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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A New Me-Made Upcycled Sweater

 

blue upcycled sweater looking side

 

Hello all!  I’ve been making and mending just about as much as physically possible around here (in between making hundreds of these little fuzzy hats) ever since I got back to my studio a few weeks ago.  Not much has made it up to the blog yet, and I decided to just start with the thing I’m most excited about: my new sweater!  I really, really need some more sweater layers for this winter, and I’ve had a plan to make a couple of upcycled ones from various bits and pieces since the spring.

So, here’s the first one!  The main part of it came from a deep navy blue, super soft, slightly felted, merino sweater that some friends gave me (on the right below).  The fabric is lovely, but the shape was classic sweater that doesn’t work for me—baggy on the sides, gathered in at the bottom—in other words the least flattering possible design for a small pear-shaped girl such as myself.  I also have this knit top which I love the shape of, it has princess lines (flattering—yay!) and interesting side panels, it fits me well and since it seems to be on its way out (the problem with thrift store finds) I had already traced a pattern from it.  So . . .

 

sweaters on line

 

piecing sleeveThe biggest lesson I have learned so far when recycling/refashioning something old into something new, is to treat the something old as fabric.  Unless the alterations you want to make are super duper simple, take the whole thing apart and press it flat and see what you’ve got, and it will be so much less frustrating.  You do end up with some odd shaped pieces of fabric, which can lead to interesting piecing and seams.  I folded the pattern for the new sleeve to accommodate the fabric from the old sleeve, leaving me two parts to cut from another fabric. I just have to remember to allow for seams when I cut the pieces to add on.  I had allowed 1/4″ seam allowances, so I cut the top and bottom sleeve pieces 1/2″ longer than the lines where I cut the middle piece, so there would effectively be a seam allowance on both sides.  Make sense?  I have screwed up the math on that before . . . but not this time.

It probably won’t surprise you if I point out that I have a lot of scraps of cashmere lying around here, plus old sweaters friends have given me, etc.  I chose a dusky purple for the extra sleeve pieces and extra at the back, which also didn’t quite fit on its corresponding piece of ex-sweater.

flat sockI chose the purple because it matched my material for the sides: socks!  My mom was nice enough to buy me these super soft alpaca socks at a fiber festival.  I loved the knitted pattern, I love knee socks, I carefully followed the instructions, which were to machine wash and line dry.  That’s my default washing mode anyway, so I thought I was good to go . . . but by the second wash they had shrunk to the point where fitting over my calves was no longer an option.  (Short strange tangent: this opened up sock reminds me of those animal pelts you see in museums, as if socks ran wild and were hunted for their fur.)  Once pressed flat, there was just enough material in each sock leg (including the ribbing) for one side panel of my sweater!

I experimented with sewing the seams flat, and I really like how it came out.  I overlapped the two pieces I was sewing together by 1/2″ (the same seam allowance as if I had sewed the seam 1/4″ from each edge, see what I mean?), feeling with my fingers for the edge of the layer underneath, and pinning in place.  I sewed a narrow zigzag close to the edge of the top layer, and then again about 1/4″ away, using parts of my machine foot against the edge as guides.  I used a walking foot, which I nearly always do for knits.

This method turned out to be only just slightly trickier for the curved seams connecting the sides to the front and back, so I did it there too.  I really like the slightly deconstructed look this gives it.

 

flat knit seams

 

I didn’t do the flat overlapped seams running down the sleeves, it would have been too much scrunching the sleeve up under the machine.  I did do it to attach the sleeves to the body though, and because of the raglan construction (not having to put in the whole sleeve in the round) it was pretty easy.

For the neckline, I kept the “v” of the original blue sweater, although in future I might add in some there just to make it a little cozier.  I knew that a section of scrap cashmere ribbing wouldn’t do anything much to keep the neckline from stretching all over the place, so I attached 1/4″ clear elastic first, stretching it to ease in the extra fabric and get the neck to lie flat, especially across the top of the shoulders.

 

sweater neckline

 

blue upcycled sweater back(By the way, I think the colors are truest in the two pictures above.  I’ve had trouble getting my white balance and purples to get along.)

So, I zigzaged on the ribbing at the hems and bottom of the sleeves as well, and there you have it.  I actually cut pieces for another purple section around the bottom, but I decided that I really liked the sock ribbing as the hem, and I liked the length when I tried it on, it allows another layer to peek out below.  And winter is coming, so I’m going to be wearing lots of layers!

I think the saddle shoulders may be my favorite part.  I’ve got plans for another franken-sweater using something I knit years ago.  I’m really pleased with how this came out, and looking forward to a DIY cozy winter!

 

blue upcycled sweater front

 

 

 

Recycled Elisabethan Shirt

 

 

Note the “s”, we’re not talking the era of Queen Elizabeth I today, but rather fabulous upcycled clothing made by my friend Beth!  She has been my confidant and mentor in the world of recycled fashion for a while, and when we saw her last week at the Fiesta Arts Fair in San Antonio, I decided it was high time to add a piece from her Elisabethan line to my own wardrobe.

I totally love this shirt!   The design is what makes it for me, those flattering and interesting curvy seams, and the fabric choices.  Me Made May is coming up fast, and while I didn’t make this shirt, it exemplifies what MMM is all about; making choices that reflect who we are and who we want to be.  It’s sustainable, made in USA, and did I mention fabulous, and comfortable?  Head on over to the Elisabethan site for lists of stores and shows where you can get your own!