How To: Silk Facings

I include silk facings on almost all my garments. They are attractive, comfortable, and easy to make!

I use silk facings around neck openings, on buttonhole facings, and to bind armhole seams. I actually find it easier to create a neckline with a silk facing than without.  The facing helps conceal less than beautiful edges and seam allowances cut too small by you know who… :-)

  I use this sample when teaching so the scale is enlarged, but you can see the two rows of running stitch along the top edge and the row of hem stitch on the bottom.

I use this sample when teaching so the scale is enlarged, but you can see the two rows of running stitch along the top edge and the row of hem stitch on the bottom.

The basic idea of a facing is adding extra material to the edges of a small portion of a garment that serves as a lining.  In the 14th and 15th centuries (and modernly), facings are seen around necklines, wrist openings, and used to strengthen buttonholes. Modernly, facings can be the same fabric as the main garment or a contrasting fabric, but the example I use as inspiration for all my medieval facings is silk.

The image below is an extant piece excavated in London (Baynard's Castle site) and can be seen in the Museum of London's book, Textiles and Clothing: 1150-1450 (Crowfoot, Pritchard, and Staniland, Plate 2).   This example is a fragment of a wool garment with a silk facing  5 mm wide. That is tiny! The facings I have made are about twice that size on average. 

 Silk facing on wool, identified as part of a neck opening. 2nd quarter of the 14th century.  Medieval Finds from Excavations in London : 4 Textiles and Clothing 1150-1450,  Plate 2.

Silk facing on wool, identified as part of a neck opening. 2nd quarter of the 14th century. Medieval Finds from Excavations in London : 4 Textiles and Clothing 1150-1450, Plate 2.

When purchasing fabric for facings, I look for a tabby woven silk that is white or off white. You want it to be light weight (so when you fold the edges over it doesn't add bulk), but not too transparent.  Depending on how many garments you make and the size of the facings, one yard of good silk can last a long time so feel free to spend a bit more on a silk that will be sturdy. I've used the same one yard of silk for many garments over several years and just recently had to buy more. 

Although necks and armholes are curved, cut the silk pieces straight along the grain.  This may seem counter intuitive,  but in the extant example above, the facing is cut on the straight of the grain and then worked around the curve to fit the opening.  All you need is a rectangle of silk that is a little longer than the opening you are facing (don't forget to add seam allowance to your measurements - been there, done that...).  Cutting the silk on the straight of the grain is why a small piece of silk will last for many garments - there is hardly any waste!

Working the silk around a curved edge isn't as difficult as it sounds - I just securely pin the facing in place and work slowly, adjusting as needed while I sew. Ironing the seam allowances over before pinning is a huge help when positioning the silk on the garment.

Each facing will need at least two rows of stitches (three is even better). One row of hem stitch along the bottom (inner) edge and one or two rows of running stitch along the top (outer) edge.

This is a neckline of one of my dresses.  It is red wool, lined in white linen with white silk facings. Forgive the pink tinge! Although I pre-washed the wool, it still bled onto the silk. Whoops!

  This is a sleeve from the same dress (yikes! more pink!) showing the position of a facing for buttonholes. Notice how the facing is over the sleeve hem on the left. 

This is a sleeve from the same dress (yikes! more pink!) showing the position of a facing for buttonholes. Notice how the facing is over the sleeve hem on the left. 

Want to have those cute cloth buttons to go along with your new silk facing? Check out how to make cloth buttons here.

That's all there is to it!  You can even add them to parts of completed garments to spruce them up!  Have fun!

Referenced Works:

Elisabeth Crowfoot, Frances Pritchard, and Kay Staniland, 

Medieval Finds from Excavations in London : 4 Textiles and Clothing 1150-1450 , (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press) 2002.