Category Archives: burrow & sing

V1462: Shirts Are Hard

Fellow sewers, do you find it weird when people compliment dresses and overlook handmade pants and buttoned shirts?

I guess dresses look more impressive, but in my experience, pants and buttoned shirts are a thousand times more challenging. More seams, more moving parts, more things to be fitted and it’s more obvious when it’s wrong.

I can whip up a t-shirt in an afternoon, a skirt in a day, a knit dress in a weekend, a woven dress in a week or two–and this shirt took over a year.

Now a lot of that is plain old procrastination, of the “this is going to take forever, I’ll just make a dress instead” kind. But a lot of it is that this is a very very involved project.

The Side

It has a lined yoke, hidden button placket, proper collar and cuffs, hem facing, and a tower sleeve placket.

I left off the pocket. You can see it is shown as loose and drapey–but not *that* loose and drapey.

Plus I also decided to make this my first-ever silk crepe de chine project, so everything is made with french seams–which means, they’re all sewn twice. And sewing marks couldn’t be made with a wheel or chalk so were instead made with tailor tacks.

The Back. You may be wondering if there are more gathers in the sleeve head than there ought to be. You would be right. Not sure what happened there.

I bought the silk, I think, two years ago. I cut out the pattern over a year ago. I spent one weekend making all the tailor tacks. Another weekend sewing together the main shirt pieces. A weekend messing up the collar. A day fixing the collar. Another weekend making and attaching the sleeves, and attaching the hem facing. A day doing the handstitching and fixing the collar (again). And then another evening finishing up the hand-sewing.

The collar still isn’t perfect–the only thing I could think of to interface it with that wouldn’t alter the colour (it’s pretty sheer) is itself, so that’s what I did, and it is a bit wobbly as a result. And the silk was very stretchy, slippery and fussy so some seams are not as neat as they could have been. But overall, I think, it’s pretty. Plus it’s red silk and such a classic style I should be able to wear it forever.

Sizing Notes and Alterations:

–I chose the size based on the bust measurement as it’s meant to be loose and drapey and will be tucked into things with a snug waist. Thus it’s a 14 all over. (Which is two sizes smaller than I’m supposed to be–I went by the finished measurements printed on the paper pattern.) It’s mostly ok. I had to add in another button on the front to keep it closed across the chest because the volume is all elsewhere, which is annoying. I’d have to think about how to fix that if I make it up again.

Still, if you are thinking of making up this pattern, you can probably size down by two and still have a loose, drapey blouse.

–I didn’t shorten the sleeves on this one. Instead, I tapered from a 14 at the shoulder to an 8 at the wrist (small bones), so that the cuff is small enough to keep the sleeve from slipping down my hand. This keeps it in the loose/drapey mold. I probably could have taken an inch off the length, though, and kept the drape.

Other than that, it is as the pattern had it, and it all worked out fine. Fussy, finicky, and forever, but fine.

Burda 6/2014 Dress 102: Works Best if You Hold Still

I’ve wanted to make this dress for ages, but could never find a fabric I thought it would work well in. It’s a regular jersey dress, yes; but the twist meant I wanted something with a bit of body that would hold the shape. Or at least, hold it longer than something soft and drapey would.

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I made up the shorter one

This is a cotton jersey from Fabricland that is just a bit stiff (and was on sale) and it seems to work fine.

Given the twist in the pattern pieces, it’s hard to measure the flat pattern to ensure the fit. I made it a 40 at the waist and 44 at the bust/hips and hoped for the best.

Construction is super simple. It’s four pieces: front, back, two sleeves. (Technically I guess it’s six since there’s a front and back facing, but those are just shorter versions of the front and back.) Because the sleeves have a twist in them, it’s important to sew them together and insert them in the round, which otherwise I wouldn’t have bothered with. Otherwise: sew the front and back together, insert the sleeves, sew the facing pieces together and attach it to the dress, clean finish the armholes, hem the bottom. Voila: dress.

The Back

Basically no fitting changes were made. I did have to take it in a bit at the sides after trying it on, but no biggie.

The bottom of the facing is just serged, and the dress hem is serged and then turned up once.

The Side

The twist does not like to stay put, so there’s a bit of wrenching it back into position while it’s being worn, particularly when say walking or dancing, or doing anything other than standing still for photos. Otherwise it looks just like the pattern photo and is a really cute take on a basic jersey sheath dress.

 

The Twist, plus a close-up of my funky oven burns.

I’d definitely make this one again. A lightweight, structured knit without a lot of drape is key to hold the twist in the waist, if you decide to make this yourself.

Burda 5/2017 Skirt 108: Nearly a Pencil Skirt

This is one of those projects where a well-timed Burda issue, a Fabricland sale and a nice fabric on the ends table combined to make a skirt project that I in no way need but will wear a lot anyway.

The Front

It’s sewn up twice in the magazine; the floral version looks pegged, and the solid version doesn’t. Go figure. But I loved the “pockets” (more on that below) and it looked work appropriate and the print is perfect for a bunch of very brightly coloured tops I have already. This is a lightweight cotton satin.

1) Size down. There’s three inches of ease in the waistband. No one needs three inches of ease in a pencil skirt waist. What were they even thinking? Even after sizing down I still took about an inch out of the waist.

2) Be extremely precise with your hem allowances. Because of the “pockets” panel, all pieces are hemmed *before* being sewn together. There was a whole lot of finishing, hemming, pinning, unpinning, rehemming, and repinning in the skirt construction for me, and even so, one of the edges doesn’t quite line up. :/

3) It’s not lined: serge, overlock, or otherwise finish the seam allowances before joining.

4) It’s not particularly pegged.

The Front again, peg-less shaping more clearly visible

Is it? The actual skirt pieces have a pegged shape, but the side seams are left open for a slit for walking and it takes the shaping right out. I took about an inch out of the bottom back seam, tapering to the hips, and it helped–these photos are post-pegging. The original was very boxy.

