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Nov 3, 2011

All The News About Poly Charmeuse

Readers, one of the best things about giving yourself permission to change your mind is that you're also allowed to change your mind back again, with the end result being like you'd never changed your mind in the first place.  Do you know what I mean?

This time yesterday, very much in a wiggy whirl, I doubted I wanted to make my 1944 blouse with the two yards of poly charmeuse I'd purchased for it.

It looked too shiny, too slinky, too too.  But rather than pitch it altogether I decided to try to make friends with it.  I did some research in Claire Shaeffer's Fabric Sewing Guide.  I took out my featherweight (my go-to machine these days), inserted a fresh #9 needle, and experimented with stitch length.  The test darts I'd made the previous day that looked shabby with a medium-long stitch came out beautifully with a tiny stitch.  I experimented with iron heat settings (my iron runs cool) and steam.  The results were encouraging.

Michael said he liked the fabric.  The alternative was to make the blouse out of an old cotton sheet I use for muslins.  I decided to give the charmeuse a try.

I chose the darker of two thread colors, not that you'll ever see the thread.  Normally I sew with serger thread -- there, now you know! -- but I received an 18-spool kit of Coat & Clarks thread from the BurdaStyle dress sew-along project I led, and was eager to use some of it.

Did I mention that my charmeuse has a little width-wise and diagonal stretch?  I steam ironed it on the wrong side, and got ready to cut.  It cut beautifully with my rotary cutter, with very little fraying. 

The polka dots made it easy to line things up.  As you can see, this is not a printed pattern.  V-cuts and perforations are all the information you get, which can be confusing at first but you get used to it.  The instructions are very detailed, if a little dense.

The back has two inverted tucks, and the front has something similar, referred to as "dart tucks."

I'm using french seams where I can.  Not sure what I'll use for the armscye seams.  Any suggestions?

I serged the edges of my front facings.  I know that's not historically accurate but it sure is easier, and won't show throw the front of the blouse when ironed.

Anyway, there's still much to do.  Maybe it's the quality of the poly charmeuse I bought (which wasn't all that cheap at $5/yd at Chic Fabrics), but I am cautiously optimistic. While it doesn't have the beautiful creamy quality of real silk charmeuse, this poly charmeuse is a pretty good imitation.

In closing, I think one of the tricks to success with this fabric is to use a straight stitch machine, which gives excellent control, especially on darts and tucks, and especially with potentially slippery fabrics.  Sometimes I think sewing machine manufacturers perpetrated a huge hoax on home garment sewers when they introduced the zigzag machine.  But let's not even go there -- unless you must.

Have a great day, everybody!


  1. I totally agree on changing a changed mind back again. Theoretically and philosophically, but also how it works out in this particular case. The fabric looks really fitting.

    Cathy'll like it, you just wait and see. Very feminine - and also with a 'bit of a character', so there's definitely a match.

  2. I'm sure the ensemble will turn out beautifully; i have full faith in your ability to put things together with style and panache.

    Re Featherweights, i managed to buy a 221 yesterday at an auction. I think the timing is out as the needle keeps catching when it goes down. I'm thinking the motor could probably do with some maintenance work as well; it runs but the belt is loose.

    I think a trip to my local Singer/All make sewing machine store is in order to get her fixed as i have no idea how to fix a timing issue.

    I have every faith that it will eventually be working beautifully:)

  3. Great blouse. I am sure it will look lovely on Cathy. For a good sleeve tutorial you might want to look at Pam Erny's blog - Off the Cuff. I use her method and it works quite well.

  4. The blouse looks beautiful so far, and your sewing skills are top notch! It is going to be a fab ensemble....

  5. I've wondered more than once what poly charmeuse is like to sew with; thanks for the review! I was skeptical, but now I think I'll give it a try.
    I'm not sure about serging on something made from a mid century pattern, though! I am about to start a lightweight cotton robe from a 1950's pattern for my mister, and I expect it to get a lot of wear; he is going to have surgery and then rehab next month. So serging is a great option, but part of me feels that bound seams is the "right" thing to do. I'm so conflicted!
    xo, A.

