Inspiration No. 24: Viscose/Rayon Elegance

Casual Elegance with Printed Viscose/Rayon Wovens

by Malia Janveaux

History

Viscose, also known as rayon, has been around for a long time! The quality and durability have improved tremendously over the years, and viscose/rayon is part of a family of fabrics that are made primarily from wood pulp. Because it is made from a natural fiber, but manufactured through a manmade process, it is considered by some a natural fiber, by others synthetic. It has all the breathability and comfort of natural fibers and was invented with the intention of creating a less expensive alternative to silk. Viscose is truly silky smooth, drapes beautifully, and is so comfortable to wear. It can be hand washed or dry cleaned, and is a relatively inexpensive fabric that looks and feels fabulous to wear. Viscose/rayon can be used in virtually every type of fabric you can think of, from everyday staples to evening wear! As with any fiber, it can be knitted or woven in various weights, textures and finishes. In this tutorial we focus on two drapey viscose woven prints that are perfect for feminine blouses with shirred details.

Fabric

There are many more beautiful viscose/rayon printed wovens available on the website right now. Click here to check them out!

Floral/Fauna Shirred Blouse

Supplies

  • 1 spool of elastic thread (elastic beading thread is a great lighter-weight alternative)
  • Small buttons x 15

Pattern Alterations

In this tutorial, I will show you how, by making some simple changes to a TNT pattern in your stash, you can totally change the look of it! It is not as difficult as you may think.

Original pattern – Our starting point

SLEEVES: For both blouses the main alteration is the sleeves. As you can see, that alteration completely changes the look of the pattern, but it’s quite an easy change to make. I wanted to change the basic short sleeve to a long bishop sleeve with a shirred cuff. To do that I chose a pattern from my stash (Simplicity 8733) that has a sleeve similar to what I wanted. First, I compared the original sleeve pattern to the one I wanted to change it to. Here I’ve traced one over the other. Using the original sleeve cap, I gradually traced a line from the original underarm to the new sleeve joined in around the elbow. Since I am still using the same cap, I already know it will fit into the armhole.

BODICE: This blouse uses only the the bodice pattern pieces of the Armidale Dress, so to determine where you’d like your shirring to start, hold the front bodice pattern up to yourself. Draw a rough line where you’d like it to start (I wanted mine to start just under the bust). Review this marking after you make your muslin. I extended the length of the front bodice by 9 inches total at CF , and squared out from there. I then took the measurement from the front side seam and transferred that to the back bodice, again squaring out but this time from the back side seam. After making my muslin I decided to square up the side seams, adding more fullness for the shirring at the waist. The back facing pattern piece can be used, just cut it to the length of the blouse.

Shirring

The secret to shirring is elastic thread! There are some characteristic differences from one elastic thread brand to another, but most will do the job just fine. I prefer a lighter, stretchier elastic thread, as I find it easiest to use with my machine. Begin by hand winding the thread onto a few bobbins (you will go through bobbins very quickly!). Make sure to wind the thread without much tension; you don’t want the thread to be so loose it’s falling off the bobbin, but you really don’t want to wind it tightly as it will make the shirring too tight.

Use regular sewing thread on the top, and start with a 3mm stitch length. Now do some samples (practice makes perfect!). I like to start with a square of fabric that is a set measurement so I can see how much the shirring shrinks it in. Every fabric is going to be different, so sampling is key. Generally shirring is sewn in parallel rows either 3/8″ apart (my choice in this project) or 1/4″ apart. This viscose/rayon is perfect for shirring as it is very lightweight, yet opaque. Make sure to hold fabric taut from front and back while shirring.

After shirring, always steam the fabric, as this will shrink it up significantly and even out all the gathers. If the shirring is still too loose for your liking, tighten the tension on your bobbin case (usually a little screw near where the thread is pulled through the bobbin). If the shirring is too tight, loosen this screw. The 3mm stitch length is just a starting point, try different stitch lengths and see which works best for your fabric and machine.

