Upstairs, Downstairs

Monday, December 27, 2010
The end of 2010 has been a good time for period drama on television, with the outstanding Downton Abbey on ITV, and a revival of the 70s drama Upstairs Downstairs on the BBC. Upstairs Downstairs is of slightly more interest to this blog as, being set in the late 30s, it captures what many consider to be the golden age of mens dressing. More prosaically, it is at least an era where most of what men wore would not be unacceptable today, although perhaps rather outdated.

In fact, these sort of dramas are often a good place to look for particularly well-dressed men. The main character, Sir Hallam, appears early on in a stroller, perfectly suiting his job as a diplomat. This is a small step down in formality from morning dress as it replaces the tailcoat with an ordinary black coat, usually with peaked lapels but it was, at the time the show is set, the pinacle of formal businesswear. As a result, the stroller was worn so much by bankers and politicians that it remains a stereotypical uniform of the City gentleman long after it has disappeared from London's streets.

Today, strollers remain useful only on a very few occasions, the main one being at a wedding where most people will not wear morning suits. In this instance, a stroller with a coloured waistcoat will lift your outfit from an everyday suit, without appearing to be trying to out-do the wedding party.

Sadly, however, the show disappointed in a number of areas. Every single male character, with the strange exceptions of Anthony Eden and the butler, Mr Pritchard, was visibly wearing a clip-on bow tie. On numerous occasions, the clip itself was visible.

No doubt, most people will neither notice nor care, but for the BBC to be so sloppy in a headline costume drama is a serious lapse, in my view. Perhaps even more disappointingly, a scene with Sir Hallam and the Duke of Kent in evening dress shows both wearing cheap-looking jackets with crumpled, shiny, satin lapels. A great pity.

The show itself is the same odd mix of drama, melodrama and farce that the originals were, although without quite the same quality of script or acting. Still, they're worth a watch, if you are able to get the BBC. The first episode is available on iplayer, the second will play tonight, and the final part tomorrow.

Completion of the Tweed Suit

Sunday, December 26, 2010
My Tweed Suit from Cad and the Dandy was actually completed months ago, but it's only in the last couple of months that I've had much opportunity to wear it. In the recent freezing weather, it's made a few appearances at the weekend and was especially useful on a couple of occasions when I returned to my parents' home for Christmas.

Seeing it going from a bolt of 30 year old cloth, onto the cutting table, through a basted fitting, and finally to a beautiful handmade suit has been fascinating and has made it firmly one of my favourite suits. Although the cloth is unusual, the fact that at a distance it blends into a soft grey colour means that it is actually less aggressively 'country' than a more traditional green or brown overcheck tweed might be, and it is equally well suited to a cold weekend in town. The basted fitting means that it is an even better fit than my dinner suit, and its construction shows the right balance of care and imperfection that can only be achieved by an experienced tailor working by hand.

It's worn here with a country shirt, one of my very few button-downs, and a soft knitted woolen tie which I think goes particularly nicely with the colour of the overcheck on the shirt.

Merry Christmas to all my readers.

Ho Ho Ho Merry Panic, Update

Monday, December 20, 2010
I truly had good intentions of finishing the all the garments planned for holiday gift-giving.  However, along with the lesion on my thyroid gland, another nodule/lesion has been found in one of my lungs. So for the next 2 weeks or so, I will be ping-ponging between yet more doctors and hospitals...for CT scans, consults, etc, etc, and a probable biopsy of the mass to determine if it is malignant.

I am not in any acute pain, but am experiencing discomfort and some anxiety.  Any sewing that I will be doing will just be simple whimsical children's garments to keep my mind occupied between medical appointment days.  I am very anxious to sew the new Colette Menswear Shirt, and perhaps I'll have the energy to at least start it...I hope so! 
 Fashion Sewing Supply will remain in full operation, so don't worry about your orders :)

TUTORIAL-- Sew an Easy Textured Knit Hem

Tuesday, December 14, 2010
For adults or children, this a fun way to add some textural interest to a plain hem on any garment made with stretchy knit fabric !

