Recycled, Naturally Dyed Silk Camisoles

Plus My Favorite Method for Sewing Knit Fabric Straps, and Self-Fabric Binding with Elastic

 

pink silk cami dyed hangingThe pink top before re-purposing, hanging with other materials dyed the same day.

 

Last fall, my friend Zuni invited me over for a day of dyeing with natural materials at her house.  I have an informal craft exchange going with some of my fiber friends, and it’s fantastic to have Zuni as part of this group.  All the mess and calculations for dyeing stay at her house, and we just bring home the colorful finished products.  The day in question, one of the dye materials was indigo.  Most of the craft exchange members tend to dye yarn.  I’m pretty militant about not letting my yarn stash exceed the capacity of one big plastic bin (after, ahem, seeing what happened to my fabric stash), plus I sew more than I knit, and I’ve sewn for longer, so I tend to be the one who shows up with odds and ends of fabric or garments to re-purpose.  This time it was a silk long underwear top.  I inherited two of these from my grandma’s stash.  The fabric is really lovely, but I hardly ever wore the tops, they were kind of baggy for layering, and looked awkwardly like underwear when visible—picture your classic long undies, but maybe a bit looser.

I think I had a class that morning, because I came to the indigo day partway through, at which point we literally just dropped the top into the dye bath.  Indigo doesn’t need a mordant, but I learned something important: dyeing something without soaking it in water first leads to splotchy fabric!  Funnily enough, a slightly mottled fabric was what I pictured when I envisioned how this would come out … although maybe not quite that spotty!   I also think not wetting first may have led to some of the color not being bonded with the fibers, and then rubbing off.  This was all an experiment though, and I was just happy to have a dyed piece to work with.

My plan was to cut the top up and make something I would definitely wear: a lovely silk camisole (tank top, vest, whatever you want to call it) for a winter-time first layer.  I used the same pattern as for my summer tanks, which after many alterations, bears almost no resemblance to the starting point: Kwik Sew 3524.

Click on any of the pictures for more detail.

 

blue silk cami on form

 

A couple of things that came out really well: the straps and the elastic binding at the top.  I’ve used this method for straps on a couple of (not blogged) other tanks, and really like it.  Basically I just sew a tube of fabric, using a narrow zigzag stitch since it’s knit fabric.  I turn the tube with a wire, and then slide a piece of elastic through it, using a bodkin or a safety pin.  Then I stitch through all the layers.  The added elastic gives the straps more stretch, recovery, and sturdiness than they would have if they were just made from the fabric.  This seemed essential when working with practically transparent silk!

 

blue silk cami straps

 

For these straps, I used 1/4″ elastic, and cut the fabric strips for the straps 1″ wide.  You need a little more than the elastic measurement for the fabric tube to fit around it, especially once the seam allowances are also tucked inside, and a bit for the seam allowances themselves.  Sewing through the fabric and the elastic holds everything smoothly in place.  I roll all of the seam line to one side of the elastic before sewing, which becomes the bottom of the strap, and the top looks clean.

My favorite thing about these camis (other than the feel of the silk on my skin, or maybe the color) is the way the edging fits at the top.  I used another fabric strip, and plain 1/8″ elastic.  I didn’t stretch the elastic at all when pinning and sewing it on, and the slight negative ease in the pattern (I checked—it’s about 88% of my body measurement at the upper chest) turns out to make just exactly the amount of stretch I want at the top.  It just hugs against my skin, without gaping or digging in.

 

blue silk cami binding closeupThis dress form is a copy of my body in duct tape, and the binding fits just as nicely on me.

 

Below you can see in more detail how the pieces of the binding went together.  After sewing through all the layers, I rolled the binding strips to the inside, and sewed again just outside of the first seam.  The part at the top with the bronze colored elastic is the built-in shelf bra, which I attached at the same time, in the first seam of the elastic and binding.

 

blue silk cami inside

 

For the blue one, I cut the original top completely apart, and used as much of the width of the original hem as possible.  I didn’t want the seams to show at the bottom, so I tacked them down by hand.