5) With the instructions as written, they’re not pockets, they’re “pockets”: They’re not sewn horizontally to the underlying skirt anywhere. This is easy to fix by sewing them down yourself, but it’s a weird and puzzling gap.

6) I still found it a bit loose at the waist. I took in the waist about an extra inch to get a snugger fit, which was a pain in the butt, but less so than having a loose pencil skirt.

The Back. Some weird issues at the bottom of the zipper that I’m not sure yet if I’m going to fix

7) It is very long and because you do the hemming first, it’s not possible to shorten it after you try it on.

8) Also, I misunderstood the directions with how to attach the “pocket” panel to the skirt below the first seam mark and edgestitched it. Which is fine, but apparently you’re supposed to sew the rest of it down on the *inside* edge, not the outside edge. No biggie but I’d do it the other way next time.

The Side

It’s a nice, if finicky, skirt pattern with a few interesting details that make it a bit different from a standard pencil skirt. I recommend being very careful in choosing and tracing a size due to how difficult it is to alter afterwards, and making up a first version in something less expensive to see what you think of the length. I’d probably shorten it by about six inches myself.

V8685: Summer Dancing Dress 2017 Part 1 of X

According to Vogue, I am a size 16-18. The website lists only the back length and hem width for this pattern’s finished garment measurements. What’s a sewer to do?

After long experience with Vogue et al’s ridiculous ease issues, I cut a size 14, which was still too big.

I don’t know about all of you but I’m getting really sick of Big 4 fit and ease issues. It wouldn’t be so bad if they listed meaningful finished measurements on the website (and if those measurements were always accurate–but they’re not) so you could pick a size that fits based on published information somewhere. But it’s a shot in the dark every time. The Burda mag has ease issues too, but at least with the pattern in front of me before I trace/cut I can figure out which size is actually going to fit.

Rant aside: I made it work.

The Side

It’s a knit dress with a fitted two-piece yoke, an empire waist, and two-piece raglan sleeves with length options. I made view D.


Standard fixes for me:

1. Took about 3/8″ off the shoulder seam.
2. Took in about 1/4″ on the raglan seams, front and back.
3. Took in about 1 1/2″ on the top of the zipper, and nipped in quite a bit at the waist through the back seam. If I made this one again I’ll distribute it more but after edge stitching the yoke to the top and skirt, I didn’t want to unpick to take in at the sides.
4. Shortened the back yoke at the waist too. I’d rather have taken it out of the seams at the top and the skirt but, again, edgestitching.

Next time I’d also broaden the shoulders at the sleeves and widen the bodice front a bit. I’ve got those pleats stretched out pretty far and it’s not meant to be like that.

The Back. Those lovely lines on the yoke are from the interfacing unattaching after washing. Hopefully they’ll go away when I iron them again.

I used knit interfacing on the yoke pieces and sewed them up with a regular stitch rather than stretch or serge. The last thing I wanted was for the yoke/waist to bag out and that skirt is pretty heavy. So the waist is, so far as I can make it, not stretchy. That’s making what looks like pull lines–it’s not; it’s the interfacing letting go of the fabric after washing. I ironed it back on and it was fine. There’s also clear elastic all over the place. You can see it a bit at the shoulder seams, which I’m not 100% thrilled with, but anything that keeps it from becoming a bright red garbage bag through wear gets a thumbs up from me.

I think it’s going to be a perfect summer dancing dress.


There’s been a discussion on the McCalls FB group–several, actually–about BMV sizing and ease. So a slight rant extension:

Sizing charts put me at a 16-18, as stated.

This pattern is described as close-fitting.

According to the BMV ease charts, that means 0-3″ of ease at bust and hips.

That’s the manufacturer’s sample photo, which certainly shows very minimal ease.

Only with the narrow skirt.

Knit garments often have negative ease and rely on stretch for fit.

The pattern has 1 1/2″ of ease at the waist according to the pattern tissue, which should have meant a 29 1/2″ waist on a size 14.

But when you measure the tissue and subtract the seam allowances, it’s actually 30″. So that’s 2″ of ease at the waist on a close-fitting knit dress.

This pattern has the perfect confusion storm of wearing ease, design ease, and inaccurate finished measurements combining to create a pattern where it is impossible to know from any published information which size is going to fit.

With a dress like this, 2″ of ease at the waist is going to completely destroy the fit. There shouldn’t be any ease. In order to support the pleats in the top of the garment, the yoke pieces need to sit securely on the hips. In order to hold the weight of the skirt (particularly the flared one) the waist also needs to fit snugly, or the whole thing would just stretch out into a potato sack. A ponte might–might–be able to hold the structure with 2″ of wearing ease at the waist, on one of the sheath versions. But the lightweight jerseys recommended on the pattern? Or for the flared skirts? No. The only way they would hold the shape of the dress is if the yoke and waistband pieces are snug enough to rest the structure of the dress on the hips, and not just hang from the shoulders.

If I had cut the size 16 that I am supposed to be and sewn it up, it would have been a waste of my time and the fabric.

BMV, fix your damned issues, and stop gaslighting your customers. You have  a sizing/ease problem. The only people who don’t see it have somehow convinced themselves that making a muslin first for every freaking pattern is a necessary state of affairs. God help me if I always started with the size you told me I’m supposed to be; nothing would ever fit.

Embroidery is Cool Again, Historical Part 1 of Whatever

Mexico at the Royal Ontario Museum

Back in 2015 I visited the ROM for the Viva Mexico exhibit on Mexican textiles, clothing and embroidery. I took a ton of pictures, hoping that I would have a good use for them one day–and that day is today!

Most of the pictures are my own; I’ve taken a few from elsewhere where necessary and will credit when that’s the case.

