Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Guipure dress: step-by-step plan

Today, I finished a short shift at the Leventis Museum, researching the garments they have in their collection. I managed to examine four dresses - all custom-made - and what wonderful dressmaking it was. I'd really rather write about it now, but I got to finish my guipure dress by Friday. 

I am sharing here a step-by-step work plan - it helps me focus and gives me a rough time estimate. Maybe it will also convince you to never make a strapless garment with a corselet foundation. After all, the preceding work took me about thirty hours. I am not counting the first failed foundation (failed because of the wrong fabric choice). By accident, I bought cotton with cross grain stretch. I tried to rescue the corselet by cutting one layer on straight grain, and another on crossgrain, but it didn't work very well. At the end, I decided that having paid a little fortune for the guipure lace, I should make an effort and sew a new corselet... The plan!


I will start by finishing the corselet: the only thing missing is a waist stay, which will be attached by hand. 

This type of inner foundation is necessary for this dress since it doesn't have a waistline seam to support boning. The corselet is tighter and more fitted that the dress itself, allowing it to hang freely. 

The corselet is sewn using two layers of woven cotton. The boning channels are stitched through both layers. Cotton edges at the bottom are hand overcast, and the hem lace provides neat and less bulky finish. 


The outer layer is practically finished: the shell was fitted, seams stitched, guipure was hand-basted to the two layers of charmeuse and muslin. Now I only need to close the gaps along the centre back seam by carefully appliqué of the quipure lace.


As next I need to cut and sew the lining, which I will cut using the original fitted toile pieces. 


Once all the layers are done, they need to be connected. Lining and the corselet and basted together at the top edge and then sewn to the outer shell. The last step is best done with a zipper foot to avoid hitting the boning.  Seam allowances are trimmed, graded and clipped. 

The top edge is understitched by hand 1/2" from the edge. 

The lining is fell-stitched to the zipper tape.


Finally, the lining needs to be stitched to the dress hem and the hem slit needs to be tacked so it doesn't accidentally rip apart.

Writing the plan, while helpful, gives me wrong feeling of accomplishment now. I should go start the real sewing now. Thanks for keeping up with it )

Do you use brief step-by step plans for your sewing projects?

Monday, June 29, 2015

Blog, interrupted

Almost a four-month blog break, and I am in need of a twelve-step blog recovery programme.

The main reason is that I had to undergo a surgery in April. All is well now, yet, three months later and about 12 pounds thinner, I am crying out for a whole new wardrobe. The only thing I managed to finish is my Chantilly lace skirt. Which puts me on the accelerated path of making a few garments to enjoy what's left of summer in style. 

In the next couple of weeks I would like to make two dresses. One of those, a strapless guipure dress was started about five years ago in Susan Khalje's couture class, but never completed because I gained weight and could not get it on despite some most desperate and embarrassing physical efforts. Now it fits again, and I MUST finish it by Friday for a party.

Current state of the guipure dress!

The recovery period, however, was great for completing my bead embroidery odyssey and now I have all the stitches ready to put in a sample book.

One of the first bead embroidery samples: variations of an outline stitch

And, finally,.. (drumroll!) last week I was accepted as a volunteer in Nicosia's Leventis Museum to photograph, catalogue and research their 20th century costume collection. How amazing is that! I am not sure how many haute couture garments they have, or, if any at all, but having seen a few photographs already I believe I will get my hands on many interesting vintage specimens. The best part: the museum allowed me to share the photographs and some info on my blog. 

I start my museum assignment tomorrow, and will post quick updates on my Facebook page and in-details posts here on the blog, so stay tuned for more. 

Nice to be back )

Friday, March 6, 2015

Cyprus textiles: Printed Scarves

Being a small country, Cyprus has surprisingly a lot to offer to a textile lover. It may be due to the rich heritage and geographic position on the crossroads of Europe and the Middle East. The Island is a cultural melting pot, and living here you are likely not only to encounter the expected Greek and Turkish heritage but also to find traces of old Europe and, especially, the Middle East.