Not long after I finished the blue cami, Zuni invited as over again, this time to dye cochineal and purple.  I’m not that huge a fan of pink, unless it’s cochineal, and then I’m all over it.  The particular shades that come from those little bugs really float my boat.  So, excited by my first success, and learning from mistakes, I thoroughly soaked the second top in water and brought it over.  I was also careful to stir while it was dyeing, and the result was an even, beautiful coat of color!

If I could have, I would have cut both tops wider at the bottom.  You can see a little pulling, and stretching in the fabric around the hips.  For the pink top, I decided for maximum width, to keep the hem and bottom of the original side seams intact, and taper my new seam in.  Below you can see this, as well as the construction of the shelf bra and what the binding looks like from the inside.

With this method of binding, I like sewing the straps in at the end by hand, catching just the inner layers.  That way I can try on and adjust them exactly, plus I think it’s more secure and less likely to distort the fabric than trying to catch them in the seam under the binding.

 

pink silk cami inside

 

I got some good practice sewing with delicate petals of silk making these, and it seems less intimidating now.

The other fantastic thing about this project is that, when those long undies were just sitting in my drawer, I thought that maybe someday I would dye them and make them into something useful.  In the same way that maybe someday I’ll spin enough yarn to knit with, maybe someday my studio will be completely clean and neat … things that I dream about, but may never happen.  But this one did!  I’m trying to acknowledge and appreciate this as a victory, rather than just rushing right on to the next project, as I am apt to do.

 

 

pink silk cami on form

 

Plus, I just love having these in my closet!  In fact, combined with two silk camis I already had (one is an earlier take on the recycled silk shirt idea, and one is the original I used to copy my woven tank pattern), I have just enough to wear one almost every day.  That inspired me to pack away most of my summer tanks, shirts and dresses for the first time ever.  I always carefully clean and store my winter woolens over the summer (mainly to protect them from the scourge of moths) but putting away the summer clothes never seemed that important, especially when I still used my cotton tanks as winter layers.  The silk ones are noticeably warmer though, even as thin as they are.  And I love that my summer clothes are getting a break from being on the hanger, and how much more space there is in my winter closet.

Take time to celebrate your victories, people!

 

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Three Long Sleeve Tops, and Experimenting with Sewing Knits

brown silk front piece

 

So, here is the sewing update I promised! I finished all three of these shirts months ago, but I haven’t got around to photographing and putting this post together until just recently.  The snow you see here has all melted away, in fact it’s almost warm enough to wear just one shirt outside!  Well, some days yes and some days no.

After I finished my fabulous purple pants, I was ready for a faster and easier/less fitted project, and also getting desperate for some long sleeve knit shirts of any kind in my wardrobe.  I had one looser, comfy knit top in cotton with a little lycra, definitely on its way out, but I liked the fit and decided to copy it.  It also helped that I found two big pieces of cotton knit fabric in the stash I share with my mom.

 

grey shirt on

 

I made this grey version first, and was overall pretty pleased, the fit isn’t totally perfect, but it’s, um, a knit shirt!  Since it was something I needed, I started wearing it right away and it’s lovely to have a soft new long-sleeve top.  It went together like lightning, no edge finishing, some double needle stitching for the hems and it was done.  And I thought it was close enough to what I was going for to try in silk.

I bought this silk knit fabric at Promenade Fabrics in New Orleans.  That store is such a treat to explore, it’s full of the loveliest wools, linen, ribbons, it’s very NOLA in that it’s unusual, but high quality.  There aren’t rows of the same thing next to each other in different colors, I swear each bolt I looked at was totally unique, so naturally I had to dig through as many as possible (which was a lot, since luckily I had all morning).  I knew I wanted to make more long sleeve tops, and I was hoping to find some wool knit, which I didn’t really, but I did find this rather amazing silk, knit in two layers, shiny inside, heathery soft and slightly fuzzy outside.  “Where did you find THIS?” the owner’s son asked when I went to have it cut.  Score!

