Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Will the Real Silk Please Stand Up!

You know the drill. You tell yourself it's just a quick stop to the fabric store to pick up some thread and zipper for the latest project. That's all you'll get... until you wander around and start looking at the fabric and stumble upon something that's on sale that you simply can't pass by.

Well, that's my story and I'm sticking to it. During said latest fabric store excursion for thread and a zip, this particular fabric caught my eye. At first glance, I thought it was silk. When I picked it up, it felt like silk. In fact, it turned out to be 100% polyester. I was a bit disappointed because I really like natural fabrics and the recent Silk Only Contest at PR got me in the mood for this wonderful and diversified fabric.

Still, it was interesting. I liked the hand and since it was on sale, I dropped it into the cart. During my drive home, I thought about my new fabric and pondered what I might make out of it. Maybe another vintage party dress or even a suit.

Then it hit me like a brick wall. I know why I like this fabric so much! I actually own a RTW jacket/dress made out of a 100% GENUINE silk that is remarkably similar to the poly. Trying to remain focused on the remainder of the drive home, I came home and shot immediately up to my sewing room. (My husband thought I had gone on a spending frenzy at the fabric store and was trying to sneak stuff in. That's a story for another day.)

I put the fabric down and got the silk garment from my closet. Oh my! It wasn't identical, but it sure was similar. I held the new fabric, I held the silk jacket/dress. I ran the new fabric through my fingers, I ran the silk jacket/dress through my fingers. This polyester impostor was so like the silk! Even the hand was samey, from the texture to the drape.

I'm not an expert on fabrics. I've never even done a burn test. Can you tell which is which? I know it's a bit unfair, since you cannot handle them (and I need better lighting for sharper pics). Maybe I'm just inexperienced and naive in fabric fiber identification... but here they are:

Which fabric is the REAL SILK - "A" or "B" ? Stay tuned for the answer.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Calling All Dress Detectives: Vintage Vietnamese Dress? Or What is It?

Since I had to occupy myself with things other than sewing today (too much going on to start a new project today- hubs on the go, house showings, yadda, yadda), I thought I'd talk about this very unique dress.

I often poke around at my local Goodwill. Last week I wandered on over when I vacated my house for a showing. In the dress section, I came across this dress. I got kind of excited about it. At first glance, the orange and brown pattern jumped out as 60's or 70's and oh so groovy. When I took the hanger off of the rack for a closer inspection, I saw that on many levels it was not "regular groovy" on many.

First, was the fabric. It's a sheer organza with that bit of sparkle. Could it be silk organza? Second, is the design. It has an oriental styling with it's Mandarin top and collar. The waist is nipped and the full length skirt flares with two tall slits a the sides. It looks designed to be worn over something else.

Most intriguing of all, however, are the label, the size and the workmanship. The garment looks handmade. It's actually quite simply made. The front is all one piece, as is the back. The sleeves are cut in, with a longer, lower sleeve sewn in at the biceps. There are vertical waist darts at the front and back and then horizontal bust darts at the front. You can see pen markings on the inside at the darts (it's transparent after all). The stitching is uneven and wonky all over.

The label says (and I can't recreate some of the letters/punctuation) "NHA MAY - Van Cri - 98 TO H THANH SAIGON". Saigon? My brain raced when I read it. Didn't Saigon stop being called Saigon in 1975 when it became Ho Chi Minh City after the fall to the North Vietnamese? What was this dress?

I held it and pondered. The organza felt like it could be silk. Or was I imagining that now because of the label? The price tag was $4.99, so I had to try it on.

To my disappointment, it was small. I'm not talking a-little-bit-snug small. I mean so incredibly small the arm of the dress didn't get past the bicep on my arm. I know I'm not supermodel thin (who is, besides supermodels?). But this was nano small.