Since shirring is like a casing made from the upper thread to carry the elastic bobbin thread, the elastic may slide as you construct your garment, so to avoid any problems leave long thread tails (minimum 2″). It is best to start your shirring about 1/4″ back from the seam allowance edges; this will help keep everything flat when you sew the seams together, but will still conceal the start of the shirring. You can do a small backstitch at the beginning and the end of each shirring row, but don’t expect it to hold securely. The side seams will do a much better job of securing the ends of all the shirring thread tails.

Construction

To determine the dimensions of my cuff, I measured how much my 8″ x 8″ square tightened up with the shirring and calculated from there. I cut a piece 16 3/8″ wide by 5″ tall. This includes my 3/8″ seam allowance around 3 edges and a 3/4″ hem.

Only the shirred areas and buttonstand construction differ from the pattern, so I will not go into detail on the neckline and sleeves. They can be constructed as described in the pattern.

CUFFS and SLEEVES: Start by serging the raw edge of each cuff at the hem, and then press up 3/4″. Begin the first shirring line 1/4″ away from hem fold. Sew the subsequent shirring lines 3/8″ apart. Try to keep the lines as straight as possible, as it will create a more even cuff width. Steam the cuff hovering the iron over the fabric to set and even out the stitches and gathers. Stitch the underarm seam of the cuff and serge the seam together. To keep the edge of the cuff neat, thread the serging tail through a tapestry needle and hide it within the seam allowance. Now run two lines of gathering stitches along the lower edge of the sleeve. Set pins to mark the four quadrants on the top of the cuff and also set pins to mark the quadrants at the lower sleeve edge. Pin the shirred cuff to the sleeve, lining up the quadrant pins and pulling up the gathers as needed. Stitch the seam together and serge close to the stitching.

Stay-stitch the neck edges on the front and back before assembling. Stitch the side seams and serge seams together. Press towards the back. Serge the lower edge of shirt. Press up a 1″ hem. Again starting 1/4″ away from hem fold, sew the first line of shirring. Do the subsequent lines of shirring 3/8″ apart. Have a marking for where you want the shirring rows to end, but when you are getting close, try the blouse on, as you may want to stop a few rows earlier than expected depending on how your fabric is shirring up. Steam the shirring portion of blouse using the same technique as for the cuff.

Now on to the facing! Start by fusing the facing pieces with a lightweight fusible interfacing, as you still want it to be soft, but with a bit more structure. Serge around the outer edges and hem. Press up a 1″ hem. Pin the facing to the blouse, and then sew, making sure not to stretch the neckline. TIP: Stitch with the shirring side up, as this way you can make sure you are sewing the shirring lines straight and catching in the elastic tails as you go. Serge the seam together close to the stitching. Under-stitch the facing.

The center front closure will have to be a fake one (no buttonholes), since this blouse is very fitted with the shirring, and it will pull at a traditional button closure leaving gaps. TIP: Add a piece of belting to both center fronts within the buttonstand facing. This helps to keep the front straight and prevents it from riding up. Cut it roughly the length of the shirring and tuck it under the seam allowance. Round the top edges of the belting pieces to prevent catching on your fabric. Stitch in place on the facing.

The pattern has a 3/4″ overlap for the button closure, but after shirring it ends up more like 1/4″. Try it on to determine the amount of overlap. Pin the overlap in place, and then open up the facing and stitch in the fold. Tack the hem of the facing down loosely, stretching the blouse as if you were wearing it. Sew on buttons and you’re done!

Teeny Flowers Wrap Top

Supplies

  • 2.5 yds of Teeny Flowers on Cherry Rayon (sold out but many other from this page would work beautifully!)
  • 1/4″ elastic

Pattern Alterations

Original pattern – Our starting point

This pattern was originally drafted to be a bit of a scoop neck at the back, since it was meant to be reversible. I decided to raise the back neck by 1.5″ at center back, gradually joining the back into the original shoulder line. If you do this, you can make a new back neck facing pattern by tracing around your new bodice back neck. Other than that, the main style change is the sleeve. I dug through my stash of patterns and found a sleeve that was the closest to what I was looking for (McCalls 7947 view C). I picked a size that was the closest fit and traced it out. I added 1.5″ to the length of the sleeve, and also moved the elastic casing to be 1.5″ up from the finished hem.