 

brown silk sleeve

 

So, having tried out the pattern, and curious to see the differences, I got out the silk.  Only three problems; one, it raveled!  I guess I’ve been spoiled in a way by stable cotton knits, you can imagine my horror when I pulled on one edge and tiny runs immediately started down the fabric, as the two layers peeled apart!  Fortunately, if I zigzagged the edge it seemed to hold everything in place, even when I tugged on it, so I decided to play it safe and overcast all the edges of all the pieces, before sewing them together.

The second problem wasn’t really a problem, more like me being thorough/not having enough knowledge of silk knits to dive right in – I just took a lot of time making samples.  Since this fabric is incredibly slinky, plus stretchy, I knew that it would be easy for the seams to come out either baggier or tighter than the rest of the fabric, which would make my finished shirt look decidedly amateur.  So yeah, I made a LOT of samples.  I definitely recommend making as many test seams as it takes, especially if you are working with an unfamiliar fabric!  I decided to tag all these with a little bit of muslin so I could write down what I changed.  I think the most interesting thing I learned was that by increasing the stitch length, I could get the seam to pull the fabric in a little more, shortening the seam.  The colored stitching is my first, just to make sure the silk would not get runs as I washed it (by hand).  See how the other edge goes from stretched out to pulled in?  I also found that some stitches worked well on one layer, but not as well on two.  Eventually I settled on using a mock-serger stitch to overcast around the pieces and sew seams, and a regular zigzag for topstitching.  Although I have to admit that I decided matched seams and a total lack of skipped stitches were too much to ask for in this project, overall I’m really pleased, the seams neither draw in nor pooch out, which is exactly what I wanted to achieve.

 

brown silk samples

 

Oh, the third problem?  I totally didn’t have enough fabric.  This seems to be a theme of mine lately . . . I ended up cutting the sleeves in three pieces each.  Eight more edges to finish, four more seams, but the first thing that Bryan said when he saw it was, “I like the sleeve seams!”  Still, next time I’ll try to remember to just get two yards, having enough for full sleeves and a matching tank top is NOT a bad thing.

 

brown silk shirt on

 

When I first finished it I couldn’t decide if it was worth all the extra effort for the fancy fabric.  But, the more I’ve worn this top, the more I’ve been bummed when it’s in the wash.  It has the kind of drape that makes wrinkles disappear or just look elegant, it feels divine on my skin, and it looks like something just a little special.  In short, I’ll be hunting around more fabric stores for unusual silk knits.

 

color grown cotton shirt and samples

 

While I was at it, I decided to make one more shirt from stash fabric, and play with the fit a little.  I narrowed the back around the waist, and flared it out again over my hips, to try for a little less puddle of fabric at the back high hip area.  It did help some, but I’m left wondering if I need a center back seam to make a big difference, and if so, wouldn’t princess lines work better and look better?  Or should I just reserve this pattern for slinky fabrics – this one is decidedly not.  It’s a lovely color-grown cotton, but the fabric has very little recovery from being stretched, meaning it tends to hang a little bit loose, and it’s kind of thick.  I made a few more samples before sewing it, mainly to try for a stitch that wouldn’t stretch out the seams.  I like this shirt and I’ll definitely keep wearing it, but it’s not a perfect match of pattern and fabric.

Since I was playing with different fabrics, I thought it would be fun to show the tops with a similar contrast in pants.  They’re the same pattern (another one I copied from an existing thrifted garment) of no-side-seam drawstring pants.  The green pair are a textured cotton, I wear them to yoga a lot, and sometimes to lounge around in.  The blue pair (which aren’t quite as electric blue in real life) are wool crepe – the result of a time when I really needed some new pants, hadn’t fit regular ones well enough yet, and had some lovely wool just hanging out in my stash.  I’ve worn them teaching a lot, and to swing and tango dancing, and they’re great for travel, but I would definitely not wear them to yoga!  Again, I think it’s the drape and the body of the fabric that makes them look so much more elegant.

Next up for sewing: summer stuff!  Especially a dress, for Me Made May ’13 . . .