It's about exploring and sharing my creative adventures (mostly sewing these days) ~
~those activities that sometimes obsess, usually inspire, occasionally frustrate
~and always provide a delightful maze to wander through.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Few Tips for Working With Silk - Luscious, Luxurious, Silk!

I love Silk - the feel against the skin, the rich, luxurious luster of the fabric, the richness of the colors, the way that light and color play with the drape, and on the practical side, the warmth & breathability of the garments, .....but sewing with it & achieving perfect results?   Hmmm, that can be more of a challenge than an easy-flowing love affair....

I'm talking about the finely woven threads here - the stuff that frays when you look at it, the fabrics that slip and slide all over under your fingers when all you want it to do is stay still.  The fine charmeuses & slippery linings; the light weight habotais & the chiffons that float off your fingers as you're trying in vain to tame it with a needle & thread...

I've made a few silk garments this past year - my learning curve has been rather steep, and while I'm no expert at working with any fabric, I hope it might be helpful to gather my thoughts around a few of the techniques I've learned that have added to my joy, and eased the angst, of working with this special fabric.

Washing.   For several reasons (frugality is certainly up there), I prefer to be able to wash my clothes at home, and I haven't yet met a silk that I'm afraid to wash.   With very few exceptions, the first time I wash a cut of silk, it goes into the washer, on a delicate cycle, and I let it ride out the whole cycle.   A sturdier silk will sometimes go into the dryer as well, but I pull it out before it's completely dry, and finish by letting it hang dry, giving it a press while still a bit damp.    More delicate fabrics get hand washed - I use a delicate soap like Eucalan, and dark colors, or anything that bleeds, will get a vinegar rinse as well.   All hand washed silk gets lifted from the water (without squeezing it), laid on a towel, and rolled up to let the towels soak up the moisture, then I hang it to dry, and again, give it a press just before it's completely dry.  

After the garment is made, I'll either hand wash it (the more delicate fabrics), or wash it in the machine, using the following method:
Gentle soap, Delicate Cycle.
Remove the garment before the final spin - if it's still very wet, roll in towels
Hang Dry
Press while it's still just a little bit damp.

Cutting.  Two techniques changed my silk-cutting life forever!
1.  Starch, or spray starch, the fabric.  A light starch treatment can make all the difference in stability, both while cutting, and during the sewing process.    I also use a rotary cutter, to avoid any lifting/distorting of the fabric.
2.  Place your fabric over a layer of tissue paper to cut.   My Frugal Self (I should just give her a name - she emerges so often - MFS?) collects all the free patterns with large pieces that come her way - things like 60's caftans, big skirts, oversized jumpers - garments I will never sew, and don't know anyone else who will.   It's the perfect paper to stabilize delicate fabrics while cutting.  Simply lay your fabric over the paper, pattern piece on top, weight it down, & cut.   (Aside:  Oh. My.  Goddess.   I bow to the rotary cutter deities!  LOVE this tool, which I didn't know existed before re-entering the sewing world last year!)

Sewing Techniques:  I know there are many, many more techniques ahead of me to learn, but here are a couple of my favorites at the moment:

Silk Thread.   Fine, thin, strength in the sewing machine - Yay!  I'm still learning about which brands are good, (TIRE is one) but it's really nice using a fine thread that sinks into the fabric and actually seems to reflect the color of the fabric around it, so that it doesn't jump out at you & say "Look at me!  I'm a row of crooked stitching!" ;-)   It should (I think) go without saying that a sharp, new needle is important as well.

Here's a pressing technique that I love!  I know I read about this either on someone's blog, or a PR review, and I have to apologize that I don't remember where.   For accurate pressing & stitching on narrow turns & edges,  the results absolutely rock!

This is a charmeuse, with an edge that needs to be turned and top-stitched in place.  I measured the turn, clipped the curves, and pinned it directly onto the ironing board with glass head pins:

Press all along the edge, and leave the piece in place on the ironing board until it's cool, and you have nice sharp, accurate edge.  By the way, I've mentioned it before, but I still LOVE that Reliable V100 iron!

Pin in place, & you're ready to stitch!

How is your relationship to silk?  I would love to hear any tips & techniques that you have to share......