Here is a close-up of the sleeve hem of the knit under-Top pictured above, made for my 4-yr old friend Julianna. 

You can barely see all the decorative stitching on the flat of the hem because the thread matches so well

So I will show you the steps I used to achieve this effect using contrasting colors in the samples below.

These samples have been done on flat pieces of fabric, however it it best to do this treatment "in the round" on an actual garment. 
Using a measurement 1/4" less than you have allowed, turn up the hem and press. In other words, if you allowed for a 1" hem, just turn it up by 3/4".  Then stitch it from the wrong side with a decorative stitch so the the stitching holds down the raw hem edge, as shown below--

Next, make another fold, turning the hemmed edge up about 1" deep to the wrong side and press, as shown below--

Now using a sewing machine or serger, "lettuce" the fold by stretching it while zig-zag stitching or serger-stitching along the fold. It will look something like this after "stretching and stitching."

Now turn back the hem into its normal position, and admire your new Textured Decorative Hem !

In this teaching example the effect looks rather garish because 
I have used highly contrasting colors.                             
When matching thread is used, the effect is far more subtle :)

Ho Ho Ho...Merry Panic !

Monday, December 13, 2010
I am in the midst of a full-blown Holiday Gift Giving Sewing Panic!

But is is a fun one, and within 11 all should all be done.  And if not, my sister and my husband are quite used to gifts a few days weeks's become a tradition around here ;)  But anyway, here's my plan--

On the left you'll see the new "Negroni"  Men's Shirt Pattern from 
Colette Patterns. It is a classic camp shirt that I am making for my husband, Roger. First I'll make it up in the nice lightweight blue denim (shown above) to test for fit, and then if it fits well and I like the pattern, I'll make one from the distressed gray silk that you see on the far left of the photo.  I really do not expect any problems...a camp shirt is a camp shirt. And while this pattern comes with very detailed instructions, I'll be refining some of the details. It won't add any time, so If you would like to 'watch' me as I refine some of the details of this new pattern let me know in the comments section, and I will snap a few pics along the way :)

While I am working on the shirt, I'll also be preparing the fabric and cutting out the pieces of a Coat for my sister Carolyn...her birthday is Christmas day :) Along with being an accomplished medical professional, my sister is now a business woman!  She has recently started to sell the fabulous jewelry line, Silpada. So I think the casual yet classy coat from McCalls that you see pictured will be perfect for her as she travels here and there to showcase all that amazing jewelry. I am making it from camel wool/cashmere knit that has been aging in my stash for a while.  The only snag I can see about making this coat for my sister is that she is very petite....5' 1" tall and about 95 pounds. Luckily, our sleeve length and shoulder length is the same, so I should be able to scale down and shorten the smallest size (8) without too much trouble, and I will also reduce the flare a bit so the coat won't overwhelm her.

The gift that has a definite deadline is the one I making for the young mother who "lets" me sew for her 2 little girls!  Jill is a sweet 26-year old beautiful young lady and a wonderful mother, who is always ready and willing to help me when I am ill...and she brings her little girls to visit me frequently :) That means alot to me because I have no children of my own, and I get to play "grandma" when they are here! I plan to make a top for her from matte jersey and the "swing vest" with the McCalls pattern shown on the right using the dark red microfiber suede pictured above. She is a tiny little thing but I think the x-small size will fit, based on her measurements.

To add to it all, our new Pro-Tricot Deluxe Interfacing has just arrived at Fashion Sewing Supply ! I have been developing this new interfacing for the past several months, and it is fantastic...I mean really really nice. I am so excited and proud of this new interfacing :)  Made especially for knits, it has stretch both width and lengthwise due to a touch of lycra and a special knit weave. Our new Pro-Tricot Deluxe comes in 4 colors, it doesn't shrink at all, leaves the knit fabrics to which it is applied very soft/drapey, plus the fabric remains stretchy yet stabilized and completely machine washable. many great features. This is not your typical tricot interfacing!
It is already selling very fast at the introductory I will be cutting and packing orders before I can even think about sewing today.  Oh, did I mention I have few shirts to sew for clients, as well? It's a good thing that I absolutely LOVE my job jobs :)
So, let the merry panic begin!  But as that slogan we've seen all over the place says, I'll just...Stay Calm and Sew On ! 

