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Fitting Chiffon Gowns

Flax | Posted in Fitting on

I need a little professional advice from other alterationists. I am still trying to get the best fitting technique down for chiffon gowns. The darn stuff is wild and uncontrollable. If you pin it where you want it – it shrinks up. If you make it longer – it grows. I am interested in any advice or favorite methods that you have found works for you to get an accurate hem length.


  1. ohiostar | | #1

    Kind of at a loss to understand your problem. Is it fitting or hemming that you are having trouble with? Is is polyester chiffon? What style? A few more details please.

    1. User avater
      Flax | | #2

      I am having trouble with the fitting aspect of chiffon bridesmaid and wedding gowns. When I do a fitting on a client, if I pin the hem where it needs to be it ends up shorter than pinned once I've hemmed it. I am allowing for my rolled hem and everything, its just how chiffon is, part of it is on the bias part of it isn't. Another fitting expert told me she pins the hem a half inch longer than desired length, but at times she still has some trouble. I am working on a wedding with empire waist gowns with chiffon on the bottom. the hem is below the knee in front and long in back. It is polyester. It isn't so much this particular gown, but most every chiffon gown or even any gown cut on the bias for that matter. I hope that helps,

      Edited 6/6/2009 4:58 pm ET by Flax

      1. Sancin | | #3

        Are you paying attention to the grain line? Sometimes grain affects how hems grow or shrink with some parts being on grain and others not leading to drags and or puckers or other less than interesting things.

        1. User avater
          Flax | | #4

          Well, I think that I am. I have the client stand strait and not look down etc. Then I mark with straight pin the desired length all the way around the dress. I pin the chiffon separate from the lining every 3-5" or so. If I am missing something please let me know.

          Edited 6/6/2009 6:06 pm ET by Flax

  2. Tatsy | | #5

    Are you letting it hang before you hem it? Most experts recommend letting anything cut on the bias hang at least overnight before it's hemmed. That gives the fabric a chance to shift however it will before you finish it. I realize this may mean making the client come back for another fitting, but maybe you could take measurements of the desired length in several places and work from the measurements after the dress has had a chance to hang out.

    1. User avater
      Flax | | #6

      If the gown is purchased from the bridal shop I work with, the dress hangs for at least 24 hours. If it bought from another store I cannot tell but it seems likely that it has been hung up for a time. If it has been ordered by mail such as David's Bridal online, I supose it is likely that it has been kept in the box, until the appointment, which indeed is something to watch for. But I seem to be having trouble with the chiffon becoming shorter after it is hemmed, not so much growing in length. I feel like I am making such a fuss, but this is a real problem for me and I just know there are other alterationists that face this.

      1. Tatsy | | #7

        Bias cut fabric generally grows in one direction and shrinks in the other. As it gets shorter, it also gets wider or vice versa. It's possible that as you're hemming you're reshaping the fabric, either by pushing it up as you sew or by stretching as you sew.

      2. Ralphetta | | #8

        I know many of the other readers are more experienced than I, but maybe the pins are creating enough weight to stretch the delicate fabric down a little. When they are released maybe the fabric pulls back up and is a tiny bit shorter. I believe you said you marked it with pins, perhaps you should try marking it with something that doesn't pull on the fabric.

  3. User avater
    ThreadKoe | | #9

    I have to agree with the other posters, esp. Ralphetta. The pins are probably pulling down, or weighting the hem as you mark it. Depending on how much you are cutting off of the hem as well will make a difference as well, as you are also removing added weight there. It is surprising sometimes how much just an inch and the weight of the existing hem will pull the fabric down. When the weight is released, the fabric can spring back up by quite a bit. It will spring back unevenly due to the changes in grain around the hem as well.
    I would be inclined to let the dresses hang for a while after trimming, but before hemming. You might want to check the skirt lengths and keep a back up measurement from the waist or another easy point of reference to double check from before you hem. That way you can see how much you may have to adjust before the final hem.
    I talked to a couple of the ladies who do alterations around here. They tend to do skirt length changes on these dresses from the waist or from the empire waist instead of the hem because of this. Cathy

  4. Teaf5 | | #10

    I agree with Ralphetta and Threadkoe--the pins are weighting and stretching the fabric.

    For marking hems on very lightweight fabrics, I use white classroom chalk that I've whittled or filed into a wedge-shaped edge.  It never stains, can be seen even on white fabrics, and comes out easily with a shake or light brushing.

    On formal gowns, I cut the skirt so that the raw edge is a little longer than floor length.  Then I use the chalk to mark where the gown hits the floor as a guideline.   Then I lay the gown on a large, flat surface and measure up for the foldline, which I also chalk, and chalk a new cutting line.

    Although this method wastes a little fabric, it's much easier because you have the hard surface of the floor to keep the fabric still while marking the guideline, and the final two markings are done while the dress is off the model--a real timesaver!