On another note, I'm breathing out with a smile for all our East Coast readers, knowing that Hurricane Irene chose to mellow, rather than grow in wrath.   I hope your damage, if any, was minimal :)

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Saga of the 21st Party Dress

OK, maybe not really a saga, but since this was my first attempt at making something sort of fitted for someone who wasn't around for me to actually fit it on, this dress seemed to take forever.   I fretted over what I could do based on the measurements I had, what had to be finished first, & what could wait until the very last moment, when I could actually put it on the body it was meant for.  Which was scheduled to happen the day before she left for a year in Spain.   No pressure though.....

This was a birthday present for a very special young woman in my life, who is now officially a 21-year adult!  (Wasn't it only a couple of short years ago that she sat on my lap for hours on end as we watched the fish swim around in my aquarium???)   But I digress.....

Laurel was visiting a couple of months ago when I told her I wanted to sew her something special, & we sat down with my patterns & the fabric stash.  Together we chose this pattern & this vintage silk sari fabric, with a vision of a party dress for her:

We discussed some options, I took measurements, & sent her on her merry way, not to be seen again until the day before delivery.   Oh, how quickly I realized how I rely on being able to do regular fittings!!!!  The other fact I realized early on was how VERY fragile, old, & flat out unusable so much of the sari silk was.   The heavily embroidered edge was mostly OK, but the base fabric was so fine that it was actually near shredded in many areas.   I was only going to be able to use it for the bodice.   Stash came to the rescue with the perfect pink silk underlining, so the bodice was underway:
I wanted to match the trim on each side, but if you look closely, 
you'll see some ripped embroidery 2/3 of the way down the trim.    
I filed this under the "deal with it later" category.....

Laurel loved the cornflower blue color, so I was hoping to find a color match for the skirt.  No such luck :(    I wanted silk, but NOTHING I found worked, in any I looked through the golds/yellows, and settled on a pale yellow habotai, bought it, cut it...and realized that I didn't have enough.  On top of which,  I didn't really like the color anyway.

Back to the fabric store.

I returned with some silk habotai in a gold color, but it was really too TOO sheer Another lesson:  It just wasn't registering that habotai comes in quite a range of weights.   & still, not QUITE the right color.  Bummer.   I'm beginning to wonder if I'm receiving all these messages about a disaster in the making, but that didn't deter me from blundering on..... & then an Aha! moment (with some help from the discerning eyes of friends) and I realized that LAYERING the gold over the pale yellow produced the perfect color combination!   *whew*

Remember that I didn't have enough of the pale yellow fabric?  By using it as an underlayer, I was able to get enough fabric by using up all of the narrower strips of leftover fabric.  I decided not to sew them together, but finish the edges, ending up with 6 strips of fabric (2 wide ones in the front & back, & 2 narrower ones on each side).   There was some reasoning to this madness - since the overall circumference of this underlayer was going to be smaller than the outer layer, this would allow for more freedom of movement -  Laurel is a dancer, after all - and a very good one, I might add!   (can you tell how proud of her I am?)

Finishing all those edges allowed lots.  and lots.  of practice with my rolled hem foot.   I daresay that by the end of this dress I was getting pretty darn good at sewing with that foot!   At least on straight edges.  Curves are another matter.   But I digress again...
Rolled hem foot & Collette the Featherweight at work...
Oh, one more thing.  She wanted pockets.   One side was designated for a zipper, & after giving a bit of thought to having pockets on both sides, & looking at the calendar, & realizing that I wasn't even sure how I was going to put a pocket in the non-zip side, (& looking at the calendar again) I figured that one pocket was enough.     It really didn't take too much futzing, and the pocket ended up looking fine.   I French seamed the pocket edges for strength.  Here's the pattern draft:

I gathered the two skirt layers & attached them to the bodice (there was another period of angst here when I thought I had WAY too much bulk......did a bit of ripping & changed some of the gathers to soft pleats & started breathing easier again....   A side note:  I had spray starched the skirt fabrics to make them easier to work with, and I just hoped that a wash would relax the skirt, because I was freaking out at the amount of poofiness it had at this point.   Especially since I really didn't know how the fit was going to be, and with all of the gathers & the delicacy of the bodice fabric, there just wasn't going to be a whole lot of room for alteration by the time it was all put together.

Oh, & did I mention that the waist is an angled empire?   High in the front, & lower in the back?   I didn't exactly take THAT measurement.....

So now I have one bodice side seam sewn (French seams), the other is still open waiting for a zipper, the skirt is attached, and it's time to clean up that empire seam.

