Use Silk Textiles in Quilting

Use Silk Textiles in Quilting

Posted by Julia McLeod on Jul 9th 2024

As a quilt lecturer and instructor, I visit at least two quilt guilds each month, presenting my work and teaching workshops. The niche I have made for myself in the quilt industry is all about using reclaimed fabrics in quilt making, in particular: silk.

My path away from using quilters cotton began when I challenged myself to shop for clothing only from thrift stores. I enjoy thrifting, and I know that textile waste is a significant problem in North America and globally. Every year, 11.3 million tons of textile waste is generated in the US alone. High street fashion is so inexpensive, we feel we can afford to toss garments we’ve only worn a handful of times. It makes sense to me to give clothing a second chance, harvesting pretty fabrics and piecing them into quilts.

For two years I clothed myself in thrift shop finds. It was a fun, and inexpensive way to dress. While visiting my favorite thrift shops I found myself drawn to garments I knew I would never have the occasion to wear; saris, kimonos, evening dresses, silk blouses, neckties and more. I started to bring some of these special garments home, not to hang in my wardrobe, but to build a ‘not cotton’ stash in my studio.

As it turns out, I am not alone. At every single guild I visit, I can guarantee there will be quilters who have traveled to far flung places and returned with a length of gorgeous fabric; there will be folks with family members who have served in the military in places like Japan, sending home gifts of kimonos or obis; there are sewists with treasured antique silk crazy pieced blocks, and there are always several quilters with a bag of dad’s or grandpa’s neckties that they’ve promised to make into a memory quilt. 

If you are a quilter who thus far has only worked with cotton, you might feel intimidated by the ways that silk fabrics fray and shape shift. Traditional piecing methods are not going to yield nice results. My aim is to grow your confidence.

In my Creative Spark course, How to Use Silks in Your Quilt Making, I delve into the preparation and use of silk textiles in quilt making. I examine ways to identify silk versus its imitators (rayon and polyester), and I show you the key tricks and techniques that make slippery, fraying fabrics behave well under the sewing machine needle. 

In September my book, Patchwork Luxe, will be released by C&T Publishing. The book gives you key techniques for working with silks, and eight projects from pillows to quilts. You can pre-order Patchwork Luxe from your local quilt store or from any online bookseller.

It’s my mission to encourage quilters - are you one of them? - to get those special textiles out from the darkness of the closet or drawer and bring them into the light. Cut into them! Use them up! With the right techniques, you can make a beautiful pillow, wallhanging or quilt. 


Born and raised in England, Julia McLeod earned a BA in Fashion and Textile Design. She trained as a textile designer and worked in the British textile industry in Yorkshire and Scotland. Quilting intensively since 2015, she specializes in using silks and upcycled fabrics. Julia lives in the San Francisco Bay Area of California.

Creative Spark Course: How to Use Silks in Your Quilt Making

Pre-order Patchwork Luxe, available September 25th, 2024.