  5. Ocrafty1 | | #11

    I've been doing alterations for over 20 yrs., some of them in bridal shops...and I've never had this problem.  I measure for the legnth of the underskirt, get it sewn, then lay the gown on my ironing board...like I was going to iron it, only right side out.  Then I pin the hem of the chiffon about .5" longer. I sew around the hem once, then trim closely, and turn it up and sew again, making a .25" double hem. Just make sure that you don't stretch the chiffon out as you're trying to smooth it toward the hemline to get it "even" with the lining; don't pull it tight...let it lay gently.  You should match the seams, and you're sure to have more fullness in the chiffon than there is in the lining, you just sort of move the chiffon so it fits between the seams, and adjusting the pins as you go.  You may need to baste the hem if you're having that much trouble...use silk thread if you can....so much nicer to work with...and I use a size 9 quilting needle.  They're very tiny.   I've never had a problem doing it this way. I'll be home for a couple of more days before we leave for vacation on Wed....feel free ask more here or to PM me if you want to.

    Hope this helps.


    1. User avater
      ThreadKoe | | #12

      Ah, Deb, you are brilliant. That is so simple and effective. Thanks for your wonderful simple insight once again. Cathy

      1. jjgg | | #13

        Another aspect to think of here is that (silk) chiffon when steamed or even sometimes a light pressing will "shrink" up - the crepe kink in the fibers makes it sort of shrink a little. Take a small piece of silk chiffon, press hard, then hit it with steam and see how the texture can change a little.

        1. User avater
          ThreadKoe | | #17

          Thanks for the reminder! Something to keep in mind for all fabrics made with a tightly twisted thread. Cathy

    2. User avater
      Flax | | #14

      Oh Deb I could just hug you!Most of the chiffon gowns lately have the chiffon hanging down a 2 inch diffenence from the lining. Is that because they have stretched or is that a design thing? When you lay the gown out as you have described, and mark the .5 inch, when it is on the body does it stay at a .5 inch difference or does it stretch longer from weight?Thank you so much,

      1. Ocrafty1 | | #15

        Thanks for the hug...I needed one today.  Vacation plans are on hold...DH reinjured his knee...he's having an MRI this afternoon.  May need surgery.  So much for going to Alaska or anywhere else on the Harley in the near future...  :(

        Per the chiffon.  When I mark it I usually have the gown on the ironing board...just like you'd be ironing it..with the lining next to the board.  I gently smooth out the chiffon toward the hemline...and I fold and pin it about .25 to .5" longer than the lining.  I press the hemline of the chiffon lightly and baste if needed...but I usually don't need to.  I take it to the machine and sew just above the foldline...maybe 1/16" from the fold.  Then I trim it close and turn that edge up again...so it is enclosed...and edgestitch it. 

         If, after you pin it..it seems to 'shrink' and get a little shorter...re pin it and make it a little longer, so that it will be at least .25 longer than the finished hem of the lining when you are finished.  When you pin it on the ironing board, it doesn't let it stretch longer and you have more control.  You can see if it wants to jump back toward the bodice or if it wants to hang toward the hem. 

        If you have pins in it while you are measuring it on the client, the weight of the pins will affect the outcome.  I never pin the chiffon layer when measuring on a client.  I do pin the lining while it is being worn, but adjust the chiffon layer completely after I have the lining done.    If the gown is done with any bias, it should be hung for at least 24 hrs., to let the fabric "do its thing."  Some people call it "letting the fabric 'rest'"...but it can do so much, it certainly isn't 'resting!" LOL  Also, be sure to use silk pins...They cost a little more, but I don't use anything else...period!  They are more lightweight and longer and have glass heads that you can SEE. 

        Hope this answers your questions...if not....try again


        1. KharminJ | | #16

          Oh Crap!So sorry to hear about DH's owwie! Sending lots of "It's minor and Quickly Healed" energy and Blessings his way! And "Patience" for you - I know how disappointing and aggravating it is when a monkey-wrench appears in big plans!~~~Seems to me that the "measure the lining on the client, mark the chiffon on the ironing board" method could be used no matter what the desired relationship is between the two - as long as it's constant around the skirt. Big Zen Hugs, too!Kharmin

        2. User avater
          ThreadKoe | | #18

          Here is a HUGE HUG ((())) from me too! What a disappointment about your Bike Trip. I know how much you were looking forward to it. I hope your DH's knee is not too bad, and is on the mend quickly. Hope it is a quick fix. Cathy

        3. User avater
          Flax | | #19

          I too am sorry about your husband and your plans. I pray he gets well soon. I do rolled hems the same way you described too, which is a real blessing compared to rolled hem feet. When you mark the hem on a client how far from the floor do tend to make the lining hem?When the gown comes with the chiffon 2" longer than the lining, do you just ignore the 2" difference and make it .5" longer anyway?

