Chiffon · Crew

Sewing viscose chiffon, or Do Not try this at home

…unless you have a brilliant sewing machine, that is. Jokes aside, if this goes wrong, it could seriously jam your machine and force you to disassemble the entire hook race and feed dog mechanism to fix it. Not that I would know it from my own experience, naturally… 😉

But if you are brave, have a screw driver ready, and proceed with caution, you may try this and test just how brilliant your sewing machine really is. You may be surprised, one way or the other. 😮

The fabric

Everyone who’s ever tried to sew loose-woven chiffon, will tell you it’s a complete nightmare far worse than satin, both for hand and machine sewing. But things get much worse still if that chiffon is woven with exceptionally fine, “creased” viscose thread. This does create a lovely cloth – light, upwards-floating gravity-defeating textured yet sheer, non-creasing dream of a cloth.

But hard to sew because it wouldn’t stay in place, it floats and shifts, flexes and snakes away. It is also impossible to iron – it’s non-creasing! It frays easily, so needs to be edged, yet it’s so light that a narrow rolled hem simply slides off it leaving an unravelled fringe – the sewing thread is too heavy. The same happens with seams. In a word – a dream of a cloth.

The task

I am adding a gathered volant to a dress that I made a couple of years back. The volant is cut on the cross, so I have to sew together strips of chiffon making the seams as small and flat as possible, then hem the volant on one side (making the hem as narrow as possible) and gather it on the other. The gathered side is then attached to the hem of the skirt.

This is a simple enough task, but working viscose chiffon makes it very tricky. Normally I would have made 2-3mm wide felled seams like this:

But the chiffon was not going to be folded over like that. Neither was it going to allow a straight stitch close to the edge – it slipped along the threads and fell right off, taking the seam allowance with it.

The first trial – zig-zag overedging

I decided to take a zig-zag approach: setting zig-zag width to 2mm and reducing tension of both threads, I made an overedge stitch that actually stayed in place!

This constitutes the first trial for the sewing machine. If the material got pulled into the hook race or chewed up, do not continue – it will only get worse. The zig-zag should be smooth, not pulled or crumbled up. It should not make the seam into a rope – this is not a rolled hem.

I am using the Butterfly on this. The Butterfly is my Haid & Neu Primatic a.k.a. Harris Automatic.

This zig-zag seam was my first surprise: perfect from the first attempt.

The second trial – double needle

Recall that our viscose chiffon cannot be ironed. So the only way to get a seam lie flat, is to stitch it in place.

The second trial for your sewing machine is the use of a double needle. I’m using a narrow one – 2mm – stitching on the right side.

Success! No skipped stitches, nothing pulled into the hook race, chewed up or choked on the frayed threads coming off the seam edge. Just a perfect seam.

The seam should be perfectly flat, not puckered. This is not a tuckmaker, and we don’t want a ridge between the two stitches. On the reverse, we now have a double zig-zag securely holding those loose threads in place.

The third trial – narrow hem

With all the pieces forming the volant joint together, we now need to make a narrow flat hem on one side of it. Remember that the fabric is cut on the cross, and with all the flexing and snaking, it is never going to be a pure cross all the way through. It is more of an approximately diagonal cut with a varying curve throughout.

I suppose in retrospect I could have gone for a rolled hem and my Butterfly would have likely pulled it off, but that is even trickier on the cross than a flat hem, so I took the safer option.

A narrow hem is supposed to be made with a narrow hem foot, but if you’ve ever tried it on anything other than a straight edge on cotton poplin, you’ll know how hard it is to use. Even on cotton, which is the easiest fabric to sew, the edge is often pulled out of shape, it puckers, bobbles, slips away and generally behaves badly. Therefore I normally make those hems partly by hand, first pressing, pinning and tucking them and then stitching with a satin stitch foot.

But viscose chiffon won’t be pressed or tucked – the stitches simply fall out along the edge and the hem straightens out into a flat piece of fabric with a threaded fringe.

Ok then, let’s have a go at the narrow hem foot! This is the third trial for the sewing machine. We’re folding the hem once – just once! – and zig-zagging the edge with a 1.5mm narrow zig-zag.

Wow, this really worked! I set the zig-zag such that the left stitch falls just behind the edge of the folded hem, so it sews a single layer of fabric. The right stitch sews through both layers, and because the zig-zag is so narrow, it is also quite tight, but not solid, so it is light enough to hold the fabric without pulling on it.

And as before, the zig-zag should be perfect without any pulling, puckering or rope effects.

The verdict

How well did your machine perform? Did you get through the trials without disassembling your hook race a few times? Are you pleased with the resulting stitching? How straight is your straight stitch? How many times did you have to re-adjust thread tension for the different steps?

Answer these questions, and you’ll know if your machine is a fine worker, and how brilliant it really is. My Butterfly surprised me beyond my wildest dreams – it is the finest machine I’ve ever worked with. Awesome!!

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