Thursday, November 27, 2008


This post was inspired by a conversation with Hannah earlier today. Silk is one of my all time favorite fabrics. The variety and suppleness of silk makes it appropriate for just about everything. I have seen many wonderful designs look cheap because people chose synthetics to mimic silk. Silk is a wonderful fabric to work with and has a variety of different weights and hands for all different projects. I would like to dissuade you from some silk myths and note the rarely discussed issues I've had with silk.

Myth: Silk is too fragile.

Silk is actually an incredibly strong fiber. It has been used in armor for thousands of years and is said to be stronger than steel although I'm not entirely sure what kind of strength they are talking about. Most silk is also made from a very long single filament. This means that the fiber can distribute the force over the width of the fabric and the individual fibers are not going to sluff off. The point is that silk isn't going to disintegrate while you are wearing or sewing it, unlike acetate which will melt in a wide variety of solvents. However, if you have a very fine knit or loose weave it will snag and shift, although this is true of every other fiber as well.

Myth: You can't wash silk

I think that this is the real reason that many people don't like wearing silk. They believe that you will always have to take that garment to the dry cleaner's. Well, the truth is that you can wash silk. (Believe me, I'm not a dry cleaner kind of a girl.) There are a few things that you should know about washing silk.

1. Some manufacturers don't set their dyes for washing. This is something I have heard about, but never experienced myself. What I have noticed is that the dye will bleed somewhat in the first two rinsings. This is true of most other fabrics as well. This is the best reason to treat your silks gently. You are trying to preserve the process that's been done to the silk more than the silk fibers themselves. It is always wise to wash a sample first and make sure it behaves like you want it too.

2. If you pre wash your silks you will never have any issues with water spots.

3. You should wash your silks often and gently instead of waiting until they're really dirty.

4. Wash with luke warm water and dish washing detergent. In general detergents are always gentler that soaps. Laundry
detergents are sometime made more powerful than you need for silks. Think grass stains on denim.

5. Your silks are likely to change a little when you wash them the first time. The finish that is put on fabrics is meant to make you want to buy it when its on the bolt. This finish might not be as suitable for wearing as it is for selling. Think formaldehyde and other chemicals on your skin. However the finish might be what attracted you to that silk in the first place and removing it might distroy what you liked about the fabric. Test, Test, Test. The most common ways that silks are likely to change is in the sheen and the hand. Some silks will be come less shiny or more prone to wrinkles. Most will become softer. Some will fade slightly.

6. Occasionally when I have rinsed silks there have been some strange smells. I don't know if it comes from the silk or the finish but poor susanna's shirt smelled particularly like fish. I have since discovered that most off odors can be eliminated by adding some vinegar to the rinse. This has the added benefit of helping to set the dye. You will probably have to rinse the vinegar out too but its a lot easier than weird odors.

7. Wash the yardage gently while still folded. It's easy to want to open it up and work it like cotton but silk is more likely to keep the shape it was when wet. DONT RING IT. Place the washed, still folded yardage in a towel. Roll the towel up and press the water out. Then unfold it and steam iron dry.

8. The one thing I don't recommend washing is already made garments with inner structures like jackets or suits. I can bet you that whoever made it did not pre-shrink all that foundation stuff. That's a recipe for a very lumpy jacket.

Myth: You have to use silk thread to sew silk.

You can use any type of thread with your silk. Silk thread is especially good for basting because it is a long satiny filament that can slide through the weave of the fabric with minimal abrasion. This means that when you remove your basting you don't have a bunch of little holes in your project. I like using silk thread for silk because it satisfies my neurotic desire to to put like things together. That and it feels fancy. I believe that the best kind of thread is actually cotton. Cotton is a lot weaker than silk. This means that if your dress gets caught it will tear on the seam lines instead of the silk.

Myth: Silk is too expensive.

While its true that some silks are worth a kings ransom, you can also buy many silks at comparable prices. China silk for example makes a long wearing, washable, totally luxurious lining, or slip, and can be had for 9.99/yrd at my local fabric store.

Notes on working with difficult fabrics:
1. It is true that gauzy and slippery silks are hard to cut. All gauzy and slippery fabrics are hard to cut. Your best defense is tissue or butcher paper laid on top of the silk as you trace and cut the pattern pieces. If you find you need it you can even put paper on either side of your fabric. If you chose this option your lay up would be table, paper, silk, paper, pattern piece. With one or two sheets of paper you are going to dull your scissors a little. Its best to have a pair of scissors sharp enough to cut silk but not your favorite ones. PLEASE REMEMBER not all silks are gauzy slippery fabric. There are silks in a rainbow of weights and textures. Pick one. Try it out. You might never go back.

