Soft and drapey, silk charmeuse is ideal for an elegant blouse or a luxurious lining. It's not what comes to mind, though, for a suit fabric -- it simply doesn't have the body to hold the shape that a suit requires. With the right underlinings, though, it's a different story.
A number of years ago, I made a silk charmeuse ensemble for a client -- she wore it to the wedding of one of her daughters. There was a silk charmeuse jacket with jeweled buttons, a heavily beaded lace bustier and a floor-length full-circle silk charmeuse skirt. The jacket, of course, needed lots of structure, and was underlined with two layers of fabric: a sturdy cotton (almost like a hopsacking) and a lightweight silk. The buttons were decorative -- I knew they'd snag the silk charmeuse if they really went through buttonholes -- so the jacket actually closed with silk-covered snaps, tiny hooks and thread eyes. The beaded lace bustier was heavily boned, and also had a number of underlining layers. The skirt was simply lined with lightweight silk -- in that case, the fabric really did want to flow and drape; its lower edge was bound with narrow bias binding.
Third time's a charm
The client called recently, and ordered another ensemble, this for her third daughter's wedding, but she also wanted the silk charmeuse skirt reworked for another wedding she has to attend. The jacket's fine, apart from changing its buttons; it's the skirt that needs to be reworked. The client wants to use the fabric for a knee-length straight skirt.
I opened a little of the lining of the jacket to see what I'd strengthened the fabric with -- that was where I discovered the hopsacking and lightweight silk. I knew I'd need the same combination in the skirt, so that it would have the same look, the same feel and the same color.
The first challenge was to cut apart the old skirt, determine its grain and find sections without any blemishes. Although the skirt has only been worn once, and it's been dry-cleaned, it was difficult to find unblemished sections, especially as it's off-white. Also, as the skirt had been hanging for a few years, the fabric had been pulled off-grain. It took quite a bit of steaming to straighten out the grain, once I'd roughly cut it into smaller pieces.
First things first
I first did a muslin fitting on my client; then, using the muslin as a pattern, I carbon-traced the stitching lines, the waistline and the darts onto the underlining (I used white carbon paper. Although it's difficult to see the tracings, I can't risk a color showing through). I then layered the fabrics: the silk charmeuse, a filler layer of lightweight silk to help match the color of the jacket, then the traced cotton layer. These layers were hand-basted after I carefully matched the grain lines. Using the carbon-traced marks on the cotton layer as my guide, I joined the layers together along the seam lines, the waist line, the hem line and along each of the darts, carefully smoothing out the layers to eliminate bagging or rippling. After preparing each of the skirt's three sections, I hand-basted the side seams, the center back seam and the darts, and added a piece of grosgrain ribbon as a temporary waistband.
I'm now ready for the next fitting, and I'm sure the reworked skirt will look as if it were always part of the suit. I think my client will be pleased -- I am!