A sheer blouse (Vogue 9783)

I mentioned that I don’t have much experience with sheer fabrics so before I start designing something clever I plan to grips with the techniques. I really appreciate the feedback I have in the way of designing – how to use sheers and how elegant they can look – especially in terms of obscuring certain body parts rather than revealing everything.

I looked at my pattern collection and found two late 1950s patterns shown in translucent patterns. I really like these delicate blouses, worn here with plain, straight pencil skirts. I find a good blouse can work almost as well as a jacket in terms of creating the right balance between authority and approachability. But how might that work with sheers?

Both patterns suggest suitable fabrics including a range of translucent ones

  • voile
  • lawn
  • muslin
  • dotted swiss
  • dimity
  • organdie
  • silk organdie
  • chiffon

Now I have wanted to make a blouse with a puffed short sleeve for ages.

Unlike lace and sheers they are not really in fashion at the moment, but I love them. Here are a few vintage ones. There seems to be a marked preference to matching them with a low cut scooped neck. I  don’t know if you have ever worn a top like this, but they are not easy to keep in the right place. I think a proper blouse with translucent yoke and sleeves will create a more wearable look for me.

So V 9783, view C it is. Also V 9783 features a lace insert between yoke and body. And it is mitred. And whip stitched. So, OMG, that will challenge me.

I found some nice (cheap) brown silk chiffon. I know it is lemon on the pattern envelope, and it is pretty, but I quite like a dark coloured blouse and thought this was a nice colour to work with. The fabric, being pure silk, is a little bit textured and crepey, but at least it is not polyester which I am sure would be much worse. I made lots of tailors’ tacks while I pondered some of the decisions I have to make.

Vogue 9783
Vogue 9783
  • Shall I do pin tucks or gathers? I want to do pintucks as they are much more difficult (see markings top right) but I think this view will work better with gathers.
  • Shall I use interfacing? I am inclined to use black silk organza, but only where the piece is fully enclosed – collar, cuffs and front band – to avoid the hair shirt problem.
  • In the picture the bodice below the yoke is not translucent, but the pattern is silent on this being two layers, or a different fabric. What shall I do? Line it? Double it up? Make it in one layer and wear a camisole?
  • It needs some lace – what colour, what fabric?
  • it will need quite a few buttons, and buttonholes, including on the sleeves
  • Seam finishes are assumed to be pinked and/or overstitched by hand. I don’t think this is the best finish for silk chiffon. My instinct is French seams at the side and maybe hand finished at the armhole.


I feel like I am sinking before I even start with this one. I really appreciate when you give me construction advice – but don’t feel you have to – I have books and the internet too. I will let you know how I get on.


29 Responses

  1. Dawn

    You’ve probably heard this tip before, a neighbour gave it to me when I was struggling with some really slippery silk but I don’t see why it won’t work for other tricksy fabrics. My neighbour said to put tissue in between the seams to sew over. I used narrow strips of the tearing tissue you’d use for appliqué (quite heavy weight), you sew as normal and carefully tear the tissue away when the seam is finished. It provides fabric stability and it made for much easier pattern cutting to, making the scissors much easier to control!

  2. Sew Ruthie

    The picture does look as though its either a different fabric or two layers of fabric to give a more opaque look. It is clever how they can draw the fabric to look sheer on the envelope.

  3. AnnIe

    I like the patten you’ve chosen and it doesn’t look too complex, your challenge is mainly with the fabric. I’ve heard that spray starch can help tame slippery fabric making it easier to handle. That lace looks like it’s laid on after construction, if so, that shouldn’t be too daunting. I’d probably go with a single layer and cami under.

    Love the colour, brown is so underrated, pearl buttons would work nicely, I love this planning stage, so many possibilities.

  4. Jay

    FWIW my thoughts
    Tucks v gathers. Gathers will give a frothier look. You could take this as you’re slim (on me, gathers from a yoke =bulbous). Pin tucks will look smarter, if the chiffon holds up – quick sample?
    Interfacing – right with you on you’re decision.
    Bodice opacity – two layers would be pretty good. Camisole, ok, but less ‘formal’, lined with habotai another possibility.
    Lace colour – dye to match? écru? black? This might come down to whatever you can find. Where will you usually go for lace?
    Buttonholes – good luck with this! sample? snap fasteners behind buttons?
    Seams – I french seamed my last silk chiffon effort. On the armholes maybe make a very fine binding from self fabric ?
    I think this will look great, and I’m sure you’ll get a result you’re happy with. The worst thing about the silk chiffon I used was the tendency to fray.