NEW Tutorial-- Stretch NeckBand with Stable Back Seam

Monday, December 6, 2010
Most of us have made tops with necklines finished with simple stretch neckbands instead of binding. Here is rather dressy style that I made for myself with a narrow self-fabric Stretch Neckband...

And here is a casually styled Toddler Sweatshirt that I recently made for my favorite one-year-old little girl, with a neckband made from rib-knit...
Whether casual or dressy, made with self-fabric or is all too easy for a Stretch Neckband to end up looking "wonky" because the layers have shifted while being sewn to the neckline.  Keeping the seamed edges of a Stretch Neckband completely straight and stable while sewing it to the neckline can be tricky...especially with slippery knits !

Here is a way to stabilize and neatly enclose the back seam allowance of a Basic Stretch Neckband. This method may be common to experienced sewists, but it may be new to those who do not have much experience sewing with knits. Regardless, I hope you find it useful :)

So let's start :)
After you have determined how wide and long to make your Stretch Neckband (be it from a pattern piece, or your own design preference), it will look something like this example below...a single thickness of knit fabric.
(Please Note-- In this tutorial I am demonstrating with Rib Knit, aka "Ribbing")

The next step is to fold the strip in half, Right Sides Together so that the short ends meet, as shown below.
Usually, this is when we would sew the Back Seam of the Neckband, by stitching the short raw edges closed to form a circle (loop). But the next step is where this method differs from the norm.
Next, fold the entire strip in half again...this time from the top down. After making this fold you will have 4  (longer) raw edge layers that meet, 4 (short) raw edge layers that meet, and 2 folded ends that meet, as shown below.

Now take your folded Neckband Strip to the sewing machine, and stitch a seam starting from the TOP fold, through all four stacked short layers, as shown in the next 2 photos below. In this example I am using a 1/4-inch seam allowance.

We now have a twice-folded Neckband piece, that has had the 4 (short) layers seamed together. As a result, we also now have 4 layers of seam allowance. At this point, you can choose to grade the seam by trimming the 2 inner seam allowances.  
If I decide to grade this seam, I trim the 2 inner seam allowance layers by about half their width. will see the point of the extra fold and stitching those 4 stacked short edges together!
After the top edge is turned (flipped) over the seam allowances and all the raw edges meet,  your Stretch Collar Band is ready to be sewn to the neckline of your garment.
The folded back seam allowances have been "locked" together by the stitching that was done, and now will not shift or slip when being sewn to the garment...yay!

QUICK REVIEW--The following sketch illustrates the usual way a Stretch Neckline Band is sewn to the neckline of a garment.
From top to bottom: 1. Quarter-mark the raw edges of the Stretch Neckband, using the Center-Back Seam as one of the marks. 2. Quarter-mark the neckline edge of the Garment.  3. With right sides together, match the marks of the Stretch Neckband to the marks of the neckline, then sew the Neckline Band to garment...stretching the Neckline Band to fit the neckline edge.
^Click photo to Enlarge^

Happy Sewing....

Monday, November 8, 2010

Recovering from surgery while waiting for pathology reports is very stressful. So I decided a simple "happy" sewing project was just the thing to brighten my mood.  These bright fabrics from my stash made me smile the entire time I was working with them!

I hope that my 4-year old little friend Julianna and her mommy like this very "happy" set.  The peasant top is from a pattern by an Etsy Seller, Whimsy Couture. I highly recommend her patterns.  The pants are a basic style from Ottobre Design, that I modified by changing the pant leg width and adding ruffle embellishment.

Tutorial-- Quick, Easy, Draped Cowl Variations !

Saturday, October 30, 2010
With even more draped cowl patterns like this one from McCalls appearing in recent pattern catalogs, this revisit of a popular tutorial I wrote a few years ago is even more relevant today.

