Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sewing with Chantilly Lace, Part One

Stunning image of a vintage Chantilly dress from Blue Velvet Vintage
As promised: tips on sewing with lace! I'm focusing on Chantilly lace, which is a delicate variety, usually with a floral pattern and a scalloped border. Here are a few facts up front:
  • As with most fabrics, you can go either high- or low-end with lace. The best stuff is French, and genuine French Chantilly lace has a little fringed border on the scallops, which I just love. (For close-up pics of lace, check out B&J's gorgeous selection.) This starts at around $60 a yard, but imitation Chantillys can be had for cheap, in the under $10 range.
  • French lace is woven on shorter looms than most fabric, and so it's generally 36" wide. Cheaper varieties come in standard fabric widths.
  • The lace is generally made of nylon, or sometimes silk for the really pricey stuff. You can burn a hole in it with your iron faster than you can say Chantilly. Always use low heat (no steam!) and a silk organza press cloth.
  • Lace can be stiffly starched when you buy it. I soaked mine in cold water with Soak Wash and then dried it flat. It came out nice and soft rather than stiff.
  • For more info on lace, I highly recommend Susan Khalje's article "Amazing Lace" in Threads #124 and the lace chapter in Claire Shaeffer's Fabric Sewing Guide.
  • Susan Khalje recommends using an underlay for Chantilly lace, because it's so fragile on its own.
As you may imagine, one of the biggest challenges with lace is planning your design. Heck, just choosing an underlay color can be paralyzing for some people. (Not that I'd know anything about that.) Lace combines two distinct challenges: working with sheers and working with a border print. But both of these qualities offer exciting design opportunities as well.

There are lots of questions to ask yourself: how will you deal with facings? Where should you use French seams? What if you want a sheer look—you could bind off the neckline and wear a slip underneath. There are so many possibilities!

If you're inexperienced with using lace (like me!), it's a good idea to use the design in simple ways. For instance, I'm using a dirndl skirt, which is perfect for a border scallop since it's a straight rectangle. But there are much more advanced and complicated ways to use lace: for a circle skirt, you can cut out lace motifs and applique them around your hemline to form a new border. This technique can make a lovely neckline as well. (Look again at the dress above to see some advanced applique—look at the motif on the blue silk band on the skirt!)

I decided to use a China silk underlay on my bodice, with a separate lining for the bodice only (more on this in an upcoming post). On the front and back bodice, the underlay is applied in the exact same way as an underlining. First, cut out your underlay and mark the darts and seam allowances. (You may notice a lot of darts on this piece; I converted the neckline gathers to little darts.)

Next, position the underlay on your lace. This is an opportunity to take advantage of the design! I applied my underlay so that the larger floral patterns appear around the waistline, and then the scallop gets cut off.
Using silk thread, baste the two pieces together just inside the seam allowances.
 Also baste up the legs of the darts, just inside the markings.
Cut out the lace around the underlay piece.

 Now treat it as one piece of fabric.

The sleeves are a little different. Because I'm positioning the scallop at the hem of my sleeve (negating the need for a hem), the underlay will need to be finished separately. First, I narrow-hemmed the underlay.

 Then place the sleeve on the lace where it looks prettiest, using your keen aesthetic sense!
Repeat the basting and cutting process that you did on the bodice pieces. Here it is from the right side. Pretty, huh?
I used a French seam in the under sleeve seams to avoid a messy look. I'll do the same on the skirt pieces, since I'm keeping them separate rather than underlined. The bodice got regular old hems and I'll be lining it to cover up the innards.

That's it for now! I'll show you more as I go along.

Monday, November 29, 2010

I Sense a Glitch in My Sew-Along Plan

So, I finally sat down to work out a sew-along schedule for Crepe, and realized I must have been smoking some serious crack when I said we'd be done in time for Christmas. I worked out this preliminary schedule, which is pretty tight, and it has us finishing in early January.
  • Week of 12/6: Make bodice muslin and work out any fitting issues
  • Week of 12/13: Cut out underlining and fashion fabric, attach underlining to fashion fabric, apply interfacing to facing pieces, stay neckline with silk organza
  • Week of 12/20: Stitch darts, Join bodice at shoulders, join facings at shoulders, sew in sleeve facings, join bodice side seams
  • Week of 12/27: Holiday break
  • Week of 1/3: Stitch waist ties, stitch neck facing, sew skirt front, sew skirt backs, pockets, sew skirt side seams, finish back skirt edge, join bodice and skirt, hem skirt
Now, sew-alongers. I know some of you wanted to make this as a Christmas dress. In which case, I will have utterly failed you. But does this schedule still work for the majority of you? Or should I try to get up the muslin post this week so that you can start in on your muslins asap? Or are you all just too busy around the holidays and would prefer a looser schedule, even if that means finishing later in January?

