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Sep 18, 2012

Chiffon -- YEA or NAY?



Chiffon.  The very word is onomatopoetic, don't you think?  That whisper-soft shhhh sound evoking the dreamy creaminess of this uber-glamorous fabric.  But does anybody really sew with it anymore, other than for bridal wear -- or even like it?

There's something a little too much about chiffon, I think.  It's so closely associated with dated concepts of glamour, old-school Hollywood, as well as pre-p.c. ideas about exoticism (and eroticism).  Or campy, chiffon-shrouded B-actresses like Maria Montez, who embodied all of the above.







The heyday of chiffon was the 1950's and it's no wonder: fashion back then worked hard to sell women on femininity (and domesticity), and filmy, transparent chiffon was part of the picture.  Think Helen Rose (MGM costumer in the late 40's and 50's of films like High Society and Designing Woman) -- and all things Vera-Ellen.







I have a little experience sewing with chiffon, which I used to make Cathy's flapper dress way back when.  Chiffon can be hard to work with; it shifts. 

I must have chiffon in my Scheherazade costume, however, so I hightailed it to the Garment District yesterday. At Chic Fabrics I found gorgeous chiffon and plenty of it, but when I took the bolts to be cut, I was told that what I'd assumed was poly chiffon was silk (sob!) and I just couldn't bring myself to pay $10/yd for silk chiffon, not that this isn't a very good price -- it is.  There wasn't much poly chiffon at Chic, unfortunately.

At Fabrics For Less, poly chiffon was just $3 a yard (for roughly 44" bolts) and while it certainly wasn't as beautiful as silk chiffon, whose colors are subtler and texture softer, it will have to do.  I bought six yards, in minty green, peachy pink, and pinky pink.  Together, I think they're pretty, and I love the look of one color laid upon another.





In closing, readers, what are your thoughts about chiffon?  Do you ever sew with it?  Do you ever wear it?

Does it have any particular associations for you -- either positive or negative?

Chiffon -- Yea or Nay?

40 comments:

  1. Chiffon maxi skirts were a thing this summer. I have one on deck, if I manage to get to it.

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  2. I adore chiffon! I love the way the colours layer. I love the way it swishes and shifts as you move. I love the way it *almost* shimmers but not really. Most of all I love the way it drapes on the bias. Sure it's a pain the ass to sew, but SOOO worth it! Press on!

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    1. Why is sewing with chiffon so hard for you?

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  3. shoulda splurged on the silk chiffon. It's a little easier to handle and takes the heat of the iron better. Poly loves to melt.
    I think you need to be mentally prepared for sewing chiffon. Go to your happy Zen sewing place where frustrations don't exist and only then you can begin to work with it.

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  4. I made a maxi dress and plated skirt with colour gradient chiffon this spring. It fades from pink to mint and is beautiful. It wasn't hard to work with, but is slightly hard to wear as it is see through! Have fun with yours : )

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  5. I also tried for a chiffon maxi skirt in May, and found the poly stuff much easier to work with than the real deal. I was scared to cut actual pattern pieces out of the shifty stuff, so a boxy/gathered skirt was the best I could do. I love the light floaty feeling of chiffon... but I'm in no hurry to cut that stuff up.

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  6. Yea! I love chiffon, as long as it is real silk, and as long as it is paired with something sturdy. I sew with it sometimes, but very carefully, usually by hand.


    Know who does the herem girl with chiffon look really well? Mata Hari!

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  7. Organza, yes. Tulle, yes. Chiffon? Nope. Never tried it. I've heard it's fussy and difficult, though!

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  8. I fear the chiffon. I've conquered my fear of organza and tulle...but still shy away from the chiffon. I'm working my way up to it (and not ruining it or my sewing machine) but just for now I'll stay on the tulle training slopes and let you braver souls take the risks with chiffon whilst I just ooh and aah.

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  9. when you go to cut the chiffon, lay paper out on the table, pin the chiffon closely around the edges to the paper, then pin the pattern closely to the chiffon. Cut through all three layers. Here is your chance to use French seams.

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  10. Requests for chiffon usually comes up during the holidays. Not easy to work with but the challenge does help with the sense of accompishment. Poly doesn't look or feel as good as silk; but, depending on how much yardage is needed usually informs my decision on which way to go. Recently I found a small fabric store that mostly stocks yardage from India. Their silk chiffon starts at $4.00 at 60" wide. Hope they stay in business - sad to drive up to a small fabric store and find it has become a Kinko's.