The dress sat on my dress form.   For several weeks.   Time is getting short.   I need to dive in, & hope for the best.   No turning back after this step.,....  (I said this was a saga.   Are you still with me?)
Seam, trimmed & ready for some sort of finishing.
I found some seam binding in stash (LOVE that stash!!!) & sewed it with some vague semblance of stitching in the ditch (I couldn't actually see the ditch through the binding so I was ditchin' blind.... plus time was getting short, & it's going to be covered on the outside, & I've long since accepted that this is not a couture piece.  Heh.)
Seam binding turned up & stitched along the other edge
Now it's play time!  I wanted to do some braiding along the empire seam, so I started playing with options.   I also wanted some sort of closure at the neckline, since it was rather...ermmm....plunging.  I lucked out & found the PERFECT shade of blue that was the background color in a silk I had (have I mentioned how much I LOVE having a stash???) :D   I covered some buttons with the blue, and crossed one more "whatamIgonnadohere?" question off the list. 

I can't put the zipper off any longer.   It has to go in before the fitting.   Say another little prayer that it will fit OK (while thinking about the possibility of darts, elastic....anything that I might be able to do to adjust the fit, if necessary ....just don't. be.  too.  SMALL!!!)
The edge waiting for the zipper.  
Have I mentioned how delicate & fray-prone the fabric is?
 I inserted the zip, but don't have any shots of until later - at this stage I was focused more on getting it done, not taking pictures!    Tip:  I sewed the zip in at the waist seam, about 1" in each direction, to ensure that the waistline was even before sewing the entire zipper.  This way I only had to rip out a couple of inches of stitches.  Twice.  [grin]

I ended up using some of the blue-background fabric for the braid - the other colors in the pattern blended well with the dress, so it was perfect.  I made some tubes, & enlisted my lovely little vintage reproduction sewing bird to help:

Remember the ripped threads I mentioned on the bodice trim?
Time to deal with that now...
Have I mentioned how nasty those metallic threads can be to control?
It took several attempts to get one of those little blue flowers cut & turned without having sprays of gold metal sticking out everywhere....

Finally, I feel like I'm making progress!  Braid is done (and I LOVE the braiding!),  rip is covered....
it's going to be done in time!  
I'm still praying that it will fit OK though......

And it does!!!!!   Well, mostly.   A few tweaks around the armscye, and we figured out where to place the buttons & how to work the closure, measure for the hem, and I have a few hours to finish up!   We're all thinking shades of Project Runway deadline along about now.....

I gathered the armscye at the front bodice a bit -
unfortunately, one side ended up fitting perfectly,
the other side still has a bit of a gap when she's wearing it.
Maybe I'll be the only one who notices?  Yeah right.....

Zipper.  Inserted.  Armscye binding partially inserted.   I'm not happy.  :(

There were a lot of lessons learned (hopefully) in the insertion of the zip & the armscye binding.   Time was running out, so this side seam ended up in the "it is what it is" category.  The turn of the cloth in a binding, when you're sewing over several layers (like, say, a French seam, or a zipper tape) takes up a LOT of fabric.  A LOT.   It finally hit home, and hopefully I'll account for that next time around.   I ended up with a little point at the top of the zipper, & a gap in the binding that I'm still not sure how to deal with, but I just didn't have time to do research or practice, so there you have it.  The gap in the braid is another aspect that could look a tad bit [koffkoff] more finished, but again, I'll blame lack of time (and late night sewing, at this point!)  At least this is a side seam, not front & center!

 The buttons are placed, the arm bindings are on, I made spaghetti straps for the button closures, and made another blue circle to balance out the one hiding the ripped threads.   Almost done!

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that the V in the back had some major issues with delicate, shredded fabric. That needed to be covered, but this one was a winning 'design factor', I think :)

 Next morning, the delivery as the Birthday Girl stopped by on her way to the airport (and Spain.  For a year.  I'll miss her!!!)

She happened to be wearing a sports bra that was a PERFECT match for the blue!  
So  the option for a more modest look is  already there - how lucky was that?

 I think she likes it :)    One more completed project.   I'm happy.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Silk Screen on Fleece (a quick & easy project)

Who knew that silk screening could be so EASY?!  I was about to find out, with my first ever silk screen on an actual garment..... [gulp]
Test Piece

I was getting ready to blog my latest project, knowing that the post had the possibility of turning into 1000 word tome (yeah, it was one of THOSE projects) when I got sidetracked by the fact that I was wearing the fleece vest I made earlier this year (I know, I live in sunny California, & the sun IS shining today, but still it was windy, foggy, & chilly when I got dressed), and was thinking about silk screen projects......  I looked at my vest, looked at my bucket of silk screen supplies, and the next thing I knew, I was on the kitchen floor surrounded by fleece scraps & possibilities....

