Five Ways to Cut Chiffon with Confidence

inara007So I’m working on this lovely outfit worn by Inara in the “Jaynestown” episode of Firefly to wear at the Browncoat Ball in Virginia Beach next month. And yesterday, my chiffon arrived. So today, I have to cut it.

Okay.  I can hear you shivering from here.  You’re worried about cutting chiffon.  “It’s too silky!”  “What if it moves and I cut wrong?”  “I’M AFRAID!!”

Well, RH fans, I am here to help you Cut Chiffon with Confidence!  *cue title music*

Before You Cut

The first rule of cutting chiffon (or any fabric, really), is to have a pair of very sharp scissors.  Dull scissors snag fabric.  Cutting paper, hair, or other non-fabrics can dull scissors.  So if you haven’t been keeping your fabric scissors separate, you’ll want to start doing that now.  (And yes, it is okay to threaten bodily harm against someone who has cut cardboard with your good silk scissors.  Not that this has ever happened to me.  Nope.  Never happened.  Besides, all charges were dropped.)

The next rule is to have an uncluttered cutting surface.  Most of us don’t have a dedicated cutting table, but a kitchen table or even a long folding table will do.  The table should be big enough to fit at least one pattern piece on it without anything hanging over the edge.  You can even use the floor if necessary.  The most important thing is to lock out all children, cats, dogs, or other interlopers while you are cutting.  One of my greyhounds was so convinced that every piece of fabric was hers that she once sat on the train of an outfit I was trying on because clearly it was her new dog bed!  See?

HowtoTrainYourDog

So close your door, lock it if you have to.  Cutting chiffon is important!

#1 — Weight It

You could just pin your pattern to your chiffon and cut it out.  But as you know, chiffon slips and slides and moves and does a dance when you’re not looking.  So maybe you want to do something more than that.  The first technique you can use is to weight it.  Fabric stores sometimes sell sewing weights, but you can use clean washers, coins, paperweights… anything that holds the fabric down.  Place your preferred weights around the perimeter of the pattern.  Use as many as you need to hold the fabric steady.  Then get out your sharp scissors and cut.

#2 — Wet It

Similar in principle to weighting, you can wet your chiffon.  This requires that you have a cutting surface that won’t be damaged by water.  Fill a spray bottle with tap water and gently spray the silk until the whole surface is wet.  This will add weight to the fabric.  When you cut it, it won’t be as inclined to shift and move around.  So cutting will be easier.  Make sure to wipe the moisture off your scissors and any pins before you put them away, though, so they won’t rust.

#3 — Stick It

Another alternative is to glue the chiffon to a piece of paper.  Paper is often used when sewing sheer fabrics because it helps keep the fabric from bunching up and sinking into the needle plate on your machine.  I’m suggesting you stick it to the paper before you cut and then cut the paper and fabric together.  (Remember to use sharp paper scissors for this and not your fabric scissors or they will dull.)

You can use any kind of spray glue as long as it is water soluble.  You will want to wash your chiffon after this to remove any glue residue of course.  If you can’t find water-soluble spray glue, you can dilute a water-based glue like Elmer’s and put it in a spray bottle.  (Oh, remember those punk hairstyles back in the 80s…)  You can also use stiff hairspray.  It might not stick as strongly as glue, but it will probably stay stuck long enough to cut your chiffon.

#4 — Rip It

Silk is such a wonderfully tough fabric that you can just rip it.  This only works if your pattern pieces are squares or rectangles and cut on the straight grain, though, since ripping only works across perpendicular threads.  So if you are making scarves or a skirt with a handkerchief hem or you just want to make your piece of chiffon smaller, make a 1″ or 2cm snip at the edge of the fabric with your scissors, close your fingers firmly on either side of the snip, take a deep breath, and RIIIIIIIIP!

#5 — Don’t Cut It

At least, not yet.  If you weigh down your silk and trace your pattern pieces onto it, you don’t have to cut them out until after your sew them together.  This won’t work for every fabric, but since chiffon is so fine and light, you can bunch it up quite compactly.  So it won’t encumber you too much to push the excess through your sewing machine along side the bit you’re sewing.  I just got 10 yards of 58″ wide chiffon from my supplier and it arrived in a little 5″x5″ box and she still had to put in packing materials to take up the rest of the space.  (Probably could have gotten 20 yards in that box!)  In any case, as long as your pattern pieces aren’t too small — that would make it annoying — you can sew along your pattern markings and then cut the chiffon after the garment is assembled.

So there you have it.  Five Ways to Cut Chiffon with Confidence.  Try them!


© 2015 Kass McGann and Reconstructing History LLC.  All rights reserved.  Do not reproduce without permission.

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