In this article I’m sharing how I made this patchwork dress made from (thrifted!) silk scarves. I’m also sharing some helpful tips for sewing with silk and supplies that you may need. Even if you’re not choosing silk to sew with, I hope through sharing my process that it can give you some inspiration!
If you need more patchwork inspiration check out the patchwork/color blocked denim jacket I made using all my leftover denim scraps!
I chose the Vali Dress by Pattern Fantastique because I knew I could play around with pattern matching in the skirt, sleeves and bodice pieces. I’ve also made the Vali Dress (and two Vali tops) before so I knew that being familiar with the pattern would help me out during the sewing process.
This silk scarf dress idea was actually from my Aunt who has an amazing collection and asked me what I thought of using them to sew her a patchwork dress! I was excited about the idea and gladly accepted the challenge :). After a couple of planning and measuring sessions, I was ready to dive in armed with a pile of gorgeous 100% silk scarves.
Sewing with Silk
This was my first experience sewing with 100% silk and although I’m no expert, here are my top tips for sewing with silk that really helped me!
Using pattern weights really helps to keep the silk and your pattern pieces from moving around. Silk wants to go where it wants so making sure it doesn’t move when cutting ensures accuracy.
Use a rotary cutter with a fresh blade to make cutting around the pattern pieces easier and more accurate.
Apply fusible interfacing before cutting out any smaller pieces. For the small yoke pieces I need for this dress, I interfaced sections of silk first and that made it much easier to cut out (see photo above). Make sure you use a very lightweight interfacing or sheerweight interfacing to match the weight of the silk.
Use a fine needle when sewing with silk to avoid damaging the fabric. For sewing machine needles, use Microtex or sharp needles in sizes 60/8 for lightweight silks and 70/10 for medium-weight.
Using silk pins when pinning pieces together avoids leaving holes in the silk fabric.
Press with an iron on low-heat and test on a scrap piece or a corner of the silk fabric. Typically irons have a silk setting or use the lowest heat setting possible. Pressing on the wrong side of the fabric to avoid damaging the right side. Also, using a press cloth is a great option if you’re still worried about using too much heat.
Adjust the stitch length to a shorter stitch length to prevent puckering. Use a stitch length of 1.5-2mm for thinner silks and a 2-2.5mm length for thicker silks. Practice on a scrap piece to get a stitch length that works well with your fabric. Since the scarves I used were not all the same weight, I used a 2mm stitch length and that worked well for me.
To help prevent the silk from getting sucked into the machine plate you can place a piece of tissue paper between your fabric and the plate. I tried this and it did help, but I found it was tedious to remove the paper afterwards and really only needed to use the method a couple of times.
Consider using french seams to finish the seams of your garment. Silk is prone to fraying so using french seams is a great way to enclose the raw edges and provide a clean finish on the insides.
I actually used a combination of both french seams and serging the edges since there were some steps where I couldn’t achieve french seams. I was worried about serging the lightweight silk, but after doing a few tests and adjusting the tension, I was able to finish the seams just fine with my serger.
This page contains some affiliate links to products and I may receive a small commission for purchases made through these links (at no extra cost to you).
I’ve listed a few things here that are helpful when sewing specifically with silk:
- Featherweight interfacing or lightweight interfacing designed for fine fabric
- Rotary blade and cutting mat
- Microtex or Sharp needles in sizes 60/8 for lightweight silks and 70/10 for medium-weight.
- Silk pins
Now to the exciting part…starting the process of sewing the dress together! I’ll be touching briefly on the steps I took in putting this patchwork dress together but the same techniques apply even if you’re not using silk!
The most time consuming part for me was going through the stack of scarves to choose which ones I was going to use in the dress. I had a lot to choose from and some that were too worn out to be used, but I finally managed to narrow it down.
One request from my Aunt was to pick colors and fabrics that could work together for any season, and I think that worked out! I tried to have a good a balance of warm colors with some pops of bright throughout the whole dress.
It really helped me to lay out the fabrics on top of a Vali Dress that I had made before, roughly in the same shape as the dress. I also thought about the labels on the scarves and planned it out so that they would be seen.
