Tuesday, June 5, 2012

All About Fabrics Series: Satin

Satin is a luxurious fabric that today, does not carry the high price-tag that accompanies silk. At one time, it was made of silk and was very expensive. Now it is typically made of synthetic fibres although it does have a silky appearance. It is not a good choice for a first sewing project because it can be a difficult fabric to work with. Use a nap layout, sharp scissors and avoid pins outside the seam allowance. 

What is Satin
For a long time, satin fabric had to be made from silk filaments. Now they are often made from polyester or nylon, although some are still made from silk or silk blends.  Satin that is made from shorter cotton filaments is rightly called sateen.

Important things to know before sewing with satin:

• Use the nap layout for cutting; this fabric can be very shiny on one side and dull on the other side 
• Use the right side or the wrong side for your sewing -break the rules
• Satin can be snagged by pins, needles, ripping, rough sewing surfaces - use weights and try pin-less sewing
• Some ravel badly - use pinking shears to cut your fabric and perhaps an anti-fray glue (see note below)
• You may want to use tissue paper when sewing because some satins are very slippery
• Puckered seams are frequently a problem
• Satin can be damaged by improper pressing - see notes below

Sandra Betzina suggests a couple of approaches to avoid seam puckering, but both take place before cutting the fabric. One is to cut the pattern with the grain going crosswise. She says that's often surprisingly effective. The second is to cut the fabric on the bias.

Make sure you heed these tips:

• Use sharp needles and scissors

• Sewing machine settings recommended are a stitch length of 2-2.5 mm
• Sewing machine feet recommended are the wide straight-stitch foot and the roller foot
• Thread should be all-purpose cotton, polyester, cotton/polyester blend
• Tools and equipment recommended are sharp scissors, sharp shears, pins, fabric weights, and stabilizers
• Layout should be with nap, double-layer, right sides together
•Avoid wax and temporary marking pens, using thread to mark instead - this fabric can be easily marred
•Hand-sewn hems are best as even the most expensive satin garments in stores can have wonky hems.
•Use a serger or a zigzag stitch for seam allowances - pinking edges can also work
• Edge finishes recommended are self-fabric facings, bias facings, lining fabric facings, bias bindings, and lace
•Use sew-in interfacing to avoid pressing mishaps

Patterns made for satins (and some other fabrics) often have directional sewing arrows and triangles that help alleviate puckering.Check the pattern to see which way you should sew. There should be little arrows or triangles that show the correct direction. I believe you sew up pants from the bottom, the same as skirts, but individual patterns may vary. If you don't follow these directional sewing guidelines, the seams may be wavy.

A Note on Satin Fraying:  
Take a look at how satin is woven, and you can see why it frays: here - see how few times the warp and weft actually interlace? That's what makes it so fragile. Compare it to a basic tabby (plain) weave: here where the threads interlace at each intersection.

You can overcast the edge of satin before sewing each piece, or if it's something washable, the quick and dirty trick is to run a thin line of Elmer's school glue (the water-soluble kind! or any stop-fray glue they sell at the fabric store that simply costs more than Elmer's glue) around the edge of the fabric and allow it to dry before sewing.

Pressing your satin fabric:

Use a fabric cloth to protect the satin
Use a low setting - satin can melt or become scorched easily so never use anything hotter than the satin setting.
Finger press instead


  1. Thank you for this post, I really enjoy all your posts about fabric. Great info.

  2. Yes! Great information to have about fabric. I love stretch satins - they make great summer dresses and they are so forgiving of figure "flaws"

  3. I love lining coats with satin - it has such a luxurious feel

  4. Thanks very interesting blog!
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