Friday, April 29, 2011

New needles every 30 minutes

Designing and crafting Kate Middleton's magnificent dress was a tour de force by Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen, and by British needleworkers. I love how the lace just covers the top of the wrists. Here are details from the BBC as to how the dress was made (new needles every 30 minutes!):

"The lace on the bride's dress details a rose, thistle, daffodil and shamrock, and was hand-made by the Royal School of Needlework at Hampton Court Palace.

The bridal train measures 2m 70cm, and along with the lace, all other fabrics used in the creation of the dress were sourced from and supplied by British companies.

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Kate Middleton is the perfect Grace Kelly princess bride”

The lace motifs were pinned, "framed up" and applied with stab stitching every 2mm to 3mm around each lace motif.

Workers washed their hands every 30 minutes to keep the lace and threads pristine, and the needles were renewed every three hours, to keep them sharp and clean."

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Mesh tunic top

This is a great Vogue 8582 tunic by Marcy Tilton that I've made four times now - and I'll probably make it again! Easy to make, and with quirky details. It has a twisted neckband (or not, as you prefer), and a super-flattering and modern asymmetrical hem.

My mom, wearing her new tunic

This top seems loose, and (being lazy) I've made it without a full bust adjustment, but I have to say that if you need the adjustment, the top fits much better with than without.

I made this version as a gift for my mom, using mesh fabric. There are instructions for sewing mesh on the Gorgeous Fabrics blog and on Marcy Tilton's website as well. It's worth having a look at both methods.

Ann of Gorgeous Fabrics has a mesh tutorial on her blog. She explains how you can cut a double layer and leave each layer unhemmed. Marcy shows how you can double the fabric with the hem placed on the fold. (There is a post called "double-layer knits" on page 4 of the tutorials.)

Don't be intimidated by these descriptions, though - it's really easy to work with mesh.

Thanks also to Shelley at Marcy Tilton for pointing out this fabric to me. It was on sale for $5 a yard and it made a fabulous top and it just seemed a perfect refined mauve and black look for a go-with-all-your-black-trousers top.

For this top, I doubled the mesh for the body of the tunic and I used a single layer of mesh for the sleeves. I left the sleeves unhemmed - no problem at all and it looks fine. I slipstitched the side seam hems in place by hand. It was very fast and it turned out great.

Hard to see the binding here, but it's flat, not twisted

This pattern comes with instructions for twisting the binding at the neckline. This looks great on some fabrics, but I didn't like it so much here, so I just sewed on the neckline binding in the usual way.

I'll try to post some pictures of other versions of this tunic top - it's a winner.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Hip-tie blouse powers the flowers

Here's the new hip-tie blouse in a Roberto Cavalli silk charmeuse - I've very happy with it. Here is where sewing pays off: you can purchase a similar top at Neiman's or Net-a-Spender for $595, or you can make yourself a glamorous and better-fitting topper for $50.

My hip-tie blouse

I'll admit that I bought the fabric on sale at FS Fabrics in Los Angeles. I think it was originally $100 a yard and I bought two yards at 50% off. I made this blouse for me and a fabric necklace for my mom all out of two yards of fabric.

This Roberto Cavalli blouse runs $595.00

Here's a summary of how I made this top:

1. The hie-tie top runs big. I made a medium and I did a full bust adjustment (FBA).

2. I added a dart to the side (as part of the FBA).

3. I gathered the neckline by hand. This worked so much better than by machine.

4. This fabric is opaque and rather heavy, so I finished the seams by pinking the raw edges.

5. I attached the bindings by machine, then stitched in the ditch by hand.

I found the solution for attaching the bindings in High Fashion Sewing Secrets by Claire B. Shaeffer. She gives detailed information on how to attach bindings. She says that when binding a neckline you should "ditch-stitch by hand, using a very short running stitch".

At first I thought: that is insane. Then I realized that it is quick to do and it gives beautiful results that would be hard to replicate on a machine.

She also gives instructions for finishing binding ends so that they look very neat.

Now I'm ready to party!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Roberto Cavalli Hip-Tie Blouse, Part II

Back with Part II of the Hip-Tie Blouse. It's a bit unfair of me to blog about a pattern you can no longer purchase, but this isn't so much a pattern review as a pronouncement on Slow Sewing.

The first time I made this top I finished it in under two hours - and I have to say, it's fairly adorable. I'm making it for the second time and it's taken me, so far, about eight hours. So what happened?

I decided to make this the slow way and learn how to do it right.

I started with a full bust adjustment (FBA) - not my very first one, but close. There are lots of great websites showing you how to do this, so I won't repeat what's been done better in other places - I'll just show you where I ended up. This isn't even a photo of the same top, by the way, but it's the same process:

After I made my FBA, I made a muslin and tried it on. There weren't any bust points marked on the original pattern, so I used the muslin to mark the bust points and then I pinned out where I wanted my darts. I transferred the markings to my new pattern, and used that to cut out my fabric.

I thought it might make sense to check the fit again when I put the top together because the fabric I planned to use (the gorgeous Roberto Cavalli silk) was so much drapier than the muslin.

This lead to a discovery for a fitting amateur like me - there are three moving parts to this top:
  1. The angle of the shoulder seam
  2. The depth of the darts
  3. The position of the neckline gathers
Change one element and you might need to adjust the others too.

I started by adjusting the darts, which seemed a bit big. I learned something on the Marcy Tilton video that helped solve this problem: split the one big dart into two small darts. This worked perfectly.