Image result for rom viva mexico
Like this one, which clearly is not mine. It’s from the ROM

Everything at this exhibit was created by regular people in out-of-the-way places. Everything was made by hand; some garments were traditional and some more modern. But all were beautifully embroidered and embellished. Professional embroiderers were commissioned for many (maybe all) of them, but in this case “professional embroiderers”  means “local nameless expert,” not “D&G” or “Alexander McQueen”–but they’re all producing work at that level.

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Satin stitch, with beautiful sharp borders and gorgeous shading. The shading, however, isn’t particularly blended; there are borders between shades.

And then they wore it. Imagine spilling dinner on it.

From this article. Both dresses were commissioned. There are a lot of construction similarities between these dresses and the above, including bands of unadorned black cloth to show off the embroidered panels, similar colour schemes, stitching styles, and attached wide lace bands at the bottom.

 

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This is apparently a huipil. Apparently traditionally they were construction from single pieces of intricately handwoven cloths, either gathered or sewn up the sides and with holes left for the head and arms.

This one has more long-and-short stitch, used to effect a more gradual transition between colours. But look at those borders. And see too how, even though the fabric is very sheer, you can’t see any threads or knots from behind.

The whitework is stunning too. Those flowers are perfectly regular.

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A detail from the neckline. Some of the tendrils look to have been done with a stem or back stitch.

The leaves have a naturalistic border, while the flowers have dark outlines, further highlighted by bright light colours immediately adjacent. It makes them slightly more graphic, but still the overall effect is of “beautiful shiny bright flowers” not “hand-stitched.”

The knots are most likely buried within the stitching on the reverse to ensure nothing shows on the right side.

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I believe this is also a huipil.

Right?

On the garment as a whole:

The hem is plain. All of the attention is drawn to the top half.

The embroidered motif in the centre is quite stiff, and that pushes the lightweight fabric out to either side.

There is a nearly-but-not-quite-symmetric pansy motif (in particular, colours change between sides while shapes remain the same). There’s a lot of little birds, and a few non-pansy flowers.

Look how flat and smooth it all is. From this distance, the main stitch is a satin or long-and-short stitch.

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A little closer.

At the top of the smocked/gathered panel in the middle, human figures are stitched in a band. They’re all wearing slightly different outfits.

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And a close-up:

The shading between colours on petals and leaves is flawless. You have stem stitches and french knots for stamens and buds.

Someone made this by hand. Isn’t it incredible?And then they wore it.

The garment’s outer edge looks, to my eye, to be a crocheted border embroidered with a buttonhole stitch in bright blue. It gives that frilly, scalloped look you see in the first two photos.

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This one is cross stitched. I bet you could wear your eyes out looking for a single stitch that is less than perfectly square.

It’s less naturalistic and more geometric, because that’s what cross stitch does best; but the overall colour scheme is much the same and you still have repeating motifs of flowers, leaves and birds.

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Another garment with perfectly even cross stitches, again with flowers and leaves. This one is more naturalistic than the first one. The ribbons around the neckline are pleated and the three embroidered sections appear to me to be joined by the pink ribbon. It’s not quite symmetric; the motifs on the left and right haven’t been mirrored, for one thing; and for another, the colour of some elements is changed.

My guess is that this was done without the aid of waste canvas.

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More pleating and smocking between embellished panels, but this one has been beaded. The beads are applied in a line, creating an illustrated effect.

Again you’ve got flowers, leaves and birds.

In the middle the words “libertad” has been embroidered into the sun, so I guess this is an early example of political clothing.

The centre panel has been completed with more of a bead-weaving style, where the shapes are filled in.

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It’s hard to make beads behave as regularly and predictably as thread, as you can see here; but also when you zoom in, you can see that some of the wonkiness in the line is because the beading is used to embellish smocked sections.

I think this also helps to illustrated different looks created by outlining a shape, filling it in, or outlining and filling it in. Outlined shapes have more weight, particularly if a dark outline is immediately adjacent to a bright or light area. toronto-55-18

A Brief Mention of Cultural Appropriation

A) I’m not an expert.

B) It seems fairly obvious nonetheless that borrowing cool elements of an embroidery heritage with historical, political, religious, cultural and ethnic significance can be, at the very least, tacky. So I can’t quite recommend that you go out and make yourself a huipil.

C) That said, flowers, birds, and repeating motifs are hardly unique to Mexico, and embroidered tunics are not a North American innovation. Just exercise some common sense and don’t be an asshole.

General

You can’t go wrong with a brightly coloured floral.

Packing the motifs in and covering the textile is very visually effective. It will also take forever.

Keeping motifs in a similar scale works well, even if it’s not quite realistic (such as the small birds in amongst the flowers).

Beads like to be wonky. You can make them less wonky if you are exceptionally careful and outline larger shapes.

Cross stitches, when used to create pictures or motifs, should be as square, even and regular as you are capable of making them.

Satin stitches should be shiny and smooth with even borders. They should follow the shape so that they can reflect the light well.

Embroidery makes fabric stiff, particularly when it’s dense, and the embroidered fabric will hang differently.


If you wanted to recreate something similar as a beginner, I’d choose an opaque, medium-weight, white cotton like muslin or poplin, stabilized with maybe more muslin or poplin behind, with a medium-sized floral motif in either cross-stitch or long-and-short stitch. Cross stitch will be easier to do well with a larger stitch size, in the 11 ct range, using 3 or 4 strands of cotton floss. Long-and-short stitch is normally done with one strand of floss or thread at a time, but you could use two to save a bit of time, particularly for larger motifs. To make a nice clean border, particularly if you’re not sure about being able to make even satin or long-and-short stitches, use a buttonhole or chain stitch around the edge. Buttonhole will blend easier with the long-and-short if that’s the way you go, but inevitably it means the border colour will be blended into the motif.

If you are, as I am, a person with a job and responsibilities and the desire to spend free time doing something other than embroidering one garment and also a desire to finish and wear the garment before it goes out of date, I’d also recommend embroidering a small part of a garment: a collar, cuff, neckband, button band, part of a yoke, waistband, pocket.