Clockwise from the top:  Jacquard Textile Color in black, a plastic syringe from something-or-other, Twin Leaves silk screen from Marcy Tilton, a silk screen squeegee, a bucket of clean water, and a test sample.   All sitting on a piece of plastic sheeting.

Here's the vest, ready to go (after saying a little prayer that it would go as smoothly as the test pieces did):

I placed the screen on a pocket, drew up some paint into the syringe, & squeezed out a line at the top edge of the screen:

I pulled the paint down the screen with the squeegee (no pics, only 2 hands available & they were both busy).   Note:  in previous tests I had tried using a credit card or a paint sponge to pull the paint, but I decided that it was worth investing in a proper squeegee for the best effect.  I think I was right!   The art supply store had limited option in these small sizes, so I got a plastic handled squeegee & cut it to size for my specs.   It worked great!

In less than five minutes, I had this!:

I'm delighted!   Now I wait about 24 hours, then I'll set it with a press from the iron (since this is fleece, I'll see what works best for the pressing & report back)

UPDATE:  After a day, I gave the prints a press with a hot, dry iron - 2 passes, pressing for 10 seconds each time.   Then I tossed the test pieces in the wash (warm water) & a hot drier.   This is NOT how I plan to wash the vest (cold water wash, hang to dry).   I should have washed one of the test pieces the same way I plan on washing the vest....20/20 hindsight.   At any rate, the paint faded quite a lot with this abuse:
Test piece on the left, back of jacket on the right.
Even the faded paint looks OK, so I won't fret about it, but as I said, I won't be washing my vest that vigorously!

All in all, I'm a happy screener :)

Silk Screening!   I'm stoked!!   Have you done silk screening on fabrics?   Any tips, or posts to link & share?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Some of my favorite Vintage sewing accessories

These are a few of my faaaaavorite things........

I don't have the spontaneous time available to me these days to spend a Saturday morning perusing the local estate/garage sales as often as I would like, but when I do get a chance, I get inordinately excited when I find a sale that's loaded with vintage sewing goodies....finding a stash of unusual buttons can make me positively giddy with delight!

The other day I found this Orco Tack-It marker:
For $1.  I'm good with that.  Especially since it still had all of the original colored marking sheets with know, the ones with a waxy surface that actually make a mark on the fabric!   I've tested it out, & I LOVE it!   SO quick & easy - one little tap on the metal bit & both sides of your fabric have a lovely little circle.   Apparently this was first made sometime in the 50's, although the artwork on this box is positively 60's.   I'll be getting some use out of this one!

Another marker that's dear to me for many reasons is this little plastic pin chalk goodie:
One of the reasons it's so special is that I've had this for as long as I can remember (no cracks about the memory from you - that concussion was honestly earned!).  It may have been my Mom's, or I might have bought it as a teenager - what's amazing is that I STILL have a (dwindling) supply of chalk for it!   You use it by stamping out a circle on the pattern piece with the little metal bit on the end of the bottom piece, then stick the pin through the hole in the pattern, match up the other half on the other side of your fabric, give it a couple of twists, & you have both sides of the fabric marked with a dot.   It's great for marks in the center of the fabric.

Another oldie, with history, is my Mother's Wiss Pinkers:
These puppies survived more paper-cutting than any good scissors should have to endure!   But hey, if you're an incorrigible youngster with creative longings, and you have access to something that makes those pretty jagged cuts, what would you do?    These pinks are probably older than I am, but in spite of all the abuse from my stubby little childhood hands, a good professional sharpening last year gave these lovelies a good many more years of quality use :-)  Oh, & NO ONE gets to play near paper with them...

This one is not vintage, but a reproduction - my Sewing Bird, aka third hand:
The beak on that baby is strong!   I may only use it a couple of times a month, but it has a permanent home on the edge of a cabinet, ready to serve every time I need something to be grabbed while I work the other end.   I've used it to hold a seam steady while I unpick, hold the ends of something I'm braiding, grab an end of something to measure or stretch, hold some yarn in place while I'm twisting it....a fantastic little multi-tasker!   If I saw a 'real' vintage one of these at an an estate sale I would snatch it up in a heartbeat!

Last, but definitely not least, my favorite Foot of the moment - the narrow hemmer:
Ahhhh, makes me smile just to look at it!   I finally mastered the technique, and wondered why I thought it was so hard before!  No more silly, fiddly, measuring & edge stitching & pressing.....just feed the fabric & get a perfect rolled hem!