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    1. Fabric store extinction - Peter, there's a topic worth revisiting before the end of the world rolls around!

      I'm NO fan of Wal-Mart, but when they dumped their fabric department to make way for more electronics, I was crestfallen. They had some truly kitchy polar fleece. One less egg to fry!

      Jo-Ann's is a crap shoot, erring more toward crap (even the "better Jo-Ann's in town are sliding - meanwhile, the icky Jo-Ann's are so depressing; from the ambiance to the corporately dictated market appropriate selection - all of their employees should be cross-trained in grief counseling).

      With sewing and quilting being popular, where oh where are the better fabrics?

      On-line is almost one's only option as the local offerings are going from dismal to non-existent.

      Are the fabric stashers essentially getting cured by limited choices? Lack of sewtivation?

      Oh, to be near a garment district...

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  11. I love chiffon, but I think that for any application besides costume or wedding, it needs to be roughed up a little. An unexpected color (or colors, I love ombré chiffon), frayed hem, paired with heavy boots, that sort of thing. I has potential, it just depends on how you use it.

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  12. Chiffon makes me think of two people: Loretta Young, whom I despise even in chiffon (and on whom it just seems even prissier and more impractical) and my maternal grandmother.

    The latter, obviously, is a more positive association. She used to have beautiful summer shirtwaists in chiffon, three-quarter length with elbow-length sleeves, usually in tans or pales pinks. Somehow, working with her regular dressmaker, she had a way to have pockets in the skirts in such a way that even weighted down with cigarette pack on one side and transistor on the other (she was a baseball fiend), they moved beautifully.

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  13. Oh to be able to buy silk chiffon for $10yd!!It is glorioso. If you wan to see the real difference, try fluttering your poly chiffon then go flutter a length of the silk stuff. The difference in how it moves is like the difference between Nureyev and Forrest Gump.
    And it is very 'on trend' again, especially those mullet skirts (eeew)but printed stuff has been around for a few years.
    Much easier to sew than people think, it's the cutting out that counts. My tip is to weigh the pattern down on it with lots of cutlery - don't try pinning it. Make sure it is lying as square as poss first, both the top and under layers. Sew twice 1/4 inch apart and then pink the seams. Works fine for what you're doing, instead of faffing around with french seams :)

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    1. "try fluttering your poly chiffon then go flutter a length of the silk stuff. The difference in how it moves is like the difference between Nureyev and Forrest Gump"

      I love this!!! And I agree - I made a gown for an army ball from iridescent silk chiffon a few years ago and the poly chiffon I used to make the muslin was no comparison.

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  14. Silk chiffon is the only way to go. Consider the value of your time. Chiffon can be cut easier if you lay an old sheet down on your cutting board (it has some texture) and then lay the chiffon on top and cut as two.

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  15. I love chiffon, but hate the Loretta Young look too. I wear with boots, a jean jacket. Like the idea of frayed hems. Prissiness is not for me. Poly can be good. Thanks for tips to cut and sew it!!!!!! I am re-organizing stash, and pulled out floral silk chiffon. I got the total piece for $1. at a charity shop. Not sure of size, quite large. Will measure. Rough it up is the way to go. Add a groom bag, etc., etc.... Cathie, in Quebec And the only place we shop is charity shops. Love, love, love them. But, as Montreal WAS a fashion and textile city, some of these things still exist here, given away, hidden away, waiting to be found/rescued....

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  16. I'm pretty sure the blue dress above is organza though.

    I loooooooooove chiffon. It does not necessarily love me. However, it loves me better if I drown it in a bucket of water and cornstarch and iron it to give it some spine. Then I just rinse it out when I'm done.

    The rolled hem foot is your friend.

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  17. I am working on a floaty circle vest make of silk chiffon (that will be belted). I wish the rolled hem foot was MY friend! My serger took one look at that chiffon, turned up her nose and spit it right out the side along with a bunch of thread that was NOT attached to the chiffon. Stooopid machine.

    So yay chiffon, but serger: 1, Me: 0. :(

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    1. My serger mocks me from the corner of my living room because for the life of me, I can't figure out how to make her love me. I used the rolled hem foot for my sewing machine.

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  18. I've sewn a couple of things in chiffon. It's a pain in the neck, but if you make time and do it when you are feeling patient, it works out OK. I always sew french seams. I've not tried the cornstarch method, but as I have a few chiffon garments planned for summer, I intend to try it as I'm sure it will make it much easier.

