Sheer Fabrics

The beauty of sheer fabrics lies in their elegant, almost transparent appearance, but this also means that any stitching must be neatly worked as it will show through to the right side of the garment. Enclosed seams, narrow hems and bound edges work best with sheer fabrics, as unfinished seam allowances and heavy hems detract from the delicate, see-through look

Sheer fabrics fall into two distinct categories — soft sheers and crisp sheers. Soft sheers, including chiffon and georgette, have a soft hand and drape well. Crisp sheers, like organza and organdie, are slightly stiffer and form more stiff folds, but have the advantage of being easier to cut out and sew.

Choosing a pattern

Avoid patterns with a lot of seams, darts and facings. The most suitable patterns are those that fit loosely and have graceful, flowing lines. Softer styling details such as gathers, ruffles, shirring or draping are more appropriate. Patterns with tailored shirt cuffs, collars and yokes can be made up in sheer fabric, but you'll find this far easier if you keep to a crisp sheer, such as organza. Details, such as a tucked bodice or patch pockets over the breasts, make garments less revealing while maintaining the transparent quality of the fabric.

Floral-printed georgette makes a splendid formal dress with a charmingly floaty feel. Notice how the styling details — a draped, shawl collar and flowing skirt — emphasize and enhance the delicate quality of the fabric.

Guide to popular sheer fabrics

Soft sheer fabrics

Chiffon Made with an untwisted yarn, chiffon has a smooth, lustrous surface, making it particularly difficult to sew. Made from silk or polyester, chiffon is used for evening wear and blouses.

Georgette This is a loosely woven sheer made from tightly twisted warp and weft threads which create an attractive, crepe-like surface. Made from either pure silk or polyester, georgette is used for blouses, dresses, evening and bridal wear, as well as fine lingerie.

Voile This is a semi-sheer made from cotton or synthetic fibres and blends. It is used for shirts and blouses, children's clothes and lingerie.

Crisp sheer fabrics

Organdie Woven from tightly twisted cotton yarns, organdie is a crisp sheer used for blouses, dresses, evening wear and children's clothes. It is widely available in white, though you can buy other colours, and is especially popular for making detachable tailored collars and cuffs.

Organza A very see-through fabric usually made from silk, nylon or polyester yarns. Organza is a crisp, stable fabric available in a wide range of colours. It is used for evening and bridal wear and as an interfacing for sheer fabrics. Do not use it for close-fitting garments as it hangs better if allowed to stand away from the body.

Laying and cutting out sheers

Soft sheers are quite difficult to cut out as they can slip and move easily on a smooth cutting surface. Crisp sheers are firmer and more stable.

Cutting surface To make lying and cutting out easier, cover your cutting surface with an old, clean, cotton sheet, or a flannel-backed table cloth.

Tissue paper it also helps if you insert the fabric between a layer of tissue paper and the tissue paper pattern and through all the layers.

Pins Use the finest dressmaking pins you can find. Avoid those labelled 'silk pins' as they are too coarse for these delicate fabrics.

Pinning Sheer fabrics are easily marked or snagged so pin only inside the seam allowances.

Many sheer fabrics are as delicate as their appearance suggests, so you should be careful not to snag or tear them while you are sewing.

• Avoid unpicking if you need to check the garment for fit, pin or tack seams just outside the seam line, before machine stitching.

New needle Use fine machine needles and hand sewing needles. Fit a new needle at the start of a new garment.

• Even-feed foot this is particularly useful for chiffon and other slippery sheer fabrics.

• Pre-washing this removes any fabric dressing, which can cause skipped stitches and make stitching difficult.

• Small-hole needle plate this attach­ment is available for some models of sewing machine, but not all. It is worth checking whether you can get one for your machine as it can solve the problem of fabric being drawn into the needle hole.

• Securing threads do not backstitch to secure threads, as this draws fabric into the needle hole.

Seams

French seams work well with sheers that fray as the raw edges are completely enclosed. Use French seams on straight and gently curving edges only, as they are difficult to sew on sharply curving edges. French seams shouldn't be used for fabrics cut on the bias.

Zigzag or overlooked seams are good for seams inside collars and cuffs. Use a narrow zigzag or overlook stitch and trim away the seam allowance

Double-stitched seams are effective for sheers provided they do not fray. Simply stitch the seam, then stitch again 6mm (1/4in) from the first row of stitching. Trim away the seam allowance close to the stitching.

Hems

Narrow hems look neat as there is very little to show through to the right side. Use a narrow hemming foot on your machine to stitch a tiny hem.

Hand-rolled hems look good on chif­fon and georgette garments, and you may prefer this technique to stitching a narrow hem by machine.

Narrow zigzag or overlooked hems do not add any weight to a garment and are ideal when a floaty effect is required on sleeve and base hem edges.

Bound edges add a neat finish to any sheer. The technique is particularly useful for neatening sleeve edges and, occasionally, the lower edges of a garment. You can either make the binding yourself from fabric cut on the bias or use shop-bought bias binding. Tack the binding in place before stitching.

To prevent the fabric from being drawn into the needle hole at the start of a seam, cut a small square of tissue paper or Stitch 'n' Tear and place it over the needle hole. Lay the start of the seam on top. Holding the thread ends securely, start stitching and do not backstitch.

Needles and stitches

• Machine needles Sizes 60/8 or 70/10

• Stitch length 1.5-2 millimeters (12-20 stitches per inch)

• Hand needles Betweens sizes 8 to 10

• Thread Silk thread for silk fabric; fine polyester or cotton-wrapped polyester for cotton, synthetics and blends