Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Guest Post: Andrea of Four Square Walls!

I'm probably not eating haggis right now in Scotland, but that doesn't mean things are going to be quiet over here at Cation Designs! I've got some spectacular guest bloggers filling in for me over the next few days. Andrea of Four Square Walls is an expert at sewing practical everyday wearable garments -- the kind I wish I made -- and the color blue. I wish I could just steal her closet, and of course her witty analysis of pattern envelope models is spot-on! Anyway, yesterday you got a taste of 1930s bias-cut awesomeness, so how perfect is it that today, Andrea teaches us how to sew with a fabric that works beautifully in bias-cut garments: that spectre that haunts us, the dreaded chiffon!

Hi there! I'm Andrea from a blog called foursquarewalls that has nothing to do with the number four or squares or walls. Just sewing and grumblings about sewing. I'm a little shy posting over here on Cation Designs while she's away, as it feels like I have some big shoes to fill. That girl can SEW. Plus she's a hoot and is generous with photos of her fabulously fluffy cat, which makes a perfect blogger all in all.

First let me share a gripping tale about how I unintentionally bought some chiffon last week. I was wandering around the "fabric row" of my new city (Philadelphia), exploring some of the options and disappointingly noting how most of the stores primarily carry home decor/drapery/upholstery-weight fabrics only. As my parking meter was about to expire, I stumbled across something sheer and polka-dotted in a barrel marked "$1.95/yd." I was just so excited to find fabric that could be turned into clothing (blue clothing, no less (I love blue)) that I bought three yards with no project in mind. Hey, let's get wild.

Then I realized I knew nothing about sewing with chiffon. I did know, from all the horror stories out there, that it's slippery, shifty and sheer. It frays, warps and snags. It also makes nice-looking clothing, though, right? So as with anything related to sewing, you really just have to jump in and try it out for yourself. I know Cindy has worked with chiffon before (like this epic Girl on Fire dress) but not without some gripes about its difficulty. I thought I'd share with you what I've learned about working with this fabric for the first time, and hopefully it will help some other newbies out there gain confidence to tackle it.

This seems like the most difficult or daunting part of working with chiffon and other slippery fabrics. It shifts as you fold it, it shifts as you smooth it out, it shifts as you lay pattern pieces on it, it shifts as you pin it and it shifts as you cut it. Let's avoid all that, eh?

Tip #1: If you're using a pattern, prepare your pattern pieces so that you can cut the fabric in single layers instead of double layers. This creates double the cutting work upfront, yes, but is crucial for ensuring that you cut the fabric on grain. For pattern pieces that are cut on the fold of the fabric, you'll need to trace a new piece that incorporates both sides of the fold so you can cut everything in just one layer. The fold line will then become the grainline guide. I use Swedish Tracing Paper for all my pattern tracing, fyi. The Swedes have a monopoly on red gummy fish as well as tracing paper, apparently.

Tip #2: Starch it up. Fabric starch has become my new BFFL (best friend for life, obvi). I first made my own when I was trying to stabilize some cotton jersey. And guess what? It stiffens chiffon, too! You can buy your own starch or DIY (see my ingredients and recipe here). This time, though, I decided to dunk a whole length of fabric into the starch, instead of spraying it section-by-section. I used two cups of distilled water and six teaspoons ( = two tablespoons) of corn starch -- called corn flour in other parts of the world. I squeezed out the water a bit and then immediately began ironing it. It dried quickly and became crispy enough that it was much easier to handle. If it drips on your floor, don't worry. It wipes right off.

Tip #3: Use an under-layer of fabric or tissue paper when cutting the chiffon. This helps stabilize the chiffon even more so it keeps its shape as you cut. The pattern piece will go on top so the chiffon is sandwiched in between. Pin and cut through all three layers (pattern piece, chiffon, underfabric). I used an unwanted bedsheet here for my bottom layer (the cream and brown thing).

Also, it definitely helps if you have a rotary cutter and cutting mat. This way you don't have to lift the fabric as you slide your scissors underneath, creating less opportunity for the chiffon to shift. Make sure your rotary blade is sharp enough to cut the fabric without dragging it. I guess I had a bad blade in my rotary cutter when I first bought it, because I was not very impressed with the tool. Then I changed the blade and it's like a Hallelujah chorus in my heart.

If you starched your chiffon before cutting, it should be much easier to sew, too. If you didn't, cool, but DO IT NOW. You can just spray the edges of your garment pieces and iron it as you go, instead of dunking whole pieces in a bowl of starch. The starch will help the fabric hold a crease, keep it from warping as you pin or stitch, AND will reduce some of the fraying along the raw edges. So, just do it.

Tip #4: Change your needle. To sew chiffon, you need a new, sharp, fine needle, like a size 70/10. Otherwise it will snag and create unsightly lines and marks all across your fabric from where the threads snapped. I learned this the hard way.