So, now I'll show you how quick and easy it is to make countless variations like these shown below from a basic draped cowl neckline...that can be done in mere minutes!

First, start with a drape-front cowl (photo #1 below) already in your wardrobe, or make one with the many patterns that exist for this style.

As shown In photo #2, turn the garment inside out and flip the front facing up to expose the wrong side of front of the top.

Next, for the most basic variation, pinch some fabric near center front, twist it a bit, and hold the “twisted pinched” fabric with a rubber band, as shown in photo #3.  I am showing this with a regular rubber band so it shows up in the photo, however a small clear "ponytail" band works best. Later, if you want to make this design change permanent, the 'twist' can be stitched. Or just remove the band, and you have your original draped cowl back again :)

Now turn down the facing to cover the banded fabric, as shown in photo #4.

As shown in photo #5 below,  when the garment is turned right-side-out, the twisted detail becomes a new interesting design feature of the top.

Where you pinch and band the fabric is totally up to you: higher, lower, to the left or right of center, using 2 or 3 twists, etc. There are infinite possibilities for design variations like these.... Have fun!

TUTORIAL: Ravel Grading...A Master Tailor's Technique

Monday, October 18, 2010

There are many ways to grade seams. Among them are trimming one seam allowance narrower than the other, turning the scissors on edge to "bevel" the allowances, and using Pinking Shears.  But the hands-down most elegant and effective way I was ever shown, is to "Ravel Grade".  This was the favored technique taught to me by my Master Tailor mentors during my apprenticeship. You are unlikely to find this technique in any tailoring books, as it is a very esoteric "old world" technique.

Below you will see a photo of 2 pieces of wool, that have been underlined with Pro-Weft Fusible Interfacing to within 3/16-inch of the seam edges. The 2 pieces of wool have been placed right sides together, and you can see (very faintly in blue), that a 5/8" seam has been sewn down the length of the two pieces, on the right.

^ Click to enlarge ^

The first and only step in the "Ravel Grading" process is very easy. Merely ravel off a few threads from the edge of both seam allowances, leaving soft fringed edges. So what does that accomplish?  In this example, by completely removing the warp (lengthwise) thread  from the seam allowance edges...the fabric there is now half as thick as before!
NOTE--Both seam allowances will be trimmed to 3/8" in some areas like lapel edges and jacket fronts before being Ravel Graded, and will remain "married" (not pressed open).  But instead of being the thickness of 2 layers of fabric, one layer has been raveled away resulting in the edge-bulk being totally eliminated...the finished lapel and jacket front edges (collar edges, etc) will be sharp and completely flat after pressing.

^ Click to enlarge ^

In the photo below, you will see the seam allowance pressed open. Notice how elegantly the bulk from the allowance edge has disappeared, because the fabric there is now half  of it's original thickness!  And to think that all that needed to be done was ravel away a few threads :)
^ Click to enlarge ^

So I ask you...which seam allowance shown below will be far less likely to leave a "pressing ridge" on the right side of a finished garment?  The "pinked" side...or the side that was Ravel Graded ?  Especially if your fashion fabric is very thick, highly slubbed, or other wise textured?  Why the "Ravel Graded" side, of course :)
^ Click to enlarge ^

SEWING NOTES: Medium weight wool flannel fabric is underlined with Pro-Weft Fusible Interfacing, a very lightweight highly flexible interfacing available exclusively at Fashion Sewing Supply.  

In case you are wondering...about half the beautifully tailored, very expensive garments that were created in the shop during my apprenticeship were made with fusible interfacings that my mentors imported from Italy.  When I created my own line of custom-milled fusible interfacings, I managed to reproduce the same uncompromising "premium" professional quality. If they were still on this earth, I dearly hope that my mentors would be proud of my efforts :)

TUTORIAL- Felled Shoulder/Sleeve Cap Seam Technique (revisited)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010
  Since I am unable to sew because of my health, and because I have so many new blog followers since I first published this tutorial, I thought it was due for a "revisit".


