The Allure of Silk: Sewing with Susan Khalje, Part 2

Whoever knew there could be so many valuable tips to be learned about sewing with taffeta?   The second “part” of my dress, which I began under the tutelage of Susan Khalje in early June, was simple compared with the embroidered silk organza overlaid bodice. However, it proved to be an excellent opportunity to learn about some of the peculiarities inherent in silk taffeta.

The skirt pattern for which I had made a muslin (toile) in preparation for class was actually a full circle with 4 seams. I wasn’t so sure I wanted anything quite so full, and as I only had 3½ yards of 35” wide taffeta, I also wasn’t so sure I had enough fabric to make such a skirt. But what really put the kibosh to those plans was Susan’s observation that silk taffeta does not perform well with seams cut on the straight of grain (seams sewn thus, apparently do not lie flat and drape well.) She suggested a three-part skirt, with one panel centered on the front, and the other two joined to the sides of that front panel and then seamed together up the back. All cut edges would be on the bias, with the straight of grain being down the center of each panel. So we took one prepared muslin piece and made these changes to it:

This is one of the original 4 panels.  We redrew the side seams, adding enough to the waist to compensate for reducing the skirt to three panels, and by doing that, also reduced the width at the bottom of the panel.

This is one of the original 4 panels. We redrew the side seams, adding enough to the waist to compensate for reducing the skirt to three panels, and by doing that, also reduced the width at the bottom of the panel.

Here is a close-up, with the new straight of grain going up the middle rather than down the side.

Here is a close-up, with the new side seam lines and straight of grain going up the middle rather than down the side. Both are marked in black.

Once I had my new pattern piece, cutting it out was easy and took every inch of the sapphire blue taffeta I had brought with me. Here is what it looked like when the seams were stitched:

All the basting lines are still visible.

All the basting lines are still visible.

The next surprise I had was about the silk organza underlining. I am so used to catch-stitching seams to organza underlining in couture sewing. But with taffeta, it’s better not to do so. With the impressionable finish of taffeta, such catch-stitching could “shadow” on the front of the garment. So I left the seams unsecured on the wrong side:

Blue taffeta skirt

Ironing those seams also took special attention. Susan had me iron them over a seamroll, taking care to “spread” the seam so that the tight stitching actually would show in front of the point of the iron. This was to get a crisp seam. Once ironed, taffeta does not respond well to changes in your intent (like some people we all know), so it has to be done correctly the first time.

Because the center back zipper would be applied onto the bias, Susan had me use a little fusible interfacing to reinforce that seam. Luckily, Becky, a classmate, had a bag of all kinds of high quality fusible interfacings with her! (Thanks, Becky!)

The interfacing was sandwiched between the fashion fabric and the underlining.

The interfacing was sandwiched between the fashion fabric and the underlining.

I certainly did not get to the hem of the skirt before I left for home, but Susan gave me tips on how to sew that wide and curved expanse. I cut a 2½” strip of silk organza to use as a hem facing. I turned it up with a very narrow strip of blue taffeta exposed on the wrong side. Then I used a very short straight stitch to secure the organza facing to the organza underlining:

Blue taffeta skirt

I haven’t pressed the hem yet, but Susan has instructed me not to press the edge of the hem flat. It should have a little softness to it, which is the French way! I’m all for that.

The hemmed skirt

The hemmed skirt

The lining, which will be the full expanse of the skirt itself, will be out of silk crepe de chine and will hang loose.

In the past, I have always thought of taffeta as kind of stiff and a little too structured for my taste, but now I am a fan. I like the slight rustle to it, and when constructed properly, it drapes and moves beautifully. The secret is to work with very fine quality silk taffeta – and know the tricks! Thanks, Susan!



Filed under couture construction, sewing in silk, Silk taffeta, Uncategorized

18 responses to “The Allure of Silk: Sewing with Susan Khalje, Part 2

  1. Cissie

    I am constantly amazed by the depth of Susan’s knowledge. As I’m planning a silk taffeta skirt, these tips are going to be very helpful.

  2. Oh, that skirt is wonderful! And handy tips… one who is just beginning (again) to sew, the blogging community offers a wealth of information!

  3. Thanks so much for sharing. Your skirt is beautiful.

  4. I adore this colour and think the skirt is wonderful. I too had avoided taffeta due to its stiffness but this information is superb. I am also grappling with flares at the moment in my draping class and am experimenting with triangles and circles so this is most useful. Thank you Karen. And Susan!

  5. Thanks for sharing! The skirt is beautiful and those tricks for sewing with taffeta very interesting.

  6. Fashionista

    Thank you for your silk taffeta tips. At the moment I’m vacillating between silk taffeta and a silk brocade for a frock so these tips are timely. My frock is quite structured (tulip shaped skirt and fitted bodice) so I’m not battling with drape. If anything I’m after stiffness for the skirt.

    As an aside and a completely useless bit of trivia, did you know that “scroop” is the name for the noise that taffeta makes when it rustles? And it is a legitimate scrabble word.

    • I would imagine that silk brocade should be treated much the same way as taffeta; either fabric sounds perfect for your dress.
      So glad to know about scroop! Spell-check doesn’t like it, but I do!

  7. Looks very elegant. I’m looking forward to seeing the finished dress. If any of your readers want an explanation of the skirt pattern changes the best resource for drafting circular skirts and variations of them is ” Couture: The Art of Fine Sewing” by Roberta Carr. She explains exactly how to draft the pattern to fit your waist and skirt length. Most important is the explanations of how to chop up the circle and reposition the grain lines to achieve beautifully shaped “cones” (the soft folds of fabric radiating out from the waist). Your skirt drapes beautifully!

  8. Yes, when one doesn’t have the expertise of Susan Khalje at hand, that book is the best one to go to! Thanks for mentioning it, Mary. Just a few details left on my dress, which is a good thing since I need to wear it next week!

  9. Fascinating. I loved working with taffeta for my wedding dress – and that sound! I thought I would hate it – nope 🙂
    Isn’t it awesome how someone in the class always has the exact right thing that you never in your wildest dreams would have though to be necessary??? It’s looking lovely!!

    • I agree – I love that taffeta sound! I have found fellow dressmakers to be some of the best prepared and kindest people on earth – another reason to love taking sewing classes.

  10. Marguerite

    I’m loving reading the process you are going through making this dress. Hiw I would love to take a class with Susan! That knowledge of how to place the grain lines makes a world if difference in the drape of the skirt.

    • I hope someday you will be able to take a class with Susan. I am constantly amazed at the depth of her knowledge – and she’s just so much fun, too! So glad you are enjoying my posts on this dress.

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