Tip #5: Avoid fabric suction. Chiffon is so lightweight that it can be easily jammed into the machine by the needle. To prevent this, I removed my presser foot then place a piece of tape over the hole, leaving some room for the bobbin thread and keeping clear of the feed dogs. The needle pierced the tape easily, so I didn't have to worry about losing the edges of my fabric to the dark depths of my hungry machine. Don't forget to put your pressure foot back on. You wouldn't forget, though, right?

Tip #6: Since chiffon is sheer and frays easily, it's ideal to use French seams where you can. See a French seam tutorial here.


Tip #7: Chiffon needs a narrow hem, or else the folded fabric will show through to the right side. Use a rolled hem foot if you have one, or make a narrow hem yourself. This is simple enough to do, IF YOU STARCH YOUR FABRIC FIRST. Sorry I keep mentioning it, but it's just amazing how well it works. I sprayed some starch on the raw edge to be hemmed, which then made it a breeze to press crisply and sew without even needing to pin it.

Here's how I did my narrow hem:


Then press up 1/2 inch:

Sew close to the folded edge. I used the 1/4 inch line on my machine as a guide for the fabric edge, but moved the needle all the way over to the right (6.5 setting). My finger's behind the needle here so it's (kinda) easier to see how close I moved the needle to the edge of the fabric:

Trim close to the stitches, being careful to only cut the seam allowance and not the garment.

Then press up narrowly so those stitches can't be seen on the right side.

Stitch the hem in place. Here it is on the right side:

So, as you may have noticed in some of the photos above, I was initially trying to make a garment (blouse), but I couldn't finish it in time for this post. I did, however, successfully make a scarf using the tips I shared with you above. A long rectangular scarf with a narrow hem all the way around. Oh I'm fancy, huh.

Ready to sew chiffon yet? It's really not that bad! ...As long as you use starch. I expect to see each and every one of you whip up some tiered chiffon gowns now.

Thanks for having me over, Cindy!

This is the post I needed when I made my chiffon nightmare dress! Why oh why didn't I go on vacation back in March, so that I could've forced this post into the sewing blogiverse before I lost a year of my life on sewing chiffon? Thank you for the excellent tutorial, Andrea! It looks like I'm going to have to go acquire more chiffon now, because you make it look so doable!


  1. I love the tip about putting tape over the hole! I wouldn't have thought about doing that! I mean, I have the plate with the small hole, but bad things happen when you forget it's there and set the machine up for a zig-zag stitch......not that I would know anything about that personally. ;-)

  2. Thanks for all the tips - I too esp. love the one about the tape over the hole!

  3. Brilliant tips, thank you! I still don't think I'm brave enough to sew with chiffon yet though...

  4. Amazing! I have to get into this starching business. I hope you enjoy your new city and find some good fabric stores soon.

  5. Andrea I love this post!! Ever since I found your blog it has been a favourite, you make the cutest clothes!! Love your tips for chiffon - i really want to start making stuff with chiffon :)

  6. Great tips! I also use Magic Sizing when I don't want something as stiff as starch. It's amazing how much more control you can have over your fabric when you use a little sizing or starch!

    Really cute scarf too! =)

  7. Oh im so glad I read this right now! that trick with the tape is pretty nifty! Im soon to sew a huuuge chiffon skirt for a wedding dress, so great timing really ^__^!

  8. Nicely done! Good tips, great photos and a cute scarf. heading over to your blog now to check out the rest:)

  9. This is such a great post! Thank you soooo very much for all the tips. I've been so very afraid of chiffon since making a tinkerbell costume with *seven* skirts...Somehow I feel a renewed sense of power, armed with your tips...Maybe some fall chiffon tops are in my near future!!
    I am usually just a reader, since I feel so inferior with my ameture-ish sewing skills...but I just had to reach out and voice a big THANKS!

  10. This is a great post Andrea! Thanks for all of the gerat tips! I like the tape idea especially to keep the machine from sucking the chiffon down.

  11. Another awesome guest post!
    This was so helpful, it's so great to have some advice on working with chiffon. I have always been afraid to sew with it but now I will have to try it. Thank you!

  12. Oh, this is a great and very helpful post. I've got some fabric calling to be scarves, but I've been afraid. Thanks for all the tips!

  13. Fabulous tips! Thank you for sharing them and saving me a lot of grief.

  14. Awesome! I just cut out a dress so s-l-o-w-l-y without starch, though I did cut one piece at a time. Now I'm ready to starch it up and sew!

  15. if you starch the fabric, then how do you get rid of it for later when your clothing is ready and you want it to be floaty?

    1. Just rinse out the starch, and then it will go back to being floaty!

  16. Great post! I found your blog on pinterest. I'm about to sew a chiffon crop top and keep reading about it online. Wish me luck...

  17. If you press a light interfacing on the fabric before you cut it out, that will give the chiffon stablization and you don't have to go through all these steps.

  18. This is just what I needed to read BEFORE my challis tunic, sigh. STH answered my plea by referring this post, so thank you and thank her very much!

  19. Just the tips I was looking for before sewing next summer chiffon shirt, thanks!


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