Monday, September 7, 2009

Field Notes on Working with Duchesse Satin (Also: Kitties!)

Duchesse satin is a cruel and beautiful fabric. It's a thick, tightly-woven satin made from silk or synthetic fibers and has a very distinctive sheen. I worked with it for the first time for my sheath dress from Vogue's New Book for Better Sewing (to be unveiled tomorrow!), and discovered that as well as being gorgeous, it is also very tricky to work with. I thought I'd share a few things I discovered here.

First, of all, I should note that I'm working with silk duchesse. I'm not sure if synthetic duchesse has all of the same properties, but I would guess that it's generally very similar.

Style notes:
  • The biggest thing to note about duchesse is that its luster, which is quite beautiful, also has a fatal downfall: it shows every lump, bump, and dent - in your body and in your construction. I would recommend choosing a style that's not too terribly fitted. This sheath dress worked well because there is actually a notable amount of ease in the bodice and hips. The waist is very fitted, and happily, covered up with a belt.
Pressing notes:
  • You should press duchesse directly only on the wrong side. On the right side, use a silk organza press cloth. Mine is made from some leftover organza, cut into an 18" square. With the press cloth, you can use high heat and steam and avoid making uneven shiny marks.
Construction notes:
  • Duchesse rolls like the dickens. Here's a picture of a swatch, next to some other fabrics. See how it rolls in on itself? Because of this, it can be especially hard to cut and hem. Press the edges thoroughly before cutting.
  • Applying a fusible interfacing stops the rolling. I ironed interfacing inside the hem to keep it crisp and roll-free.
Thoughts on hemming:

I found that duchesse is pretty much impossible to hem invisibly, even with a lot of precautions taken. I used VoNBBS's first method of hemming:

I was VERY careful to only pick up one itsy-bitsy thread from the dress and not to pull the stitches tight, but I still ended up with a bit of a ridge on the right side of the dress. I think if I make a dress out of duchesse again, I would explore some non-stitched hemming methods, like a fusible tape. Have any of you ever tried this?

Now, on to the kitty portion of this post. Professor Higgins had a meeting with his colleague Lion this morning . . .

. . . while his sister Pip napped sweetly nearby.

They both send their best wishes, and Henry tips his hat to the ladies.

Happy Labor Day to my neighbors in the U.S.! Come back tomorrow for the unveiling of the satin sheath.


  1. Were I wearing that fabric, it would definitely be over Spanx!!

  2. I was taught to always interline silk - with silk organza, preferably. If you interline, you can hem and tack down seams and all that right to the interlining, and then everything's invisible.

  3. I am working with red duchesse satin just like that for my daughter's strapless dress. Susan Khalje told me in sewing class that it's the mark of an expensive fabric when it curls so much. Susan also had me line my daughter's dress with organza so when I hem it I will be securing it to the organza, like Sarah (above) said.

  4. I made my daughter a Duchesse satin gown, and underlined it with organza. It worked great! I have also hemmed inexpensive unlined satin gowns (meaning poly) for other people and in this instance I used horsehair braid, tacking it at the seams only. It folds into place nicely, stays put and gives some shape to the hemline.

  5. Of course! A silk organza underlining! I've used that technique before, and I don't know why I didn't think of it here. Sewing from a 1950's book, I sometimes forget more modern techniques I've learned. VoNBBS barely mentions interfacing or linings, and definitely not interlinings.

    LindsayT, that is interesting to hear about the curling--and good to know, especially considering what I paid for this fabric!

  6. Yes, I would use the organza interlining too, But I have also used the horsehair braid and that work nicely as well. I made the skirt for my wedding dress in duchesse and I love the fabric. Yes it shows every bump and it never looks ironed but it does it in the silk way and that makes me love it :-)

  7. OMG kettehs! Kitteh kitheh kitteeeehs NOM NOM NOM!!!!

    I'm sorry I didn't read about the satin at all ;o)

  8. Thanks for the great tips! And cute kitties ;)

  9. As everyone mentioned, underlining is the key to an invisible hem. Duchesse satin is a truly magnificent fabric and the dress is worthy of it.
    When cutting fabrics like this that are difficult to keep flat, pinning them to a layer of tissue paper is a good way to keep everything square and the grain intact. You just cut through the paper. Use weights to place the pattern on top. You can also use pattern paper ant the pattern pieces can then be easily laid out on grain. Cut through all layers.

  10. Thanks, Nancy K! You are a wealth of knowledge!

    For those who suggested horsehair braid in a hem, could you tell me how you secure it? Do you need to use an underlining in conjunction with the horsehair?

    Emilykate--HA! I can see you are a fellow LOLcats fan.

  11. Love the kitties!!! (goes well with the sewing too)

  12. Hello - I was thinking of making pillowcases out of silk duchesse satin. Bad Idea? Good Idea? I know how high maintenance they are, which is why I was thinking of training using silk charmeuse...

    I am new to all of this but few people seem to be into making pillowcases out of these... envelope style...

    What do you think? As for cleaning it, would there be a way I could clean it at home?

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