My name is Charlotte, sometimes known as Ms Lottie, occasionally as The Slightly Mad Quilt Lady. This is my blog, where you'll find me writing a lot about my quilting and textile arts and a little about my family's life in a small seaside town in New Zealand. Haere mai!

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Why I use silk organza in my art quilts.

Jaye commented on my last post and asked:
Do you have a color preference for silk organza or tulle? Is there a difference in the two fabrics? Do they disappear once quilted or can you see the color of the organza (tulle-we use tulle here, though I suppose people use silk organza. I haven't heard much about silk organza used in the way you are using it) 
I started replying to her and the more I wrote the more I realised that this topic deserved a whole blog post all to itself.

Hand dyed silk organza


Tulle is a synthetic fabric and you can buy it in just about all colours of the rainbow.  It is almost like a fine netting but it is fairly stiff.  If you use it in art quilts as an overlay, it can provide shading or highlights.  I once created a (slightly scary) self-portrait using layers of tulle.

This was done in 2010, it's nice to see my free-motion quilting has come a long way!

But tulle has scratchy edges when it's cut and the holes in it give a texture to the quilt top that I don't really want.  

I took a Susan Carlson class once and she sometimes uses a layer of tulle over her whole quilt to hold all her tiny collage pieces down.  It's a handy technique.  But I find that if I use it as an overlay over my entire quilt, it 'deadens' the look of the quilt a bit as the tulle is all one solid colour, even if you can't really see it except close up.

You can buy white tulle and paint it, but it's not as easy to colour as silk organza.

You can get finer grades of tulle - often known as netting - but while softer and finer, it still has the holey texture to it, and I can't always find it in shops.

Silk organza is finer, it's a natural fibre so easier to colour, and it has a sheer finish to it so I don't get that added texture from the weave.  Because the weave is finer, the appareance of the fabric is 'denser'.  I can use it like a piece of cotton fabric, such as an applique shape, but it still has transparency.

I first came across silk organza when I did a workshop with Jeanette DeNicolis Meyer in 2012.  We painted pieces of silk organza and then worked on abstract compositions layering up the colours.  I fell in love with the luminous qualities and the complexity of colour that you could get from layering them.

Above is one of my pieces in progress from that workshop where you can see the layers of fine colour.

And here's my beautiful friend, Sue, working on her painterly piece.  I adored how she had a piece with multiple colours, I hadn't thought to try that.

I also came across a book by Melanie Testa, titled, "Inspired to Quilt."

Melanie also used silk organza in her quilts, often as whole overlays, and she would paint it or use thickened dyes to colour it.  Her quilts are glorious, with lovely colour and transparency.

So these strands sort of all came together over the years to lead me down the silk organza path. One of my first quilts where I used it was 'Sunset Tui'.  I was using leftovers from Jeanette's class cut into curving shapes to create the background.  I attempted to free-motion quilt those pieces down but got frustrated by all the edges constantly lifting up as I would run my darning foot over them.  I put the quilt away for a while in frustration.

Then eventually I used information from Melanie's book to make a whole silk organza overlay for the whole quilt.  I used stencils to print a bird and flax frond on it and painted the rest.  The dreamy colour it made and the ease of using it to hold all the fiddly bits down had me hooked.

So now I buy silk organza wholesale and dye it myself.  I love the colours and I love to have more than one colour in a piece so I can get that range of colour onto my quilt top.  I also love that I can stencil an image onto it, which you cannot with tulle because of the open holey weave.

The other thing I can do with organza that I can't do with tulle is use a fusible web with it.  I prefer Mistyfuse because it is so fine that it doesn't come through the sheerness of the organza, but I have also used Vlisofix with some success.  However, a fusible with defined texture to it like Steam-a-seam shows very clearly through the organza and I won't use it.

Above is a picture of some of my hand-dyed silk organzas ready to use in quilts.

I found a great blog post over at Droplet Weddings, with good images, on the differences between several types of sheer fabrics.  So if you need clarification of what the different sheer fabrics look and drape like, head over there.  She say that silk organza has a lot of body to it and she finds it quite stiff.  I will add that once it is dyed and washed it softens up, but having a bit of body is not a bad thing with sheer fabrics when you are using them in art quilts!

I hope that answers your questions, Jaye.  I don't know many other people who use silk organza in the way I do, but I love it and the effects it can give.


  1. Good to know. I have used fine black 'wedding' tulle in the past. But I have that book by Mel, so should get it out and read it again!

  2. I had forgotten that you took my photo! What a great weekend that was. Lots of Hard work and fun and loads learned. ��

  3. I have seen a couple of Russian quilts lately using black tulle.I can see the organza gives a softer look. Thanks for sharing. Lesley in NZ

  4. Thanks for taking the time to explain how you use the different materials. Very clear and interesting. I am interested in the fact that you use fusible with silk organza.

  5. Very informative post. Thank you.

  6. Thanks Charlotte, I came across your blog when trying to find out IF I could use Mistyfuse with silk. I am using knitted silk from long underwear that is no longer wearable. It was suggested as a layer in my mask making, which I thought was done. However, although your country is doing GREAT, ours is not. Hoping our new President will take this virus seriously. ann

  7. Hi! I'd love to incorporate this in my memory quilt making, but am wondering about the washability/durability. Would love to know how it washes up and if it's something that I could use in a quilt that would be used regularly. Thanks so much!

    1. Because silk is a natural fibre, it washes fairly well. However, it is not as robust as cotton and I would hesitate to use it in a quilt that was to be regularly washed. I tend to make quilts that hang on the wall as art, so I don't have to worry about them holding up to regular washing. But they do have to be robust enough to travel to shows and when I am using them as teaching examples, and the silk organza manages this no problem.


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