My teenage daughter chose a full-length chiffon gown for her prom. She is only 5’1″ tall, so of course we need to hem it. HELP! What is the best way to go about hemming chiffon and other slippery fabrics?
First the bad news: chiffon has got to be the most difficult fabric to work with. But the good news is that once you have accomplished this task, everything else will seem easy by comparison. Back in the middle of the last century, a wide hem was used for sheers but nowadays, a tiny rolled hem is preferred. It’s probably easier to construct a rolled hem but it leaves little room for error.
Let’s start with marking. Make sure the dress is lying correctly on the body. In other words, see if the fabric is bunched up anywhere, easy to miss if the skirt is really full. And if it’s strapless, make sure the bodice is sitting where it should. You will be hating life if you mark the dress half-way around and your daughter suddenly hikes up the dress!
If the skirt has a straight hem — in other words, the hem is cut on the straight-of-grain — you should be able to take it up evenly all the way around. Pin up the front, both sides and the back and measure from the floor to make sure it’s even.
If the dress has a bias cut hem, it will have to be marked all the way around. This is because as the dress hangs, the grain stretches unevenly. I like to have the customer stand on a small platform. When I worked at home, I had a series of Time-Life books that worked great as an impromptu platform. If you have a hem marker, adjust the clip to the proper length and use pins or chalk to mark. If you don’t have a marker, you can use a ruler and mark the hem evenly from the floor. You will have to mark the lining separately. The object is to make the hem parallel to the floor.
Once you have your marks, take the gown to the ironing board. With the dress inside out, press the chiffon in place along the marks. I like to trim the excess fabric to about 2″ below the hemline, pin the hem in place and have the wearer try it on again. Chiffon has a way of “bouncing”, for lack of a better term, as you work with it. So have a try-on before you trim the hem allowance.
Once you have gotten a good line for the hem, it’s time to commit to cutting it. I use a serger with the narrowest width to cut the excess hem. Then I have some substance to roll into that tiny hem. Also, if I need to tighten up the fabric, I can pull the top serger thread to gather it. I usually roll it twice, sometimes three times. Luckily, I have a foot on my new Bernina sewing machine that lines up an edge stitch perfectly! It’s so nice; all I have to do is roll the hem and stitch. If you are not that lucky, you may have to practice on scraps until you get the hang of stitching evenly. Take your time and take frequent breaks for really full skirts.
With synthetic chiffon, you don’t have to worry about stretch while making a stitch as much as crinkled or silk chiffon. With those, you want to keep your stretch to a minimum. That means less pulling on the fabric as you roll it. You can shrink the fabric back to almost normal but you want to be careful not to have to shrink too much or the hemline will look more pressed than the rest of the dress. To get the crinkle back, just steam and wring out like a mop. Let the fabric dry completely before putting in a plastic bag.
If the hemline is wavy, you want to pull it more as you stitch it. Pulling actually creates the scallop edge.
This method works for most sheer and slippery fabrics. Just be sure to check your work as you go along and your hems will look great!