Rolled hem on fray-prone silk?   Easy peasy!   :)  
That's Collette, my trusty Featherweight, happily hemming away :)

What are your oft-used & favorite vintage notions/accessories?  Any odd ones to share?   Or great finds & good stories?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Coat of Many Colors - and my first Style Arc Pattern!

Style Arc patterns are receiving rave reviews from bloggists & Pattern Reviewers, and finally, given last month's sale,  I joined the bandwagon & placed a nice hefty order.   Hey, they're coming all the way from Oz (aka Australia), so I figured I might as well make it worthwhile for the post carriers, right?  I feel for the Ausies and the amount of postage they have to pay on a regular basis if they're ordering anything from elsewhere - that postage cost was a bit painful on the wallet!

I was THIS delighted when my patterns arrived, and dove right into the patterns & my fabric stash to see what paired up.  This Fabric Mart rayon stripe (which I originally had other, far different, plans for) practically jumped right on top of the Bella wrap, & it was love at first sight.   Who can argue with that?


=  Meant to Be!

Besides that, life has been a bit chaotically busy lately, & the sewing projects I've been working on are either rife with head-scratching decision-making, lots of guess-work figuring out how to ensure something will fit someone who isn't available for fittings, &/or loaded with a steep learning curve.   Fun & exciting?  Yes!  Relaxing & quick?   This explains my recent absence from blogland, but really, I was ready for something to be finished - a nice quick fix, & this looked like it would fill the bill perfectly.

First off, some notes about Style Arc.  Apparently each pattern is hand drafted, and done beautifully, with RTW industry standards in drafting.   Nice paper, lovely print.  The Bella Wrap is one size only, but if a pattern comes in several sizes, you'll only get one size in your envelope.    You need to look at their measurement/size chart to figure out what you need, but if you are at all confused, they are extremely helpful & right there with personal service, answering questions - great service!  My emails were all answered promptly.    I joined the Professional Pattern Club, because of some fantastic discounts available last month, & ordered....well.....I ordered a bunch!  :D

Now then, about those instructions..... reviewers have said they were minimal.   How about mini-minimal?   Maybe even ultra-mini-minimal?  Not to mention the language barrier. think Ausies speak English?   Think again!  (& my ex was an Ausie....I thought I had a pretty good grasp of the language!)  The Bella Wrap is super simple; no problems with this one at all, but I looked through a couple of the more complex patterns I ordered, and I've no doubt I'll be e-mailing for help!    I understand that they are planning on adding more detailed instructions to some of the patterns.   After all,  not all of us are industry-savvy when it comes to reading patterns.

Ahh...but back to Bella.    There are 6 steps.   Step 1 is lay out & cut the pattern.  Step 5 is to press the piece when you're done.   Step 6 is to think about personalizing it with embellishments.   That leaves 3 construction steps.    Which are, basically, sew up the seam & turn & sew the edges.    There is one pattern piece.   A simple rectangle.    Now, one could think "I paid money for this?"  But here's the thing.  It's brilliant!   I loves me my simple shawls & wraps, & I made (& really like) the dkny knock-off cardi-wraps, but the simplicity of this rectangle, with its one seam, the dimensions & seam cut & sewn just is now my all-time bar none favorite wrap!   I will be making more!  Here's just a sampling of the many ways it can be worn:

LOTS of wrapping options!   This is really only a smattering.  It could definitely be improved by using a yarn-dyed fabric, or something that is equally beautiful on both sides, but I'll really enjoy wearing this one as is.    And since we (still) haven't had any summer to speak of (everyone else seems to be sweltering....can we have a few of those degrees here????) I'm actually wearing it already *sigh*

I'm still open for doing a house trade with someone in the tropics...... ;-D

Other notes on the pattern:  Although it calls for a knit, I think that any drapey woven should work nicely.  I cut the pattern straight from the package, so it hangs a little long on me, but I'm fine with the length.  It's SO simple that it would, of course, be very easy to shorten or lengthen.

I can't wait to dive into my next Style Arc pattern - indies rock, once again :) :) :)  First, though, it's back to one of those more challenging, half-done projects......

Which makes me wonder, do you sneak an easy snack in the middle of something that's taking forever?   Are you like me - just such a slow sewer that I need something quick just to feel like I'm accomplishing SOMEthing after all that time in the sewing room?  Or do you just dive in & whip 'em out, without really needing a simple little snack?