Even so, I couldn't walk away from it. By now, I was so intrigued by this dress I had to have it. Did this dress really come from Saigon pre-1975? It would explain the groovy orange and brown colors. Who made it? Is the label's NHA MAY a Vietnamese seamstress or a company? How were clothes manufactured in Vietnam back then? Would it explain the basic construction? Were clothes like this manufactured as a response to military troops to purchase as gifts for loved ones back home? Did a soldier buy it for a loved one back home or perhaps, did a soldier come back with a wife? A soldier might not know about size, hence explaining why it's so small. It might also explain why it has virtually no wear and tear (...it was too small for dear Betty). On a completely different spin, could some girl have made it in home ec back in the 70's, and stuck a label on, stolen from some unused garment knocking around the house? The truth is, I simply don't know.

The dress opened so many exciting questions that I HAD to have it. My father was a Vietnam Veteran and I wish I could show it to him somehow to see what he thought.

But since that's not possible, I post the dress here for all of you to see. It's so small, it doesn't fit Doris so I had to take pictures of it on a hanger (I measured the dress' waist - it's 24"!) I hope it's as interesting and exciting for you as it is for me. I also hope that we can all be Dress Detectives and maybe find some answers to this lovely, and most likely, vintage dress. What do you think?

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Sari Dress is Finished

I did it today! I did it!

It's such a good feeling when you finish a project, isn't it? With all of the moving stuff, I wasn't sure at the onset if I'd be able to do it. I wrote up the review on PR and entered it in the Silk Only Contest.

For the last two days, I worked on the overbodice lining. The lining is constructed the same as the overbodice, then is attached at the neckline, bust front and the armholes. Then, it's turned right side out. The side seams are opened out, right sides put together then joined. When it's back in place, the seams are on the inside.

The midriff was seamed at the right side; lining is constructed the same way, then basted at the sides and bottom. At the top edge, it is pressed over at the seam allowance, which is slipstitched into place.

I love to see a lining put in place. It gives the garment so much shape and it really begins to look finished. They're so nice and smooth and you know you're on the home stretch!

Once the linings were in place, the overbodice and bodice were attached. The bodice is completely open on the left side and it fit PERFECTLY in the open edge (below where the seam ends) of the overbodice. Don't you just rejoice when things line up?

After basting the left side and bottom edges together, I joined the bodice to the skirt. This was straight forward.

Even the zipper went in easily. I made a decision to only fuse interfacing into the skirt part of the zipper opening. Admittedly, I was nearly in a sweat over that. But the bodice already had four layers of fabric: sari/organza - dupioni/organza and was quite thick. Thankfully, it turned out well. However, I do not advocate eliminating fusible interfacing on zippers! I think I just used up my Get Out of Jail Free card.

For the hem, I used hem tape because of the extreme fraying. I pinked the edges prior to stitching the tape, then blind hemmed around. Because of the pleat, the seam must be opened, pressed and clipped at the spot where the hem is turned up to. Once hem is stitched in placed, re-press the pleat. Amazingly, this works!

I'm happy with the end result. I was wary about whether or not I'd be able to work with such a slippery and fragile fabric. Underlining is a must and it's amazing how much strength and structure it provides.

This is going to be another busy weekend... One of my closest girlfriends is coming over in a little while. We grew up together (Girl Scouts, etc.) and about once every other month, she comes over and we work on sewing projects together. While the speed of our works on these nights isn't spectactular, we do manage to get motivated and catch up with each other!

Happy Friday!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Feeling Loopy

For Christmas, I asked for a variety of sewing gadgets: bias strip makers, a mini rotary cutter, a pin cushion (after knocking over my pin box for the gazillionth time) and a loop pull. Santa delivered!

Yesterday, I finally had the opportunity to use the loop pull. All I have to ask is, how on earth did I survive for so long without this thing?

I strayed away from items with straps or substituted cord for button loops. The bodice of the sari dress has straps. It's a shame that the over bodice in the view I'm making covers them up (if you did the other view with a sheer overdress, you'd see them).

Not only did I make them, but I did so with the dupioni, underlined with the organza. The long edge is seamed, then a second, reinforcing seam is stitched 1/8" out. These hooks really do work. If you don't have one, go out and get one! Within moments, my straps were easily turned.

Ironically, I ran out of the champagne colored bobbin thread just as I stitched the last little edge of the strap closed; only perhaps a yard of thread was left on the spool. This will be just enough to hand sew the straps in place. So often, we pull our hair out or moan and groan for running out of things at the most inopportune moments. I felt it was necessary to point out that sometimes, things work out just right!!!

