What is chiffon fabric? Once you’ve seen it, it’s hard to forget it. Floaty, translucent, often shimmering, it’s a favourite for gowns and wraps.
What makes chiffon special is not its fibre content, nor even its weave. The difference is in the threads themselves. Chiffon fabric is woven with two different types of high-twist yarns. The result is a lightweight, sheer fabric with a bit of stretch, which is slightly rough to the touch.
What is Chiffon Made Of?
The first chiffon dates back to the 1700s in Europe. For a little less than 200 years, it was made from silk.
The invention of nylon in 1938 brought a less expensive nylon chiffon. Twenty years after that, in 1958, polyester provided a stronger, even less expensive material with which to make chiffon.
Today, you will find chiffon made from a variety of synthetic and natural fibres, including silk, cotton, nylon, polyester, and rayon.
How is Chiffon Made?
Chiffon is a woven fabric. That is, strands of yarn are interlaced to create a continuous mesh.
Chiffon is made using a plain weave. Each weft thread passes over a single warp thread then under the next in an alternating pattern. Plain weave is the most common weaving pattern. Plenty of fabrics are created using plain weave. What makes chiffon different is the construction of the threads used in the weaving. 
Chiffon uses alternating S-twist and Z-twist threads. S-twist threads twist in a counter-clockwise direction, like the letter S. Z-twist yarns twist in a clockwise direction, like the letter Z.
The different twist directions create a pucker in the fabric that gives chiffon its characteristic slightly rough texture.
Although the threads twist in different directions, they have the same thickness and weight. The result is a strong fabric that doesn’t unravel easily. It’s also sheer and light. And it drapes in an elegant way.
What Type of Fabric is Chiffon and How is it Used?
You’ll find chiffon primarily in garments, most specifically in certain types of women’s wear. Some common uses include:
- Sarees, dupattas, and hijabs
- Evening wear
- Wedding dresses
Chiffon flows, drapes, and adds an elegant touch to garments. In dresses and wedding dresses, a designer might use a chiffon overlay to add volume or dimension to the fabric below.
Some types of chiffon also sparkle and shimmer. You might see it in accessories like scarves or wraps, which are decorative as well as functional.
Chiffon is a popular fabric for saris, dupattas, and hijabs. It drapes smoothly, holds dye well, and is appropriate for warm weather. Its dramatic appearance and ability to hold brightly coloured dyes has made chiffon a Bollywood favourite.
Its feather lightness makes it a good choice for summer-weight blouses and clothing. And it’s a popular choice for peignoirs, nightgowns, and other lingerie because of its sheer quality.
You’ll also find chiffon in different kinds of home decor, such as sheer curtains and decorative upholstery.
What is Chiffon Fabric Like?
No matter what its fibre composition, all chiffon fabric has the following characteristics in common.
Chiffon is extremely lightweight. This makes it an excellent fabric for summer and warm climates.
Chiffon fabric is a fine mesh that you can see through. For this reason, it’s often used as an outer layer in garments, in order to complement and enhance the fabric beneath it.
This comes down to a combination of the fibre content and the alternating S and Z twists of the individual threads. Different fibre types will give different degrees of shimmer. Silk chiffon, for example, is very shimmery.
Because chiffon is woven in different directions, it has a gentle stretch to it. Different fibre content may make a specific chiffon fabric more or less stretchy.
The alternating S-twist and Z-twist threads give chiffon a pucker. This, in turn, creates a slightly rough texture that you can feel.
Chiffon of all types holds colour extremely well.
Chiffon drapes and flows beautifully, making it a go-to fabric for women’s wear, curtains, scarves, and elegant home furnishings.
You might think that something so sheer, lightweight, and flowing would be extremely delicate. You’d be wrong. Chiffon’s tight weave makes it surprisingly strong. It also resists unraveling well.
The Pros and Cons of Chiffon
Chiffon is a dramatic, elegant fabric that brings a lot to certain kinds of projects. At the same time, no fabric is perfect for every use. And when it comes to sewing chiffon, things can get, well…a bit tricky.
Chiffon is very lightweight and its weave provides excellent air flow through the fabric. This makes it excellent for warm weather use.
Between its shimmer and its drape, chiffon is very elegant and pretty. It can add an otherworldly touch to whatever you’re trying to create.
Chiffon is also very strong.
Chiffon holds dye well, making it a natural for costuming, evening wear, and certain kinds of housewares.
Certain types of chiffon, particularly polyester and nylon chiffon, are also inexpensive.
Chiffon can be tricky to work with. Why?
First, it doesn’t hold its shape well. This means that if you cut out a pattern piece, it can easily become deformed during handling or sewing. And if you want to retain chiffon’s unique drape and translucence, you can’t use a fabric stabilizer to get around this.
Although chiffon resists unraveling, it can and will snag very easily.
It’s also very slippery, which can cause problems during sewing.
How to Sew Chiffon
How easy is chiffon to sew? It can be tricky, but if you know the tricks, it can be easier than you might think.
