Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Hand sewing tips from a quilter.

Ever looking to learn about different areas of sewing, I've been wanting to give hand quilting a go. I know very little about it, though for some time I have wanted to learn how - I really want to hand quilt a petticoat someday! So I ordered this book from Amazon. It's very interesting, and it doesn't only benefit quilters, there is a lot that can be applied to all hand sewing.

That Perfect Stitch:
 The Secrets of Fine Hand Quilting,
 by Dierdra A. McElroy

There is even a two page chart that describes all different weights and brands of thread and their pros and cons, an article that shows how needles are made and loads more.

I wanted to share a few interesting hand sewing tips I got from reading this:

- Thread has a twist, just like perle, only smaller. Thread on a spool has either an "S" twist (to the right) or a "Z" twist (to the left). These twisted strands are combined with others to form "plies," as in "two-ply" thread. The "Z" twist thread was developed to be used in sewing machines, since the machine can actually untwist "S" thread. Twists matter to hand-sewers and embroiderers because you can tighten the twist, or loosen the twist, depending on how you move the needle. If you twist too much, the thread can kink up and get knotty.

Image via

- Your thread has a right and wrong direction. The way thread is wound onto a spool results in the thread having a "nap," which is like little hairs that stick out. I have heard a good way to feel which direction the nap goes is to run a thread across your lips. One way will seem rougher. This is against the nap. Think of this like a feather: if you stuck a feather through a button hole backwards, the feather would ruffle. Usually, the way the thread comes off the spool, the end you snip should be the end you knot, with the beginning of the thread going through the needle. If you sew with the nap the thread will stay smoother and will be less likely to tangle and fray.

- Waxing you thread. It is often recommended to wax your thread before passing it though the fabric. This helps the thread to stay smooth and not fray and break down. What I learned from this book is if you only run the wax over your thread and go, the wax can be rubbed off in a couple passes. It is helpful to iron the wax into the thread, or even put waxed threads in a very warm place to help the wax soak into the thread. Prepare many ahead of time so you can sew away!

- Keep your thread looking its best and use short lengths (like 18in). The longer the thread, the more times it passes through the fabric, the more worn and fuzzy it will become. Also, make sure your needle is large enough to make a good hole in your fabric so the thread has ample room to pass. Take care not to have a needle to big as it can leave your work looking sloppy.

- Match your thread to your fabric. It seems quite obvious, but even I shortcut and use a thread for its color sometimes and not its content. And it's not only for aesthetic reasons. Some threads, like polyester are too strong for natural fabrics, and over time, they can cut through the fabric. Silk stretches and can leave fabric pieces loose over time, which looks sloppy. As a pre-automobile-mostly historical costumer, polyester is never a good option. Just don't buy it. Ick.

- Marking your fabric safely. This one scared me. I usually use a disappearing purple marker for my embroidery designs, but apparently the chemicals in them can break down fabric over time. Yikes! So either wash after using one of these, or use chalk or pounce. Tailors chalk is also a no-no for fine work. Apparently it is mixed with indeterminate wax to keep it sturdy. Paraffin and beeswax are really the only safe waxes for fabrics. I also read, in a book by the Royal School of Needlework, that you can use pounce and then go back with a fine brush, dipped in grey watercolor, to outline your design.

Image via Needle 'n Thread.
Buy it at Berlin Embroidery.

These were just a few bits and pieces I found especially interesting, as the entire book was fascinating. Such a lot of knowledge! I would recommend it to anyone that hand sews or quilts.

I think I'm going to sign up for a quilting class soon (because I now know that quilting isn't just a running stitch...) and then make myself a petticoat! Exciting!

Detail of 18th century quilted petticoat.

via 1812: War and Pieces

Quilted white satin travelling petticoat, c. 1745-1760
via A History of English Embroidery

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Liseré and Lampas

Kyoto Costume Institute
I'm guessing Lisere?
 It doesn't say for sure.

