I've been working on altering a bridesmaids dress for my friends' upcoming wedding. This was my first time doing any kind of major alterations and my first time really working with special occasion fabrics, specifically chiffon. Chiffon is a lightweight, sheer, slippery fabric to work with and it can be very difficult.
As I move along in the process of fitting altering this dress, I've come to learn a lot of tips and tricks for working with chiffon that I wanted to share. Though I haven't tried, so I can't guarantee, many of these tips will work for other lightweight special occasion fabrics (silk, satin, etc.)
Step 1: Pinning
When pinning fabrics like chiffon, use sharp pins that are fine or meant for silk and keep them separate from your regular pins. You don't want to use the regular pins in your cushion because they're likely heavier than your fabric and will leave visible pin holes.
If you can, baste your chiffon instead of pinning. Less holes and pins to deal with (fine/silk pins are not cheap).
Step 2: Thread
Use cotton or polyester thread that is very fine. You do not want to use thread that is heavier than the fabric. Finding thread that says "fine" and matches your fabric color can be tricky. A good rule of thumb is to go darker, not lighter, if you can't find your exact matching thread. I went to 5 different stores searching for a dark grey fine weight thread before finally giving up and going with the black I already had.
Step 3: Cutting
-Use tissue paper or chiffon/silk safe fabric stabilizers to make the material easier to cut and work with.
-Do not cut darts, instead mark darts with thread knots or tailor tacks.
-Use the sharpest scissors you can find for cutting and cut one layer at a time.
-Use Fray-Check (or something similar) to hold together areas that may fray or cause similar problems.
-Hold onto any pieces you cut off. You never know when you might need to reuse it in your piece or use it as a test sample.
Step 4: Tissue Paper
Chiffon is tricky. Covering your fabric with tissue paper before you cut or sandwiching the fabric between tissue paper when you sew can make your job a lot easier. The tissue paper will easily tear away from the stitches/fabric without damaging your work.
You can also lay tissue paper over your fabric when you need to iron (which you should only do on the very lowest setting). It gives you a little added protection against damaging the material.
Step 5: Machine Needles
Use new and sharp needles and ideally, needles specifically made for lightweight sheer fabrics. For sewing chiffon on a sewing machine you want to use the smallest needle you can: 60/8, 65/9, 70/10, Singer sizes 9, 11.
Microtex Needles are specifically designed for working with tricky fabrics, so it's not a bad idea to get a pack.
Step 6: Sewing
A shorter stitch length works best for chiffon, between 12-20 stitches per inch is what's often recommended.
Sew slowly as fast sewing causes chiffon to bunch up and that's a mess no one wants to deal with.
Step 7: Test
Go to your local fabric shop (or eBay) and get some crappy, cheap scraps in the same material you'll be using. Use these scraps to practice your stitching, ironing, pinning, cutting etc. so you don't accidentally screw up your main pieces. Practice makes perfect. Nothing worse than sitting down to sew and having the machine start eating up your fabric.
You can often find discounted cuts of fabric in bins at Joann's.