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:

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.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Top 5 Craftsy class picks for up to $19 during Black Friday Sale

I try not to write too many Craftsy promotion posts, but this is the sale you can't miss. It's the Black Friday Sale, readers, and it lasts only until Monday! The sale I was waiting for myself to purchase a few new classes for less than a half of the initial price.

It seems only a few sewing classes were added since in the past three months. However, those few classes that were added are really good. Here are my picks:

Fitting Essentials: Customize Your Dress Form with Judy Jackson

This is probably the class that everyone was waiting for. It starts with choosing correct dress form, comparing different options available on the market, as well choosing the right size.

This class addresses many aspects of fitting that lack in other classes. Take measuring for example. Judy Jackson takes depth measurements that are crucial for proper dimensions of the final dress form. I use depth dimensions when drafting my patterns a lot, but it is the first time I see someone use it on Craftsy or in any other instruction format.

Two lessons are dedicated to the dress cover, choosing appropriate fabric, altering the pattern, cutting and fitting. Judy goes into detail about padding as well. She discusses the process for all dress form types: studio, adjustable and the foam. In the final lesson, the padded dress form is compared to the model and finishing touches are added to the cover.

It is a very good class definitely worth taking if you don't have a professional who can help you create your dress form.

Creating Any Size: Pattern Grading for Sewers with Kathleen Cheetham

How often do we stumble upon adorable vintage patterns, which are unfortunately not available in our size? Happened to me a lot. Luckily though, there is now a Craftsy course that teaches you how to grade patterns, that is create replica of a garment that is in exact proportion to the original.

Grading is a discipline of it's own, and this class is only an introduction to grading. Don't expect wonders, but it will help you understand the basic principles and grade up or down simple patterns.

The technique which Kathleen Cheetham is using for the class is cut and spread technique, and it is a foundation for advance grading. Suggested reading in class materials helps find resources that will advance your grading skills.

The presentation of grading techniques starts with multi-size patterns. Kathleen works with a bodice pattern in size range 14-24 and grades it down to size 12. The next project is a multi-size pattern for pants, which are graded two sizes up. She demonstrates how to grade crotch, fly and darts, as well as pocket and waistband.  

Single-size pattern grading is demonstrated on a skirt, which is graded up two sizes using slash and spread technique.

In the following lesson a single-size blouse is graded down one size. There is more detail in this style than in previous projects shown in the class. The blouse has more darts in bust, torso and shoulder area. Kathleen shows how to true seams and match notches, as well as how to grade facings and a collar.

Final lesson is dedicated to sleeve grading, and pattern stacking, which is a way to check if the patterns were graded correctly.

Overall, it is a great foundation class that is worth taking if you want to get acquainted with basic grading techniques, grade simple projects and, at some point, learn more about it.

Sew Better Bags: the Weekend Duffel with Betz White

I am not a bag sewer, but a nice duffel bag is something I have been looking for for a while. I like the design, with the only thing I'd potentially change is go for wider straps and use a different material, maybe adding leather for contrast details. The pattern is available for download from the class page. The class itself is very thorough without being too overwhelming.  By the way, Betz White also teaches two other classes Fab Felt Holiday Crafts and Project Upcycle, but those were rather weak in comparison.

Essential Techniques Every Knitter Should Know with Sally Melville

If you don't like knitting ignore this class. I finally picked a knitting essentials class as I can hold knitting needles again, yay. I stopped knitting eight years ago, when my first daughter was born and I got arthritis. As much as enjoyed knitting before I could not do it anymore because of the constant nagging pain. Sewing was somewhat easier in comparison, because there is no continuous strain to joints - I could take breaks from hand sewing. Now, in Cyprus, by some miracle, or because of climate change, the pain almost disappeared... What a difference it makes... In any case I am back to knitting and I am very excited about it.

As for the class, it covers gauge making, casting on, bind offs, selvages and tails, increases and decreases, seaming, picking up and knitting. Shortly, all the essential elements for a successful knitting project.  For me, it's what I was lacking in my knitting. I can knit all the intricate patterns, but I was usually off the size, the seaming was rather rough, and adding necklines by picking up and knitting didn't look good at all. With only a few lessons from this class I feel my knitting is already improving a lot and I can start making more fitted projects.

Miniature French Deserts: Macarons, Madeleines and More with Colette Christian.

Reviewing a baking class on a couture blog is probably not something you would expect. But, readers, macarons are extremely good for your sewing moral, so go sign up for it!

Two lessons are dedicated to macarons, starting with a 'basic french macaron' and, then, customizing macarons and filling them...

I bought this class for Macarons, but the true discovery were the amazing Lemon Tartlets.  Colette teaches how to make a sweet tart dough, tasty lemon curd, Italian merengue and then shows how to caramelize the merengue. This is such a yummy treat, readers, I will be making those tartlets over and over again. Besides, I have to use up lemons I regularly get from our neighbour's lemon grove.

You will also learn how to make Mocha and Citrus Madeleines and, finally, a Classic opera Cake. I haven't tried making it yet - I have never tried it actually - so there is very little I can say about it, except that the lessons cover in detail everything you need to know to create this elaborate cake.

That was it.  I hope this review will be helpful for those of you who were considering purchasing these classes. For the previous sale favorites, check out my posts from September and August.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Inspiration: Bell-shaped skirts

 I am in love with fluted skirts. I think this is a description everyone will understand, although it is also called trumpet skirt, bell-shaped skirt, mermaid skirt, peplum-hem skirt, fit-and-flare ...

Now, while there are a lot of young and slim women wearing this shape in different lengths, I think it is a great skirt for women with curves as well. My body is changing outward and I am in search for shapes that package those new curves nicely.  The flare at the hemline provides a great balance to curvaceous hips.

Add caption

I already got fabric laid out and all ready to start working on my version of the trend. It is based on my straight skirt sloper. I will be adding just a little extra width at the hem, and sew on the flounce, which is cut like a circle skirt. I will keep my hem just below the knee, and the flounce will be almost the same length as the main skirt.

What about you? Do you like this trend? Will consider sewing a similar skirt for this season. 


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