The needle painted butterflies for this bookmark project took me an hour or slightly more each, and they are just about one inch square. Just to give you an idea of how much time to allocate to a smallish motif–plan on an hour, especially if you’re just getting started.

M7160: OOP, Of Course

Rayon jersey purchased for something like $4/m to test this super simple knit dress with a full circle skirt and pockets. I don’t think the pattern is that old but for whatever reason it must not have been super popular, because it’s already out of print. (They’re still available as I write this, though.)

The Front. What in god’s name is going on with my face?

That’s unfortunate. It’s as easy to make as a Moneta but it has a lot of advantages:

1. Two-piece bodice front, making it easier to fit, and giving options for directions on printed fabrics.
2. Either a traditional circle skirt, or a pieced circle skirt if you want to play with pattern direction.
3. So no gathers on the skirt, which makes for a nicer waistline and still a lot of volume.
4. V neck
5. More sleeve options, and a belt.

The Back. Also: yes, the hem is uneven. I let it hang for a week before hemming it but that apparently wasn’t long enough. I’ll rehem soon

Big 4 fitting issues aside (!!!), it is a super easy pattern. I had to shorten the bodice some and take in the seams (of course), and there are two separate kinds of elastic preventing the waist from stretching out (the skirt weighs a ton), but otherwise it is super cute and very, very swirly.

The Side

My version is View A, and besides the colour, it looks pretty much like the dress on the envelope.

Cutting is a bit fidgety due to the bias options but I found it worth the time. If you’re looking for a less-expensive Moneta-alternative and like the idea of playing with the direction of prints, this is a good one, so long as you can handle the inevitable Big 4 sizing frustrations.

I made a Cambie, but I had a good reason

I loved La La Land. Yes it was silly and frivolous and presented a LA that doesn’t really exist particularly racially and hired actors who are neither professional singers nor dancers for roles that required a lot of singing and dancing and basically was another Hollywood-loves-to-make-movies-glorifying-Hollywood movie. You know what? I don’t care. Or I care, a little bit, but not enough not to love La La Land.

Partly it was just so much fun. I loved the dancing. No surprise. I also loved the dresses. La La Land had my platonic ideal of dancing dresses. Just look at the colours!

Now. Emma Stone is lovely but in build we are nothing alike. I could probably fit two of her in me and have room to spare, for one thing; for another, there is a conspicuous absence of space for bra straps in these lovely dresses, and that is a distinct dancing dress no-no for me. So while I loved the dresses I knew that most of them would be best loved from a “they look fantastic! … on you” vantage point.

But the yellow dress.

The yellow La La Land dress I have to try to make.

(For the rest, I will be content with stealing the colour scheme.)

I could not find any pattern with all the features:

1. Square neckline front and back
2. Sleeves join to neckline front and back; slight cut-on cap/flutter shape
3. Gathers into waistband
4. Waistband (as opposed to skirt and bodice directly joining)
5. 3/4 or full circle skirt

There were a ton of posts a few months back about how to make the La La Land dresses, but none of the patterns were really a good match. The skirt’s not a challenge–I can draft that; a pattern’s not needed–but the bodice is, and the Cambie looked like it would provide the best starting point, with the front sleeve construction and the waistband. Once I got the bodice to fit, altering the sleeves and changing the sweetheart to a square neckline would be no big deal.

Cambie Dress by Sewaholic Patterns, Line Drawings of View A & B

But getting a bodice meant for pear shapes to fit me is itself not a no-big-deal. So I am, slightly, eating my words on giving up on Sewaholic patterns. It was the Cambie or start from scratch, really.

So step one–look at that Dear Readers, an excessive prologue to a post about a dress that is itself a prologue–was to just make a straight-up Cambie with known alterations to the bodice, and tweak the fit.

This is a cotton voile floral from Fabricland, bought on sale, lined with a white cotton voile from Fabricland, also bought on sale. Altogether the dress probably weighs about 3 oz, the fabric is so light; it’s going to be perfect on those summer days when it’s scorching and muggy and anything feels like it’s too heavy to wear.

The Back

Alterations and tweaks:

1. 3″ FBA to the size 8, traced to a new sheet so I wouldn’t butcher the original
2. 1/4″ removed from the shoulder seam, front and back
3. Front neckline raised about 1/4″ at the join with the sleeve
4. Sleeve shortened about 1/2″ inch at the join with the bodice
5. Added about 1″ to and changed the shape of the top of the pocket pattern piece so I could sew it to the waistband and provide better support on the inside. It helped, but it’s not super relevant to the eventual La La Land dress.
6. Originally nervous about the waist measurement of the size 8 so cut a size 10 in the back to give me fudge space. Took out the fudge space, and an additional 1″ on either side of the zipper near the neckline.

The Side

And then once the dress was assembled, moved the front waist dart on the bodice pattern piece about 1″ closer to the centre.

I love it. I think the main alteration for the La La Land dress is really just going to be the back. I’ll use the sleeve lining piece for the sleeves, extend it a bit, double it up for the back, and then lower the back neckline and square it off. Straighten off the sweetheart neckline in the front and–voila. La Land Dress bodice ready to go.

Embroidery is Cool Again

But only if it’s on clothes. I think? Are my wall hangings and cushions cool yet? I didn’t think so.

This is a brain dump for those of you who might want to try hand embroidery on your handmade (or storebought, I suppose) clothes: a few tips, some ideas, and resources for inspiration and instructions.

Tl/dr–because oh my god Dear Readers I may have said I have a “few tips” but this is a really long post–if you don’t have time to read the whole thing now, and I don’t blame you, but you are interested in embroidered clothes, scroll all the way down to the bottom, read the last paragraph, and let me know what you think.

