as you cut. If you're worried about cutting paper with your fabric scissors don't be. I cut silk through paper multiple times a week and my scissors need only slightly more sharpening than if I didn't cut through paper. Promise!
To do this, lay down a sheet of paper, I usually use a thin kraft paper or this white butcher paper, then lay your fabric (in a single layer) on top of the paper aligning the selvedge with the straight edge of the paper. Lay another piece of paper on top of the silk.
Align the grainline of your pieces with the selvedge of the fabric and trace them off.
Be sure to flip any pattern pieces over that you may need a second, opposite piece of such as the center front and sleeve. Then weight or pin through the paper/fabric sandwich and cut out your pieces.
Tip #2 | Choose your interfacing wisely
There are a many ways to interface silk, just as there are many ways to interface anything, but my two favorite ways are with ultra lightweight fusible woven interfacing or with silk organza. I typically use fusible because I like the fact that the fused fabric drapes more closely to the original fabric and also because on really thin fabrics like chiffon occasionally the stiffer organza fibers can peek through a bit, but the choice is really up to you on which one you'd like to use.
Silk organza just comes in one weight, so I won't talk about choosing that, but when selecting a fusible you'll want to pick one that most closely resembles the weight and drape of your self fabric. Above are my fusible and self fabric (silk habotai) together for comparison.
Just so you can get a sense of how the two drape in relation to each other, above on the left is my self fabric interfaced with silk organza and on the right is the un-interfaced silk habotai. The organza definitely adds a bit of body, which may be exactly what you're looking for! When using silk organza as your interfacing you'll need to stitch the organza and self fabric together inside the seam allowance so they act as one.
On the left here is my self fabric interfaced with ultra lightweight fusible and on the right, again, is just the fabric. Pretty similar to each other.
Tip #3 | Using the right pins and needles
When working with silk you're going to want to make sure you have the right pins and needles or you're going to be leaving holes all over the place. I like to use an ultra thin pin such as these and a thin machine needle. I know some people are afraid to pin their silk, but don't worry, it'll recover!
Tip #4 | Utilize that paper you cut through
Cutting through paper has other benefits besides just keeping your fabric from slip sliding around. You can use it to ensure you're fusing into the correct shape and for added help pressing crisp clean lines.
Not only does silk want to move around while you're cutting, it also wants to do it's slippery thing while you're trying to fuse it. I like to lay the piece I'm fusing and it's fusible on top of one of the paper pieces I cut out with it to make sure I'm fusing into the exact proper shape.
Another way you can use the paper you cut is folding and pressing things like the pockets or button bands. Folding the silk sandwiched with a layer of paper ensures that the silk is folding exactly where you want and the crisp line of the paper fold when pressed helps to set that same line in the silk.
Tip # 5 | Trimming your concealed seams on sheer silk
Usually when trimming your seams for things like the yoke you want to grade all three layers of the seam allowance but with sheer silk doing that will result in a big graded visible mess. Trim all of the seam allowances down neatly to the same height, the silk is thin enough that you're not going to have any noticeable bulk and the line will look nice and neat.
Tip #6 | Extra stabilization for buttonholes
I've found that my home machine tends to pull the two sides of lightweight fabrics such as silks together while doing the bar tacks at the end of buttonholes no matter what adjustments I make. To remedy this I've started using a small piece of Stitch and Tear behind the buttonholes as I put them in. This also adds a little extra strength for the repetitive use your buttonholes will be getting when you're wearing your awesome silk button up shirt all the time. It really does rip right out too.
Hope you found these tips helpful and they've given you the confidence boost you need to make one of these shirts yourself. I'm practically living in mine, I have to say. I still can't get over how much I love this print, and how much I like wearing silk habotai. So soft yet fancy looking and crisp all at the same time with nautical spring ropes to boot! If you find you need more general guidance on the ins and outs of constructing a button down shirt I've just started a sew along for the Archer pattern earlier this week. Plenty of time to get some of this rad fabric and catch up!