When I first joined the Mood Sewing Network one of the things that excited me most was having a wide variety of beautiful fabrics I’d never used before at my fingertips. I’ve really tried to challenge myself to sew with new and slightly trickier fabrics this year; so this month I decided to take the plunge and try one of the most infamously tricky fabrics to handle and gave in to my urge to snap up some of this stunning printed silk chiffon from Oscar de la Renta.
I probably should have picked a slightly more straightforward garment for my first chiffon project but I have a tendency with my sewing to jump right in feet first and all I could envision this fabric as was a dress with a full, floaty skirt. So that’s exactly what I did! I chose the skirt from By Hand London’s Flora Dress as this was the fullest skirt I could think of. It is a I had an image in my head of the movement of contemporary ballet skirts and knew that many of these are formed of layers of chiffon and lightweight silk so I chose this antique white silk crepe de chine for my lining/underlining. I used just the one layer of the crepe in my skirt, if I’d been sure the whole project was going to work out or if it had been for an extra special occasion I probably would have put a second one in to add a bit more plushness to swirl of the skirt. As it is I am so delighted with the movement and the weight of the chiffon and crepe de chine together. It doesn’t show up fully in photos but hopefully these two give you some kind of idea!
Silk organza was used a lot throughout this dress. Stabilising is key when using fabrics this delicate for a fitted dress. I stitched selvedge strips of organza to the seam allowances where I was going to insert the zip (in place of the fusible interfacing I usually use) and stitched bias strips of it into the seam allowance along the neckline instead of stay tape as I thought even a narrow twill tape would be too bulky.
I used this fabric covered boning from Mood Fabrics which I will admit I was a little apprehensive about ordering as it was such a bargain for a whole roll! However, it turned out to be absolutely perfect for this particular project as both narrow and lightweight meaning that it would not put too much stress on the delicate silk nor show a ridge through to the outer side. The plastic bone can be removed from the casing which is different to similar products I’ve bought here in the UK before. It makes it much easier to work with as when sewing the seams across each end you can push the boning away slightly and not risk breaking your needle by catching the end. I really like the boning that comes pre-covered as I could just sew it straight onto the wrong side of the batiste lining once it was assembled, aligning it over each seam line.
I’ve been reading Claire Shaeffer’s Couture Sewing Techniques recently and it got me fired up to try out some more involved techniques to make the most of the delicate chiffon. Don’t get me wrong, I still started each step pretty terrified about what I was about to encounter but I was up for the challenge! One of the main things I took from her book was how to add a petersham waist stay. Even with these super fine fabrics that full skirt is surprisingly weighty and I didn’t want it to distort the shape of the bodice or add stress to the delicate fabrics.
I used french seams on both layers of the skirt. I expected these to be quite frustrating in the chiffon but both fabrics responded well to pressing so I managed to achieve a neat and smooth result. I wish I’d been a bit more aggressive in trimming down the allowance of the first seam so that the completed seam was narrower and more delicate in appearance but it’s not a major issue, just something to remember next time! The bodice seams are all enclosed within the lining so I chose just to pink these to reduce some of the bulk and risk of fraying.
I feel like I could ramble on for hours about the construction and different techniques I used but I’ll save you the longest read in the history of the MSN and share some more detailed insights and pictures on my blog later in the week! All in all I’m really proud of this dress and certainly won’t shy away from working with chiffon or lightweight silks again. It’s very time consuming and requires some patience but I really enjoy a challenging project like this. The process was a mixture of ups and downs (the downs namely being slipstitching the lining down at the waist and that hem…argh!) but most aspects actually came together better than expected and with surprisingly infrequent use of the unpicker!