When swapping out a sleeve for one from another pattern, I like to trace my seam allowance onto both patterns. Remember that some patterns, especially indie patterns, don’t always have a standard 5/8″ seam allowance, so make sure to check that before starting. Now working on the seam line, measure from the front underarm up to the front armhole notch, note the measurement. Measure the next segment, from notch to shoulder and note measurement. Do the same for the back armhole. On the new sleeve, mark front and back notches from the measurements you just took. Then measure the remainder of the sleeve cap. Calculate how much ease is left (for this sleeve there was 3″ total as it is a puff sleeve). You can change the center notch minimally if needed, to equalize the amount of ease in the front and back of the sleeve. A puff sleeve is a great sleeve to start with, as the gathering can be adjusted to fit the armhole.

Sewing Construction

First things first, let’s make some rouleau ties. Knowing how to make these will come in handy for many projects! The pattern calls for an elastic loop and button, but I chose to replace both of these with rouleau ties, because that way the wrap of the blouse is adjustable. Start by cutting one or two bias strips 1″ wide. Fold the strip in half, right sides together, as you sew it, while also putting quite a bit of tension on it. Stitch down the center of the strip. Do not trim down the seam allowance as we want that extra fabric to fill the rouleau tie, making it round. Pull through to right side using a loop turner. Pin one end to the ironing board. and pull on the cord, placing another pin at the other end to hold it stretched in place, steam. Let it cool. My strip was long enough to cut in half and create both my ties, but if yours is not, just make another one! The final step is to tuck in the raw edges on one end of the tie (seam ripper or pin will work just fine). Stitch this end with a few neat hand stitches.

Run a row of stitching 1/4″ away from lower edge of sleeve. Use this as a guide to press up 1/4″. Next, mark 1 3/4″ up and press fold along this line. Unfold the hem now, and stitch the underarm seam. Serge the seam allowance to finish it off. Fold your hem up at the crease you made previously, and edge-stitch around, leaving a small gap for the elastic. Run another row of stitching a fat 1/4″ below edge-stitching. Measure around your upper arm and decide how tight you’d like the sleeve to be. I chose to have it quite loose, and cut the elastic the exact width of my upper arm. Feed the elastic through casing that was just created, and then stitch the gap closed. Run two rows of gathering stitches along your sleeve cap and the sleeve is now ready to go!

For the rest of the blouse construction I followed the pattern instructions, except for swapping the elastic/button for rouleau ties. One tie will be sewn to the left bodice at the front wrap (shown below). The second tie will be sewn in when the blouse is otherwise finished. The long wrap ties can be sewn using the following method, to get nice, pointed corners:

Sew the ties in 3 sections, first the top edge, then the bottom edge (press these seam allowances open before continuing), and finally stitch the end of the tie separately, tucking under the seam allowance. This way you won’t have to clip out corners of the seam allowance and will still get sharp corners at the ends of the wrap ties.  A wooden stick is very handy for pressing things that are too small to fit on a sleeve press. Mine (shown in the slide show below) is just from a hardware store and is perfect for pressing the long wrap ties.

After the side seams are sewn, serge around the hem. Next, fuse neck facing with a lightweight fusible interfacing, and serge around outer edge. Stitch to neckline making sure not to stretch out neck. Trim seam allowance down to a fat 1/8″, under-stitch facing. Press up remaining hem 3/8″ and top-stitch. Last but not least, tack the second rouleau tie to right side seam, tucking the raw edge under the serged seam.

Thank you to my beautiful model Sarah Cambel and wonderful photographer Chloe Tekavcic. I hope this article will inspire you to sew with viscose/rayon and perhaps to give you a whole new appreciation for this hybrid natural/manmade wonder! I have so many more wardrobe staples planned with viscose, as it’s just a dream to wear with it’s lovely smooth hand!

3 thoughts on “Inspiration No. 24: Viscose/Rayon Elegance

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