START SMALL

I mean, it’s not a requirement, no. But just as you probably would not start sewing your own clothes with a wedding dress or a tailored suit, you are best off to start embroidering a simple project. That doesn’t mean that the embroidery has to be simple necessarily (more on that below) but that the overall project doesn’t require a lot of assembly time. It’s awful to spend 15 hours assembling a dress and 40 hours embellishing it and then have it all go to waste because the embellishment didn’t turn out well enough. So, some ideas of small ways to incorporate embroidered embellishments into wearables that are low-effort and often reversible:

1. Buttons. Self-covered buttons are perfect for embroidery. Keep the thickness of the fabric in mind and for a thin or delicate textile, you will still need to stabilize (see below).

pretty cross stitch rose buttons:
Pedagogical note: Those stitches are perfectly square and even. The threads completely cover the canvas. All the stitches are formed in the same direction. This is your goal with cross-stitch.

2. Wearable hoops (wood or metal). Turn them into necklaces. I prefer the look of the metal ones but both are super cute.

3. Perforated goods. Perforated iphone cases for embroidery; perforated wooden charms for jewelry; perforated paper or plastic for bookmarks or decorations. And of course with paper or cardstock, you can just perforate it yourself and stitch away.

Rilke bookmark. Involved some small motifs taken from books, traced to book page, pattern pre-perforated along with the text, then stitched with mostly straight stitches and a few french knots.

If a needle can go through it, you can embroider it: even wood or metal if you have a drill with a small bit and a very steady hand. People have embroidered chicken wire and window screening, but unless it’s going to be inside that seems a lot of effort for something that will fall apart quickly.

4. Pouches. Make a small zippered pouch and embroider a piece of it. Small, quick, and if you don’t like it, chances are it’s being carried inside something else anyway.

Mexican Embroidered Pouch Lapicero by EricaMaree on Etsy:
Not mine. But super super cute.

5. Purses. You can have a lot of fun trying large, colourful, experimental embroidery techniques on a project that doesn’t take long to put together, is super practical, very pretty, and unlike embroidered clothes is rarely ever going to be completely out of style. The embroidered project I get the most use out of is still the shoulder bag I made years and years ago. And it still gets compliments.

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6. Small non-wearables: bookmarks. Eyemasks. Pictures for framing. Cushions. Holiday decorations. Pincushions. Needlebooks. Wallets.

HOW TO

1. Stabilize. Stabilize stabilize stabilize. (Stabilizers are interfacings applied to the back of non-embroidery fabrics to make them suitable for embroidery.) Your garment fabrics are not stiff enough or strong enough to support hand stitching. If you stitch directly on the garment fabric without stabilizing, it will warp and ripple. You can use a permanent, tear-away or soluble stabilizer, depending on how the finished garment will hang, but for the love of god: stabilize. (If you look inside storebought embroidered clothes you will often still see the stabilizer in place.)

Also: the design should work in concert with both the weight and the density of the textile being embroidered. Something light or gauzy or with a loose weave should have light, loose stitches. A densely packed or highly detailed pattern will work best on a densely woven fabric with some body: dense linen, muslin, poplin, crepe, and so on. Stabilizers can only do so much and they won’t transform a lightweight material into something suitable for a very heavy stitch. Whitework can be an exception to this, but it’s a lot more delicate than it looks and is hard to execute on a lightweight fabric.

2. Fibres: The most common type of embroidery floss is stranded cotton. Cotton is great; but cotton can shrink. Don’t pull your stitches too tight. Sometimes, the colours bleed. I recommend doing a test swatch with your garment fabric, a stabilizer, and a few stitches of the kind you are planning, thrown in the wash and then dried on hot to see if the floss bleeds or the stitches contract. Also applies to wool and silk fibres (wool won’t come in strandable flosses, but silk does).

There are synthetic fibres that won’t shrink, but they are shinier and/or sparklier than the natural fibres, so it will make for a different look. Most machine embroidery threads, both to buy and on embroidered storebought clothes, will be poly or rayon.

A standard craft store will typically carry only cotton stranded floss, and maybe perle cotton. If you want to branch out, go online or find a specialty embroidery or cross stitch store. There’s one in Port Credit I love for anyone in the GTA. If you google embroidery store, you will probably find businesses that provide machine embroidery services, so try “cross stitch store,” “needlework store,” or “petit point store.”

One last note of warning is that the chemicals used to treat leather and suede will degrade natural fibres, so if you’re going to embroider on hides, use synthetics.

3. Weights: Embroidery threads can be super super fine or very heavy. Also, there’s no need to restrict yourself to threads sold in the embroidery aisle. On a heavy fabric, try knitting yarn (I used yarn on that shoulder bag) or crochet thread. Do a woven rose with lace trim, or use a narrow lace in a running stitch or french knot. Thread painting is often done with sewing thread. Ribbons make gorgeous flowers, but you don’t have to use them for that. Use whatever you have that you can hook through a needle and pull through a textile.

4. Embellishments: Beads, sequins, goldwork–all good. Stabilizers will be even more important because embellishments are heavy. They will also alter the weight, and therefore the drape or line, of the finished garment. Just something to keep in mind.

18th century goldwork embroidery from south Germany. There are a variety of forms of metal here - sequins, plate, silver gilt thread and purl.:
From a post about 18th century goldwork on dresses. I don’t even want to think about how much that dress would have weighed. Pedagogical note: Perfectly symmetrical. Beautiful shading and blending between colours. Also expensive–a lot of this would be actual gold.

5. Knots: Knots should never be visible from the front side of a garment. This includes a knot that presses or pushes through to form a visible lump on the right side. Make Pretty Knots. Waste knots are a good way to start. If you want to tie regular knots, make them small, as close to the fabric as possible, and positioned well within the design area.

6. HOOPS: Just as important as stabilizers. If you don’t have a good firm tension on the textile surface, it will ripple and warp and you will have puckers and dents in your finished garment. You can use a standard embroidery hoop (the cheapest and easiest to find) or a scroll frame (harder to find but easier to use, and no hoop rings when you’re done).