Progress on the Vintage Mens Shirt continues!

Now the sleeves are sewn...and I thought you might be interested in seeing how these sleeves are drafted and set. It is done differently than most methods seen in modern printed patterns.

(Click Pic to enlarge, use browser "back button" to return)

Take a look at these pattern pieces. I've marked the stitching lines so that you can see that the sleeve seam allowance is twice as wide as the corresponding seam on the shirt back (and front, not shown). The seam allowance of the sleeve is 1", and the armscye seam allowance is 1/2".

(Click Pic to enlarge, use "back button" to return)

As you can see in the photo below, when the stitching line of the sleeve and armscye are matched (right sides together), the sleeve cap allowance extends beyond that of the shirt. The sleeve is set by stitching along the stitching line of the armscye. It's much easier to do if you first mark the 1/2" seam allowance as you can see by the blue lines. When you've set sleeves this way several times, you can just do it by sight. In fact, when I hand-draft shirts, I almost always draft the sleeve allowance at twice the width of the armscye allowance.

(Click Pic to enlarge, use browser "back button" to return)

Here is the sleeve set into the armscye, from the wrong side. Because the sleeve seam allowance is wider, it is "auto-magically" ready to be felled...with no trimming needed!

(Click Pic to enlarge, use "back button" to return)

To begin felling the seam, just fold and press the larger (wide) sleeve seam allowance over the smaller (narrow) one, enclosing it. In the lower portion of photo below, the larger seam allowance is folded over the smaller,  and still open near the top of the photo.

(Click Pic to enlarge, use browser "back button" to return)

When the sleeve allowance is completely pressed over the armscyce allowance... next press BOTH allowances towards the shirt. "instant" felled seam !

(Click Pic to enlarge, use browser "back button" to return)

All that remains to finish setting the sleeves is to topstitch a scant 1/2" away from the well of the seam from the RIGHT SIDE, through all shown below.

(Click Pic to enlarge, use "back button" to return)

And this is how the felled sleeve seam looks from the wrong side, after the topstitching is complete. Nice and smooth, neat and easy...with no raw edges.

Tailor Made London - A follow-up

Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Shortly after my previous post, John at Tailor Made London got in touch with me with a lot more information about his service. I don't intend to reproduce his entire email here but I will quote from it heavily and, I hope, representatively.

The delay in me making this follow-up post was due to me wanting some clarification around prices, as this is a useful way to benchmark tailors against each other and make a fair assesment of who is worth the money and who isn't.

I asked for two prices:
Firstly, a two-piece suit made in pure wool (non-super number) from a good manufacturer (I actually specified Holland and Sherry, but they only stock H&S in Super 100 and up, so the quote is based on Dugdale, another very well-respected cloth maker) with a half canvass, no basted fitting, and working cuffs. This would be around £349 from Cad and the Dandy.

Tailor Made London quoted me £560, which is by no means unreasonable, but it does suggest a generally slightly higher cost than the majority of other tailors in this corner of the market.

For a suit made in super-100s wool, with a fully floating canvas a basted fitting and hand-stitching (which is as close as you will get to a Savile Row suit) Cad and the Dandy charge £799, while Tailor Made London quoted me £950.

I won't comment further on the prices, as there are plenty of variables that may make comparisons between C&tD and TML inaccurate. I have tried to make the comparison as fair as possible, but factors like the quality of the workmanship are hard to quantify, and could justify a higher price. At any rate, TML suits are, as you would hope, considerably cheaper than a similar option from Savile Row.

My biggest question over the whole laser process, and one echoed by at least one of the people who kindly took the time to comment on my last blog about Tailor Made London, was the extent to which measurements taken by machine, even very accurately, necessarily translate into a well-fitting suit. I felt that the judgement of the cutter is more important here in being able to assess the whole body-shape, stance and so forth, in a way that a machine cannot.

