Thursday, August 13, 2009

New Sewists Thursdays - Sewing Sheers

It's Thursday again and time to share another new sewist's question:

Tanya asked...

"I’m pretty much a newbie when it comes to garment sewing, but I’m filled with ideas and excitement about the possibilities. Right now, I’m working on a dress for a friend’s daughter (Vogue for Me 7681, view A, but modified to be shorter and have a separate sash). My friend bought the fabric, which is a polyester chiffon for the overskirt, and what is supposed to be peau de soie for the actual skirt and bodice, but isn’t. It looks more like cheap lining material. In any case, the fabric is a flimsy, slippery mess that is giving me fits; it’s difficult to cut pieces properly, it stretches all over the place, and is generally uncooperative. Even basting it is tricky. Do you have any tips for working with slippery fabrics?"

So since my sewing friend Gigi has been sewing with sheers alot lately, I asked her to handle the question for me! If you don't already know Gigi as one of The Sewing Divas or as the author of her own blog, Behind the Seams...she kindly gave me a little background:

Gigi has enjoyed sewing and needlework since childhood. By the time she was in high school, she was completely addicted and hasn't stopped since. She sews every chance she gets and, when she isn't sewing, she enjoys collecting beautiful fabrics, sewing books, patterns and sewing machines (with a particular passion for industrials!). Her Sewing Empire is located in South Florida where she lives with her three kitties.

I would like to thank Gigi for so graciously accepting my offer to be a guest blogger and then taking the time to answer Tanya's without further ado Tanya here is Gigi's advice....

Sheer, slippery fabrics can be intimidating for even the most experienced sewist! The first battle is cutting out the fabric because it wants to slither all over the place.

To make your fabric behave:

*Tape examining table paper or old newspaper (so the ink doesn't rub off on your fabric) to your cutting surface. Pin your fabric to the paper and cut through both the paper and fabric layers. A bonus will be duplicate pattern pieces which can be used as templates for staystitching. Simply pin the fabric to the pattern, staystitch, then tear the paper away. This will ensure that the fabric retains it's intended shape and size.

*If you're using a rotary cutter, simply tape your fabric to the mat before laying out your pattern pieces with weights. Be sure to use a new blade so that you get very clean cuts.

*It may seem silly, but gently blowing on sheers as you lay them out is an easy way to get everything lined up.

*If your fabric is washable, use spray starch to give it body and make it more manageable.

*Since the right and wrong side are often indiscernable, I like to put a small piece of tape on the wrong side so that I don't accidentally end up with two left sleeves!

Seams and Hems:

Because seams will show through to the right side, they should be narrow and neat. Good seam choices are:

*French seam

*Flat-felled seam (great for crisp sheers)

*Narrow overlocked.

The overlocked seam is not my favorite but it's fine when you want something fast and easy. For better wear, I would stitch with my regular machine and then trim down the seam allowances to 1/4" with the overlock.

I like to use a fine Microtex needle for sheers along with a fine thread such as Coats & Clark Fine. It's not a true necessity but it does give a very nice result. Because sheers and silkies can be very unruly, it's especially important to sew directionally.

As a rule, hems should be either very narrow (rolled) or very wide (double-folded).

It’s also possible to simply bind the hem. Narrow rolled hem:

Hem finished with bias binding:


Silk organza is my interfacing of choice. Look for one that's close to the color of your skin. Depending on the fabric you are using, you may also be able to use self-fabric. Interfacing can be basted in or (as I prefer) held in place with a few dots of glue stick in the seam allowances.

Shopping for Fabric:

I prefer to work with either silk or rayon sheers. They drape beautifully and are a joy to work with. If this is your first time with sheers I recommend you stick with natural fibers. Yet, sometimes I am seduced by a pretty polyester print. Polys are more difficult to work with as they tend to pucker and are more difficult to press well. Breathability is also a factor. To check for breathability simply blow through the fabric. If you can feel your breath on the other side you are safe. Generally, poly georgettes and open-weaves are your best bet.

Pattern Selection:

My favorite type of garment for sheer fabric is, by far, a blouse. I look for styles with clean, simple lines. If a garment has facings, you’ll want to replace them with bias binding or a very narrow rolled hem. Shirt plackets work best if they are cut on and self-interfaced. I also love garments with tucks of any size, which look absolutely beautiful in sheer fabrics. Of course, dresses and skirts are also a possibility but will need to be either lined or partially lined.

Tucks on a white crinkled silk:

Here are some nice current patterns that would work well with sheer fabrics:

Simplicity 6891

Some sheer garments from my closet:

Silk ribbon chiffon wrap blouse. Here, I've finished the neckline with a very narrow rolled hem:

Silk chiffon peasant blouse. Hem is narrow rolled and the sleeves and front edge are finished with bias binding.

Silk organza "jean" jacket

So questions? Anything you don't understand or need clarification on? Please feel free to post your questions and like last week, I will post another blog post with answers or clarifications!

I really hope that not only the new sewists but some of us more experienced sewists are enjoying this series. I know that I've learned a thing or two! *smile* I would like to thank Gigi for so graciously sharing her knowledge and all the wonderful pictures of her garments! Please visit Gigi on her blog where she shares all of her sewing adventures.