IF YOU ARE EMBROIDERING PALE FABRIC: Your hands will leave stains on the fabric. Doesn’t matter how often you wash them. Put a strip of a very lightweight fabric or tissue paper between the fabric and the hoop/frame so that only the area to be embroidered is visible. Keep the fabric covered between embroidering sessions.

Your goal with a hoop is to have the entire embroidered area visible as you work. You can move the hoop, of course, but it will warp the fabric and any stitches you’ve already done, so try to avoid that if you can.

If you are embroidering a piece too small to be held properly in a hoop and that is going to be attached to a garment (pocket, yoke, collar, etc.), you have two options:

a) embroider it before you cut out the pattern piece, so that you have a large piece of fabric to securely attach in the hoop/frame
b) cut out the pattern piece, MARK THE SEAMLINES IN ADVANCE, baste it nice and taut to a larger piece of fabric that can fit in the hoop/frame securely. In this case the fabric it has been basted to will be the stabilizer and will remain a part of the fabric, so be careful in case your main fabric is sheer or light and the stabilizing fabric shows through.

7. Stitches: There are thousands of different kinds of embroidery stitches. You are limited only by what you yourself can produce with consistent size and tension on the fabric and project you’re working on. A beautifully consistent running stitch or cross stitch will be a thousand times prettier and more professional than the fanciest needlelace produced with inconsistent spacing and tension.

Stitches will leave permanent marks if removed, particularly on a good dense fabric (or hide), so consider from the outset if you are likely to get tired of the design and want to tear it out. Simpler larger stitches will leave fewer marks and be easier to remove if in the future you want to.

8. Use more than just thread: Multimedia works beautifully with embroidery. Some things to consider include fabric paints, dyes, screen printing, markers, pencil crayons, regular crayons (test first for running but usually it’s fine), and needle felting (yes on clothes–this will work best on wools and other feltable fabrics).

This gorgeous painting/embroidery combo isn’t on a piece of clothing–but it could be. And Missoni in 2011 did some beautiful multimedia embellishments on their collection:

9. Designs and transferring them:

You can buy an iron-on transfer or other design. (Sublime Stitching, Aimee Ray/Doodle Stitching, Mary Corbet (free), Trish Burr, Berlin Embroidery, Polka & Bloom — just to get you all started.)

poetry month-3-1
I made a needlebook out of a Sublime Stitching Pattern with a Sara Teasdale poem–another thing that gets a lot of use, and didn’t take too long. Pedagogical note: this uses heavy chain stitches, stem stitches, straight stitches, back stitches, and french knots on the border.

You can copy or trace one from a book or magazine. Sublime Stitching sells some nice pens and markers for making or tracing iron-on transfer patterns.

You can draw your own.

You can use simple designs that don’t need transfers, like a running stitch. In which case marking the stitch length and/or separation distance on a finger is the easiest way to produce consistent results.

You can trace the pattern or design directly to the fabric using a pencil, vanishing pen or a fine-tip sharpie/marker. Whatever you choose should be a fine enough line to be completely covered by your chosen thread.

You can use freezer paper or tracing paper, adhered or basted to the fabric, and sewn directly through.

IDEAS & INSPIRATION

A lot of the couture houses still do hand-embroidery as a staple part of their collections. To my mind Dolce and Gabbana and Chanel do it best, and I have stacks and stacks of pictures of their clothes torn from magazines for inspiration. But Google is your friend, too, if you just want to wander around and fall into a rabbit hole of pretty hand embroidered clothes. What they do–be warned–is not easy or quick. You’re probably talking a minimum of 40 hours just on the embroidery for any one of their garments, which is why they charge $10k for a dress.

Impressive collection of Dolce and gabbana dresses (4)

D&G is my favourite. It would take me a year just to make one of their dresses–but holy cow. Those flowers are thread-paintings–and enormous, so probably a hundred hours or so each.

Vogue and Elle (and sometimes Bazaar) are the best sources for embroidered clothing pictures. In the meantime, some Ways You Can Use Embroidery on Clothing Textiles:

1. Create a design on a solid fabric. This is the one people tend to think of first. Think placement. If you look at the fancy-pants embroidered clothes, you’ll notice the designs are hardly ever centred, and they usually are on the bodice, near the neckline and/or waist. Embroidery draws attention, so think of embellishment as you would a necklace, belt, etc.

Here’s an example from a pair of denim shorts I made a few years ago:

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I can’t remember where I pulled the pattern from, but this has french knots, chain stitches, satin stitches, fern stitches and stem stitches, worked in crewel wool, glittery synthetic floss, and perle cotton.

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I guess in this case I was thinking less “necklace or belt” and more “look at my butt.” But the embroidery is cute.

2. Complement or extend a design on a printed fabric. Outline a motif; add shading; fill something in; extend a flower with a bud. Put a bead or sequin in a flower centre. Thread paint over an existing printed element using the same colours for added texture.

Embroidery over print:
This one is not mine. Vogue Magazine is as close as I can get to its origins. Pedagogical note: The spacing between the stitches and beads is perfectly consistent. Look how smooth and even the fabric is around the beads–there is no pulling or warping at all.

3. Subvert a printed fabric. Put a spider or a fly near the flowers. Add a conversation bubble to a print with people on it, or change their clothes. Or give them little horns, or wings.

4. Completely overlay a printed fabric. Add words. Make a completely different kind of motif and just treat the existing pattern as a background: tattoo motif on a pretty floral. Pretty floral on an abstract or geometric print. Slogan on something retro or fussy.