2. Always use 65 needle or even smaller for fine fabric. It should be the finest needle appropriate for your thread. If you still have trouble with your machine sucking it down, place a piece of tape over the needle hole on the throat plate. Regular tape works fine, like the stuff you wrap presents with. You might have to trim it to the right size so it doesn't interfere with the feed dogs.

If there is anything I forgot, feel free to speak up.
Happy Holiday Silking!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Double needle pintuck.

So I tried it and had to post it right away, because it was so much fun! I just threw a double needle in my machine, threaded her all up, and sewed along my mock style line. I decided to start with denim because it was less intimidating than chiffon, but will be trying that next. Once your line is sewn, simply pull the bobbin thread taut, bringing the two stitch lines together and forcing the pin tuck upwards. It took a little manipulation, and must say it feels a little delicate. However, this is my first try and I'm sure it takes a little customizing with the stitch length and such. Very exciting though. I definitely achieved the look I was going for! Click on the pictures to see ultra close-ups.

To ravel or not to unravel.

Okay, another sewing conundrum accompanied by a vocabulary one...

I am making a pair of jeans, also for my Senior Collection of course. Here's the catch. They have a seam that travels from the hem all the way up the balance line of each leg. Then in the vicinity of the hip level line, these two seams make a 90 degree turn towards one another, meeting at center front. The very last thing I want to do is compromise my design. However, I want them to be finished very professionally and be as durable and easy-wearing as any other pair of jeans. The issue I'm anticipating is difficulty finishing these seams, seeing as I will bust them flat and then clip them.

Options I have considered are:

-I could overlock the seam and then clip.
-A friend suggested experimenting with bias tape, and finishing the clipped edge with that (something very lightweight).
-I could overlock everything BUT the curved area, as it will be on the bias, and shouldn't ravel unravel ravel. On a side note: are ravel and unravel interchangable? It sure seems that way to me. I tend to fill in the blank with UNravel, but others differ I have noticed.
-Fray check is not an option.
-Give up. (just kidding geez!).

If I absolutely must compromise my design (which I shouldn't have to), I do have a fairly decent backup plan which is to create this style line with a pintuck instead. I am planning to do samples of each, just incase one proves to be blatantly better.

Would love to hear any thoughts!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Wilding's first project

My friend Matthew Radune has been working on a series of beautiful felt lamps recently, and has just completed the first batch.
It's been a lot of fun to watch the process of the conception of the production of these lamps for distribution. A huge amount of thought was put it into it, and I believe the first one or two were dried in Matt's oven. He's gotten progressively more sophisticated in technique, and I'm very impressed with the finished product. Here's a photo:

The idea was originally conceived in collaboration with Susanna Homann, whose picture you can see below in the Flock and Fiber Festival post. She's a lovely lady who knows a whole lot about wool felt.
For anyone who is interested in purchasing one of these lamps (Seriously good Christmas gift. I feel warmer just looking at the golden glow) they can be bought in NYC at Houndstooth Fine Vintage for Men, and, if I'm not mistaken, will soon be available on Matthew's website
I'm not going to explain the process he used to make them, but if anyone has any ideas I'd love to hear them.

Light box as pattern table

I've been spending some time at a friend's studio lately and I have to report on a brilliant but simple setup he's created for himself. He mentioned that he has started to think of pattern making as something akin to engineering, and in doing so, was inspired to set up his workspace in a similar way.
Now, one of my least favorite things about pattern making is tracing patterns in bad light. The thing is, almost all light is bad when you're using a clear plastic french curve, because the light, no matter where it's coming from, bounces off the side of the curve and creates this tiny little shadow, which is just big enough to make it impossible to see exactly where the line you're drawing is at.
What my friend has done to remedy this is essentially create a light box. He bought a large table with a frosted glass top, put a long rope of those tube white christmas lights under it, and viole, lightbox. It looks really classy, not DIY at all, and not only is the french curve tracing problem fixed, but so is the problem of creating flipped patterns for things like facings and linings. You can place a pattern face down, put a clean piece of paper on top, still see all the details, and create a mirror pattern in one trace.
I'm writing about this as if it's a new idea, but has anyone seen this used for patterns? I asked some of my industry friends here, and they said that they're generally only used for technical flats and sketches.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Oh Pintuck.