Liseré - Term which refers to a specific type of fabric construction involving a supplementary warp. This supplementary warp, usually multi-colored, can be used to add color and detail in selected areas on the face of the fabric. Where the liseré effect is not seen on the face of the fabric, it is hidden along the back as loosely tacked "floats." Liseré effects are in some ways similar to a tissue pick, however liseré occurs in the warp direction. Most classic liseré designs are stripes, frequently used on wing-back chairs or in formal settings. (quoted from Regal Fabrics Inc)

Lampas - a type of luxury fabric with a background weft (a "ground weave") typically in taffeta with supplementary wefts (the "pattern wefts") laid on top and forming a design, sometimes also with a "brocading weft". (quoted from Wikipedia)

Brocade - Brocade was originally an elegant, heavy silk fabric with a floral or figured pattern woven with gold or silver thread, produced in China and Japan. Currently, any of the major textile fibers may be used in a wide range of quality and price. Brocades are typically ornate, jacquard-woven fabrics. The pattern is usually emphasized by contrasting surfaces and colors, and appears on the face of the fabric, which is distinguished easily from the back. Uses include apparel, draperies, upholstery, and other decorative purposes. (quoted from Regal Fabrics Inc)

From Weaver and Loom

So basically, Lisere is brocaded fabric that has the embellishment threads along the warp, or longways, whereas Lampas is brocaded with the embellishment threads on the weft, much like a railroaded design. 

Ooo it's just so rich looking! I love it. I'm day dreaming of making a sacque from something like this one day!

Example of Lampas
Scalamandre "Melograno"
Reproduction c. 1760-70

Brunschwig & Fils "Antoinette"

This gives a good view of the supplementary
wefts on the backside of the fabric.

Restoration Fabrics

Another example of Lisere, not in a stripe,
as it is commonly seen.
Scalamandre "Strawberry"

A dress made of the same fabric,
as seen in Marie Antoinette (2006)
Images via
The Costumer's Guide to Movie Costumes

...and Valmont (1989)...

...and Dangerous Liasons (1988)!

And a tip when looking for reproduction brocades: browse eBay. Most of these fabrics are available only to decorators and they are very, very expensive, but there are often remnants and yardage for sale on eBay and you can get some at a discounted price. Yay!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Storing your vintage clothes and quality textiles.

Acid-free, unbuffered, archival boxes and tissue
from the Container Store.

Much to our excitement, The Container Store opened up near us recently. My husband and I went on a little spree - if you can call storage container shopping a spree, that is. He did the garage and I went for the sewing room.

About a year ago I did a really thorough go-through and cleaned and organized the sewing room. Sooo much better than the mess of fabrics it was before. I got stacking cube things from Target and now I have boxes for everything: silks, linens, buttons, passementerie, thread, etc. The only mess that was left was where to put the finished costumes and my collection of vintage clothes. They hung in my closet for a while, but they just take up so much room! I decided to get boxes and store them properly, so they don't get dusty and nasty. 

In a recent post I mentioned how important it is to store textiles in an acid free environment, so I was thrilled when I found archival boxes and tissue at that store - usually I have to order everything online. I bought boxes and tissue and got to packing. I started with the vintage textiles, but I intend to store all the costumes I have like this. 

Start with clean garments. Dirt and nasties can damage textiles over time, making them weak. Layer your garment on the tissue, top with tissue and neatly fold so that there is tissue between each fold of fabric. This helps reduce creasing and wrinkling. You can even layer extra tissue or washed, unbleached muslin around folds to further reduce the chance of creasing. 

Place in the box that has enough room so the garment is not squished. Store your boxes in a cool, dry place, that is climate controlled - no garages and attics, they go from hot to cold to extremely with the season. It is also important to air out your textiles on occasion, taking care to refold them in different places to give the fabric a rest. 

Don't forget to label so you know what's in the box! I found paper on roll, like tape, that work great for labeling the outside of the boxes. 

For more in depth instructions on at-home archival quality storage, click here to visit the Smithsonian's page, and if you don't have room for boxes, you can wrap with tissue and set aside a drawer or cabinet to store your things. Be nice to your completed sewing projects and vintage babies! Keep them at their best :)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Classic cars and a tea set. Day trip!