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  19. Let me tell you from experience for a one off costume poly chiffon is ok but for anything you want to wear more than once Go For The Silk! I would gladly $10 a yard.
    BTW floaty designs with chiffon is making a comeback, especially the long sheer over short mini thing.

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  20. I HATE chiffon. It's the only fabric about which you will ever hear me declare that. And BTW? I love chiffon at the same time. It's beautiful, it's sensual. It's a b*tch. It's the coloratura soprano/Kathleen Battle of fabrics, and I say that as a trained coloratura. Every time I sew with chiffon, I want to stick a fork in my eye.

    And have I mentioned that I hate/love chiffon?

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  21. PS - I'm talking about silk chiffon. Poly chiffon, not so much. It's easier to work with, but it's just not as much fun to dis.

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  22. I love silk chiffon to layer; just like the soft look it gives. Haven't worked with it much as poly chiffon is much easier to find here (NZ) and I don't like polyester in general

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  23. Peter, I think chiffon can be lovely but it is a BEAST to deal with! That is one of things I adore about my "old" Pfaff, though. I bought it new in the px in Germany in late 1978, if you can believe it. It is a 1222 E and has a walking foot to feed the material evenly and to minimize shifting. (It's also all metal still and even though its about 34 years old I adore it.)

    I've also seen a light coating of spray glue that would dissolve upon washing used to cut down the slippage. I've not used it too much because it's such a pain.

    Hugs
    catherine

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  24. I looove chiffon, and I am the complete opposite of a girly-girl. The way it drapes is just so flattering. I lay it out on a large table and get it on grain as best as I can, then spray it down with Sullivan's Spray and let it dry. From there on out, it's like sewing on paper - easy peasy!

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  25. So glad to know that so many fabric mavens find chiffon (silk or ply) painful! That said, I do like the look of it and the feel of silk. So far, I have had success with self-lined chiffon scarves in silk and in synthetic and total failure with attempts to rolled hem chiffon scarves using the overlocker. But your success with Cathy’s flapper outfit (which was a joy to revisit) augurs well for the Scheherazade caper.

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  26. I inherited my grandmother's hand embroidered chiffon scarves. If I could find chiffon of that quality, I would gladly spend all the time and care it would take to make an outfit.

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  27. Think Grace Kelly's sky blue Grecian gown in To Catch a Think. There, chiffon=heaven.

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  28. The only sewing with chiffon I've done is hand rolled hem on a silk scarf. The sewing is easy, keeping it from finding every snag on my fingers is not.

    Otherwise chiffon brings to mind (no particular order) - mother or grandmother of the bride & groom dresses and wedding gowns, the great 50's movie dresses, harem girl or belly dance costumes.

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  29. Personally, unless it's roughed up a bit or used in small or unexpected doses, it's too pretty for me. I used silk chiffon for the sleeves of the red dress I made last year and loved it. But that was the right dose, IMHO. A whole dress would be a bit much.

    Then again, Cation Designs made a TDF chiffon "Girl on Fire" dress earlier this year that I would wear in a heartbeat.

    As for working with it...well... on the bias it's a bee with an itch, as they say.

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  30. I love silk chiffon. Wonderful for layers of subtle color. Nothing feels more feminine than a chiffon layered skirt.

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  31. Yes chiffon is hard to work with. But it's so gorgeous when you layer colors and keep it simple. Or just make a scarf with a machine rolled edge.

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  32. I made a high-low black chiffon skirt over the summer, and I really liked it. I haven't made anything with it since then though.

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  33. I've read that spraying the chiffon lightly with spray starch will give it enough body to reduce the slippage when cutting. Sewing with tissue under the chiffon is supposed to eliminate the problems that happen when your machine's feed dogs attempt to eat the chiffon.

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  34. Chiffon is such a pain to sew and poly chiffon gets extra penalty points for being so static.
    I have worked with chiffon when altering bridal dresses and I was always happy my job was limited to fitting and hemming (with a a rolled hem on the serger, which was annoying enough in its own right when dealing with a circle of chiffon. That stuff behaves quite differently on the bias than it does on the straight grain).

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  35. Interesting about Helen Rose! My mother had a HR dress that I now have. She bought it at a Los Angeles resale shop in the '60s. It is silk chiffon, a lovely print in shades of cream and brown. Very feminine and flattering.

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  36. it is easier to sew chiffon when you put very light paper (possibly pattern cutting paper, rice paper or lighter and more easily breakable) under it while sewing - your machine handles it better so it won't get stuck.

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