What is Chiffon?

Mary McMahon

Chiffon is a textile made from silk, cotton, nylon, polyester, or rayon. It tends to be sheer, with a faint shimmer and a simple weave. When held up to the light, chiffon strongly resembles closely woven netting. This fabric is generally used in evening and formal wear, since it drapes well and can add a floaty look to gowns and dresses. It is also notoriously difficult to work with, because of its slippery texture. Most fabric stores carry several forms in varying colors. The name comes from an Old French word for rag.

Silk cocoons. Chiffon fabric can be made from silk.
Silk cocoons. Chiffon fabric can be made from silk.

Silk chiffon is the most prized, since it has a rich shimmer and slick texture. It is also surprisingly strong for its weight. Because silk chiffon is made from a natural fiber, it tends to be more expensive than synthetics, and it also needs to be dry cleaned. Silk is also used to make georgette, sometimes called crepe, a thicker and more opaque fabric that drapes and behaves like chiffon. Another natural fiber, cotton, is sometimes used to make chiffon, although the resulting fabric is more matte and less floaty.

Chiffon will spring back to conceal sewing pins.
Chiffon will spring back to conceal sewing pins.

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Synthetic materials are most commonly used to make chiffon, since most synthetics take dye well, are relatively cheap to make, and they tend to be sturdy. However, the fabric is still delicate enough that it should be hand washed with cold water only, and never run through a washing machine. Synthetics are also just as challenging to work with as silk, since they are also slippery.

Chiffon gives formal dresses a sheer, floaty appearance.
Chiffon gives formal dresses a sheer, floaty appearance.

In formal wear, chiffon is often used as an overlay over more opaque fabrics. The fabric floats on top, adding shimmer and texture to the dress while keeping the wearer modest. The color of the underlying fabric will also show slightly, so the chiffon is usually coordinated with the underlayer. This fabric is used in tops, skirts, and dresses as well as in scarves, belts, and accents.

When sewing chiffon, many crafters layer tissue paper in between the two pieces being sewn together. The tissue paper helps keep the fabric together, with the rough surface of the tissue holding the chiffon in place while it is handled. After sewing, the tissue paper can be carefully ripped out. Chiffon is also pinnable, as it will spring back, concealing pin marks. As a general rule, sewers should work slowly and steadily with this fabric, taking care not to run it through a sewing machine too quickly or it will bunch and gather.

Chiffon should generally be hand washed with cold water only.
Chiffon should generally be hand washed with cold water only.

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Discussion Comments

anon995113

I believe they were going to take the dress to the museum to see if they can get help identifying the fabric, not to "dump their granny's old things off at their doorstep."

anon88095

Not to be rude, but the museum may not like you dumping your granny's old things off at their door step. I suggest you sell the old rags for cash on eBay!

anon60926

wow dude. never knew this.

anon31682

I have a long chiffon evening dress. I found it in the sixties when my grandmother died at age 84. It was worn by my grandmother in the teens, twenties or thirties. It was probably the twenties, but did they wear long dresses in that era? My grandmother's friends were very well to do. And,they got very dressed up. When were the synthetics introduced? I ask this question because I think the synthetics were introduced in the forties. My guess is this dress is silk chiffon. My next step is to take it to the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

Barbara Campbell

anon17552

what is the history of chiffon?

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