5. Use blackwork stitches to provide a textured filling for an existing shape.

If it was good enough for Queen Elizabeth, it’s good enough for you

6. Use a running stitch for edge or top stitching. (Or another simple repeated stitch.) I did this on a shirt.

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7. Whitework to add tone-on-tone texture to a solid or muted print

Just like Jane Austen. Pedagogical moment: No visible knots. No pulling or warping–the fabric hangs perfectly straight despite the stitches. There are no borders or outlines, and yet the edges of the shapes are perfectly straight and even. You can’t see any knots; they will all be hidden within the stitching on the back, which I’d bet good money looks as good on the reverse as on the front. And check out that hem.

(Neither whitework nor blackwork need to be done with white or black threads; use a colour that suits the textile and project.)

8. Stitch a cross-stitch design on a gingham or other regular check pattern

Vintage 1950s Dress / 50s Pink Gingham Dress / 50s Pink Gingham Dress With Blue Embroidered Cross Stitch Star Design - S, M
On Etsy. Pedagogical moment: It is even more important to be perfectly even and consistent with a cross stitch on a non-evenweave/aida fabric. Look how even and straight the borders of the embroidered sections are. 

9. A fancy line-stitch along a seamline, like a fly stitch. Or along a pin-tuck or pleat. One caveat: if you have a lot of pin-tucks or pleats, take extra care to keep your stitches the same so they all start and end the same, and at the same points.

Top-left corner. Pictures from Inspirations Magazine, discussed below

10. Use waste canvas for any canvas stitching. Most common is cross-stitch but there’s lots of other options.

11. Insertion stitches to join two pieces together instead of a regular seam. Just remember that the insertion stitch is see-through. I did this with the borner on a Deer and Doe Chardon skirt last year.

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Please ignore the wrinkles: it’s linen, and it’s photo processing.

12. Pulled-thread embroidery to add texture and emphasis; again, it will be partially see-through.

13. Smocking instead of shirring.

14. Stumpwork for raised elements.

This is from a doll’s dress, and thank goodness, but you can see how it would work

RESOURCES

Books

Mastering the Art of Embroidery: eye candy and lots of different kinds of embroidery covered

Embroidery Stitch Bible: good visual resource of lots of different kinds of stitches with good descriptions and step-by-step photos

18th Century Embroidery Techniques: So many beautiful examples of embroidered clothing, along with pattern sketches and how they were done

Bags in Bloom: Great, simple purse patterns with nice and fairly easy to execute embroidery patterns for them. I’ve made a few and I still love and use them. If you like the embroidery patterns but would prefer a more complex bag, it’s easy enough to put the embroidery on any bag pattern you like.

Anything put out by the Royal School of Needlework

You can see my embroidery shelf on GoodReads here.

Magazines

Inspirations: Best embroidery magazine anywhere. Not a lot of clothing projects, but most of the ideas are transferable. They do have a lot of small projects like pincushions, pouches, needlebooks, and so on, that are a good way to practice stitching skills and make something practical, and a few times a year will carry a beautiful purse pattern.

Cross Stitcher: British cross-stitch magazine with lots of cute and modern project and pattern ideas. Of course, it’s all cross stitch, but they do it well.

There are no good embroidery magazines in North America. I don’t know why. South Africa, Australia and the UK seem to be where most of the really good publications and artists are based.

Websites and Blogs:

Mary Corbet (a bit of everything, and all done well)

Trish Burr (Thread painting. I love her birds.)

Feeling Stitchy (every Friday they feature an embroidery artist on instagram, which is how I found most of the ones I follow)

The Rebellious Needlewoman/Hazel Blomkamp

Instagram:

Jenny Hart & Sublime Stitching (first for her own art embroidery & second related to her store. She uses very few stitch types but shows just how effective that kind of simplicity can be.)

Sam Owen Hull (Fantastic, colourful and original mixed media)

Stray From the Line

Baobap (She makes the best buttons)

Heart of the Heart Embroidery

Forest Chorus (Her stitches are just perfect)

Marg Dier(I am so envious of her jewelry findings)

Victoria Matthewson (She bases her thread paintings on her nature photos and they are unbelievable)

Royal School of Needlework


So hey. This was an enormous pile of information. I hope it was of some use to those of you who are thinking about adding decorative hand stitching to clothes.

There’s a similar learning curve to embroidery as there is to garment sewing, and you’ll likely find as you go that projects that look amazing to you now look pretty handmade in a year or two.  Just like with handmade clothes, that’s not necessarily a problem, and no one who doesn’t sew or embroider is likely to notice.

The big difference is this: embroidery takes a lot more time than sewing.

Like an order of magnitude more time.

It’s a good idea to consider the time investment relative to your skill level when thinking about embroidering a piece of clothing. When you make a dress that took fifteen hours and in two years you realize that the seams are wonky and the hem’s crooked, it kind of sucks, but it only took fifteen hours. When you make a dress that takes fifteen hours to put together and then embroider it with a fancy design that takes forty hours, that’s now a total of 55 hours for a dress, and if you decide in two years that the dress is fine but the embroidery is amateurish–that lost time investment is going to smart more. It’ll be easier to swallow if the embroidery only took three hours because you kept it simple, or if the garment was fairly basic and didn’t take long to assemble.

That said, you should totally do it. Embroidered clothing is still better. Just recognize that you’re at the begging of a learning process similar to but much more complicated than the learning process involved in sewing your own clothes.

If I have the time and attention span, I might write a few posts in the next little while looking at an embroidered garment (couture or historical or whatever) and talking about what kind of embroidery it is, what you can figure out by looking at it, how it was done, and so on. What do you think? Is that something you’d like to read?

Burda 11/2016 Skirt 102: Identity Crisis Version

You’d never know from reading here, but I’ve never had an extravagant wardrobe.

Ok, enough, pick yourselves off the floor and stop laughing already. I’m serious.

All four seasons of clothes have always fit in one small closet and a dresser. I bought my first-ever raincoat and pair of rain boots in my thirties. I bought my wedding dress for $200 off the rack at a mall–it was blue. (It’s amazing how cheap nice dresses can be when they’re not white.) There was nothing in my earlier life to predict that this blog subject would ever be something I would consider, even blind drunk and high on cocaine.

