Constructing the ‘for real’ dress was definately a labour of love…an experience of great satisfaction but also a lot of frustration at times. I loved working with the dupioni silk… the silk chiffon – not so much. I ended up hand sewing most of the bodice so I could keep the chiffon under control, it moves, wriggles and refuses to comply! Probably didn’t help that I changed the back bodice design to be pure chiffon – which presented me with some technical challenges that I had not worked out in the muslin test dress…

Pick stitch for inserting the zipper - a strong stick and decorative.

Pick stitch for inserting the zipper – a strong stitch but also decorative as it leaves little dots.

I now fully understand why custom design and construction is so expensive. I completely under estimated the time factor necessary for couture (typically hand constructed) of a full length formal dress. I wonder about myself sometimes in my ability to estimate how long things take… a problem that I think many creative people encounter. Or is it just me? A simple mathematical formula would work – i.e. 36 inches of hand rolled hemming = 30 minutes * 7 yards. duh.

Fair warning – this is a long post… brevity has never been my strong suit. However, updating the post gave me some breaks from bending over my cutting and sewing tables.  Gone are the days of cutting on the floor. Even cutting on the table was physically challenging. I miss having the selection of work tables available in the capilano textile arts studio – finding one that suited was easy – and easy on the old bod.

Hope it fits!

Hope it fits! In my hurry to meet the Fedex deadline forgot to take a pic of the back which is just chiffon so you will see her lovely back!

The ‘hand’ (the feel of the fabric) and the way the silks draped is lovely – even on the dress form where I stored my pieces until I was ready to sew. The dupioni silk was crisp and light – and the airy flowing chiffon makes for a lovely combo. The chiffon seduced me at this stage… but as noted ‘le chiffon’ is a tough mistress to love after hand sewing over 6 yards of hand rolled hems.

pieces - ready to sew

pieces – ready to sew

The colour is a gorgeous coral which I’m now glad we went with.  The colour suits our spring time weather with a tropical hint of the summer yet to come. The transparent silk chiffon is a lighter or tinted coral with a slight irridescent shimmer – and blends beautifully over the darker shade of the coral dupioni silk. No, I didn’t dye it myself – there wasn’t enough time to deal with any mistakes in colour matching so I went with already dyed fabric. Maybe I’ll take on the dye job when I’m designing and constructing her wedding gown… that will be easy tee hee… assuming she wears white.

almost finished - yah right - hand sewing rolled hems on sleeves, and six panels of chiffon skirt is quite time consuming!!

almost finished – yah right – hand sewing rolled hems on sleeves, and six panels of chiffon skirt is quite time consuming!!

Although unplanned – as I used the various sewing paraphernalia that I have on hand my beloved mom and grandma were foremost in my mind, as many of the items I was using I inherited from them. My mom’s “ham” (a special pressing aid that helps when pressing curves)… her pressing cloth… one of her silver thimbles from her collection…and some of my grandma’s vintage needles from her sewing box.   I feel like they are having a hand in this process which is a comfort.

I think both of these must be verging on antiquity status - given my own age

I think both of these must be verging on antiquity status – given my own age

hey lady - inside the needle package!

hey lady – inside the needle package!

We had a Skype session following delivery of the ‘muslin’ or test run of the dress – to review the fit of the muslin – good to go except for the shoulder position and neckline. I had to redraft the bodice  as the neckline was too angled, not a deep enough plunge, and it did not sit correctly at the shoulders – plus the sleeve opening was a little snug. I redrafted the bodce based on what I could see and some additional measurements. Skirt length should be good for her 4 inch high heels… yikes.

ah to be young again

ah to be young again

Toddled off to Dressew – our local fantabulous notions and fabric store here in Vancouver. Here is an interesting link about this ‘go to’ store – I do remember the shocking revelation (not that long ago) that they now take interact: http://students.bcitwebdev.com/stephanepj/finalproject/history.php

I purchased new needles for my machine that are nice and sharp for the silk (Schmetz size 65/9 universal)…and also ended up getting a fairly good match for the lining – and a few other things. I went with an acetate lining which is the next best thing to silk. It would have been ideal to use silk but I felt that was too costly given the yardage factor. The acetate will still breath well (acetate is somewhat ‘natural’ being made out of wood pulp) – and the colour was a good match. I washed it to get rid of the somewhat ‘chemical’ smell before cutting.

Cutting -and marking took me hours and hours (and hours) as I cut on single layers to ensure the cut was clean. I like having clean sharp edges – it makes it so much nicer and easier to construct. . So… 3 sets of cuts – 6 panels each for the complete ball gown + bodice. A set for the silk dupioni, a set for the silk chiffon, a set for the acetate lining. Marked all darts with chalk and a little loop of thread to identify which side was my right side. It’s hard to decide with both the silks…either side is gorgeous… you can’t really make a mistake in choosing.

