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Nov 4, 2011

Poly, You Haven't Licked Me Yet!

Readers, I wasn't going to write about my 1944 blouse project again today, but I felt it my duty to share a few important truths about this synthetic fabric, perhaps to spare you some unnecessary headaches down the line.

Here goes:

1) Poly charmeuse will not ease.  It will, however, pucker like nobody's business (esp. when there's spandex in the weave).  I knew this going in, readers, but it's SO true. We've all encountered the sleeve cap situation where there's five or six inches of extra ease and you're like, Huh? I usually just chop the extra height off the top kind of intuitively. Well, with poly charmeuse, you don't want even an extra inch of ease because it ain't gonna ease.

My sleeve hole measured roughly 16 inches.  My sleeve cap measured more than 20!  I chopped, trying to retain the shape of the sleeve cap, which is not entirely symmetrical.

I had to deepen the armhole a bit as it was a little high, which widened the armhole a bit.

Believe it or not, there was still a little too much ease.

I got the sleeve on, and it doesn't look bad, but it was a headache.  If you stitch the sleeve on first with a basting stitch, the seam looks puckery, but you can't start out with a tiny stitch in case you have to rip the seam out.  Do you know what I'm talking about?

2) As I mentioned, my poly charmeuse has some stretch to it.  When you're stitching it you must not stretch the fabric under the sewing machine or it will look puckered when it's finished.  There will be the occasional appearance of puckering when the fabric stretches on the body -- I think this is very hard to avoid, particularly in an armscye.

3) The pattern called for two dart tucks at the front hem, giving the blouse a lovely hourglass shape.  Unfortunately, it also made it too fitted.


I had to take those tucks out and do it without damaging the fabric.  Eensy weensy stitches, too.  I managed it but is wasn't fun and I'll probably need glasses soon.  I'm not sure if this would have been easier or harder on real silk.  Any idea?

These wrinkles pressed out completely, thankfully.  I may add a very narrow dart tuck just to create the illusion of a slightly more nipped waist.

Overall, ripping seams in this rather pillowy charmeuse is a PITA and not for the faint of heart.

4. Poly charmeuse is thick and rather heavy.  The sleeves have ruffles on the cuffs.  The ruffle is made by folding a rectangle in half length-wise, right sides together, stitching the ends, and turning.  This is then gathered (!) and stitched to the cuff. The cuffs are then stitched to a gathered sleeve. 

The end result is OK, but lacks the crispness  and lightness you'd get with cotton or perhaps real silk.  The fabric is simply too thick for this to look elegant.  And you can't really press ruffles, can you?

The band collar came out very well.  But tied, it's hard to get the crisp bowtie effect you'd get with real silk, at least not without a lot of effort.  It's just too slippery. 

I'll have pics of the finished blouse this weekend.  Overall, I love it and it's very different from anything I've made before.  If I were to make this again, however, I think I'd do it in something crisper and probably a natural fiber.  It has certainly been an interesting challenge though!

Thoughts about poly charmeuse, pro and/or con? 

Happy Friday, everybody!


  1. gotta give you credit for giving the poly charmeuse a go; i've yet to tackle anything like me a wimp and you wouldn't be far wrong!

    Kudos, Peter....with a healthy dose of awe added.

  2. Beautiful work, Peter. I've struggled with poly fabrics too and find them uncomfortable for blouses because they don't breathe. So I'll use the "fake" silks for anything but blouses. Comfort counts. K in Ohio

  3. ooh I dislike poly charmeuse, though I keep getting sucked in by the nice prints I can find in it. However, after spending hours on one top only to have it feel like a little oven, I'm coming to not like wearing it.
    That being said your comment yesterday about the ease (no pun intended) of sewing it on a straight stitch machine convinced me to buy a featherweight over eBay. Can't wait for its arrival!

  4. I've had a silk charmeuse blouse and loved it. I've thought about purchasing some fabric and making another, even though I don't have a use for it. Poly is just a horror to work with. I was thinking about saving money and making a poly charmeuse blouse but thankfully I think you've talked me out of it.

  5. I don't have a straight stitch machine and don't like slippery fabrics, but I do have some poly that I'm planning to make into a dress. It's a heavier weight and I'm not actually sure if it's charmeuse, but I guess I'm hoping that the heavy weight will offset the tendency to pucker. Fingers crossed! Luckily, the pattern has a gathered sleeve cap rather than a full set-in sleeve.

    I think your blouse looks lovely and very period-appropriate, even with the waist tucks removed.

  6. Oh dear, I'm starting to sweat just looking at this. Isn't Cathy going to perspire like a beast in this? Or maybe that's just me and poly...and the reason why Facebook targets me with ads for pads you apply to your underarm to prevent staining. How does Cathy feel about sleeveless poly blouses?