I also got the overbodice lining cut, darted and seamed, then sewn in place. I love making linings. It makes me feel like I'm getting to the home stretch of a project. However, this is where I made a big mistake. When I finished seaming the neckline and arm seams, I realized: I put the right lining side to the wrong overbodice side!!!! Holy gaff Batman!!! I was so mad at myself! In my defense, I was squeezing my beloved sewing inbetween cleaning for a house showing and birthday and anniversary preparations (today is our son's birthday AND our anniversary). I didn't take the time to "check twice, sew once".

After the cursing subsided, I started to laugh at myself for such a mindless goof. In fact, I felt relieved. This project was going way too smoothly. That makes me nervous. When things too well, I'm kind of waiting for the whole project to spontaneously burst into flames. This error restored my faith that it is a normal project and I can now calmly proceed to the finish line. After dinner, I returned to my sewing room and put the lining in the correct way, then called it a day.

I probably won't get any sewing done today. It's gorgeous here in Chicagoland. We'll likely potter around outside and I'll bake a birthday cake this afternoon. Sewing will resume per "normal" tomorrow.

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Cumberbun

Well, I didn't get any sewing done today. Not only did I have a showing yesterday, but two popped up today. I'm no June Cleaver; she made housekeeping look so natural! Maybe if I start to dress like her, the cleaning will fall in line. You know... look the part, act the part, then you shall be? Yeah, right!

Anyway, about the cumberbun. I constructed it yesterday and only have to sew on four hooks and eyes. It is seamed one side, with gathering at both openings on the other side. I underlined this piece as well because dupioni frays and needs strength.

Prior to gathering, one side is seamed and the edges of the other side are pressed over at the seamline RIGHT sides together. Then you stitch at the top and bottom edges and turn right side out, and you hem the side in place. Then the top and bottom edges are narrow hemmed.

I'm one of those people who actually likes to narrow hem. I've read many posts by people who dislike this step. To me, it's a little like magic, going from something with no shape and tatty edges, to a piece (or section of a garment) to suddenly looking finished. You can really get an idea of the final product. Pressing the little hems down seals the deal!

The gathering is quite straight forward. I stitched 1/4" from the side edges and both sides of the seam. These are then to be gathered to four inches. I actually had an "ah ha" moment at this point! I began fiddling with the gathers (you can lose a lot of time fiddling with gathers) to get them to the right length and stay. Then "ah ha"! I thought to myself: "Self, the gathers will be sewn to 'seam binding ribbon'. Just cut THOSE to four inches, pin and pull!"

I pinned the hem tape (although I think twill tape would have been sturdier?), adjusted the length and sewed into place. On the side, I sewed directly into the seam. When looking at the wrong side, the stitching is a bit wonky... I'll need more practice to keep stitches in gathering straight, even though you can't see it on the right side.

Hopefully I'll have a reprieve from viewings tomorrow so that I can progress some more over the weekend!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Back in the Groove

I resumed work on the sari dress yesterday. Although, I was tired and a bit slow yesterday, I picked up the momentum again today.

Working with dupioni is a dream. (Thinking about it, ANY fabric would be a dream after the ANTI-Fabric.) I've been constructing the bodice, which has side bust darts and vertical darts in the front and back. Before sewing the darts, I fused the interfacing strip along the top front for the decorative stitching. I'm very pleased with the results. It's kind of a shame that most of this will be covered by the overbodice. I suppose, though, when it's said and done and just peeking out from under the overbodice, it will look right.

The bodice has a top hem instead of a facing. I pressed the hem over prior to making the side (right) seam, which I figured would be easier to do at this stage. Dupioni presses and holds the crease well. After the side was seamed, the bottom hem is stitched under. At this point, the instructions call for the hem to be hand stitched all the way around the inside. I didn't want to to that and decided to edge stitch at the top instead.

The edgestitching came out well. Dupioni is perfect for this with a nice, straight, pressed edged. There is no curling or slipping so the stitches came out even and straight.