John Buni, from Tailor Made London, says:
"What is inherent in our process is the use of the data to form a twin body image and then transpose that data to form the individual’s pattern for the cut. Here is where we differ from someone taking a multitude of measurements manually or otherwise in that we take into consideration the person’s stance and posture. The latter would be laboriously difficult to carry out manually first time. Of the thousands measurements taken about 100 primary ones are used by our head-cutter to produce an individual pattern to fit the 3D image and make any adjustments where needed."

I raised a number of questions about the way the suits are made, and the options available, and it appears that Tailor Made London do offer traditionally constructed suits with all the features you would hope for:

"Turning to suit construction, we offer a half-floating canvas with horsehair as a standard product, unlike majority of online/ visiting/ travelling tailors who would offer a fused canvas as the norm but some may offer a ½ floating canvas option at much extra cost. We do also offer a full floating canvas construction if requested."

I did wonder about how the cloth was cut, and it turns out it is cut by laser. Whilst the traditionalist in me recoils at this, I can't see any real problem and, as John explains, it keeps costs down by reducing cloth wastage. It would potentially make pattern matching difficult, but John says this isn't a problem, as the suit is "assembled by a skilled tailor to ensure pattern matching where necessary."

I suppose I remain unconvinced that the laser-scanning really adds value to the tailoring process, but the main thing is that Tailor Made London appear to be getting everything else right in terms of cloth selection and craftsmanship. Of course, I can't be certain of this without buying a suit and, perhaps unfairly, I don't think I'm likely to, but I wouldn't necessarily discourage anyone else from trying them, and I would be interested in hearing (and seeing) the results.

Many thanks, also, to the readers who left some unusally interesting and thoughtful comments on the previous post about Tailor Made London.


Tuesday, September 28, 2010
There are only really two materials worth making braces from. Silk braces are ideal with evening wear and, perhaps, in warmer weather. For colder weather, more casual wear, or just because you feel like it, boxcloth is the only other option.

Heavy boxcloth braces in bold colours, with their brass adjusters and leather attachments, look fantastic, and are the very antithesis or the sort of skinny, elasticated, clip-on braces that are all too common.

Albert Thurston is perhaps best known for this sort of thing, but my recent acquisitions come from Ede and Ravenscroft - an impulse purchase when I noticed that they sold them with the white leather fastenings that are so much harder to find that the more usual black ones, and which I just couldn't resist.

They also do a nice pair of dark green ones which may, I think, look rather nice with my new tweed suit. On the subject of the suit, in case any of you were wondering what has happened to it, it was completed some time ago but I have been waiting for autumn for an occasion to wear it. Now that the weather is getting colder, I expect it will make an appearance on my next trip to the country.

Dragons Den: Tailor Made London

Thursday, September 9, 2010
Some of you may have seen a recent episode of the UK Dragons Den which featured John Buni, the managing director of Tailor Made London showing off his product and asking for funding (which he didn't get).

The basic premise is the same as any visiting/travelling tailor - he sets up for the day in a hotel or (more often, it seems) a large office, and people come to him to be measured and to design their suit, and then he takes the information away and has the suits made up. Information on the manufacturing process is very limited, but my guess would be that the suits go for a straight finish with no basted fitting but with the option for adjustments later, much like ASTF or the cheaper Cad and the Dandy options. There's also very little information about who makes the suits, or what techniques are used. There is a mention that they are made in Germany which is slightly unusual as most similar companies seem to use Hong Kong or China. To their credit, 'Tailor Made London' appear to use excellent cloth, including some from big names like Holland & Sherry. How much this adds to the basic price of £450 is not totally clear.

The 'gimmick' here, and the only thing that really interested me about what is otherwise a fairly unoriginal concept, was the laser scanner. This takes a full-body scan in a few seconds and saves off hundreds of highly accurate measurements. So far so good, and so far so very press-release-friendly. However, the obvious question that the Dragons didn't seem to ask is: so what? In my experience of tailoring, the accuracy and number of the measurements is not the biggest problem. Sure, the measurements need to be right, and the more that are taken the better (up to a point), but almost anyone can take a large number of measurements quickly and accurately with a minimum of training, and a really skilled tailor is looking for more than just objective measurements in any case. The bigger issue is what is then done with these measurements. Are they used to cut a brand new personal pattern, or to adapt an existing one? Is the suit cut by a cutter with years of experience who understands body shape and has thought about your stance, figure and personal requirements, or by an assembly line of relatively unskilled workers using a pattern generated by a computer? It is these issues that really define a good fit, and it is on these that Mr Buni is silent.