  7. remember the lack of ease when you work on some wonderful naturals too. I did a peacoat from a very nice wool years ago. I had to almost flatten the sleeve cap to get it in. If you haven't already found it out, pull your bobbin thread to remove stitches with the least peril. The blouse is looking great and I can't wait to see the complete outfit on Cathy.--Karen in Milwaukee

  8. We haven't really discussed it, Suzanne. I'm hoping for cool weather but sweat shields are always an option!

  9. I made a wool vest in the 1800's style using wool tweed (Laughing Moon pattern)last month for my son's wedding. He wanted to wear an ascot and vest with lapels under his suit. I had similar problems because I had purchased a cheap polyester lining fabric. It made me crazy trying to press the wool to make welt pockets, etc. without melting the polyester crap that was attached everywhere. Never again! Silk charmeuse is getting so cheap to purchase now, the piece for his ascot was $12 a yard.

    To top it all off, I washed the vest after the wedding and the polyester crap raveled completely to shreds in a cold, gentle wash. Who can use this stuff? They must only be able to sell it to unsuspecting customers. Believe me, I remember the name of it and will never purchase it again!

  10. Gorgeous shirt.
    Your amazing sewing skills make me jealous.

  11. your sewing skills are amazing!! I find that all sleeve caps are way too much, I am learning to cut them down unless I want to gather it all in the top 3 inches for style. I will not touch polyester for just the things you pointed out. I prefer natural fabrics, because they wash so much better. Poly does not release stains especially oils, and I want my blouses to last.

  12. Sounds painful, but you really make it look easy.

  13. Peter, you're doing a lovely job on the blouse -- and that is some of the most unforgiving stuff I've ever sewn. Poly charmeuse is Satan's Own Fabric and I now avoid it like the plague.

    I like the idea of bringing back a shallow tuck at the front waist for the illusion of shape. Even though Cathy is going to bake in this blouse, it will be lovely for as long as she can stand to wear it!

  14. It is good that you removed nearly all of the ease as it is not needed unless one wants a puffy sleeved blouse. Lately, I've been using tips on inserting sleeves from Peggy Sayers, even on a recently finished Hoodie.
    Here is a link to Peggy's webcast.
    Here is a link to my Hoodie, I hope:

  15. Great job on a horror of a project!! And it looks really good too. I'd have made the blouse larger at the sides so I could still have the look of the waist tucks. Check the body measurements before cutting!
    I would also never remove the ease from a sleeve cap. It's there to provide a nice round fit over the shoulder. But 5 or 6 inches!!! Seems excessive. I don't think there should be more than 1-3 inches of ease in a plain sleeve cap. And I've recently learned to sew in sleeves with the sleeve on the bottom, against the feed dog, to allow it to ease in the excess as the pressure foot pushes the armscye forward. I don't EVER work with poly charmeuse, so maybe you've done the best and only thing possible for that difficult stuff.

  16. I used polyester once and I agree with the view that it is Satan's Own Fabric. Creepy hand; doesn't breath.
    Your blouse looks terrific. But I weep for your nerves.

  17. I just read this just tonight in a book by Patricia Cornwell. "Polyester is so combustible that I try to remember never to wear synthetic materials when I fly. If we have a crash landing and there is a fire, the last thing I want against my flesh is polyester. I may as well douse myself with gasoline." Happy Sewing.

  18. Hate? I loath the stuff. But yet it calls to me in the fabric store, like a siren's song pulling to my death - oh wait. This is a fabric question, not dream analysis therapy.

    The stuff is pure evil. Because it looks so pretty in the store in all it's shiny and print-y innocence, only to become cheap and horrid the morning after.

    There, you have my thoughts on that. I use it only for lining because I dislike regular lining even more.

  19. I made a blouse from this stuff and I'm going to wear it today! Lucky for me it was a much simpler pattern than yours Peter, the only puckers were under the arms so I'm ignoring them.

  20. I have a simple shell cut from poly charmeuse waiting to be sewn. But it's being such an unravel-y bi-och that I'm ignoring it for other stuff. Nice job with your top, it looks really great. Love the polka dots! :)

  21. Your sleeves look masterful and to be honest it's something I've given up even trying to work with. I've just had such marginal success at best with polyester that it's just not worth my time....and that's the bottom line. Your work and expertise is worthy of silk. I'll do some things in poly, but nothing as nice as your beautiful blouse. Your sleeve head looks fabulous, and having to cut the head off like that is just as you described...cut and see if it fits, cut and see if it fits, etc. My hat's off to you cause I've just given up working with poly for a project this nice! I also live below the Mason-Dixon line which means it's HOT down here and stuff has to breathe and poly doesn't even know what one breath is!!!

  22. Hi Peter,
    Great job on the blouse. Sorry the fabric is such a nightmare to work with. Have you sewn anything with 100% rayon? Looking forward to seeing Cathy model the finished outfit.

  23. I have this pattern. I tried sewing it in poly charmeuse. UGH.


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