Polyester Silk Shedu Obsession

If I had known how long this would take, and how unable I would be to do or think about anything else, I would never have started. But I didn’t know, so on Sunday I bought some polyester “silk”, because I’ve long wanted to quilt on silk and this was on sale and pretty and no silkworms were harmed and I could just experiment with it.

Pleased with my previous shedu quilt, I decided to make another, but with smaller, more oblong “bricks.” I cut strips and sewed them together, then cut those into more strips and sewed them in a staggered, brick-like pattern.

I’d heard polyester silk was difficult to work with, but didn’t know exactly why. Now I know. It unravels into fuzz everywhere that gets tangled in your machine.

If you don’t lock the seams down quickly, it feels like the whole thing will disintegrate. It stretches every which way, making precision cutting impossible. It’s slippery.

On the other hand, it’s beautifully iridescent and, well, silky. It’s vegan; no worms are harmed in its production. Unlike real silk, it doesn’t attract moths or other insects. It could survive an apocalypse. Needles glide through it easily. It doesn’t show needle holes, so you can rip out mistake seams with little evidence. Anyway, once I started working with it I felt I’d invested too much to stop.

I pieced together a set of gold bricks and a set of blue. Then I traced my Shedu design onto a solid gold piece, pinning down both the fabric and the paper design to minimize slippage.

I layered, basted (I had to baste about 3x tighter than usual, because the polyester is so slippery) and free-motion quilted it in light blue thread. (Speaking of fre-motion quilting, here’s a link-back to Leah Day’s blog.)

For the dark blue Shedu, I traced the same design onto while polyester silk – the blue was too dark to see through – and quilted with gold thread in the bobbin.

Flipped over, it looked just fine.

Basting and quilting the backgrounds was a huge pain, and some distortion was inevitable. I’ve heard of this thing called “fabric stabilizer” you’re supposed to use in cases like these. If I ever use poly silk again – and I swore “never again” over and over like a mantra throughout most of this project – I will try fabric stabilizer.

I thread basted the shedu trapplique cut-out onto the background, and satin-stiched it down with polyester thread.

Everything in this quilt is pure polyester – polyester fabric, polyester batting, polyester thread – except the cotton backing, which I chose for some stability.

I pinned hanging triangles on the back, and sewed them down into the binding.

I felt an urgency to finish the binding quickly, because all those little polyester threads were unraveling everywhere and needed to be locked inside. And locked inside they were – the finished pair of quilts looks nice and clean, and even feels somewhat strong.

The wide-angle lens on my pocket camera distorts these; the edges are actually pretty straight and the corners square.

They’re now hanging over my boyfriend’s bed, guarding the gates of our dreams.


Author: Nina Paley

Animator. Director. Artist. Scapegoat.

16 thoughts on “Polyester Silk Shedu Obsession”

  1. They are indeed lovely. Next time – hey, obsessions love a challenge – you might want to use a friend’s serger for the piecing – finished edges as you go are nice and add a little stability. You’re probably already using rubber fingers for the free-motion process. Also, a small stiff-ish bird wing feather will get tons more lint out of your machine’s bobbin casing/guts than any other method I’ve tried.

    I do disagree with your ‘vegan’ label. Polyester is a petroleum product and petroleum comes from animals. Dont vegans eschew animal by-products? I am not vegan, so may be ignorant of aspects of the philosophy.

  2. Nina, these are absolutely amazing!! You know – I love that the slippage on the bricks created some waves in what would otherwise be incredibly rigid bricking. It gives life to the backgrounds. Gorgeous coordinating contrast between the two. Thank you for sharing your process. I’ll have to try the technique sometime/

  3. They are absolutely beautiful, but when I was doing garment sewing I avoided the stuff like the plague. I don’t know if surging it would have been any better, but that would have made the quilting almost impossible.

  4. You’ll never believe what I came home with the other day Nina – almost the same silky, iridescent fabric! I’m looking for a challenge and from the sound of your post, it looks like I’m in for one. It took 30 minutes to cut all the threads apart after a prewash that tied 7 yards into a giant knot. I hope my quilt ends up looking as beautiful as yours!

  5. These are lovely. The silk even looks difficult to work with in the pictures, but what a result. I wonder if this material would work well in the method where the pieces are stitched directly onto batting? I haven’t tried that, but I’ve seen it online. It would possibly bypass some piecing issues with fiddly materials.

    Congratulations–these turned out great.

  6. Absolutely stunning! I’m a jeweler who can’t even sew a button; but you – you’re a multi-faceted artist of the first order! Thanx, Nina!

  7. Hi Nina,

    I’m a journalist and I’m currently working as a freelancer to a brazilian blog about free culture called BaixaCultura (http://www.baixacultura.org). We really appreciate your work and your actions as a free culture activist. I wonder if you could give us an interview about general topics regarding free culture, your work, the future of creative commons, etc.. The interview could be done by e-mail or Facebook if you like.

    Kind regards,
    André Solnik

  8. Very lengthy, but then you have given all the small details and that is what one looks for when trying to make such a quilt.
    The finish product looks great.

  9. Gorgeous!!! I don’t have a sewing machine at the moment, but when I did sew (I was a costume designer in a former “life”) – I would avoid that kind of slippery-slope fabric like the plaque, which is what you feel when working with it . . . I applaud you for your diligence (stubborness?) and the finished result is most excellent!

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