(Note: I’ve never been drunk or done any drugs harder than caffeine. Just in case you thought I spoke from any personal experience.)

So it is with some chagrin, served up with a side of identity crisis, that I report that as of finishing this skirt … I need to buy a new skirt hanger. Because otherwise I can’t hang it.

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Worse: I made another one just like it. Well, except in a different colour.

What have I become?

This is a silk/wool plaid end I bought years and years ago at the Creativ Festival, 2m for something like $20. I made the meringue skirt from the Colette sewing book and regretted it: it was too big, wouldn’t stay in place, and the scallops didn’t look right with the fabric. Eventually I gave it away. But I kept looking at the scraps and thinking, I bet there’s enough to make a skirt here.

I was right!

Of course, it’s short. I was able to cut everything out on grain but there wasn’t enough to ensure pattern matching; three of the four main seams worked but the big piece on the front could not be cut out any way other than what it was, so:

The Side that doesn't match
The Side that doesn’t match

The flounces are curvy pieces so while the centre is on-grain, the sides are on the bias, and there’s no sense even trying to pattern match those. But the back and the right side worked out:

Pattern matching across the zipper: not too bad!
Pattern matching across the zipper: not too bad!
The Other Side, Which Matches
The Other Side, Which Matches

The flounce is super cute. I just serged the bottom edge with matching threads and it worked fine.

The skirt is lined inside to just above the flounce.

It’s a cute pattern that works well and goes together fairly easily, even with the flounce. The flounce gives it a bit of an a-line-with-edge vibe.

…so of course I had to make it again.

The Front/Side/Flounce

It’s a new thing I’m trying. I have this habit of seeing a pattern I like and telling myself, “It’s cute. I’ll make it up out of these scraps and see what I think.” And then never getting around to making a ‘good’ version out of not-scraps. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with having clothes made out of scraps, if they turn out well; they’re essentially free clothes if you discount the time value. But it would be nice to take those patterns I worked to fit so nicely and use them on not-scraps more often. Which is how I ended up with two keyhole dresses, two winged skirts, and now two flounce skirts.

This one in a royal blue/purple wool crepe.

The Back

It was distinctly not free. The wool was about $30/yard. The lining, though, was the remainders from the lining for the leather and suede skirts, so free. And I already had the zipper. So about $45 for a wool skirt that fits. Plus that colour makes me happy.

My father’s wife always had a fantastic style sense. She spent a lot of money on her clothes, which took up the walk-in closet in the master bedroom, the closet in the guest room, and a couple of racks in the basement. More power to her, but when my winter boots got holes in the bottom or the lining fell out of my winter coat, she’d refuse to replace or even repair them. Sometimes for Christmas or my birthday I’d get some really nice clothes, and there was usually a back-to-school shopping trip, and that would be it. This meant I could, most years, dress ok for fall through spring assuming everything held up, but for summer I had to be creative. And then she seemed to decide that I was her physical clone and started buying me clothes and shoes–in her size. We are not the same size. I’d have skirts that hung off my hips, shirts that fell off my shoulders. It was all very, very odd. In any case, I got used to having an eccentric wardrobe that didn’t take up a lot of space.

The Side

And now I am in the position of having to buy a second skirt hanger for the first time actually in my entire life. Or I suppose I could ship off an old skirt to a happier home.

I guess I’m still doing the eccentric part all right, though.

I have no idea where this came from. But here it is. If I ever start talking about buying racks for the basement for extra clothes, please someone shake sense into me.

(Brace yourself: there’s a dress pattern based off the skirt pattern and of course I have to make that up too.) (HELP)

Burda 10/2016 Dress 104: Thanks, it has pockets!

I’m trying to remember when sewing changed from being a way to make myself and Frances clothes that were practical, comfortable and fit properly, and became a way instead for me to figure out how a dress like this gets put together.

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PEPLUM POCKETS! Genius. Functional and decorative at the same time. No seamlines to break up a cool print.

Pockets! No face though.
Pockets! No face though.

You know–or if you’re on FaceBook at any rate you should know–what a very big deal pockets are in skirts and dresses.

pgt4bmg

This is a mid-weight rayon with a herringbone weave that is only visible if you get really really close.  It came from Marina’s fabrics on Ottawa Street and was, I think, about $8/m. So plus the lining (bemberg) and the zipper, this might be a $25 or $30 dress. It’s very soft and super ravelly. The bodice is lined, but the skirt is not, so those edges were overlocked.

"Oh, right. I should look at the camera."
“Oh, right. I should look at the camera.”

Of course, it was the print I couldn’t say no to. And in a rare burst of thematic inspiration, given the colour scheme, I even finished it up early February so I could wear it on Valentine’s Day. This will probably never happen again.

The Back. Remarkably dress-like
The Back. Remarkably dress-like

First crack at the bodice was quite loose so I snugged it in by about 1 1/2″ at the waist, and of course the sleeves had to be shortened as always. Then once it was sewn up, the bodice was still too loose to be smooth, so I unstitched, re-pinned and restitched. I can’t even tell you how many times I have sewn the bodice lining to the waist seam at this point. It’s still not as smooth as shown in the magazine photo, but I’m happy with it now. I think part of the problem is just the weight of all the folds at the front pulling down the front waistband seam.

Close-up of the waistband, pleats on the skirt, and those wonderful pockets.
Close-up of the waistband, pleats on the skirt, and those wonderful pockets.

Other than that, this is the dress as the pattern has it; it works and sews up perfectly, and the pockets make me positively giddy. They’re perfectly functional for anything you might think of putting in a skirt pocket–small wallet, lipstick, keys, phone, would all fit and not alter the line of the dress. It’s great for an office environment and yet manages to have some personality. There was no universe in which I actually needed this dress, but I’m pretty happy to have it.