More exotic than cotton, and certainly more expensive, silk dupioni is worth working with at least once in your quilting explorations.
We’ve been testing out quilts using a material other than quilting cotton. Why? Because we like adventure, that’s why! This time, we’re exploring Felicia Brenoe’s divine “Sunset Star,” a classic Log Cabin block arranged to create a star motif . . . in silk dupioni.
Of all fibers, silk is without peer—it is the dream fiber. Lightweight, breath¬able, warm in winter and cool in summer, stronger than steel (no joke—a silk thread has more tensile strength than a steel thread of the same diameter), and, well, silky, it is altogether a remarkable fiber.
Silk Dupioni: A Specific Type of Silk Fabric
It’s a little different than what you may think of as “standard” silk, and it seems to turn up more in the quilting circuit. (Or maybe I’ve just noticed it more.) I brought “Sunset Star” into my office while writing this to study the effect of the silk dupioni in the patchwork. The quilt is not “silky,” as such. In fact, it’s somewhat rough. Silk dupioni is a crisper fabric, which actually makes it simpler to work. Not exactly a cozy-snuggle kind of quilt, but that’s not the point, is it?
The Colors are Dramatic
Silk dupioni is often woven with two different colored threads, which creates the magnificent iridescent shimmer. These “shot” colors create a two-tone glimmer when the otherwise matte-looking fabric moves in the light.
“Sunset Star,” a traditional Log Cabin quilt sits in my office and . . . glows. There’s a rich radiance to the colors, something that calls to mind decadence, and a little mystery. Like gemstones flickering in the firelight or the alluring scent of incense hanging thickly in the air, those shimmering colors are seductive. The quilt seems to whisper to you, as if telling exotic tales from distant la—Ahem.
Meanwhile, back in the fluorescent-lit offices of Fons & Porter, I can say that the traditional Log Cabin quilt pattern made from silk dupioni is very, very pretty. Silk strands are harvested from silkworm cocoons. The harvesting process often involves boiling the cocoons with the pupae inside them. (Well, there went my romantic swooning. . .)
Dupioni silk is actually derived from two silkworms that spin a cocoon together, resulting in a double-thread silk with an irregular weight, which is evident at first glance. You’ll actually find black specks from the cocoon in many dupioni silks, which is considered part of its character.
Also part of its character: it ravels. If you can use a lightweight fusible interfacing, do. We highly recommend stabilizing before you cut. Brenoe says she used about 15 yards of a featherweight fusible stabilizer on this project. “I ran through an entire bolt, and then a bit more. . . ”
A few quilters recommend pinking shears or rotary blades to help control fraying, and a 1/2-inch seam allowance is recommended by others. Foundation piecing helps control the raveling, too, so that’s a good method for this material.
Try to minimize handling. Completing one block before starting the next is a good approach. For the Log Cabin strips, Brenoe cut the strips a little wider than needed by the width of the fabric, and then cut them to the correct size only when she was seated at the sewing machine. “I also kept my strips draped on clothes hangers to keep them from getting roughed up.”
More Silky Tips
Water spots will be permanent, so dry-iron only. There’s usually a silk setting on irons; it’s a good bet to use that. And dry cleaning is really the only way to go with this. (Though there’s a small camp of quilters who like the texture of washed silk dupioni.) Luckily, silk is actually soil resistant. (Huh. Who knew?)
Silk dupioni is naturally reversible, which makes things easy. If you’re the OCD-type quilter, you may want to plan out the orientation of the warp and weft within your blocks. Have fun with that. The rest of us will just be over here, waiting. . .
There are silk needles out there for your sewing machine. Use a fine-point needle, like a #60.
As far as quilting, silk dupioni holds up wonderfully to quilting. The crispness does a lovely job showcasing the quilting designs. This was never a thrifty quilt, so go ahead and splurge a little more on silk thread for quilting.
And maybe a touch of gold leaf, too. Just a touch.
Can’t get enough of these unusual quilting materials? Check out this wild paper quilt and other blogs for more information!