Rotary cutter perfect tool for cutting the smaller pieces on the cutting mat - highly recommended for the chiffon as the mat keeps it perfectly stable

Rotary cutter perfect tool for cutting the smaller pieces on the cutting mat – highly recommended for the chiffon as the mat keeps it perfectly stable – with or without tissue paper under it

After looking at my Vogue book and trolling the web – a few recommendations came up that were consistent for cutting out the chiffon. To avoid slipping lay down cotton with the chiffon over it… or tissue paper. I used a triple layer of cotton (that I had in my stash) and it was perfect for the large pieces for the skirt. As for the chiffon back, sleeves and overlay for the front – the cutting mat with a clear sewing ruler (also my mom’s) worked well. I used a very thin strip of Iron on Stitchery (if you can believe this it’s also my mom’s from way back) to lightly adhere the chiffon over the dupioni – just at the edges so it was easier to sew as one. I had tested out this technique successfully on my muslin with the sheer cotton and cotton mull.

Quite a few garden breaks were partaken during construction of the gown.  My community garden provided some much needed vitamin D, and lovely spring flowers. My dye plant garden awaits (see next post).

pretty little violets next to my garden plot

pretty little violets next to my garden plot

arugula... skinny coffee stir sticks in the upper left (for scale)

arugula… skinny coffee stir sticks in the upper left (for scale)

Basting and construction – lots. Other techniques I used – doublestitch on the machine when constructing the ball gown skirt – where you stitch the 5/8th seam… then stitch another row just inside the seam allowance – and then trim.

wah, looking at how the sun highlights the dupioni silk - I don't wanna cover it up with the chiffon!!

wah, looking at how the sun highlights the dupioni silk – I don’t wanna cover it up with the chiffon!!

The rotary cutter and mat is coming in very handy for trimming the seams cleanly- in particular for the french seams on the chiffon.

Pressing and steaming. Important. Dupioni is a breeze to press. Same with the acetate. Silk Chiffon? Not so much because it’s really about carefully steaming it and then manipulating it with your hands. Although I was being extra careful with the chiffon I still managed to ‘wrinkle’ it in spots which was really annoying. There is one spot right on the front of the bodice and I think I must have used a little too much steam and changed the composition of the fabric. Maybe stretched it a bit? So beware when pressing chiffon.

Red Breasted robin at the garden - taking flight with a fat juicy worm

Red Breasted robin at the garden – taking flight with a fat juicy worm

Decided not to make a slit in the chiffon... have to be ok with the dupioni being a subtle influence underneath!

Decided not to make a slit in the chiffon… have to be ok with the dupioni being a subtle influence underneath!

Couture hand sewing creates soft edges especially on the silk chiffon which you have to be ok with. It was interesting to use the horse hair braid for the hem on the dupioni. It’s the first time I have used it. It creates a light but slightly stiffened quality to the hem – perfect for the ball gown style. Will post some better pictures when my client is wearing it – as I rushed to get it to the Fedex peeps for delivery.  Fingers crossed the intercity design process worked – and the dress actually fits her.


Although Block & Sloper would be a great name for a design blog…I’m referring to my recent foray into designing an original dress for my niece’s high school graduation. I made my first block or sloper – which is a basic flat pattern of a fitted jewel neck bodice – based on my niece’s measurements. Since she is finishing her final year in another city –  we used skype to take the required measurements. Then I drafted up her bodice pattern and cut it out using some of my cotton stash… and sewed it up on my vintage Featherweight sewing machine (see previous post) to create the  ‘muslin’ bodice.

Block for sizing

I mailed off the block to her… and it fit her (apparently). My wonderful niece is driven to academic excellence so I never did get her to commit to a skype session to ensure the fit was to my standards but anyways… I went on a wing and a prayer and drafted the design based on her block. A plunging neckline and back with princess seaming,  sleeves and a ball gown skirt… then cut it out in my favourite cotton mull which is a crisp lightweight 100% cotton to represent the dupioni 100% silk and used a sheer 100% cotton (typically used for turbans)… to represent the 100% silk chiffon that will be the layer over the dupioni silk. All fabrics sourced from the fabulous Rokko’s on main street. http://www.rokkofabrics.ca

front bodice pattern

front bodice pattern

The design features a plunging neckline as well as a deep V in the back – with a full length ball gown skirt. Originally we were inspired by lace designs that are the bee’s knees right now in the fashion world… (think Elie Saab) so I sent my ‘client’ some shamples of rayon guipere lace and nylon lace (from Rokko’s). I have a soft spot for lace given my irish provenance. In textile school I did an art history paper on how hand made Irish lace brought some economic means to the starving irish during the famine years (1845 – 1849) – so it was interesting to look at these machine produced bolts of lace and remember how the advent of machinery and technology wiped out the demand for hand made goods… and how now the desire for the hand made is having a resurgence (but that is for another post).