  5. SewRuth

    I like a chiffon blouse with a camisole underneath, by changing the colour of the cami you can create slightly different shades. You need to ‘interface’ the button band unless you’re making buttonholes by hand. for interfacing you could use the silk organza you mentioned, or double up with self fabric – cut on the opposing grain. For the collar you could try the fabric selvedge sewn into the seams and then trimmed close – that way you still keep the sheer collar but with a little strength but folding it over might not meet your high standards.

    My friend Lynne has a great technique for sewing with sheers and slippery fabrics:from http://ozzyblackbeard.blogspot.co.uk/

    Ingredients –

    3 teaspoons of powdered gelatin
    1 cup of cold tap water – I used about 200mls
    3 litres of cold tap water

    Instructions –

    1. Put the gelatin into a cup/glass of water, and leave for 30 mins. I stirred it occasionally, and it thickens up a bit.

    2. Bring it to the boil, but don’t let it boil. I microwaved it at 900 watts for 1 min 30 secs.

    3. Pour this into a basin containing 3 litres of cold water. Put the fabric in, and leave for an hour.

    4. Squeeze the water out, and leave the fabric to dry. Iron without steam, and don’t use any steam when pressing the fabric during sewing.

    5. Once the garment is finished, wash it to get the gelatin out, and leave to dry.

  6. Vivienne

    I do recognise your challenges with silk and slippery fabrics. My biggest one was getting neat and tidy buttonholes which I still haven’t mastered so I chose a pattern with no fastenings: Sew Over It’s Pussy Bow Blouse. I made it up firstly in georgette and just overlocked the seams but liked it so much I knew I could risk some very expensive silk. It works out so well and here is what I learned.

    Use newspaper between the layers of silk when cutting out. Some tissue paper can be too slippery but newspaper tears easily, has a slight grip and if you’ve already read the contents then it’s free!
    Try different needles in your sewing machine to make sure you won’t get pulls.
    Use a torn off piece of newspaper under the start of each seam to prevent the fabric being pushed down by the needle.
    Use French seams and just make them narrower for the armhole.
    For the sake of decency I used habotai silk (the stuff you use for painting) and made a camisole using the same pattern for the body only. Just two side seams, machined narrow hem and neckline.

    Have you mastered buttonholes on silk? Tips appreciated!

      • Jacqui

        I have used the washaway solvy – the more papery one not the clear wrap sort. for buttons holes on a very fine silk chiffon – it worked brilliantlly but had to practice to get the right width so it would not pull off the fabric when the washaway was removed. And this only works if you intend to handwash in water your garment not dryclean.

  7. Bunny

    Sewing with sheers is such fun with all the challenges it provides. I second the idea of black lace and think it would bring this pattern up to date. I’ve learned that spray starch is my best friend when sewing sheers as well as a microtex brand new size 8 needle. I do mostly french seams, bind the armscye seam, and do a hem treatment that is very tiny and unobtrusive. A rotary cutter is priceless when cutting sheers. Good luck and we’re watching the fun!

  8. Prttynpnk

    i love seeing with sheers- I am not as ambitious as you are- I keep it floaty and unstructured- no interfacing, just French seams. I look forward to seeing your work motivate me to try a more detailed sheer make.

  9. DementedFairy

    Hairspray is a fast and easy way to tame slippery natural fabrics- I buy really cheap mega cans, and spray away. Also, laying the fabric out on a sheet or large piece of non slippery yardage works brilliantly.
    For shorter seams, forget the machine and just hand sew- in fact, I’m inclined to do this throughout with tricksy stuff, it gives such good control, and your French seams can be REALLY narrow…you also get to check that the fraying edges really are tucked inside as you go. Bliss!

  10. Stephanie

    I really appreciate the tips above for working with my slippery silk, too (especially the one about sewing with a layer of paper underneath). For the body, I would definitely go with a double layer if you can, or even a different fabric like a voile (which is slightly transparent, but less so).. It’s interesting…to me the lace looks like a strip of lace overlay on the chiffon layer. I’d probably go for same-colour lace, but I can see that black might work. I’m sure you’ll ace this one!