          1. Ocrafty1 | | #20

            Thanks for your condolences.  He had an MRI today and goes back to the Dr. on Wed.  We'll go from there, but I'll bet he'll need surgery.  Oh, well....We'll play it by ear.

            Per the dress....I was taught, by a lady who'd been in the wedding industry for over 50 yrs., that you make a long gown 1.5 to 2" from the floor with their shoes on. There needs to be enough room for them to walk without stepping on the gown....so make the lining .25  shorter than the chiffon will be.  You don't want the client stepping on the chiffon...it will rip/run/shred/get filthy quickly if they step on it and the gown will be toast...and so will your reputation. I have two clients for whom I always make their gowns at least 2" from the floor....1 is an impersonator who dances and runs around on stage...she'd step on her gowns; trip; and probably sue me for making it too long. LOL  The other is a young lady who has a boisterous personality and would probably do the same at a 'prom.'  I have other clients who are more 'proper' and will make their gowns no more than 1.25" from the floor. Most times clients will defer to your recommendations for legnth.

            I'd look at the style of the dress.  If the dress was intended to have a 2" longer layer of chiffon, I'd keep the design integrity...or meet the client's wishes.  For most gowns, I'd just make the chiffon layer about .25" longer in total legnth.  The .5" is an approximation for about the total legnth for a 'rolled hem' (turn under a quarter in., sew, then turn under again and sew.) Remember, when doing custom sewing/alterations...'the customer is always right!'  That's what custom is all about.  We don't always agree with what they want.

            I had a client call the other day who I've done lots of alterations for. She needed a 'quick' job done and althought I knew she would be here for an hr. and a half (I love this elderly lady..we've become good friends) I said I'd remove the darts in the dress she'd bought as a costume for a local play.  She neglected to say it was chiffon over a knit....2 layers of separate darts.  I took out the darts on the inside layer, then started removing the ones in the printed chiffon while we chatted.  When I was halfway through trying to pick out the miniscule stitches buried in the chiffon, she mentioned that she didn't think the darts needed to be taken out of the chiffon layer.  I told  her I really thought they did, and continued to take them out as I explained why.  When she tried it back on, she was adamant that she thought the dress would look better with them back in....so back in they went.  I thought it looked better with them out....she liked it with them in....Her dress; her $$.  It really didn't make that much difference, but I thought it fit her better with them in.  She's nearly 80, and still has a nice figure, for her age...but she thought the darts in the chiffon made her bum look bigger.  LOL  I really cracked up!  She's quite a character and I love her dearly.....

            Point is, you make the garment the way the client wants it to be. Talk to them if there are ANY questions or changes that you need to make that you haven't discussed previously.  That way there is no question/surprises at the final outcome.


          2. User avater
            Flax | | #21

            I am so thankful for your help! I have been doing alterations as a job/professionally since I was 22, now I am 35 and I never want to think that I have all the answers. I'd rather be a sponge and soak in all the wisdom and experience that others older than me have. I agree with you about hems being 1.5 to 2" off the floor. But, up until now I have only strongly encourage my clients to go 1 inch from the floor. They usually whine to me that people will see their shoes. I suppose I could tell them that its better to see your shoes than to see your petticoat when you fall on you butt! (I don't think I would really say it like that, but I would like to LOL)How do you respond to those that whine about seeing their shoes. What do you tell them?

          3. Teaf5 | | #22

            My mother would've told them that, if anyone is paying attention your shoes, you're not being interesting enough in the conversation, hee hee.Nowadays, I tell them that the focal point of the dress draws people's eyes up so they don't notice the shoes, but anyone who is really worried about this can always use it as an excuse to buy really beautiful shoes....

          4. Ocrafty1 | | #23

            Sorry it took me so long to respond, but we just got back from our Harley trip to Halifax, Nova Scotia 2 days ago...and its the first time I've checked my email...we had a great time despite  5 days of rain.

            In answer to your question...I tell them that I worked in several bridal shops and that gown hems are supposed to hit just at the instep of their foot.  They are spending lots of $$ on their shoes and they are supposed to show.  I've only had a couple of gals that insisted on having their gowns too long...and since they are paying, I do what they want...but I warn them that they will probably step on their gown and rip it or at the very least get it quite dirty. And I tell them that I am not responsible for those problems. 

            I hate it when clients want things that are ridiculous or that make their garments look bad.  It reflects on my fitting abilities, and I don't like the prospect of people making unflattering comments about the gowns I make.  I usually try to compromise with them, pointing out how it makes the gown look...I always make them stand in front of a full length mirror and see what I'm talking about. Usually they will listen to me.  If they are paying for a custom made gown, they want to look their best in it.  I do what I can, and try to please them and myself.  I'm very picky about how my gowns look on my clients.  I'll take things apart if I need to and re do it; even if it is the day before they are to pick it up, if I don't like what I've done. 

            Hope this helps.


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