At various points in its history, Cyprus was ruled by the Egyptians, the Romans, French crusaders, Richard Lionheart, the Templar Knights, the Venetians, the Ottomans, and the Brits. The development of crafts reflects this rich history, often imported, fusing with local heritage and growing roots. Such is the history of the printed scarf as well. I was fascinated by the simplistic beauty of Cypriot printed scarves having seen only a few examples just when I arrived in Nicosia. Now, one and half year later I also had an opportunity to visit a dedicated exhibition at the Leventis Municipal Museum that features the process as well as the finished product. 

Printed scarves were first made in Nicosia during the 18th and 19th centuries. Mantilarides, or scarf makers, printed the scarfs on a light cotton mousseline using olive or oak tree moulds, which featured fine floral designs. Plants and animal dyes were used to create beautiful rich colours.  The scarves were then hemmed and decorated with intricate crocheted trims. 


The art of dyeing was developed in Cyprus throughout the medieval period. Dye-workers in Nicosia used mostly plant and mineral-based dyes manufactured on the island creating indelible colours for textiles.

Local plants used for creating dyes for printing traditional Cypriot scarves,
featured at the Printed Scarves exhibition at the Leventis Municipal Museum in Nicosia, Cyprus

"Aside from pigments, calico printers and scarf makers employed materials such as stypse, (alum), a well-known mineral used as a mordant for fixing the dyes and kettires, the gum tragacanth, used for making the dye thicker and preventing the colour from spreading across the fabric, during the printing process. 
For dyeing a scarf, old craftsmen used to prepare the basis, by using mazin (gall nut) imported from Turkey, in combination with kehrin, in boiled water with stypse. When the kehrin, brought to Cyprus from Anatolia, later became hard to find, the roudin was used in its place, the common name for sumac, with ro(d)ofylla (pomegranate peel)." -(Leventis Municipal Museum)


The fabric, usually very fine cotton mousseline, was cut into a square piece of 32 by 32 inches. The printing started with applying the border pattern, with the help of oblong stamps. Then, corner patterns, or milies, were stamped onto a scarf.

At this point a white and black scarf was ready for the application of the background and fill colours. Sometimes, those white scarfs were sold as is, I was told. Because they involved less labour they were more affordable.

The printing and dyeing process at the last workshop in Nicosia included the following stages:
  • The karakalemi, the black design, was printed with the first stamp, the mana. Where needed, it was modified with a brush. Following that the scarves were hung out near a stove to dry, but also to allow the paint to solidify through heat. Then they were gathered in bundles of eleven scarves, the so-called touroes, washed in clean water and hung for drying.
  • Using stamps with only the outline of the design, devoid of other details, they covered the printed design with gum in order to protect it from the next dying of the earth, the zeminin (Turk. zemin = basis, ground). By means of ketsedes (tow), they spread zeminin across the entire surface of the scarf, excluding patterns covered in gum.
  • The dyed scarves were then hung on ropes, horizontally for drying. The following day, they were gathered up from the ropes and kept together in a bag of 24 touroes, which corresponded to a dye container load, the kazania.
  • Last, the scarves were washed and soaked one by one in a container of hot water and red dye solution."  - Leventis Municipal Museum


The trims for the scarves were hand-crocheted, usually after the purchase of the scarf. Later, a special machine simplified the labour-intensive process by creating simple trims that can be founds on contemporary scarves. Of course, it cannot compete with the fragile beauty of a hand-crocheted flower trim, which in some scarves is the highlight. In fact, next week I am planning to go to a hands-on presentation by one of a few remaining trim-makers and will try to reproduce it.

(to be continued)

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

On My Sewing Table: Chantilly Lace Skirt

I can't have enough skirts - they are just the most versatile pieces in my wardrobe. You can dress them down or up, you can never get bored with skirts.