The next step will be constructing the straps. After that, I'll make the lining for the overbodice. THEN, the overbodice can be attached to the dupioni bodice which then can be attached to the skirt... (the hip bone's connected to the thigh bone; the thigh bone's connected to the knee bone...)

I'm not sure how much more I'll get done today. I'm getting a wee bit better at knowing when to call it day before disaster strikes!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

OK, I Squeezed in a Bit More!

Hee hee, what can I say? When the sewing mojo is flowing, you've got to run with it! I was quite anxious to get the skirt seamed because of the extreme fraying.

I finished the back pleat and seamed the skirt back and side pieces. The details on these vintage dresses is what attracts me to them. I was a bit circumspect about how the silk would handle being folded, stitched and then stitched at the top of the pleat place. The pattern piece shows the pleat fold line and the stitching.

Thankfully, it stitched beautifully. The organza really does the trick. Without it, the sari silk would be extremely difficult to manage, and I can't imagine what state the seams would be in. On the seams, I used an overcast stitch.
The pieces are now hanging on Doris waiting for me to return. I'm happy to go away, feeling like I've not neglected my project!

Back pleat (left) and
pieces hanging on Doris:
Back - skirt darts (below left), Front (below right).

Weekend Getaway

I've made some more progress on the dress.

The darts are in the front and back overbodice, and the shoulders seamed. The darts and gathering are in the front and back skirt, and the back center is seamed. I started working on the back, lower pleat when it was time to stop and get my son from school.

So for now, I'll stop there. Tomorrow I'm heading out to New Jersey for the weekend to meet a group of friends. I'm really looking forward to getting together with them. We are all Halloween enthusiasts and make our own props.

I started making my own Halloween decorations when I lived in England. Even though it is celebrated there, it's not to the extent that it is here... and it is frowned upon by lots of people. There weren't lots of decorations in the stores (although it seems to be increasing in popularity all of the time) so I got into creating my own stuff.

Much of my own display is handmade; I'm lucky to have a handy, willing and enthusiastic husband. My display has a vintage flavor (surprise, surprise!)... even though Halloween is quite a way off, as with any hobby, working on projects is year round.

I'll be back to my silk dress on Monday.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Decorative Stitching

It occurred to me that perhaps this dress could benefit from a wee bit of decorative stitching.

The sari silk already has an all over pattern. But the dupioni contrast seems, in my opinion boring. I've been on the fence about whether or not to embellish it. Would decorative stitching make it look over done? Cheap? Or, if not embellished, would the dupioni appear dull compared to the elegant sari silk?
To settle the matter, I ran a swatch, (which I would have to do any way if I decide to go with the stitching). I cut a patch of the dupioni and fused interfacing to the back to stablize the silk. I have a Viking Sapphire 850. This machine has something like 130 stitches. I chose a scrolly-leafy stitch that I thought matched the sari pattern best.

I'm quite happy with how it looks and will use it. Here's a picture of my sample, placed underneath the two front overbodice pieces. It shows how it will look on the final garment. What's the point of having all of these stitches if I don't use them!

Busy, Busy

I made great progress on the silk sari dress the first few days of the project. Since then, every time I try to get underway, it seems my realtor calls to schedule a showing.

This has slowed things down a bit. Still, all of the sari pieces have the underlining basted. Next I can either underline the dupioni bodice/contrast pieces OR start on the darts of the dress. Progress will be slow over the next few days because I'm going out of town this weekend to visit friends on the east coast. However, I should be able to sneak in a bit of sewing here and there.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Underlining and Hats

So, what's the connection between underlining and hats ? Actually, nothing, except for the fact that both have been a part of my life for the last two days! Yesterday afternoon, a realtor tour was held at my house. I had to vacate the premises for three hours. What's a girl to do for three hours? It's easy! Shop!

I went to TK Maxx where a hat box was on clearance for $5. It called out to me. I used to wear hats a lot. The ones I wore usually were the fun and groovy styles from the days back when I lived in downtown Chicago. I walked everywhere (I didn't have a car) and, well, hats just seemed to go hand and hand with walking around being a young, city chick. Remember when Mary Tyler Moore threw her hat in the air at the end of the opening theme song? "You're gonna make it afterall!"

