Notes on Four Ply Silk

My dress is done and I am over the moon! It is my favorite project to date! The fabric was a dream to work with and the finished garment couldn’t be more beautiful on.

Before beginning, I contacted Sunni, from A Fashionable Stitch, to ask for her advice on handling 4 ply silk. You might recall her beautiful silk skirt that she made during the Ginger Sew Along that she hosted. Armed with Sunni’s advice, the research I found in my library, and my personal experience I’ve compiled a run down of working with 4 ply silk.

Notice the difference between the warp and the weft threads on this piece of 4 ply silk.

What is 4 ply silk? Ply refers to the number of threads used in the weft of the fabric. Naturally, this means that 4 threads are used for the weft in a 4 ply silk. However, with modern technology it is possible to breed silk worms that produce a thicker silk strand that is equivalent to 4 plies. Fabric made with this thicker strand is still called 4 ply. It’s pretty easy to tell by looking at a cut edge (parallel to the selvedge) which category your fabric falls into. I don’t have a particular allegiance to one manufacturing method but take note that it’s the multiple plies that give 4 ply silk its texture.

4 ply silk is really versatile lending itself to both day and evening wear. Not only does it look amazing in drapey garments but it can be used in tailored patterns as well. The fabric is substantial with amazing drape. It breathes well and doesn’t wrinkle easily which would make it a wonderful fabric for traveling. Its construction produces a heavy fabric that (surprisingly) isn’t terribly thick.

Purchasing: Since you’re spending a pretty penny on 4 ply silk, I would not purchase it on a bolt. Bolted fabric has a tendency to have permanent creases and fading where the fabric was folded.

I purchased my 4 ply silk at Satin Moon Fabrics in San Francisco. Susan, one of the owners, told me that it was the nicest quality she had ever seen in a 4 ply silk and she knows her fabric! If you can’t make it to San Francisco you can also find it online. A quick search turns up these options:

New York Fashion Center Fabrics: 4 ply silk crepe, available in over 100 solid colors – $51.99 a yard (swatches available)

Gorgeous Fabrics: available occasionally, like this beautiful pearl gray– $24 a yard

Prep: 4 ply silk on a roll has a tendency to stretch and will shrink after washing. I’ve been told that 4 ply can be handwashed or dry cleaned but take the time to test a swatch before sacrificing your yardage.

Cutting: If your 4 ply fabric has substantial texture you might want to consider a directional layout. I didn’t, however, and it doesn’t seem to have mattered. It’s not an overly difficult fabric to cut. I used pins but found that they created too much bulk and affected my accuracy. If I’m lucky enough to work with 4 ply again, I’ll use pattern weights (my normal method) instead. While not as squirrely as charmeuse or chiffon, I did find that the fabric moved around during cutting. I cut on a glass surface which could be part of the problem. If you’re worried about this or experience too much movement, try laying the 4 ply on top of cotton flannel and cut through all layers.

Needle: 70/10 Sharp

Thread: A good quality cotton thread should do the trick. I used a mercerized cotton from Mettler.

Stitch Length: 2.2-2.6mm. I used 2.6mm throughout except 2.5mm for the hem.

Pressing: I used a dry iron on the silk setting on the backside of the garment and then steamed while holding the iron away from the fabric on the right side. Sunni, from A Fashionable Stitch, told me that even with a pressing cloth she had a terrible time with the iron leaving a shine on her 4 ply silk. The method described was the only way Sunni found to get a good pressing without shine on the right side. My particular fabric didn’t seam to shine with pressing but I didn’t want to chance it and used Sunni’s method. I would recommend testing the fabric before you begin.

Interfacing: I would recommend a sew on interfacing like silk organza (crisp but lightweight), silk georgette (adds body without affecting the drape), or a good quality muslin (adds body and weight). I used silk organza on both the arm and neck facings.

Seam Finishes: overcast (hand or machine) is ideal but for the right garment a fell seam could also look nice. You’ll want to avoid adding bulk so a french or even a turn-and-stitch seam would be out. Although 4 ply silk is fairly stable, I would recommend finishing the edges because the 4 plied weft looks pretty messy if left alone. For my garment I hand overcast (using a blanket stitch) all exposed seams.

Hems: blind hem (hand or machine) or twin needle hem. Like seam finishes, you’ll want a hem that doesn’t add bulk. I don’t think the fabric would work well with a rolled hem but I’d be happy to be proven wrong.

I’m still learning about this amazing fabric so if I’ve left out a technique that you use or have my information wrong, please let me know! I’d be happy to update my findings.

I’ll be back tomorrow wearing the finished garment! I can’t wait to share it with you.

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6 Responses to “Notes on Four Ply Silk”

  1. omg. SO HELPFUL. This one is going in the files for referencing in the future.

  2. Great post! It also helps, if you overcast by hand using the regular hand overcast stitch, to pink the edges before, section by section. It would also serve as a guide for accurate overcasting. I would not pink all at once, because the fabric frays so badly, as you have already mentioned! Looking forward to see the finished garment!

    • Thank you – that’s a great tip, Marina! To practice getting accurate hand stitches, I ran a line of stitching across the seam allowances but this wouldn’t always be desirable because of thread buildup. I’m happy to have this tip in my arsenal! You can see my finished garment here.

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