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After to’ing and fro’ing about black versus neutral versus colour… we decided that a coral dupioni silk with a chiffon overlay would be lovely. It was wonderful process trying out different techniques in creating the muslin dress and it’s a great way to work out all the kinks and decisions about the design before cutting into the actual silk.  Drafting and redrafting, hand basting (love this), french seaming, adding a finished lining, under stitching…Oh, did I mention proper pressing? I get a bit obsessive about pressing seams properly – but it makes the world of difference – like properly blocking a hand knitted item which is a step that must be done! For ideas about techniques that I hadn’t used in a while – I referred to a vintage Vogue book I have. And relied on memories of my Mom’s couture standards – “always use a Bemberg lining and finish things properly”, i.e.  French seaming!!! I think I am ready for the ‘real’ dress which I will blog about in another post.

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The goal is that the ‘test dress’ or muslin fits with only minor adjustments. It’s a bit nerve racking not having the ability to try out the fit in person.


Mus.lin on the beach

A little bit of surface design documentation… the muslin will eventually be compost-printed in the garden using fresh plants from mid-spring and early summer and perhaps some rust printing as well.

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hopefully only minor adjustments are required

humble cotton declares itself as silk

humble cotton declares itself as silk

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muslin in situ.

Organza Wrap

Silk is such a magical fabric – it is so lovely to drape – takes on natural dyes and mineral dyes like a dream – and can’t help but fall the right way when worn on the body. Here are some images of a few lengths of organza that can be worn as shoulder wraps, swirled around your neck, or slung low over your hips. Some have patterns that have been created by taking away some of the natural seracin silk, then dyeing them in mineral vats. When the silk worms form their cocoons, the resulting fabric that is made contains seracin that gives the silk organza it’s natural crispness. So, by removing the seracin in certain parts by the shibori resist method – makes some parts of the silk softer and leaves the unresisted parts with the original crispness of the organza… adding texture and interest. Each piece has a hand embroidered silk loop closure with a vintage button and glass bead embellishment that allows you to wear it in several different ways.

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indigo, mineral vat & found object print (& my dog biscuit)

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hand embroidered silk loop with glass beads – vintage button.

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the lighter pattern is soft like butter… the darker pattern retains the crispness of classic organza.

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lighter portions soft as air – darker gray crisp – this wrap has visual and actual texture

I leave you with a quote …from 1916. Luckily there are now lots of modern makers that are making natural dyeing part of their practice.

William Morris says “all degradation of art veils itself in the semblance of an intellectual advance.” and nothing is truer than this with regard to the art of dyeing. As a tradition it is practically dead in Britain, and is threatened with gradual extinction all over the world. It will not recover itself as an art till individual artists set themselves to make beautiful colours again, and ignore the colour made for them by commerce and the chemists.

(Ethel M. Mairet, A Book on Vegetable Dyes, 1916)

Summer Memories

2012-11-30 11.41.58My scarf series ‘Summer Memories’ is out the door – some of the silk that I dyed over the summer with flowers and plants from my garden using a combination of shibori and rusting. I still have lots of frozen blossoms to use on my mordanted silk that awaits… in the meantime a shample of the incredible colour palette that is possible using flowers and plants directly from the garden.

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My cousin Anita and her partner Ian recently gave me a vintage sewing machine – the Singer Featherweight – that had belonged to Ian’s mother, an accomplished quilter.

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The Singer Featherweight is the ultimate blend of simplicity, elegance and performance.

Featherweight in the 50’s had a different meaning than today – it’s a solid little machine that is lovely and heavy with gorgeous design features. It comes in a small case and when I opened it up it still has the original Singer lubricant on hand and an attachment called the ‘ruffler’ which I can’t wait to try out. It even came with it’s own sturdy little fold up table. It’s so straight forward to thread and use – and is so pretty. Mind you it only has one stitch – straight! Others may like the myriad of functions and stitches available on modern machines but this one is for me. Besides if I do need the occasional zig-zag I’ll pull out my also vintage 70’s Bernina which I guess would be considered high tech compared to the Featherweight.

After threading it up (so simple) my first stitches were perfect even though I suspect it has been a long long time since it was used or serviced. Apparently this little machine is coveted by quilters because the stitches it gives are so even.  A quick google search listed a ton of links and sites dedicated to the Featherweight – there is even a Featherweight Fanatics List.