  11. Mary Funt

    All great suggestions. I’ve never tried the gelatin trick but heard about it. I’m more inclined to use spray starch or hair spray. There is also a product in the US called Magic Sizing that works. I like the pin tucks rather than gathering and also would go with French seams. You can make them very narrow if you’re careful. The armhole seam I would do two rows of stitching close together, trim and hand overcast.
    If you can get it, I would use cotton thread rather than poly. It sinks into the silk when pressed and I like it much better. Silk thread is too strong and will cut the fibers of the chiffon.
    I would interface the collar and front band with silk organza. Black should be fine. You could cut the main front and back sections double or use black china silk as the second layer. That might look really rich, especially if you use black lace as trim. The pattern doesn’t specify using two layers but that is your choice as the designer. I rarely make up a pattern exactly as shown. Hopefully your machine does good buttonholes. If you can get it, a finer weight cotton thread such as Maderia 80 weight. I think Guttermann also makes fine cotton thread. I set my buttonholer to a narrow width and not too dense stitch. Test and test on your scraps before working on the blouse.
    If you can switch the throat plate on your machine to a straight stitch one it will keep the delicate chiffon from being pulled through. You can also cover the regular zig-zag hole on the throat plate with a couple of layers of masking tape. The needle will pierce the tape but the fabric will be less likely to be pulled through. I also wouldn’t back tack seams. Leave long thread tails at both beginning and end and tie a tailors knot.
    Have fun with this project and please post your results. It should be lovely.

    • mrsmole

      Great tip, Mary, that straight stitch throat plate is a life saver and when used with a straight stitch presser foot something to consider purchasing for future projects. Light weight cotton thread like DMC cotton embroidery 50 is handy here in the US and keeps the puckers to a minimum.

  12. mrsmole

    What a fabulous collection of great solutions and techniques to try! WOW! I’m with Jay on all her points and in fact I like view A without the lace and using pintucks on the sleeve as well even though you want puffy sleeves at the top. I have seen front bands with 3 layers of sheer fabric inside instead of just 2, adding one more fold to the cutting out stage to avoid a foreign interfacing or a hidden placket affair with tiny buttons on the under band and no buttons on the band that shows.Armholes with tiny binding of self fabric…the best gowns have that and it sure avoids the stress of French seams in rounded spaces. Good luck, Kate…you never disappoint!

  13. Maggie

    I’m sorry I have no advice, but I adore reading all the advice others have left. Also, I have never seen a pattern like that, is that how most patterns of that era were? My mother sewed from the 40s on, but she did not keep many patterns.

  14. indigotiger

    re: doubling the bodice for opacity… you might check and see if doubling the fabric creates a moiré pattern… some sheer fabrics when doubled become very “optically active” in an odd way, which might not be an effect desirable. I would be inclined to line with a very lightweight opaque silk instead

  15. Susie

    I also like the idea of pintucks instead of gathers. Of course they would be more tedious, but I imagine the results would be much more tailored. I made a silk organza over-blouse that had pleats instead of gathers and it wasn’t too difficult. Tailor tacks were a big help.

    I have never tried the gelatin or tissue paper tricks, but I’m sure they would help keep things on grain. Silk is much nicer to work with than poly!

    Agree that you will want some interfacing for button plackets. I like to dye my interfacing organza skin-toned, then it is not noticeable when it’s on your body.

    And also agree that you will want to do a lot of hand basting and maybe even hand sewing to keep the fabric under control.

    I always forget how rich a color brown can be. Looking forward to seeing it!

  16. Jennifer

    This is all so fascinating….and intimidating! What a band of brave sewists you have joining you. Stitch on, ladies, you are such an inspiration to those of us with more remedial skills! 🙂

  17. Anne

    Lots of interesting tips! (I know where to look when I come to need them) I like the idea of pintucks rather than gathers. More work, which I know doesn’t concern you, but will look more polished and professional.

  18. Demented Fairy

    Just remembered [having read the extra comments]- on my recent handsewn silk chiffon top, I used a habotai layer for the body as well. My top didn’t require buttonholes, but if you want to avoid the whole issue of them damn things, short of handsewing them again, why not consider those teensy ‘invisble’ snaps, with or without buttons sewn on top?

    • Vivienne

      That’s a great idea! Thanks, I’ll keep it in mind. There is nothing worse than spending a lot of time and effort making something special and having it ruined at the last gasp by ugly, lumpy buttonholes.

Leave a Reply