For my senior collection, I have designed a dress that I would like to make of silk chiffon. However, I would also like for it to include panels of pintucks in several areas. In looking for pointers on how to do this, I came across this little entry. Although I will probably end up hand sewing my tedious tucks, I may have to try this technique on a more stable fabric just for fun. Enjoy, and by the way, clicking on the title will link you up to the original source for this.

Pintucks are tiny folds sewn into the fabric to add texture and decoration. There are usually several placed together in vertical rows, like on the bodice of a top or dress.

If the pintucks run from one seam to another, there is no need to tie them off. But if the pintucks end in the middle of the fabric, it is necessary [normally] to pull the threads to the wrong side of the fabric, and hand tie them to secure.

This technique is for pintucks that end in the middle of the fabric. You will be sewing along a fold in the fabric, 1/8 inch [or a little more] from the fold, using a regular machine needle.

Get ready to 'think outside the box' when it comes to threading your machine. Each pintuck is sewn with a single thread from your bobbin. Remove the top spool of thread.

With the bobbin in your machine, pull thread from your bobbin. Pull enough out that it is about a foot longer than the length of your pintuck. Put this thread through the needle, threading it the opposite direction [a needle threader really helps do this]. Keeping using this thread to completely thread the machine...the machine will be threaded as usual, you're just starting at the needle and working backwards. Just lay the extra thread on top of your machine. The thread should go directly from the bobbin to your needle, no slack. You're ready to sew the first pintuck.

You start the pintuck where you want the finished end to be [in the middle of your folded bodice, not at the raw edge]. Sew along the edge of the fold, until the pintuck ends at the edge of the fabric. Cut thread and remove bodice from machine. Remove any leftover thread from the top of the machine. Voila, the pintuck is finished, and no thread tails to tie off.

To do the next pintuck, pull thread from bobbin again, and rethread machine as before.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Chuckie meets Anne Geddes

I know this isn't entirely on topic, but it does fit under the general umbrella of "sewn manufacturing." I've just read an article about a new type of stuffed animal being made in tokyo. Apparently you can get you child's face put on any animal body:

You send a profile photo of your child in, and choose from hundreds of plush animal bodies, and they send back.....umm.
Lillian just chastised me for not including the name of the company that makes these dolls. She's thinking about Christmas presents. The company is called Sha@Lark, and the names of the dolls are "Purimen Gurumi." Happy shopping!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Women's Institute of Domestic arts and sciences

When I lived in Tucson I worked for a wonderful woman who owned Desert Vintage, the best vintage store in Tucson. On top of helping me with my sewing she once gave me a book called Drafting and Pattern Design. I coveted this book for many reasons but didn't take it seriously as a sewing reference. Because of the beauty of this book I went on to collect a few other volumes published by Women's Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences. I recommend these books for their information and inspiration.

The women's institute was founded by Mary Brooks Picken in Scranton PA (the home town of our VP elect). She authored 96 books on sewing and fashion, was the first woman trustee of FIT and a founder of Fashion Group who's 60 years worth of fashion archives can be found at the NY public library. Hint, hint for you people in NY. She was also the first women author of an english language dictionary. And you thought you were busy.

When I got this book I was still so new to pattern drafting that I imagined that it was old and there for out dated. It was not until recently while reading Kathleen's book that I remembered this wealth of information that I ought to revisit.

This book was published in 1924.

This is the draft for a basic block. Notice the unusual angle of the CF line. I have my theories about why you would do it this way but I would love to hear yours.

This is the basic fitted block if that makes it any easier.

Check out this tailored sleeve. The shaping involved is beautiful.

This is the only tool used in this book. It is called a Picken's Square for obvious reasons. Both the book and this tool assume that you might not have any experience with multiplying or dividing.

And here's a little eye candy to leave you with.

Sunday, November 2, 2008


One of the more exciting finds in the aftermath of our Murder on President Street Halloween blowout party came at about 7:30 am on Saturday, on the floor of my room, when I was finally heading to bed:

Apparently a man dressed in a paper suit evaporated before he could make it home. Or he went home naked. I was pretty impressed with the level of skill and attention to detail exhibited - notice the digital watch, and also, the buttons are functional -there was also a belt with a nice western style buckle, but that was accidentally thrown away yesterday during the scrub-down.

And this is Kate, she made the alligator headdress herself, and no, she is not a patternmaker, or even in fashion. But she did a damn good job.