First, Choose the Right Project
Chiffon is an excellent fabric for anything that drapes and flows. However, these same qualities make it inappropriate for close-fitting structured garments. Choosing the right project for your chiffon will solve half of your problems up front.
Stabilizing your chiffon will help it to keep its shape during cutting and sewing. And this is vital to your finished product.
Before you start, check to see if your fabric is washable. If it is, you can use a bit of spray starch or liquid fabric stabilizer to make sure your chiffon holds its shape when you’re cutting out your pattern pieces, and later when you’re sewing them.
If your fabric isn’t washable, you can pin a piece of tissue paper to the back of your chiffon before cutting it. You can also pin tissue paper to the back of your chiffon before sewing it. When you’re finished sewing, gently tear the tissue paper away.
Sharp Scissors or Rotary Cutter
Sharp scissors always make for better cutting. But when it comes to cutting chiffon, a sharp blade can make a world of difference.
Sharp Microtex Needle
A microtex needle is a very thin needle with an extremely fine, extremely sharp point. Its specifically designed to work with micro fibres and coated fibres. Because they’re so sharp, you’ll need to change your microtex needle more often, so have plenty on hand.
A French seam is a double seam that covers rough fabric edges. There are several reasons you’ll want to cover your edges when working with chiffon. First, it will keep them from fraying. Also, because chiffon is transparent, rough fabric edges can ruin the smooth, elegant appearance of the fabric. 
To make a French seam, first pin your fabric pieces together, right sides facing one another, and use tissue paper to stabilize (if desired).
Next, sew the fabric together using a one-quarter-inch seam allowance. Then trim your seam edges to one-eigth of an inch.
Turn your fabric to the right sides, and, with your iron set to a low synthetic setting, iron your seam flat.
Now, pin your seam with the wrong side facing out once more. The rough edges should be concealed within the seam.
Finally, sew your second seam, using a three-eighths inch seam allowance.
How to Hem Chiffon
You’ll also want to cover your raw edges when hemming chiffon. However, if you don’t do it correctly, you could end up with a curled, uneven, sloppy-looking edge. Here’s how to do it right.
First, set your iron to a low synthetic setting. Iron a half-inch fold.
Next, sew a line along the folded edge, using a one-eighth inch seam allowance. Chiffon’s light weight means that it can sometimes get caught in your feed dogs. Putting a piece of tissue paper between the fabric and your feed dogs can keep your sewing machine from eating your fabric. When you’ve finished your line, trim the raw edge.
Fold over the seam and press again. Now sew a second seam, again with a one-eighth inch allowance.
You can watch this technique in action here.
For more tips and tricks for working with chiffon, check out this tutorial from Professor Pincushion.
Caring for Chiffon
How to care for chiffon depends upon the fibre content. Some types of chiffon, like silk chiffon, may be dry clean only. Other types are washable. Always check the care instructions on any garment before washing or ironing. And to save yourself a headache, check the care instructions for any fabric before you begin to work with it.
How to Wash Chiffon
Even if the manufacturer’s instructions don’t specify dry cleaning, chiffon fabrics are generally extremely delicate. Unless the instructions specify machine washing, it’s always safer to hand-wash your chiffon.
Hand wash your washable chiffon in cool water — 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4.4 degrees Celsius).
To remove odours, add one-quarter cup of vinegar to your water, and soak the fabric for 30 minutes.
Empty your sink or basin, refill with cool water, then add a cap full of delicate fabric cleanser. Soak it for another half hour, then rinse with cool water.
To remove stains, apply baking soda and scrub gently with a toothbrush.
Gently squeeze the excess water from your fabric. Then lay the fabric on a clean, dry towel. Roll up the towel with the fabric inside and squeeze some more.
Lay your garment flat or hang it to dry.
How to Machine Wash Chiffon
If your fabric’s care instructions say that it can be washed in a washing machine, choose cold water and the gentlest possible cycle. Wash your chiffon in a mesh bag, and use a detergent made for delicate fabrics.
Dry your chiffon flat or hang it to dry. You can also machine dry it on the air dry setting.
How to Get Wrinkles Out of Chiffon
There are two primary ways to get wrinkles out of chiffon.
First, you can steam the wrinkles out. You can use a garment steamer, or, if you’re already headed for the shower, place towels on the bathroom floor, leave your shower curtain open, and hang up your chiffon garment in the bathroom. It should take around 15 minutes for the steam to remove the wrinkles.
You can also iron wrinkles out of chiffon. First, set your iron to the chiffon setting. If your iron doesn’t have one, use a cool setting for synthetics. Lay a slightly damp cloth over the fabric. This will keep your fabric from drying out. Iron in smooth vertical strokes, starting in the center and working your way out toward the edges.
Chiffon is a fabric of contradictions. It’s delicate but strong. It has many uses, but those uses are specific. It can be tricky to sew, but not difficult if you know the tricks.
Do you enjoy sewing with chiffon? Do you have any care tips you’d like to share? Tell us about it in the comments!