So, not too far from Las Vegas is Boulder City (with the dam), which we love, because it has a charming little old town street, a historic district with homes from the 30's and it is very "Mayberry." Well, if you use your imagination a little...

But anyway, point being, they do all kinds of cute small town things, like this car show and antiques market that we happened upon last time we drove out there for lunch. It was such a blast! We had a bite to eat and walked around and ditched Vegas for a few hours. 

I especially love going to Boulder for antiques, since we don't have too many good shops in the city. Lots of depression glass and vintage china, and lucky me, at the antiques market I came across the most amazing tea set. It's only silver plate, but I'm not complaining! It was in stellar shape with not a scratch on it, complete with tea, coffee, sugar, cream, waste bowl and tray. It was a steal, and the best part is that it's the same pattern as our silverware. What luck! It was like it was waiting for us!

Hope everyone had a great weekend! Happy Sunday!

Where's Branson?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Darning Stitch

When you look at the two extant sleeve ruffles below, the bows (top ruffle) and the leaves (bottom) are good examples of the darning stitch and the effect you get when you employ it on sheer fabric. It's a pretty basic stitch, almost like a running stitch, that adds density to an area, making the design pop, so it's not an endless parade of chain stitch.

LACMA (M.84.63.1a-b)
Linen embroidery (chainstitch) and pulled threadwork
on muslin with linen bobbin lace edging,
2 1/4 x 7 1/2 x 35 in.

LACMA, c.1760 (M.82.26.2a-b)
Linen embroidery (darning stitch and pulled fabric work)
on cotton, 3 1/2 x 8 1/2 x 38 in.

Most often you see this stitch used to darn socks, or other mending where a seam would be uncomfortable. It also reinforces the fabric since you are adding extra warp or weft to the area.

But my my, it's not easy. Especially on such fine work. The stitches are sooo small! I actually borrowed (stole really, because I'm not giving it back) my husband's lighted magnifying glass lamp thing that screws onto the table. It's amazing! It helps so much. Not only is everything big enough to see, but it's also nice and bright. Really bright.

Left, skipping two threads, catching one.
Right, catching every thread.
This is macro, btw... It's soooo small in person!
Each of those darned patches are actually 1/8 of an inch square.  

The bow before being filled in.

Halfway there! Left side is done.

The bow is now fully filled in. See the difference?

Saturday morning surprises!

So not ten minutes after singing the praises of my new Astoria's in my last post, ding dong! I open the door to another package from American Duchess. Kensingtons!

In all honesty, the pre-order was a while ago, and I completely forgot I ordered them! They were a total surprise! How cool!

And I absolutely love love love them! The red is the perfect color of deep red and the leather is really fine and soft. I am thrilled! The pointed toe is very elegant, too.

And to add to the coolness, there was another pair of buckles! Fleur. Yay!!

Happy Saturday everyone!

My Astoria's Came!

I got black and ivory in a 7 1/2. They fit quite well :)

Yay! So my American Duchess Astoria's came in the post yesterday and I am super pleased with them! I also ordered some Dauphine repro buckles, since I don't want to wear my antique pair out. I would never forgive myself!

My pair of antique buckles.
I spoke to someone who, on good authority,
think they were men's buckles, but
I do not know for sure
-- only know that they are gorgeous!!

American Duchess' Dauphine Buckles

I'm really pleased with the new narrower fit of the shoes, too. Most, if not every, extant pair of turn of the century shoes I have seen are incredibly narrow. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Pretty Mitts

Here we have some pretty mitts circa 1790-1800, from an estate in the Saugerties, NY.  The images are courtesy Karen Augusta. The mitts are constructed of unbleached cotton muslin, decorated with tan embroidery floss, metallic thread and brass spangles. They gather at the elbow with silk ribbons.

I think they are especially interesting as they are finished with a feather stitch, instead of the usual herringbone, and they are cut straight across, without the point over the knuckles that we so often see. The embroidery is charming to boot. They are unlined and would be great for summer!

They measure: Mitt L, 16"; Hand C, 7.5"; Upper Arm C, 10.5". Haha yay they would fit me just perfect!