I bought my first dressy hat when I lived in England. During my eight years there, I attended several weddings. Over on that side of the pond, hats are still a popular tradition at weddings. I was so excited to have the opportunity to buy and wear a beautiful, dressy hat.

The one I found was lovely. It was elegant but not over done. The crown was covered in ivory silk that went into a fold where it met the medium sized, ivory mesh brim. A simple bow in the same silk adorned the center back.

I received many compliments on my hat at those weddings. Since the majority of the women were also wearing a hat, it was nice for it to be considered normal for the occasion, opposed to extravagant or pretentious.

In between weddings, my beloved hat sat on a back shelf in my closet, hidden by my clothes. It never occured to me to get a hat box. Hat boxes were only in old movies and tv shows; nobody actually used them because ladies didn't wear hats very often any more.

Then one day while purging through my wardrobe, to my horror I made a terrible discovery. My (now deceased) cat had been using my hat as a bed! Not only was it covered in black and orange fur, but the crown was partially caved in and dented in several places. I tried to "pop" the dents out and back into place, but it was to no avail. My hat was destroyed beyond repair.

I never bought another dressy hat. We moved back to the US and we've not been to a wedding in ages... Then last year I picked up a black vintage one at an antique mall. It has been sitting in my sewing room on a wig head. Yesterday when I brought home the hat box, I placed my vintage hat inside of it. A perfect fit!

I have visions of my closet shelf being filled with hat boxes, containing the vintage hats I hope to collect... My poor ivory hat did not perished in vain. I dedicate my new hat box to it. I now know better and will protect all of my hats in boxes from this day forward.

While I was blissfully sitting on the sewing room floor, placing the lid on and off of my hat box, to my delight, Fed Ex arrived with my silk organza!

It sure is lovely stuff! I couldn't stop rubbing it between my fingers enjoying the combined crispness and smoothness of the fabric. The enjoyment did not fade today as I hand washed then ironed it in preparation for cutting.

Just as I laid it out and put the rotary cutter to work, I had to stop: my realtor called and I had a viewing at 3:30... still determined after the viewing was over several hours later, I finished cutting and basted the first piece to the silk sari.

I carefully pinned by making sure two fingers held the fabric without slipping, pinning inbetween the fingers. I didn't force or pull to avoid distorting the drape of the sari.

This was the first time I ever sewed this type of silk. The sari is, I'm assuming, similar to handling a charmeuse, although I don't know for sure having never sewn with it. I was concerned about 1) slippage and 2) the two fabrics "stretching" differently, causing puckering.

To my delight, it was much easier to handle than I anticipated (based on the back overbodice piece only). I sewed directionally to avoid twisting by keeping the stitching going in the same direction.

This last picture is the back overbodice with the silk organza underlining basted in. You can see how it really gives the sari silk structure. It will also provide extra strength at the seams which will be greatly needed since the sari is a fragile fabric.

I hope to get all of the organza basted tomorrow and with any luck, start construction!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


To me, cutting fabric is like giving it life. In one moment, it goes from a flat piece of cloth, to being on it's way to something: something in somebody's life.

I laid out the sari silk and it was immediately evident that it required care in squaring out. It is the type of silk that pulls and distorts quite easily. The bordered edge (which I was hoping to use as trim), unfortunately had a long thread pulled. On the bright side, I was able to use it as a guide, or "the straight of goods" as it's called on the vintage patterns. It's much more fun to say than "grainline".

Also because of its twisty tendencies, I decided to use the rotary cutter for much of the cutting, rather than scissors. I didn't want the scissors to pull and twist the fabric any more than necessary. It was the first time I used them and I was happy with the results. The long edges were very straight and clean - none of those "sawblade" cuts.

I'm using a light gold dupioni for the contrast (from my stash) for the underbodice and the cumberbund. It's a great match to the scrolls in the sari and hopefully will brighten up the finished garment.

Now I have to wait for the silk organza to arrive. The next step is cutting and basting the organza for the underlining.

I'm happy with the progress that I made today.