I know I’ve already written about taffeta in general, but I wanted to give a quick shout-out to silk taffeta in particular. Mostly because it’s one of my favorite fabrics.
Silk taffeta is usually light to very light weight – silk is expensive and heavy weight silk is even more so, so textile mills stick to offering the lighter varieties. It can be solid, two-tone or multicolored.
If you want to make a luxurious Victorian dress, a fabulous fantasy gown or knock-their-eyes-out Renaissance gear, you can’t do better than silk taffeta. Mercy Hartigan’s dress in The Next Doctor? Silk taffeta. Practically anything worn by any upper-class woman in Game of Thrones that wasn’t brocade? Silk taffeta. Sarah’s dress in Labyrinth? Well, I think that was actually a lot of metallic brocade, but I bet there was silk taffeta in there somewhere…
If the light weight bothers you, flat-line it with silk organza to give it a little more heft – and that’ll cut down on the rustling, too.
You can find it at high-end fabric stores and online, I cheerfully recommend Silk Baron as a place to go for it.
Because it IS silk, it’s not cheap. Beware the ebay seller offering you so-called silk taffeta for less than $20/yard. Sometimes you’ll see a really cheap price and then, buried in the small print, it’s mentioned that it’s $5 for a quarter yard piece. Or that the bolt is only 18” wide. Or they’re just plain lying about the yarns used.
I once encountered a jaw-dropping flash sale featuring black silk taffeta for five bucks a yard. I bought ten yards – Victorian mourning dresses take a lot of yardage – but I didn’t know it was only 36” wide until I opened the box. It was still a good price, but I would have bought fifteen yards if I’d known about that narrow bolt. Oh well.
Silk taffeta isn’t very forgiving of needle holes and, oh god, you cannot put this stuff through the washer. Send it to the dry cleaner if spot-cleaning won’t do the job. It can fray like crazy so be prepared for that when you cut it. And, speaking of cutting, it can slip around a bit, so be ready for that too. Pattern weights and a rotary cutter and cutting mat can help with that. Check out How to Handle Fray Happy Fabrics and How to Handle Slippery Fabrics to learn more.
It presses beautifully and can take a heck of a crease, especially if you mist the fabric with a little water before using the iron.
Use a regular-weight needle intended for denim – yes, really! – and polyester or cotton thread. If you don’t have a denim needle, try a light-weight ballpoint or jersey needle, instead. If you have a straight-stitch foot and a single-hole throat plate for your sewing machine, get those out too.