It is not at all clear to me what happens to the hundreds of measurements that the machine takes. In theory, I suppose, this machine could gather information on the customers stance and body shape (although without a human eye, I am not convinced this will be very meaningful) but a much harder job is then translating these measurements to a well-fitting suit. How this is done would fascinate me, but there is no information on it and I strongly suspect that it boils down to a printed list of measurements little different to those that any other tailor just writes down as he goes along.

Both the Dragons Den show and the website leave too many of the important questions unanswered for me to have any interest in ordering a suit from this company (even if I wasn't already loyal to my current tailor). For me, a personal service and an appreciation of the craftsmanship behind tailoring is far more important than gimmicks and technology. Still, I will pose some of my questions to Tailor Made London and, if the answers are of interest, I will post them on the blog so that you may make your own minds up.

TUTORIAL- Pre-shrink Wool...Fast and Easy at Home! (revised)

Monday, August 30, 2010
Many of us are ready to sew our fall wardrobes....and I am too!
So I thought you might be interested to know of an easy yet professionally effective method that I use to pre-shrink wool yardage. It is one of a few methods that I learned during my Tailor Apprenticeship.

(This is a revised version of one of the most popular tutorials I have written. Since I have so many new blog followers since it was first published here last year, I thought it was time to revisit it :)

First...the fabric! This luscious yardage is from my stash. One of the pieces was purchased from Gorgeous Fabrics a few seasons ago. The green check yardage is 100% tropical wool crepe, the gray check yardage is a medium weight blend of wool and silk.

Why pay big bucks to take this fabric to the dry-cleaner to steam shrink it,
when we can do it easily at home?

Wool Yardage

Now the method:

  • Serge or zig-zag the raw cut edges of the fabric.
  • Next, wet 2-3 clean thick towels with very HOT water until they are quite wet but NOT dripping. Use towels you have had for a while, so that lint will not be transferred from the towels to the fabric ;)
  • Now toss the hot wet towels and the fabric into your clothes dryer.
  • Set the dryer on HIGH heat, and tumble the fabric and hot wet towels for 30-40 minutes.   (If you are using a high napped wool, or are just unsure about this method, test on a 6"x6" swatch of your fabric before committing the entire length.)
  • If you have a steam setting on your dryer...skip the towels and tumble with steam for 20-30 minutes on high heat. If your fabric is still damp after 20-30 minutes, dry without steam for about 10 more minutes.
    • Lay the fabric flat until it is cool. 
    Align CenterThat's it! Your wool yardage is now ready for the needle.
    The appropriate interfacing for most wool and wool blends  
    is PRO-WEFT Supreme Lightweight Fusible or 
    PRO-WEFT Supreme Medium-weight Fusible

    Wool Yardage After SteamingAlign Center

    As you can see above, this Dryer "Machine Steam Shrink" method did not visibly change the fabric at all, and it's hand is still soft and smooth. However it did shrink. Each piece was 60" wide and 2 yards long before steam-shrinking. After, the green 100% wool piece measured 59.5" wide and was 2.5" shorter in length. The gray wool/silk blend was still 60" wide but 1.75" shorter in length.

    TUTORIAL-- How to "Distress" Silk

    Sunday, August 22, 2010
     ~Casual Mens "Distressed" Silk Shirt  ~

    I love to work with silk when making shirts for men or women. I prefer to use Dupioni Silk...a shiny silk fabric woven with crosswise irregular threads that form uneven "slubs" across the fabric's width. Dupioni silk can be quite hefty in weight or very light-weight.  Directly off the bolt, Dupioni silk is too shiny and crisp for my designs. While fine "as is" for garments like prom gowns and wedding dresses, it is much too formal for my purposes.  So I wash it in a specific way until it softens and fades.