Prada, who is a truly skirt designer,  said  in an interview with New York Times:
"The skirt is a feminine symbol, and it's also something you wear every day. It's my T-shirt."
I could not agree more, and so, even though I am planning to focus on tops this year, skirts are still high on my agenda.

This project-in-progress is a simple straight skirt, with the lace being the main attraction.

I bought this Chantilly lace at Komolka, my favorite fabric store in Vienna since my student years in Austria. It has been waiting to be sewn for a year now, and, finally, I am ready to cut into it and plan to use couture sewing techniques to make the skirt. I love good planning, and so here are some thoughts on the construction:

To begin with, I will back the lace with silk organza. I have done both, organza and double muslin-charmeuse backing on skirts and find that organza can withhold tension quite well. And I'd really prefer lighter feel to a skirt like this.

Since I am using a different, brighter hue of blue for organza underlining to bring up the lace, I may run into some issues with darts when several layers of fabric in dart intake create areas of a different tone. Now, I can treat this as a design element, or I can conceal that dart intake  by sandwiching a piece of lining fabric in-between. At this point, however,  I am not even sure whether that's going to be such a big problem, the lace pattern may conceal the darts on its own... but potentially this is something that needs to be checked before finishing the skirt.

I need a center back seam to be able to accommodate a slit, so the zipper will be inserted into that seam as well. I would have picked an invisible zipper (not a very couture treatment I am afraid), but the lace motifs are outlined with a very fine cord, and I am pretty sure that every now and then this cord will get caught in the zipper. In addition, the pattern is quite prominent, so even if I wanted to overlap it (you can see a fine example of this technique on Leisa blog) it would not turn out well. That leaves me with the only other option - hand-picked zipper.

Navy blue silk crepe-de-chine will be used as lining, making the skirt very wearable in hot summer months in Nicosia.

Finally, I will again make a faced couture waistband, with lace on the face side, and silk crepe-de-chine on the wrong side. Grosgrain ribbon will be inserted in the waistband to add stability to it.

I will try to document some steps, and if you are interested in one of these techniques I will be happy to make a tutorial, just mention what you are interested in in a comment here. I would also love to hear from you about your experience working with Chantilly lace. 

Getting back to the subject of skirt...
"...Ms. Prada says she never gets bored with the skirt, and maybe that's because she does see it, in the end, as your basic rock concert T-shirt, to be dyed, printed, embellished. In the last few years she has experimented with prints made from digitalized images, and the results, when combined with lurid color or draping techniques, testify to her vision, as well as the skirt's surprising power."

Friday, February 6, 2015

COUTUREGRAM: 1973 Dior Couture Evening Dress

After a two-month radio silence, getting hands eyes on a couture gown is almost all I needed to get my blogging mojo back. Add a new blog friend and a mischievous boy kitty to the mix, and I am back on track. 

As usual for the COUTUREGRAM series, I will keep my comments to a minimum, but please keep yours flowing. Here is what we are looking at and learning from today:

"Bubblegum pink silk & linen fitted sheath, empire w/ halter strap & self fabric bow across bust, built-in corset, silk lining, label "Printemps-Ete 1973 Christian Dior Paris" (Source: liveauctioners.com)

This seemingly simple dress (and, unfortunately, the dress form doesn't do it justice) has some really sophisticated construction underneath. Just one image reveals quite a few secrets, which I hope to use myself.

As you can see this dress has a built-in silk corselet, which is interfaced and quilted in the bust area, down to the empire waist line to reenforce the fragile silk.

There is an elastic underbust stay, and here is an older post talking about underbust stays. You can see thread loops on side seams that hold the stay.

Bust cups are lined with silk

Seam allowances are notched and machine-overcast with a narrow zigzag stitch

Boning is inserted in all seams and extends down to the waistline. I assume the corselet is connected to the skirt lining.

Ivory-coloured waist stay is visible in the top portion of the image

That's it. Hope you enjoyed peeking at the inside of this dress as well. I'd love to hear from you if you notice something else, or have a question.


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