For my latest project I created a blouse using polyester chiffon. Chiffon is a lightweight fabric that is known for being difficult to cut or sew. I have never sewn with chiffon before for the fear of ruining it. I'm sure many would agree that this gossamer material is intimidating as hell. It's light, it's airy and it's prone to snagging and slipping. What's more is that it isn't necessarily cheap and with my selected material being only two meters of a vintage '95 print, I couldn't afford to make mistakes!
I have sewn with lightweight materials in the past and I have had little success with them. I certainly lacked the confidence to get started using chiffon, but after hitting the books and reading a handful of articles I became satisfied that I have the tools and the knowledge to tackle this fabric. I have learned a few tricks to make handling and sewing lightweight materials easier and I would like to share them with you!
Tips for Sewing Lightweight Fabrics
- Purchase a needle for use with lightweight fabrics. I used a microtex needle size 60/8 and it worked perfectly. Selecting the wrong needle for your project can result in a variety of issues, it is best to choose the correct size for your material.
- Purchase a fine thread that is intended for lightweight fabrics (this can be silk if you choose, but polyester is available - I purchased poly to go with my polyester chiffon).
- It is always best to make a muslin, but even better to make a muslin out of similar material, if at all possible. I experienced fit issues in my final garment and some of which is because of how the material "behaves". Lightweight fabrics can be a little unpredictable so make a test run first.
- Starch your fabric with sugar water or gelatine; starching can make sewing and cutting more manageable. I followed this gelatine recipe from Threads - Firming Up Fabrics with Gelatine. It worked wonders. The difference in the material is subtle but you will notice it is a little easier to work with, however, I strongly advise combining the starching process with the next tip!
- Use a layer of tissue paper beneath your material when cutting your pattern pieces out, this prevents the material from slipping. I strongly recommend starching the material in conjunction with using tissue paper for cutting and sewing, this way you have optimum control over the material! Not everyone finds using tissue paper alone helpful or just starching, it is better to use both.
- If you are cutting your pattern pieces with scissors make long clips rather than small ones because they will come out jagged or promote slipping of the material.
- It is recommended that you use a rotary cutter instead of scissors when cutting fine materials because it allows for more control and accuracy when cutting.
- Do not cut on a fold! Trace or make a duplicate of an on-the-fold pattern piece and cut on a single layer, not doubled up. If you cut on a fold you increase the possibility of the material slipping.
- When pinning your material it is generally advised to pin parallel (vertical) to the edge rather than horizontal.
- Experimenting with tension before beginning the project is always recommended. A lower tension works best on lightweight materials.
- Some advise sticking a piece of tape over the hole in the throat plate to prevent the material from getting pulled into the feed dogs; alternatively, you can start your stitching a few millimeters in and then back stitch like I do.
- I recommend using a smaller stitch length when sewing lightweight materials. This is especially helpful in areas that require reinforcement (instead of back stitching try dropping your stitch length).
- When sewing, cut a strip of tissue paper and pin it to your seam. This can help prevent slippage and it won't effect your sewing, you simply tear it away afterward!
- For seam finishes it is best to use something that will encase your raw edges. I used french seams all throughout my project. I also used fray check on my raw edges just to ensure that the material won't fray.
- If you cannot find the correct interfacing for your material then line your project with its base material. I originally lined my blouse placket with a non-woven facing but removed it and had greater success lining it with chiffon. I also found creating bias binding from the base material was far more successful than using pre-made bias binding. It looks prettier, too!
- When sewing buttonholes on a lightweight material you should use a water-soluble stabilizer. I did not have this, so I doused the buttonhole line with fray check, backed it with voile, stay stitched and then sewed the buttonhole. You should always practice on a scrap piece of fabric before committing to your final buttonholes. I learned that it was better to sew my buttonholes without a layer of tissue paper underneath.
- When cutting your buttonholes open I highly recommend using a small pair of scissors like embroidery scissors, rather than using a seam ripper. A seam ripper works great on bulky or sturdier fabrics but in a material that is prone to snagging it is better to cut.
- The most important tip is to take your time! It is never a good thing to rush when sewing but even more so when you are working with such a fussy and delicate fabric.
I hope this helps take the fear out of sewing things like chiffon, voile or silk organza. I am not nearly as afraid of chiffon as I used to be, but that's not to say that I don't feel the pressure when sewing with such a delicate material! The reward of a beautifully made dress or shirt is far worth the pains of dealing with a lightweight fabric.