Help me, Sew-Alongers. What should we do? Honestly, I feel terrible. I hope we can work out a good solution!

P.S. Hey, I made a Flickr pool for the Crepe Sew-Along! Come join and upload your fabric pics!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

I'm Thankful for Flannel Jammies and Cuddly Cats

I'm also extremely thankful that Henry never grew out of sleeping wrapped around my head.

I'm taking a little Thanksgiving break. Have a lovely day if you're celebrating and give your loved ones a squeeze!

Another Case for Red Lace

Did you all watch Pushing Daisies? It was a (now canceled) TV show that had my name written all over it: sassy brunette in cute retro clothes loves hunky guy who makes awesome pies. Pies! Adorable dresses! Kristin Chenowith! The visuals were stunning: quirky and vintage and lovely.

I'm a little embarrassed to say that I never got into it, since it was so beloved by its (apparently too small) fan base. I found the premise so tedious and clunky: the guy can touch people to make them come back to life but he's already touched the girl so he can never touch her again and blah blah blah.

But the dresses! Maybe I could give it another try for the dresses. As I was searching Google Images for "vintage red lace dress" the other day, this little stunner pictured above came up. Look at fab skirt! The streamlined bodice! The velvet ribbon belt! And, most of all, I want you to look at the red underlay, which is my primary example for bringing up this stellar use of red lace in dressmaking.

Now, I know you all were approximately 99.9% in favor of me using the skin-toned underlay on my red lace holiday dress. And believe me, I totally appreciate your advice. There were so many brilliant comments on the fit and proportions alone! You guys are the best.

But. I think I'm going to have to go rouge and go with the red lining. It just says "vintage" to me in a way that the nude doesn't. To state my case (and to avoid mutiny), I'm going to distract you with lovely frothy red dresses with red underlays. Look! Over there! Pretty dresses!
From Memphis Vintage

From Proper Vintage Clothing

From AppleCharlotte
My plan is to make the sleeve and skirt underlays a little shorter than the lace to show off the borders of the Chantilly. It's possible I'll need a red velvet ribbon for the waist as well. We'll see.

Thanks again for all your fantastic feedback! Next on the to-do list is to make another muslin of the revised pattern. To attempt to make up for my blatant disregard of your underlay feedback, I'm going to write in detail about the process of working with lace: the underlining, seam finishes, facings, etc. More to come!

P.S. I'm on the Twitters now! Let's, you know, follow each other and stuff. I'm @SewGertieSew.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Couple More Cute Cottons

A reader just tipped me off to this really cute cotton lawn from EmmaOneSock. Wouldn't it make a lovely Crepe dress? I love the fresh leafy green!

While I was trolling around the new fabrics at EmmaOne Sock, I also found this fab Betsey Johnson polka dot cotton. It's lightweight and is another great contender for our Sew-Along.

I've ordered from this online shop once before, and they seem great. They don't bill you on PayPal until they've calculated your shipping, which can save a lot.

That's all for now, peeps! I'll be setting up the Crepe Sew-Along Flickr pool this weekend so you can start to show off your fabric purchases.

A Field Guide to Various Lightweight Cottons

As I've been writing about fabric selection for the Crepe Sew-Along, some of you helped me realize that I need to get back to basics. It's all well and good to recommend a cotton lawn or voile, but what if you've never seen those fabrics in your life? I thought I'd show you a few lightweight cottons that I have in my stash. I draped each of them over my dress form so you can see how they hang. Hopefully, this will help you as you embark on your fabric journey!

Let's start with voile. Voile is the lightest, sheerest cotton I can think of. It's airy, soft, and exceptionally drapey. Here's a hot pink cotton/silk voile:

A lot of you have mentioned Anna Maria Horner's printed voiles, which I just adore. (This shop has a large selection of them.) I admit, however, that I'm surprised they're considered voiles. They're opaque enough that they don't need a lining, and they feel more like a batiste to me. Whatever you call them, they're a great choice for the Crepe dress.