  6. Okay, Peter. I spent years finishing things the old fashioned way with french seaming before I saved enough for a serger. And while French seaming is lovely, it has its faults--it doesn't work well on curved seams like armholes. The best solution I found is to bind off the curved seams with bias tape. In fact, if you look at period clothing, that's how it's commonly done. At least, that's how my grandmother did it, and she was a professional seamstress in the 30s and 40s.

  7. Beautiful blouse. You could always sew the sleeve in and follow up by serging the edge. Not pretty, but functional.

  8. I love it...the whole thing feels right to me. I can't wait to see it all finished.

  9. Oh, what beautiful stitches, Peter! I find that with charmeuse a shorter stitch AND careful pressing really helps. This blouse is looking beautiful!

  10. Looks lovely!

    And thanks for the French seaming and serger thread admissions - I'm the same way myself, and it's good to know that I'm not alone.

  11. When did they stop making straight-stitch machines? Does anyone know?

    I love the new blouse. You have nerves of steel (and well-kempt hands!) Poly-charmeuse makes me nutz. I snag it all.

  12. It looks like it is sewing up very nicely. I am sure your perseverance will be worth it!

  13. The blouse is wonderfully perfect!

  14. I'm glad you changed your mind, Peter. The polka dot blouse looks lovely and I'll bet it will look great with Cathy's new hairstyle.

  15. The blouse is looking great Peter, of course. Your sewing skills are top notch - I couldn't do a better job myself, and I've been sewing 25+ years!

    You can usually purchase a "straight stitch plate" from the sewing machine manufacturer. I have one for a Singer and my Pfaff. I agree, if it's a fussy and fine fabric, a straight stitch plate is the way to go!

  16. Looks good! I love the pattern you are using. I'm right now trying to make two matching 1960s peignoirs from very cheap poly costume satin. Oh the fraying! At least the marabou will cover up any seam ugliness, haha!

  17. Lisette, lay out your pieces after you've cut them and coat all the cut parts in fray check and let them dry. *Then* sew them together!

  18. I concur with Paula - you really need a straight stitch needle plate if your zigzag machine didn't come with one. Makes a world of difference.

    My hat's off to you for dealing so successfully with poly charmeuse on the first try. It's one of my personal betes noirs.

  19. I'm so impressed that you continue to challenge yourself and remain fearless in your sewing projects!

    You've reminded me of something I haven't yet done in my sewing experience: sewn a garment from a vintage (unprinted) pattern. I will add it immediately to my bucket list and continue to watch you for hints and tips. You're so good at sharing....Thank you, Peter!
    And, well done!

  20. Lovely looking blouse. Love how you used some earrings as pattern weights- very smart.

  21. Looks very luxurious to me. I love the directions and how they show the buttonholes being made by hand! Yeah, right.

  22. You're right about French seams and the armscye - and probably your best and most authentic solution is binding the seam, preferably in some scraps of the fabric you have left. And I think this would add that extra "oomph" that makes a sleeve head stand up so nicely.

    I have to hand it to you for working with poly charmeuse, not only one of the hardest of the man-mades, but also I don't think it gives very satisfactory results. Your blouse looks wonderful and I'm sure it will wear nicely, but there's just so much polys can do and then that's it - they can't go any further. For me they make an alternative to folks who are allergic to natural fibers, and that's about it. They never have that crispness that naturals can give, and they always look just a little unpressed at the seams no matter what I do, and I'm often using a higher heat setting with good steam, and a press cloth and it still doesn't respond well (I sometimes think melting a seam or crease is the only way to get the darn stuff to press nicely!)

    Love your blouse!

  23. The blouse is looking good, Peter.

    And now for a tip on zig-zag machines - if you can't find/afford a straight stitch plate for your current machine, a piece of tape over the stitch plate (not over the feed dogs though) is decent substitute. And if you need a straight stitch foot, you can put tape on that as well. However, if you will be needing such a setup on a regular basis, I'd be inclined to get an older straight stitch machine or buy the add-ons.

  24. Hooray for Claire Schaffer's Fabric Sewing Guide! That is my go-to book for so many questions. Are you not SO glad you have it?!!

  25. You might want to refer to "Gigi Sews" blog about the armscye. Pretty sure she had a tutorial there sometime summer or spring of 2010. She is really good at finished seams on difficult fabrics.


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