Beautiful celtic designs on the machine…

Singer Featherweight in action

Gorgeous deco plate

My first project using the ‘Featherweight’  is a memory textile that I’m doing for my father-in-law’s family – R.I.P. Rupert Gomes. The fabric has been eco-dyed and printed using plants from my garden. I’m doing some hand embroidery and incorporating an interactive element with text of all the funny things that Rupert used to say… how about this one…

“If an egg and a half costs a cent and a half, how many hens does it take to shingle a roof with pancakes?’ Whaaaaa? Will post some pictures of the textile when it’s complete.

At home today feeling a little under the weather… so even though it was a gorgeous late summer day it gave me a chance to spend some time watching a wonderful three-part series that explores the Baroque tradition in art and architecture..http://knowledge.ca/program/baroque

…as well as researching dye plant seeds on the Richter’s website. I mentioned in an earlier post that I wasn’t able to buy any seeds at the beginning of the season  from Richter’s… but now it seems fine! The descriptions of all the herbs and plants are great and oh so interesting. Little tidbits of history and cultural use of each plant kept me busy for hours! My only complaint is that their search feature isn’t really very useful – so if you search using keywords like ‘dye’ or ‘dyeplant’, etc – it doesn’t list all of the seeds that you could potentially buy. I spent hours clicking on pretty much every plant from A to Z to see what I could find for my dye garden and got completely mesmerized by reading all the write ups in general.  For example, I didn’t try using Lily of the Valley this year but apparently it gives a great green…

It’s on my list for next spring!

…and the horse chestnuts I’m pretty sure are the same ones that are abundant in Kits – more collections to stuff into my balcony studio tee hee.

This is intriguing…sky blue? yummy

Just because a plant isn’t listed as ‘tinctoria’ doesn’t mean it won’t give you great colour as I found out this summer! So for all you natural dye enthusiasts out there… here is the list of seeds I found on the Richter’s site today that I’m pretty excited about – of course it includes woad, weld and other plants that are obvious, but there were some I didn’t know about for their potential for dye stuff including a most interesting variety of Yarrow.  Some of them may be zone challenged like the Safflower but I’m willing to give them a try in our wet coast climate. The only problem is I need a bigger garden…

A $100 later…



Cornflowers & rust

Along with dye experiments using plants and flowers from my garden – my other obsession is keeping an eye open for interesting rusty things. I have always loved the colour, variation and textures of rust but never before thought about it’s possibilities on fabric until I was in my textile course. I’m still in the neophyte stage of my rust printing but it seems to me that it always works. I think the patina and sense of history is what has always appealed to me about rust…the notion that texture, imperfection and patina acquired over time (naturally) is beautiful. Both in objects, fabric and especially in people! (This blog is a Botox-free zone).

Biscuit on the beach helping me collect rust

It is amazing how many interesting rusty things I’m finding (and not necessarily taking) by setting an intention – lovely rusty crusty things wherever I go! I was lucky enough to be at Robert’s Creek recently and I found some interesting pieces on the beach. Just today down at my local beach walking the dog, I said to myself, “I know there is a piece of rust here for me” and at the very last minute lo and behold there was a perfect rather large pipe peeking out at me by the steps up from the beach – which I managed to lug home. It will be perfect for wrapping yardage. It’s super crusty – salty beach rust is the best. Here in Vancouver some of us natural dyers have started up a group meeting – and it must have been good rust karma because on my way home in the summer evening light I spotted a lovely rusted gate on the “freebie corner” in my neighbourhood…that I managed to heft into my car! My partner was thrilled with my new acquisition – ha ha. It’s living on the deck right now waiting to be used.

Rusty Garden Angel – this was a gift from my Mom many years ago – it is in my garden next to a bench I put in the garden in memory of my Mom. I can’t always explain in words why rust is so appealing and comforting.

The rusty rebar wrapping I’m doing is working out really well – and it’s nice to know that this particular rusty implement is readily available from my local construction crews and sometimes even washed up on the beach. So far I have wrapped bundles using the rebar with sage, fern, allium, peony and rose petals with alum mordanted fabric. You don’t have to mordant for rust, but I’m trying out a bunch of different combo’s. Not to state the obvious, but the iron rust acts as a mordant as well…

Eco wrap using rusty rebar, peony & rose blossoms

Fabric that has been rusted with rebar – rolled up purple sage & red hollyhock – I pretty happy with the clarity of the prints. Magic.

I’m wondering if it’s going too far to cut out the gorgeous rusty bedsprings from the mattress that someone has left out in the alleyway behind my apartment? I think they would make a great print as well as good for shibori binding. I just need to buy some wire cutters! (Update) Since I drafted this blog I got some wire cutters and now I have a lovely collection of rusted springs to use.

Rusty bed springs in situ