Fabric geekout: Silk Dupioni

I have about two yards of what I think is silk dupioni that I picked up on vacation about two years ago. It’s a beautiful iridescent fabric that is mostly a rust tone but has a green thread in the warp which makes it change color with the light.

It’s also quite possible that the fabric is shantung. There doesn’t seem to be a firm consensus about the difference between these two fabrics. Both are woven with irregular weft threads and often with different color threads in the warp and the weft. Both have a slightly uneven surface texture because their weft threads are not of even width, and it’s this texture which gives the fabric its iridescent quality.

Technically, silk dupioni is woven from threads produced when two silkworms spin thread side by side and their threads twist around each other. (Is that cool or what?) But I’m not sure that modern manufacturers stand on the difference. It also appears that shantung is generally described as “lighter” “softer” or with more drape.

The fabric that I have is extremely crisp.

Here’s are some of the highlights of the shantung & dupioni entry in Claire Shaeffer‘s fabulous book Sew Any Fabric:

  • Be careful with pins; they can mark this fabric.
  • Don’t cut on the crossgrain as the seams will slip.
  • Avoid seams on the straight grain.
  • Use a new sharp needle (I know that everyone always says that for everything; in this case, I would). Sharp or universal, 60/8 – 80/12.

You can prewash this fabric if you want to, but you don’t have to. If you wash it, it will become softer and drapier; if you don’t it will retain the very crisp hand — but you should have your garment drycleaned. In my experience of washing silk, you can also lose some of the shininess with a wash.

As for seam finishes, Schaeffer suggests “serged, pinked or zigzagged”. I personally don’t like any of these options; I don’t have a serger, my fabric is awfully ravelling for pinking, and honestly, to my mind, zigzag finishing just doesn’t look good on a woven.

I think for this type of fabric, I’d go for some sort of modified Hong Kong finish, where the raw seam is wrapped in bias tape.

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10 Responses to “Fabric geekout: Silk Dupioni”

  1. thedomesticdiva Says:

    If it’s on the crisper side, my guess is it’s silk dupioni…shantung is softer and more luxurious and has a less noticable weave. I love both!

    When I’m sewing dupioni, I trace out my pattern, then sew a straight stitch outlining the pattern PRIOR to cutting it out as it unravels so much…ugh!

    Definitely use a sharp needle…I usually use a 65/9 and use either cotton or silk thread, not polyester thread.

    In my experience, it’s either hit or miss when washing silk. Sometimes it just never looks good again once water hits it…depends on the quality. And if you wash it, it’s a PAIN to iron out the wrinkles. I prefer to dry clean it for this reason alone, not to mention it loses it’s sheen from washing.

    I like the idea of doing a Hong Kong finish to the seams.

    Best of luck!

    With friendship,
    Lisa

  2. annaphor Says:

    Hi Lisa — I’m pretty sure what I have is dupioni, and man, does it ravel.

    I’m not planning to wash the piece I have — I really like the hand right now, and yeah. Ironing.

  3. Lanny Says:

    Crisper silk is usually dupioni. My favorite site http://www.iluvfabrix.com has alot of different silk types and is actually a good web site not only to buy from but to get an education from. Theie in house designer is so knowledgable taht the product descriptions read like a dictioinary of fabrics. CLick here is you want to see it: http://www.iluvfabrix.com

  4. annaphor Says:

    Huh. I’m not sure I see anything there that’s much more than ad copy. And I dunno that I’m really up for anywhere that sells goods at $100+/yard, even if that is the super-discount-special price.

  5. Laurie Yurovchak Says:

    When laying out a long pattern on Silk Dupioni, does it have to lay with the natural strip going up and down? If so the pattern is too long to fit. Can the natural pattern in the material go accross the body???, or will that ruin the look of the garment?

  6. Julia Elizabeth Says:

    I love sewing with silk and use it often. I trace the seam lines of the pattern pieces onto the silk with a light pencil or chalk, then put glue or fray check all around the outside of the seam lines AND the seam allowance. I also pin carefully — have never had the slender, sharp pins that are made for use with silk mar the fabric, btw. After the glue is dry, I cut the pattern pieces out on the glue trail, leaving a little ‘seam’ of glue. This not only keeps the silk from ravelling and driving me nuts, the extra fabric around the pattern pieces help them hold their shapes as I sew. This makes the assembly of the garment SO much easier.

    I admit to basting on the seam lines before I sew, and that my besetting difficulty is an almost disabling mania for precision. OTOH, the silk doesn’t skitter away from me, the pieces I’m joining don’t slip, and I don’t have to do much twice.

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