Then, I had a look at the neckline gathers. Normally I would just follow the pattern, mark the gathering area, zoom some big stitches across there and pull. But here I was dealing with Roberto Cavalli, so to show some reverence, I gently hand-stitched the gathering lines, and then put on the top to see how to position the gathers. And guess what? I ended up making the gathered area much more narrow. I stopped the gathers where I've scribbled the word "better!":

Again, the Marcy Tilton video - it's my top and my neckline. Why not adjust it my way?

I've now stitched the gathers and the darts in place, and I'll be able to test the angle of the shoulder seam and show you final result tomorrow. We can compare and contrast the two hour top with the eight hour top. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Sewing as metaphor for life

Last night I cut into a piece of Roberto Cavalli silk charmeuse. The drape, the heft, the luscious hand, the sophisticated design and color scheme, the slipperiness - everything about this fabric is enchanting - and intimidating.

I was afraid to cut into this cloth - but now that I've gotten a bit more brave, I find that it's working up into a dazzling little blouse that might cost $795.00 at Neimans. I finally worked up the courage to tackle this project, here's what helped me get over my fear:

  • Planning
  • Experimenting
  • Assembling the right tools
  • Taking my time
I'm making a pattern I've had for some time, the Betsy Ross Pattens hip-tie blouse. This is an adorable little top that's easy to make. Sadly, Betsy Ross Patterns has ceased production - sad because they made some excellent patterns that were simple to make and lovely to wear.

I made this top in some less expensive fabric last year, and the top I ended up with was too baggy for my taste, although that hasn't stopped me from wearing it to death.

I decided that with this Roberto Cavalli fabric I must finally tackle my fear of making a full bust adjustment. Guess what? It's easy! There is nothing to lose but a modest amount of time and the cost of some tracing paper and muslin. It all clicked for me when watched Marcy Tilton's video on making t-shirts. At $40 that video seemed a lot of money to me, but it was a spectacularly useful investment. Yes, spectacular. Thanks Marcy! I discovered for one thing that I'm not a size extra-large, but a size medium with "people on the balcony" as the French would say.

More on this top in my next post...

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Fabric bead necklace

I have been trying to curtail holiday spending - but I still like to give the people dearest to me something really gorgeous, even spectacular. I have some small bits of exclusive, high-end fabrics in my stash: a bit of Liberty tana lawn left over from another project, and a narrow piece of Roberto Cavalli silk charmeuse. and I also remembered reading a Threads article about making fabric necklaces.

This project is extremely fast, and if you have the right fabric, inexpensive. I bought 1 " wooden beads at Michael's. You can spray paint the beads silver or gold if you're using silk georgette or chiffon, and a bit of sparkle will charmingly show through. You can also use styrofoam beads, but I wasn't very happy working with the crumbly texture. Styrofoam has the advantage of being lighter, so your necklace won't weigh on your neck.

Cut the fabric into 5" strips. Piece the strips together until you have enough. I sewed together 2 strips 45 inches in length to yield a long strip 5 inches wide and 89 inches in length.

You want to sew that center seam together very, very well so it won't pop apart when you start knotting the necklace - take my word on that.

You then fold the strip lengthwise and seam the long end. You don't want this seam too bulky but best if it doesn't pop apart. Trim close to the stitching and turn the tube right-side out. Press. You can press over a dowel if you have one handy.

I started by knotting the fabric right in the middle to hide the visible seam. Then just insert the beads and knot tightly after each bead. You might need to practice a bit to get the knots tight enough and keep them close to the beads, but this isn't a high-stress project. You'll be finished in 20 minutes.

When the necklace is as long as you want it, just press the ends neatly, slip-stich closed and tie a neat bow. You can secure the bow with a few stab stitches, if you like. And presto: an elegant and impressive necklace made with under $10 of materials (provided you had the fabric in your stash.)

Friday, September 11, 2009


Lots of people have been asking where I got my oilcloth tablecloth - here are some resources if you want one too! Real oilcloth is a super-practical and easy way to cover your table. You care for it by wiping clean: that's it.

The kind of oilcloth I like most is widely available in the UK but hard to find stateside. It is heavy cotton-linen union fabric that is lightly coated with a layer of plastic, so that the feel and look of the cloth remains intact.

If you've ever bought those noxious (and possibly insalubrious) PVC tablecloths, please try to find real oilcloth, which is coated with a thin layer of vinyl. It has no bad smell and doesn't feel so plastic-y. You won't be able to live without this wonderful stuff.

Stripes from Ian Mankin (UK)

Fun elephant and giraffe print for kids from Cath Kidston

Lovely floral from Just Wipe

Top Dog print from Just Wipe
(or find it at John Lewis)

Classic, refined William Morris Willow Bow print
(from the Curtain Shop)

My very favorite oilcloth comes from Ian Mankin in London. Ian Mankin sends samples very quickly and they ship from the UK, so there is no problem whatsoever if you want to order from the US. You may need two meters to cover a big table, but it is well worth it. This oilcloth has a light, matte coating so it feels and looks much more like natural fabric. It does stain if you are not careful - coffee or red wine should be wiped away immediately - but with just minimal bit of attention you will have a flawless, child-proof table covering for years.

Other wonderful sources for oilcloth are fifties-style goddess Cath Kidston (UK), groovy modern Marimekko (order from Textile Arts in the US), or see a very big range at JustWipe. You can find William Morris prints at the Curtain Shop (UK).

If you are in London, pop into the John Lewis department store for a big selection, or visit the Blue Door Barnes, a shop selling Swedish furnishings, for exquisite pale blue and oatmeal colored linen made into oilcloth. In Paris try Printemps for "la toile cire'".

Now you can relax and enjoy your meal: no tablecloth to wash or iron!