Chiffon is no doubt one of the most popular dressmaking fabric because of its looks, drape and quality. It is a diaphanous (almost sheer, thin and lightweight) fabric with a crepe like feel and can be made of cotton, silk, rayon or synthetic fibers.
Qualities of Chiffon as a dressmaking fabric par excellence
Chiffon is lightweight
For dressmaking this quality is definitely an advantage as you can add volume to your dress without adding weight to it. Even long gowns with lots of gathers would not feel too much if made in chiffon; in fact chiffon is great for multilayered dress styles. Ruffles and pleats will look light and flowy in chiffon.
Because of its lightweight nature, cotton chiffon is a great fabric for summer wear like nightdresses and evening dresses in place of more heavy fabrics.
The most popular clothes made of chiffon are scarves, gowns, blouses, undergarments, lingerie and slips.
Chiffon is somewhat Sheer (see through)
This translucent quality makes the fabric suitable for making overlays for bridal/party gowns. When used over satin and other fabrics the see through nature of the fabric creates a shimmery layer over the inner layer.
It is also suitable for making lightweight and transparent long and short shrugs over dresses.
Chiffon feels a little rough but soft
Chiffon feels like gauze / net fabric because of the way it is woven with tightly twisted yarns – because of this when you touch the fabric surface there may not be the silk like smoothness. The fabric has a puckered feel. But still it is soft to touch. Rayon and silk chiffon are especially soft.
Chiffon is flowy and drapey
Chiffon is made with a loose plain weave and the resultant flowy quality of the fabric is a definite advantage as the fabric would not cling to the body too much but would still look good as it falls down the body. Even when it is made of metallic yarns chiffon fabric would still fall gracefully.
You can design loose fitting dresses or gowns with flowy skirts, long and flared sleeves and fluttering ruffles. These features would look excellent when made in chiffon because of its flowy nature.
Lettuce edge finish/rolled hem finish on hems look nice on chiffon clothes – the wavy nature of lettuce edging is best when done with a flowy chiffon.
Chiffon is thin and loosely woven
The fabric is loosely woven (square type of weave creating a net like look) and is quite thin. So you will definitely need to line dresses made with the fabric to give it strength (as well as opacity).
There is also the chance of seam stitches coming off (seam slipping) because of its weave – lining can help to keep the seam strong in this delicate fabric. Pulling of yarns and snagging are other usual causalities.
Because of its nature you cannot make tailored clothes with the fabric. It is best suited for draping style in clothes.
You will find chiffon to be quite a durable fabric especially when made with synthetic fabrics.
You may need to take special care with silk chiffon to ensure that there are no snags. Wash and care for them as you would delicate fabrics. Hand washing is preferred and Do not wring the fabric – otherwise the garment will sag, after repeated washing. Care for silk chiffon would be the same as with any other silk garment. You can checkout tips on silk wash and care here.
Chiffon is stretchy
Because of its construction using twisted yarns the material has a slight give, especially on the bias – which is great for sewing. But this doesn’t mean that you can make form fitting garments with this fabric. It is not that stretchy. It is great for making bias cut clothes. And you may have to wait a day or two before final hemming of chiffon skirts because the stretch will hang the cloth differently.
Chiffon is lustrous
Silk chiffon has a lustrous shimmery appearance.
Chiffon is available in many fibers
Silk chiffon, polyester chiffon and rayon chiffon are the most commonly used in dressmaking. Earlier only the rich people used chiffon as it was made only with silk fibers but since synthetic fibers started to be used for making the fabric, chiffon is used widely as a dressmaking fabric.
Silk chiffon with a momme weight of above 8 is considered to be of good quality but you will find chiffon with momme weight starting from 5.
Synthetic chiffon can be made to look similar to silk chiffon. When the finishes applied to the fabric to make it look like silk is gone with washing, you will be left with inexpensive chiffon at the cost of silk chiffon. Check out this post on buying silk for more tips to avoid this trickery.
Chiffon is available in bright shades
Chiffon is available in the most beautiful prints of all other fabrics – it takes dyes quite well, especially silk and rayon chiffons. When embroidery is done on plain chiffon it is especially beautiful because of its see through appearance. One problem with the vivid colors of chiffon is that the colors may fade in time, especially when exposed to sunlight. (But then this is so for any fabric)
Chiffon is slightly difficult to cut and sew
This is due to its thin nature and slippery feel. All the tips given in this post on sewing thin lightweight fabrics apply to sewing with chiffon too. But to elaborate more, here are the points you should keep in mind every time you sew with chiffon
The slippery nature of chiffon can be countered by using tissue paper in between layers of chiffon fabric. The paper will prevent the fabric from slipping down or shifting.
Cut chiffon in single layers rather than multiple layers. This will prevent accidents in shifting as you cut. And lay on a large table as you cut. This will again prevent the fabric shifting and slipping (this is a big annoyance, hence so many tips). You can fix the fabric with tape on the sides to be doubly sure.
Another problem with chiffon is that it will bunch up easily. This is due to its thin nature.Do not forget to adjust and test the stitch length and thread tension before you start sewing.
You can use short stitches to counter this. Long stitches cause the fabric to bunch up. Sew carefully and hold the fabric as you sew. Many people prefer to use spray starch to stabilize the fabric to make it easy to sew.
The next problem is its slight transparency. The fabric is almost see through. Most designers use chiffon as an overlay so sheerness is welcomed. If the chiffon is used as the main fabric you will need a suitable lining. If you are not using lining remember to use french seams inside – this way the seam edges are neatly finished inside.
Even if you are not keen on french seams there is no way that you can leave the fabric edges as is. The chiffon edges frays a lot. You can serge finish or use an overcast stitch to finish the fabric edges. Check out this post on more ideas on fabric edge finishing.
Another problem is its delicate nature. You will have to use a new and sharp needle every time you sew a chiffon garment. This will prevent the needle from damaging the fabric. And ensure that you do not pull or move the fabric when you are sewing. Most sewing machines will move fabric on its own. You do not have to pull the fabric at all- though people do it all the time. When you pull the chiffon, the seams will start to tear because of its thin nature.
If you have a solid colored chiffon, it could show snags and pin marks etc more than patterned chiffon – so use pins with caution. In fact use very sharp pins and pin on the seam allowance. Do not use large hand needles to baste stitch.
Use heat with caution – yes, you have to press seams open and all that stuff. But polyester chiffon will melt in inappropriate heat settings and will stick to your iron plate.