Swoon-Worthy Chiffon: A Special Occasion Dress
New York Designer Silk Chiffon Panel Print – 4 Panels
Lining – 2yds of silk double georgette in color #102 Porcelain
Whenever I’m invited to a special event, I get very excited because it means I have an excuse to sew myself something fancy! My friend’s wedding is coming up later this summer, and this dress will be just right for the occasion. This wonderful pattern could work with so many fabrics and look really beautiful in a more muted print or a solid color as well.
Silk often intimidates sewers, especially silk chiffon, but with patience and a couple clever techniques, silk is really rewarding to work with.
Planning how you will cut and sew a garment is a crucial step, especially with panel prints. The first step is to adjust the pattern with any changes you would usually make (in my case, I graded out the waist and hip because I am between sizes). Next, trace the pattern onto tissue paper so it will be easier to pin through and also so that you can see the pattern through the paper. Trace the seam lines onto the paper pattern.
The next step is to make a muslin to access fit and visualize how the pattern will play out on the final garment. I drew lines on my muslin along the grain of the fabric so I could get an idea of how the stripes would lay out. The neckline gaped a bit on me so I shaved 1/8″ off the bottom of the neckline as a personal alteration. Next, I pinched in approx. 1/2″ along the neckline at the hollow part of my chest. Then, I transferred theses marks to my pattern, along with notches 1 1/2″ on either side of the pinched mark. The idea is to tighten up that section by easing 1/2″ out over 3″ when we stay the neckline. I also cut a total of 3″ off the hem of the skirt to fit within the fabric panels.
First, to prepare your fabrics, steam both the silk and the silk lining before cutting because it will shrink just a bit. The ‘silk’ setting on most irons should do the job but always iron a corner first just to make sure. A grid cutting mat like the one in the pictures is super useful for cutting slinky fabric like silk, since the fabric needs to be lined up on grain. But any type of grid will work, I even use my basement flooring seams to line up fabric on the grain if I am cutting something on the bias, since my table isn’t big enough. You just want something with 2 right angles to use as guides.
I tried many layouts before I decided on this one. This particular fabric is not symmetrical so the layout takes some thought. If you find the perfect layout for half the dress, and then go to flip it, its not going to work (a mistake I almost made). Each panel is identical, so I started by cutting the 4 panels apart. That way I could drape them up on my stand to figure out what I liked best. I decided to line up the center front of the skirt with the longest printed stripe, since I could see that it had a similar long stripe on the other side of the fabric (not a mirror image, but close).
For the bodice, I wanted it to be all pink, and that fit easily beside the skirt on the upper half of the panel. Pin along seam lines. Roughly trace lines on the paper pattern where the different colors join, as we will be matching them on the other half of the skirt.
Rough cut around the skirt leaving generous seam allowances. Try to keep the selvedges intact around the bodice piece as it will make lining it up on the lining so much easier. Flip both pieces over and thread trace along the line of pins.
The skirt pattern can be removed from the fabric, but keep the bodice pattern pinned on.
The skirt will be sewn separately from the skirt lining, but for the bodice we will be stab stitching the outer fabric to the lining and treating the two layers as if they are one.
The double georgette won’t tear along the grain as some fabrics do, so instead clip into the fabric and pull a few threads. This will create a line perfectly on grain that you can trim along. Place the bodice pattern onto silk georgette lining fabric, lining up the selvages to make sure everything is on grain. Remove the pattern carefully and pin the printed silk to lining, with pins running across the thread traced lines. Stab-stitch along the thread traced lines to hold both layers of fabric together as if they were one.
Repeat all of the steps for the other half of the front, as well as for both sides of the back. I lined them up the same way, with the center backs running along the longest stripe. Use the lines we marked earlier on the patterns for lining up the horizontal color changes. This part doesn’t have to be exact, but I found that as long as the pattern ran horizontally across the front and the back it looked much cleaner.
For the skirt lining, I thread traced only the waistlines and cheated on the long seams by tracing the seam line with a heat erase marker.
Staying the Neckline and Armholes
Staying the neck is crucial, since the seam is on the bias it would otherwise stretch endlessly. Cut the selvedge off the leftover silk, along the white parts of the print. I cut mine 3/8″. Now take the front and back bodice pattern pieces and pin them together at the should. Lay the selvedge tapes along the seam lines of the pattern, marking notches, shoulder seam and beginning/end of seam. Do this for the armholes as well. Next, pin the stay tape to the inside of the bodice along the seam line, then flip over bodice and stab-stitch in place.
When you get to the portion of the center front we marked for ease, just follow the notches and ease in the extra amount (should be very easy in this silk).