    Oh yes, there can be surprises along the way, but to me that's part of the fun !  The slubs will swell, the color will fade, cross-dyed silk may become a totally new color, and it will definitely shrink. When purchasing silk to distress, I try to buy the 54" wide dupioni, and I buy more than I need. If I need 2 yards, I buy 3. If I need 3 yards, I buy 4.5.  Better to have a little more, than not enough...I can always make a scarf ;)

    Here are some lengths of Silk Dupioni  as they came off the bolt.

    ^ CLICK to enlarge and see details ^
    Each piece is 4.5 yards long. Notice the high sheen of the fabric and how the colors are very saturated.

    My distressing process of these silks was to wash and dry each piece separately in a particular order, using different laundry products along the way. Here is how I "distressed" the silk pictured above, based on their unwashed lengths of 4.5 yards.

    1. Wash the fabric on a regular cycle in HOT water this way--Place a length of dupioni into the washer, along with a scant tablespoon of a special textile detergent called Synthrapol   .   Synthrapol cleans the fabric very thoroughly, suspending any "free" dye in the water so it goes down the drain and does not settle back onto the fabric.
    2. Place the washed fabric into an empty clothes dryer set on HOT, until thoroughly dry. (Note--this is the ONLY time during this process that you will dry the silk on the HOT dryer setting)

    3. Look at your fabric in good light.  If it has the "hand", drape, and color that you like, it is time for step 4.
    If you want a more faded look, repeat the washing directions in step 1 & 2...however this time wash in HOT water, BUT DRY on LOW.
    Keep washing (hot)/drying (low) until your silk looks the way you want it to...this is not exact science :)  As a frame of reference, I rarely choose to "Hot wash/dry Low" (after Step 1)  more than 4 times.

    4. Shampoo and condition your silk. Yes, really!  Use a good quality shampoo and conditioner, because after washing as described above your silk will look nice, but it might be scratchy if you have put it through more than 2 of the wash/dry cycles.  I like to use the products pictured below, because I can usually find them on sale.  This last time, Wash your silk on the DELICATE cycle in COLD water with a teaspoon of shampoo. Dissolve a Tablespoon of conditioner in some water, and add it to the COLD water of the final rinse cycle.
    ^ CLICK to enlarge and see details ^

    This is what my silk lengths looked like after 1 cycle of  "Step 1" and 2 cycles of "Hot wash/ dry Low --
    ^ CLICK to enlarge and see details ^

    The colors had changed and/or faded, the slubby grain was raised, and the silk was less shiny.  It shrank between 18" to 27" in length and 2" to 4" in width (each piece was a little different).

    But I wanted to roughen it up even more. So I put it through 2 more cycles of  "Hot wash/ dry Low" (for a total of 4 wash/dry cycles after step 1).   After "shampooing" as described in Step 4, this is what my beautifully distressed silk dupioni looks like...soft, supple, and ready for the needle !
    ^ CLICK to enlarge and see details ^

    These silk pieces did not shrink any more after the first 2 wash cycles or after their "shampoo". When sewing with distressed silk dupioni, you can cut it on the cross-grain like I prefer (so the slubby grain-line runs lengthwise on the finished garment). When possible, use french or felled seams to discourage "seam slippage". 
    Wash the finished garment by hand, or on a very delicate machine cycle using shampoo in cold water. I usually dry distressed silk garments in the dryer on a very low/delicate setting until just slightly damp, and then hang until completely dry.  Distressed silk dupioni is surprisingly strong, and can take the heat and steam of an iron set to wool to high wool.

    Other Sewing Notes-- Use regular sewing thread (silk thread is not necessary).  Use the best quality interfacing on your silk-- Pro-Sheer Elegance Fusible Interfacing for the softest, most supple results on light to medium weight silks you plan to use for blouses or dresses, or 
    Pro-Weft Fusible Interfacing for the best flexible stability on medium weight silks that you plan to use to for jackets, etc.