Speaking of batiste! Here's another very lightweight cotton. I often think of it as a utility fabric since it's great for lining and underlining. Here's a pale yellow poly/cotton Imperial batiste that I used to line my yellow dress.
It's pretty sheer in this light color, but it does add a layer of opacity and structure to an outer fabric. However, it's also a great fabric on its own.

Dotted Swiss. Oh, how I love this stuff! This lightweight cotton has little raised bumps on it, creating a lovely texture. Here's a beautiful rose-print dotted swiss. See the little white dots in the background?

Lawn. The most famous of cotton lawns is the Liberty Tana lawn, which is so pretty—and pricey! Nice cotton lawns can be had on any budget, though. Lawn is on the heavier side of lightweight (do you like how I'm just making up categories now?). It has a nice drape and is opaque (though light-colored lawns may be a little sheer, just like with any lightweight cotton). It definitely has more body than a voile or batiste. Here's a cute retro print lawn I got at Mood:

Gingham. Who doesn't love this stuff? This cute checked fabric comes in all manner of colors and sizes. It's generally opaque and has a bit of body. It's sometimes mixed with polyester for a more drapey effect. Fun fact: true gingham is actually woven with two different colors of threads, forming the checked pattern. The really good stuff is woven in designer mills and can cost around $25 a yard. Cheaper varieties are printed, rather than woven. If you guessed that my green gingham here is the cheap stuff, you'd be right.

Double Gauze. This lovely stuff is a favorite of Japanese fabric designers. It's essentially two layers of cotton gauze (a beautiful, ethereal fabric in its own right) woven together to form a two-ply fabric. Because of the double layer action, it's opaque and fairly firm, but it still has the softness of gauze. Excuse the wrinkles here, I couldn't bring myself to press it just for the sake of throwing it over the dress form.

Silk and Cotton Blends. This isn't really a type of fabric, but it's an amalgam worth mentioning. I love silk and cotton blended together and I've never regretted a purchase of this fabric. It has the best properties of each fabric. Silk/cotton blends come in many different types: charmeuse, voile, poplin, sateen, etc. Radiance is a brand I've seen often, and they sell it at Fabric.com.

For my Crepe, I've picked out two silk/cotton blends from my stash: a black and white zigzag print for the body, with the hot pink voile for the sash:

Does this help? Let me know if you have questions!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Holiday Dress Test Run

So, as I mentioned on Friday, I'm planning a red lace holiday dress, inspired by this fab little Erdem number:
I'm making the pattern myself, so aside from the usual muslin, I decided to give it a test run in a simple cotton fabric (I used this voile, which would also be a great pick for the Crepe sew-along) and I'm so glad I did. I'm very happy with the shape and silhouette but it needs little tweaks: the upper bodice is too long, causing some bunching. I'd also like to move the neckline gathers more toward the center of the neck, and I'll probably make the neckline a bit lower. The fit in the bodice needs a few adjustments to make it more stream-lined. I'm going to make one more muslin before I cut into the lace. It was outrageously expensive and there won't be a single scrap to spare.

But overall, I think I'm pretty close! Perhaps the bodice is a tad too long in general?

Here's a closer view of the neckline. You'll have to excuse these photos; I had to take them at night and the lighting was horrible!

After I perfect the pattern, the next thing I need to decide on is an underlay color for the final dress. (This is essentially an underlining, except it will have to be hemmed before it's applied to the lace. The lace won't need to be hemmed because I'll place the border scallops along the bottom of the sleeves and skirt.) The Erdem dress has a flesh-toned underlay, so I tried a Bemberg rayon lining that matches my skin, but I'm not sure I'm absolutely loving it. It does really let the lace shine, though. What do you think?
Then I tried a coral charmeuse, but I'm worried the coral has too much orange to it. (Though it's actually looking more pink-ish in these photos. Ack, cameras!)
Next I tried a matching red underlay in China silk, and I'm liking this one the best. Do you agree? Or is it too same-y?
Any input will be much appreciated! The crazy thing is that I've now bought THREE different underlay fabrics just for this dress, and all because I can't make up my damn mind. Luckily, it's always good to have lining fabrics around, but seriously . . . help me get a grip!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

20% Off Sew-Along Fabrics at Sewbox!

Well, this is exciting. Leah from the UK fabric shop Sewbox e-mailed me to let me know that she's offering 20% off all her fabulous garment cottons to celebrate our Crepe Sew-Along!