Piecing the Fabric together
Once I had decided on which scarves to use, I started piecing together the skirt. I folded the skirt pattern piece in half to figure out how long to make each section and then cut along the fold line for the middle of the skirt. I made sure to include seam allowance at both the center front and bottom of the pieces since those were going to be pieced together.
For the skirt hem, I knew I wanted to maintain the existing hand-rolled hem, so I placed the bottom skirt panel right along the edge of the scarf. I also added a wedge of paper to straighten out the skirt to have a straight hem versus a curved hem (photos below).
In some cases, I was able to use the existing rolled hem edge and simply stitched together without having to finish the edges (photo below). For the other skirt panels I pieced them together using french seams, sewing wrong sides together first, pressing and then sewing with right sides together.
I took my time with this part of the process to make sure the seams where neat and without too many wrinkles – pressing often really helped with this! I was still getting used to working with the silk scarves and honestly I was unsure of how everything was going to look all together but I kept moving forward :).
After the skirt panels were pieced together, I labeled them, and moved onto the sleeves. The sleeve panels were easier and I simply folded the pattern piece in half, added seam allowance and then french seamed together – making sure to make a mirrored pair! I also labeled the sleeves with masking tape so I could easily tell which was the front and back of the sleeves.
Cutting out the pieces
Next step was to cut out the yoke pieces in my chosen prints. I picked a different scarf for each pattern piece that would show on the outside and used scraps for the smaller yoke pieces on the inside. I was making the drop neck view for this dress, so I cut out the pieces needed for that step.
The biggest help for the tiny pieces, was to fuse interfacing first on a scrap big enough for the pattern piece, and then cut it out. This ensured that the piece didn’t get stretched out afterwards and it made cutting the piece out so much simpler.
I was careful not to handle the pieces too much after cutting to help prevent excessive fraying from the silk.
Time to sew
This part was pretty straightforward and I just followed the instructions to assemble the dress! Since I’ve made this dress before I knew what to expect, so I only had to focus more on sewing with the silk fabric.
I used plenty of pins, a small stitch length and I took my time. I didn’t want to mess up and have to take out any stitches to avoid the silk ripping and fraying. The sew along video from Sewing Therapy is a life saver and I always refer to it when I make the Vali Dress.
One of the trickiest steps for me was getting the drop neck just right but I still had some wrinkles showing from the right side after topstitching the facing down. Gathering the skirt portion was also tricky since the silk was slipping all over the place, but patience and a lot of pins paid off.
I was nervous about making the ties, but they were easier than I was expecting! Turning the tiny tube right side out with a bodkin went really well since the silk is so slippery. I wasn’t able to fold in the raw ends, so I just tied a tiny knot at the ends.
The sleeves were up next which can be one of the more difficult parts of making the Vali Dress – it involves pivoting at the corners where the skirts and bodice meet. Sewing this step in 3 different passes really helps!
Once the sleeves were on, I was able to really see how the dress was coming together! And trying it on at this point was definitely my favorite part :).
The side seams and sleeves are sewn all in one pass and I was able to use my serger to finish the seams. I adjusted the tension for lightweight fabric and tested on a scrap piece first to check everything. I could have done french seams here as well, but I had already serged the sleeves and most of the bodice seams so I figured it would look just fine to finish with a serger.
I love how the contrasting scarf patterns look on the inside of the dress! (above photos) Since I kept the rolled hems of the scarves at the bottom I didn’t need to hem the dress and so the final step was to make a casing and add elastic to the sleeves.
The last thing I did was to sew in some of the tags that belonged to the scarves but that didn’t make it into the section I had cut out. My Aunt really has an amazing silk scarf collection and I felt honored to be able to work with some of them to create wearable art. 🙂
The best part was swishing around in the finished dress and trying to capture the amazing movement that silk has. I’m not sure I will ever make my own silk dress (or at least not any time soon), so it was fun to wear it for a little before passing it on to my Aunt.
I kept the look simple with my neutral Maude Slides from Wilder Shop (use code BETHANYBOOTS for 20% off). Sewing this dress was a rewarding challenge and definitely a learning experience. Now I’m imagining a version in my leftover linen scraps!
Thanks for reading and happy sewing 🙂