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What Is Chiffon Fabric? Learn About the Characteristics of This Luxury Fabric and How Chiffon Is Made

Written by MasterClass

Jun 19, 2019 • 4 min read

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From Bollywood to ball gowns, chiffon is a popular, decorative, lightweight fabric that was is associated with elegance and luxury. Chiffon’s shimmery and sheer appearance has proliferated in fashion and design for centuries.

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What Is Chiffon?

Chiffon is a weaving process that produces a lightweight, plain weave fabric with a slight shine. The chiffon weave results in small puckers that make the fabric a little rough to the touch. These puckers are created through the use of s-twist and z-twist crepe yarns, which are twisted counter-clockwise and clockwise respectively. Crepe yarns are also twisted much tighter than standard yarns. The yarns are then woven in a plain weave, which means a single weft thread alternates over and under a single warp thread. The sheer fabric can be woven from a variety of textile types, both synthetic and natural, like silk, nylon, rayon, or polyester.

What Is the History of Chiffon?

Chiffon comes from the French word chiffe, which means cloth or rag. The first chiffons were made exclusively from silk. Since chiffon was primarily a silk fabric, it was very expensive and its use in fashion and design signified high status. In 1938, nylon chiffon was invented, and polyester chiffon came about in 1958. With the creation of these synthetic chiffons, the fabric became more accessible and therefore more popular for common use.

What Are the Characteristics of Chiffon?

Chiffon is a gossamer or gauze-like fabric that is known for its sheer, floating, and shimmery nature, almost like tissue paper.

  • Sheer. Chiffon-fabric has a sheer, transparent appearance, and when held under a magnifying glass, it looks like a fine net or mesh.
  • Rough feel. There are slight puckers in chiffon due to the alternating s-twist and z-twist yarns.
  • Stretch. Chiffon has a slight spandex-like feel as a result of being woven in different directions. Silk chiffon has slightly more stretch than polyester chiffon, as silk is naturally more pliable.
  • Strong. Chiffon fabric, both silk and synthetic, is extremely strong as a result of the twists of the yarns and the tight weave of the fabric.
  • Shimmery. Chiffon has a shimmery surface. Silk chiffon has the most shimmer, while cotton chiffon is more matte.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Using Chiffon?

Chiffon is a beautiful, decorative fabric that has many positive qualities for fashion and design.

  • Drapes well. Chiffon has a beautiful drape, which makes it popular for evening gowns. It also does hold a little bit of its own structure, which gives the fabric a nice character.
  • Holds dye well. Silk chiffon displays colors beautifully, especially silk chiffon, as silk fibers absorb a lot of dye.

However, chiffon also has some downsides. Here are some sewing tips and things to note about chiffon.

  • Difficult to work with. Chiffon’s slippery texture makes it difficult to work with. When sewing chiffon, sewers and craftsman work steadily and slowly with the fabric. When using a sewing machine, make sure to use a sharp machine needle. Since the fabric can easily fray and pull, a sharp needle will help avoid that in the sewing process.
  • Frays easily. Even though chiffon’s threads are very strong because of the tight twists, it can snag and fray easily.
  • Loses shape over time. Silk chiffon loses shape and may sag over time and use. Nylon and polyester chiffon maintain shape a little better than silk chiffon.

What Is Chiffon Used For?

  • Evening gowns. With its beautiful drape and shimmery appearance, chiffon is a popular choice for evening wear, wedding dresses, and high fashion dresses. The material is often used as an overlay on another fabric to create dimension and add volume to the garment.
  • Scarves and sashes. Chiffon is often used as a decorative fabric in accessories, such as a lightweight scarf for warmer months, or a beautiful sash for wear with wraps, dresses, and jackets.
  • Blouses. Chiffon is flowy and lightweight and is popular for summertime blouses and shirts.
  • Lingerie. The transparent nature of chiffon makes it popular for use in undergarments and lingerie.
  • Home decor. Sheer curtains and decorative upholstery are often made from chiffon. The fabric’s shimmery appearance make it a nice decorative choice, and its sheer nature allows light to stream through windows.
  • Sarees and dupattas. Chiffon is a very popular fabric for traditional Indian dress, and it is often used to make sarees and dupattas. The way chiffon holds dyes well and because of its smooth drape make it popular for these brightly-colored, wrapped dresses and scarves.

Fabric Care Guide: How Do You Care for Chiffon?

Caring for chiffon depends on the type of fiber that comprises the fabric. Here is a general guide for how to wash your chiffon item, whether it’s made from synthetic or natural fiber.

  • Silk chiffon needs to be dry cleaned.
  • Polyester chiffon and nylon chiffon can be hand washed or washed in the washing machine on gentle.
  • Use a mild, gentle detergent.
  • Wash with cold water and soak for 30 minutes. Do not leave in the water for any longer because the dye will start to fade.
  • Do not wring. Chiffon can easily lose shape.
  • Lay flat. Don’t use clips as they can create marks on the fabric on the line.
  • Don’t put in the sun. The fabric can fade so avoid direct sunlight.

Learn more about fashion design in Marc Jacobs’s MasterClass.