I love the Liberty poplin above, as well as this fabulous polka dot lawn. Wouldn't it be so cute with a brightly colored sash? I'm thinking hot pink or lime green.

Leah also wrote a great post on her blog with several of her own recommendations.

To get 20% any of these lovely cottons, just enter the code SEWALONG at checkout. The offer runs until our Sew-Along starts on December 6th.

A big thanks to Leah for offering this amazing deal!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Best Seat in the House

Ah, is there anything more luxurious than rubbing your furry butt all over hundreds of dollars worth of fabric? Pip is one smart cookie: she has an uncanny ability to know when I've pulled out my best fabrics and to promptly plop herself down on them.

I've been dreaming of holiday dresses lately, and I treated myself to some outrageously decadent French chantilly lace, inspired by this Erdem number, as worn by Michelle Williams:

My first thought upon bringing the lace home was "Note to self: do not let Pip sleep on this fabric." Ha!  I should have known there was no escaping it. I left the room for a couple minutes and came back to find her posed regally atop a mountain of red Chantilly lace, rose-printed silk organza, and coral-y pink voile. She knows the good stuff; I'll give her that. Anyway, it was far too adorable for me to be mad at her.

As for the dress, I've been working on the pattern. I draped a basic dress pattern and then made the design details by flat pattern-making. I'm working out the design and fit issues through a simple cotton version that's almost complete. I am so excited to start working with the lace!

You know who else can rock some red Chantilly?
That's right: Lady Gaga, Michelle Williams, and Pip.

P.S. I'll be back this weekend with a sew-along post or two!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Corsets of the 1950s

Image from Bazaar magazine, 1951
My draping teacher and I have decided to take a little detour in our studies and venture into corsetry, which is another area of her expertise. Even though I love making inner corselettes and boned dresses, it took me a little while to come around to the idea of a full-on corset, I must admit. Though their intricate construction is right up my alley, I've been so focused on mid-Century fashion and I always (wrongly) think of corsetry as purely Victorian. But my very preliminary research has unearthed some very interesting examples of 1950s corsetry.

While I plan to start out with a traditional Victorian-style overbust corset, these examples of mid-century corsetry have gotten me all excited about the possibilities! As far as I can tell, corsets of the 1950s fall into the following four categories:

1. New Look Waspies

If you've been reading this site for a while, you know I'm a huge fan of Dior's New Look (blogged here), which was introduced in 1947, and had its heyday in the 50s. The hourglass silhouette was striking: sloped shoulders, full skirts, and a teeny tiny waist. The waist was cinched with the aid of a "waspie:" a narrow underbust corset. The V&A has a couple in its collection, including this one from 1948:
2. Merry Widows

Slate just published the article "A Short History of the Corset" this week, coinciding happily with my corset research. The author includes this 1950s undergarment, writing,
The advent of new highly tensile nylon elastic nets in the 1950s brought about a revolution in underwear design and manufacture, offering powerful control without the need for much boning. It allowed underwear designers to use a lace effect not only as a decorative trim, but as the garment's primary material. This is a version of the "merry widow" corset, named for the 1952 film of the same name starring Lana Turner. The 'Merry Widow' name was registered by Warner's, which timed the launch of the range with that of the film and extensively advertised the brand from the mid-1950s to the early 1960s.
Vintage merry widows are quite beautiful to look at, but I wouldn't have previously thought of them as examples of corsetry since they don't lace up at all. Any thoughts on this, readers?

3. Girdle-Corset Hybrids

With the advent of these synthetic fabrics, girdles became the norm. But I have come across some interesting garments that appear to be mash-ups of girdles and corsets. Made of more modern power net, these foundation garments do have lacing up the back, hearkening back to corsets of yore. (They're actually still sold here, but beware: the pics are quite fetish-y.)

From the Corsetry Museum site
4. Pin-up/Burlesque

Corsets have been a fetish item for a long time! Pin-up girls and burlesque performers of the 1950s sometimes wore very traditional Victorian-style corsets. These glam get-ups were even featured in special corset-fetish girly magazines.

So that's my recent dorky foray into fashion history. I know we have a lot of corset experts in the sewing world, and I'd love to hear from you! Are my assessments correct? Does a true corset need to have laces, or would you consider a merry widow to be a corset? Also, there seems to be a return to wearing corsets as everyday undergarments. Anyone in this camp?

Also, please share any recommended reading on the subject! I'm just dipping into The Basics of Corset Building, but I can tell I'm going to be looking for some more in-depth books soon.
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