Next week you will be stuck with me again! *LOL* But the end of the month will see another guest blogger discussing how to attain the best fit! So stay tuned...


  1. Thanks, Gigi and Carolyn,
    I've been sewing for a long time, but I learned a lot from this post! Maybe I'll even tackle a sheer fabric one of these days. I especially like the staystitching idea using the tissue paper as a guide. Brilliant!

  2. I learned quite a bit. Thank you so much.

  3. Thank you so much Gigi and Carolyn, I have learned so much from this and really appreciate the time and effort you have both put into it.

  4. Actually there is a larger issue behind this reader's question which should be addressed... When sewing for other people, never agree to doing something before you have the fabric in hand.

    If the person is to provide you with fabric, you should preferably go shopping with them, so that you may steer them firmly away from such things as a "flimsy, slippery mess". Failing that, you should have absolute veto power on what they bring you, on technical grounds.

    It's difficult enough to sew to other people's specifications, but doing so with their uninformed choice of fabric is a horror, and unlikely to leave any party satisfied. If you choose to buy cheap fabric and deal with the consequences (in your time, and the quality of the final result), that is your business. But nobody should be put through the wringer like this because of someone else's stinginess, even if that person were your closest friend in the whole wide world...

  5. Thank you Carolyn and Gigi for a very informative post. I have been sewing for a long time but it has been a while since I worked with a sheer fabric - I can remember having to shorten the skirt of a bridal dress that had an organza overlay! The hem was rolled on the overlocker and had a clear 'fishing line' through it to give it a rippled edge - looked great but was a nightmare to hem! I had to get lots of practice first.

    I LOVE that sheer jean jacket - would never have thought of it though! But now I have seen it I might have to do something similar - just up my street as I like a casual style even when going out.

    Thanks again both :-))

  6. This is a great series... Thank you for taking the time to do it. See, the sewing community are a giving people.

    There's a lot to know about sewing if you haven't figured it out already. It's knowledge takes time to absorb but the rewards are great. I see people give up all the time because they come across a hard task.

    There was some great information in this post. Knowing is one thing, doing is another. Practice. Again, so many people give up. It never comes out right the first time.

    Gigi, you're in SoFlo? If you ever find yourself in Hollywood - come in and say hello. addie on my blog.

  7. Thank you Carolyn and Gigi for a great post.

  8. Great post! So helpful! I have been very hesitant to attempt anything sheer after a bad experience with a lining that "slithered".

    As for cutting with paper, I am a true believer in this technique. I use a roll of tracing paper (36in x 50yds) bought at Dick Blick for about $25 inc shipping. It has really made cutting stretchy knits and other fabrics infinitely easier.

  9. Thank you for all the great tips!

  10. Excellent post, Gigi and Carolyn! I am intimidated by sheers and I so need to get over that. This article helps.

  11. Thank you for this series, it's excellant. I have a question about how to sew directionally. I've seen on my pattern sheet how it shows the direction of how to staystitch, usually a neckline, from each side into the middle. However, I think you're meaning is to sew your seams in a certain direction. I recall reading about this in the past, but usually when I sew I forget that information, and just want to get it made. Could you possibly refresh my memory about directional sewing.



  12. Wow, thanks to both Carolyn and Gigi! I've been doing a lot of reading as I make this dress, and came across some of the tips, but I especially like the one about staystitching right through the paper...will definitely do that next time. Yes, there WILL be a next time!

    The dress is almost finished now (I'll post a pic on my blog when it's done). I finally resorted to using tear-away stabilizer to address the puckering issue in the overlay seams. There are three seams, so something had to be done, and the stabilizer worked well.

    Thanks again for all the great advice!

  13. Thank you Carolyn and Gigi. I have a chiffon blouse cut out and ready to sew and I've been avoiding it for a week! I'd already decided to do french seams and the information I've garnered here today has made this task seem a little less daunting. Thanks again!

  14. Thanks- Carol and GiGi- for the great information. I am planning to make a few sheer blouses and needed this information. You are the best.

  15. Great post! Thanks so much Gigi and Caroline.

  16. Dear Carolyn,
    Your blog is a true inspiration. I wish I he internet had been available when I started to sew, it sure would have helped with all the issues newbies run into.
    Gigi's post is wonderful. I picked up some tips and will soon be doing my own sheer sewing.
    I follow both of your blogs and truly you are inspirations.

  17. A great post Carolyn and Gigi. I like to cut with paper, even though I use a rotary cutter because I like to keep the paper with the pieces, but I never thought to use them to sew through. Duh! I have my cut strips of tracing paper to start all my sheer and silkie seams with. This saves a step. It keeps the necklines and any bias seams from stretching out too.
    I consider myself an advanced sewist, but there is always something new to learn.

  18. Thanks for all of the info! This was chock full of great advice.

  19. Great article! Thanks Carolyn and Gigi!

  20. Thanks for suggesting the book "Easy Guide to Sewing Linings. This is the the help that I have been looking for. It really is a keeper!


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