I chose to do all french seams, apart from the seam joining the bodice to the skirt. To do a french seam, first baste the seam along the seam line, with wrong sides together. Machine stitch 1/4″ out from the basting. Remove the basting holding both layers together (yellow), but try to leave the white thread tracing in. Trim seam allowance down to a scant 1/4″, press seam open (I recommend doing each seam from start to finish separately because they can get fraying quite a bit otherwise). Press the seam now with right sides facing. Baste once more along seam line. Remove thread tracing and machine sew along basting line. Alternatively, you can skip the second basting, and just sew the seam at 1/4″, which I mostly did on the lining, but for some seams basting it again just makes things easier.
The side seams of the skirt are partially on the bias, so they will stretch quite a bit. Clip the thread tracing so that it doesn’t prevent it from stretching. When basting the seam together, do so in 3-4 lengths of thread rather than one continuous thread, overlapping the lengths about an inch and leaving long thread tails. This allows the seam to stretch without losing your basting. Hold some tension on the fabric while sewing the side seams, otherwise the seams will pucker rather than lay flat.
For finishing the armholes and neckline, I decided to use a doubled over bias tape, since I didn’t want any of the seams showing through the chiffon. I cut bias strips 1 3/4″ wide of the georgette lining, and pressed them in half lengthwise. Once I did that, they were roughly 1/2″ wide, but do a sample since all fabric will stretch differently. I then chalked 1/4″ away from the thread traced line, and lined up the cut edge of the bias tape with the chalk line. Baste in place. Remove original thread tracing and machine sew along basting. Trim the seam allowance to a skinny 3/16″, press over to inside and cross-stitch in place. Make sure to only pick up the lining layer when cross-stitching. A handy trick for doing this is to pick up both layers on your needle on purpose, then drop the outer layer. It sounds counterintuitive but it is much easier to feel the second layer drop than it is to notice you’ve picked up a single thread of that layer by accident.
Do all the same steps for the armholes, but stop about 1″ short of both ends. It’s easiest to do the bulk of it out flat (before sewing the side seams), but we will want to do a seamless finish on the underarm after the side seams are sewn.
Once the CF, CB and right side seam are sewn in both the silk and the lining, Stitch the tiny seam at the top of the point, right sides together. Trim down and baste the two skirt layers together along the waist seam. Stitch the bodice to the skirt. Using the same bias tape we made earlier, press one edge into the fold. Then pin this tape along previous stitching. Stitch in place, ideally stitching it just a hair away from the first seam. Trim all layers of the seam allowance down and wrap the bias tape around. Slip-stitch in place.
The original pattern calls for a zipper down the center back, but for this delicate and sheer fabric I chose to replace it with a side seam zipper to be more discreet. Using your muslin dress, see how much space you need to get into the dress if the armhole is sewn up. Mark on dress, both lining and silk. Start a french seam from about 3″ down from the marking, down to the hem. Finish it as normal on the outer silk, but for the lining, stitch wrong sides together, trim and press, but stop before sewing final row. Place the finished french seam between layers of lining seam, gradually slanting out until they are separate again. Do a final row of stitching on lining.
Now, stitch using a regular seam, from the armhole down 2″, and from the end of the french seam up the 3″ we added. Insert an invisible zipper between these two points. Flip to the right side to check that everything looks smooth. Then trim the seam allowance to equal the zipper tape width. Bind the edges, going right up to the armhole and all the way down to where the french seam starts. To reduce bulk while binding the zipper, I sewed the binding on at 1/4″, flipped it around the zipper, and stitched in the ditch from the folded side, then trimmed the raw edge down.
I chose an off white zipper, and it was hidden well with the lining, but I didn’t like the zipper pull, so I got out some nail polish and chose the best color to hide it. I then added a topcoat to seal it all in. Be careful not to go too wild with the nail polish on this part because it can easily get on the silk and too much will make a sticky zipper, so I really just painted the pull and left the rest.
This hemming technique is new to me and rather game changing! I am demonstrating it on the shoulder ties, but I also used this method to hem the dress and lining. I cut my shoulder ties bigger since it would just be one layer: 19″ long by 8.5″ wide.
First, you will need a length of Ban-Roll waistband interfacing, sometimes referred to as just ‘belting’. This can be re-used over and over so have a longer than needed length going. Pull out a few of the lengthwise threads until you have a wide 1/8″. At your sewing machine, line up the edge of the belting with the raw edge of the fabric on the right side. Stitch along the belting, just under 1/8″. Then flip the belting over to the wrong side of the garment, and stitch once more. Carefully pull the belting out from the seam. It’s as easy as that! It’s great because it stabilizes the fabric under the foot as you sew along, and its great for making sharp corners on the shoulder ties. It would also work wonderfully if you were hemming a silk scarf.