A Silk Watson Bra

You may have noticed that I’m not big into bandwagons, and if I am going to jump on one, I like to wait until it’s safely parked back in the barn and everyone else has left first … I actually bought a copy of this pattern right when it came out and it seemed like everyone in my sewing-internet-world was talking about it, but then in more my typical style, I decided to think about it for quite a while before actually making it.

 

silk watson bra 1

 

What was/is really exciting to me about the Watson Bra pattern is that someone else already did all the hard work of figuring out the exact curves of each piece to make a smooth cup shape, make it fit into the band, etc. (thanks Amy!), and that it’s specifically designed to be made without underwires, which is exactly what I wanted.

What I was less excited about is the fact that it called for mainly synthetic stretchy stuff; lots of kinds of elastic and power mesh, etc. As you may also have noticed, I’m so over it with all of that, and I’m trying to use all natural materials whenever it’s even remotely feasible. And one of the things that kept popping into my head whenever I looked at all this cashmere felt I have around* was, “this would really be perfect in a bra!” Since you know, it’s substantial but flexible, and insanely soft on the skin. But could I really make a bra using all natural fabrics? Maybe without even elastic?

It turns out the answer is a resounding yes! Not only can it work, but it did work beautifully on the very first try (some luck involved). Using my measurements of approximately 31 ½” underbust and a 1” difference between full and upper bust, I decided to make a size 34A, erring on the side of a slightly smaller size since my materials weren’t super stretchy and I didn’t want it to come out too loose. I made a couple of alterations to the pattern; adding ½” to center front since I knew that would fit my frame better, and straitening out the bottom line of the band to allow for the possibility of using an existing hem when upcycling garments for fabric (although I didn’t do that this time). I also added to the seam allowance in the center of the outer cup pieces, so I could grade it with the inner seam allowance to avoid a noticeable ridge there.

 

silk watson bra 2

 

The grey fabric is from a silk knit top that had worn out around the underarms and cuffs but still had plenty of life in the body. The pink binding is leftover fabric from making these camis (very thin silk knit), cut 1 ½” wide, sewed ¼” from the edges, and turned under. And the inner cups are indeed felted cashmere scraps*—oh yeah! I sewed it all together with a simple zigzag stitch, and sewed the straps on by hand.

According to my notes I made this back in February, which means I can now safely report that it works as well in real life as I’d hoped. The only alterations I’ve made since then are to move the back attachment point of the straps closer to center back (typical for me if the straps are slipping off my shoulders at all), and to tack down the bindings at center front with some tiny hand stitches, since the edges pulled up a bit after a few wears and washings, revealing the cup layers.

 

silk watson bra 3

 

I thought this might be a wearable muslin version, but instead it came out near perfection in fit and function. It does everything a want a “real bra” to do: provide a smooth and socially acceptable silhouette under a single other layer of clothing, and add a little bit of support. It’s also so comfortable I forget I’m wearing it, which is key for me. I thought about making another one (I even have another old silk top or two with some features that might be really fun to incorporate) but the truth is I don’t need it right now. This one, plus my more bralette-type past attempts at upper-body lingerie, are covering all my wardrobe needs. So, I’m officially checking “make real bra” off of my bucket list goals, and moving on!

I’ve been thinking a whole lot about what it means to have “enough” as I get closer to actually filling the gaps in my wardrobe. This post by Felicia has only broadened my sense that this is a really important thing for us all to be thinking about. A whole post about it here is likely coming … I’d love to know your thoughts at any time.

 

Previous makes

 

*Thanks to all the Fiddleheads hats I’ve made over years now, I have an entire giant plastic bin of small bits of luscious felted cashmere knits, which I could never throw out despite the fact that there’s way more than I’ll use in one lifetime (unless maybe, a giant intricate patchwork cashmere blanket—don’t even think about that, self!). Which is why I’ve started sorting them into groups of pleasing colors and offering them to fellow makers in my Etsy shop. I’ll continue to sort and list more batches as they sell. If you’d like some and you have color requests, just give me holler, here or there!

Cheers!

 

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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!

 

Giant Cyanotype on Silk!

 

Some of you may be wondering what I have been up to lately, besides cooking and (occasionally) posting about it here.  Well, in part – this!  Bryan has a solo show on at the Flagstaff Photography Center for the next month, and for part of it he had this crazy brilliant idea to make a huge public participation project.  On silk, panels 12′ by 6′.  Which would hang on curved wooden supports (making that part was his responsibility).  The idea is that you walk through it, not just look at it, and the fabric touches you and moves with the wind, thus making a different, more interactive experience of what a photograph can be.

 

 

The first part for me was making the silk panels.  Suffice it to say I have never been this nervous about sewing a rectangle.  Ever.  I attached a measuring tape to my work table so that I would tear all the pieces exactly the same length, and got out my walking foot so as not to distort the long seams.

 

 
In the process, I kind of fell in love with this huge expanse of crepe de chine.  Having never sewn anything nearly this big out of silk before (a ballgown is the only thing I could think of that would compare) I had never studied how it falls like liquid, but somehow also holds a body, almost a stiffness in certain circumstances.  Amazing.  I’m not-so-secretly hoping that the leftover fabric ends up in my stash.

 

 

But back to the photo project – the next step was to soak the silk panels in the chemistry for cyanotype – like those blue prints you may have made in the sun with leaves and flowers, and hang them up to dry.  This we did at night, inside the garage.  It took longer to dry than Bryan expected, so we ended up setting the alarm for 4 am to take them down.  They got rolled up and the rolls went into a long skinny bag of blackout fabric (also made by me, and luckily went together easily like the plan in my head).  By now you are starting to see how this project had a certain secret-agent-mission appeal.  At one point I had a grocery list which included 8 gallons of distilled water, blackout fabric, muslin, carpet rolls/large dowels, thread, and shellac.

 

 

On the morning of the exposure, we set up (mostly) clean trash cans to hold water for rinsing, a hose, the muslin sheet so everyone could practice where to put their hands and bodies, and a hugely tall clothesline to hold the finished pieces while they dried.  Thankfully, a bunch of our friends and members of the photo community showed up and agreed to lie still in the sun for 15 minutes while they and the silk sheets took in enough light to make a photo.  And thankfully the monsoon clouds held off just long enough to get it done (it rained later)!  Bryan repositioned people partway through to get a lighter blue in some places.

 

 

Meanwhile I ran around taking snapshots, and then with the help of a few volunteers, dunked the first panel in successive changes of water to rinse out the unexposed chemistry, while Bryan and the rest of the volunteers exposed the second one.

 

 

Even though I was very involved with this project, I didn’t anticipate quite how much I would like the finished result.  I think Bryan did a great job bringing his vision for it into reality.  And, after obsessively checking my math at the beginning, I could finally breathe a sigh of relief as the panels slid onto the wood and I could see that everything came out the right size!  It’s hard to see just how cool it is here, but imagine walking through it.  I am impressed with the little details that come through, aspects of people’s hair and clothing that make it more personal.

 

 

If you are passing though Flagstaff, you can check it out yourself at the Photo Center (right on Heritage Square) through the end of August!