the collection: the belts (or, the rest)

I still have things to say about pieces from my collection! Maybe it isn’t so strange – after having spent so much time, thought, and energy into it, I want to share all the little touches and details!

The top picture is from my cellphone, while I was tracing my print-pattern, getting ready to burn it to a silk screen. The motif is based on a cross-section of the heather flower, which I then repeated ten times to make a stylized flower (or is it a snow flake?). That design was “burned” onto a silk mesh screen using photo sensitive emulsion, and a big light table. Once that screen was made, I could use it to print my design onto fabric!

I took a weekend workshop through school to learn silk screen printing, and I’m really glad I had the chance to. I only needed 1/4 yard of printed fabric for the belt, but with the lab fee, buying the screen and the fabric paint, it was probably the most expensive 1/4 yard in my collection! There is something so satisfying though, in being able to design and “produce” your own print – so fun!


Some non-belt-related in-progress pictures! The skirt on the left is the draped skirt paired with the pale pink knit top, and the top on the right is the one with the cartridge pleats on the shoulders. At this point I was trying to get the length right on the skirt, and to get the distribution of gathers right on the blouse (as you can see, I ended up having the pleats on the shoulders only). I always think it’s fun to see how designs evolve, and to see things before they’re entirely done.

Another work in progress, I guess! I ended up buying an entire hide for the leather belt that I wanted to make – I just couldn’t find a smaller piece that I liked as much as this one! This is a gorgeous, wax-finished leather, and I really like the variations in color and texture that you can see.

I got the buckles from a friend, and it actually reminds me a lot of traditional Norwegian knit sweaters! It’s a nice nod to the origins of the designs, I think. To connect the pieces of leather I used bias strips of dupioni silk in a yellowish-green, and it adds a nice, and unexpected, little flash of color up close.

Both belts really were little pet projects for me. They were physically smaller, which meant that the construction generally was a lot faster than most of the other garments! At the same time, I put a lot of effort into the materials – the printing of the fabric, the seam-lines, interfacing with crinoline to add some stiffness, lining with colorful fabrics… But it was all because I really enjoyed it!

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That concludes the posts about the collection! Thanks for your encouraging comments and interest!

traces of thread: the knits

I’ve been really exited to include knits in the collection I made; a main reason has been that not only is it a craft that I really enjoy doing, but it is also  something I strongly associate with my grandparents and their generation (both in learning handcrafts from them, but also having and appreciating handmade objects that they created).

The knit swatches for the “Geithus” lace top.

Another reason lies in the fantastic possibilities in creating your own fabric, where the choice of color and texture is almost endless. I so enjoyed being able to custom design something that felt very right for the collection, and then to be able to choose from a world of wools in all sorts of thicknesses and qualities and hues to make a fabric.

And just as a reminder of my initial sketches, of both the knit jacket and the lace knit top…

… and some pictures from the photoshoot:

Like I’ve mentioned before, the knit jacket is based on the traditional embroidered linen shirt that goes with my particular style of folk costume. As I was analyzing the shirt, I realized is was mostly made up of rectangles; the collar, the sleeves, the body, and the godets are almost all perfect rectangles.

This makes perfect sense in considering the background of these folk costumes – which is medieval every-day work clothes. At a time when cloth was made by each family on a loom, the available fabric was rectangular to begin with. In an effort to make full use of the cloth they had spent a significant amount of time making, most ancient clothes and regional folk wear around the world, is based on geometric shapes.

Though I made the first samples of this in a cotton jersey, I did make a paper pattern to help me write out the knitting pattern. And with a zero-waste pattern-making workshop fresh in my head, I drew up the pattern shapes in Illustrator. It’s easy to see the geometric shapes that way, and – if I want to challenge myself – a good starting point to make this pattern true no-waste; no fabric scraps cut away or wasted!

If I could make all these rectangles go edge to edge, and not require cutting away any fabric, it would be zero-waste! Since I made it as a hand-knit piece, I was able to knit only the shapes I needed, but it could be a nice challenge to myself to turn this into a zero-waste pattern for non-handknit fabrics.

Blocking the knit pieces into the right dimensions.

In this view it’s  a little easier to see that the pieces are mostly all rectangles, and also to see how the godet, or insert, at the shoulder functions. It is a rectangle that fits into a slit on the front and the back bodice, and is gathered at the neckline. In the original folk costume shirt I think it allows for more movement, and in my jacket it was also a place to use the honey-comb pattern.

On both the jacket and the lace top I used stitch patterns reminiscent of honey-comb. My grandfather was a beekeeper, and I wanted to bring him and my memories of him into my work somehow. I picked these two stitches from stitch libraries to be evocative of the geometric and layered texture of honeycomb, and I’m really pleased with how it turned out!

This lace top was a real test of my patience and skills and mind-power. I spent a month and 4 days on this from start to finish (according to ravelry), which included the commute on the train every day, between classes, in classes… any free moment I had! I even sat up till the wee hours of the morning before our photoshoot, because unlike a pair of pants that can be folded up to look hemmed, there really is no way of faking a finished knitted garment!

The bottom half of the top is knit in the round, and then flat, or back and forth, from the bottom of the button stand. I discovered that I had to knit slightly differently flat than in the round, which might not be the most comforting thing to realize in the middle of a garment, but I didn’t have time to worry about that!

I also used a little over 2 skeins, but with my Malabrigo yarn being hand-dyed, the colors didn’t match entirely. I solved that by alternating rows when I started a new skein, to make the transition a little less noticeably. Similarly to the knit jacket, I draped a jersey muslin on the dress form first, transferred that to paper, and then measured the paper pattern to come up with the written pattern. It was a whole lot of crunching numbers and gauge and row counts and numbers of stitches! It was also very satisfying and a lot of fun to be able to develop a real pattern for a knit garment, and my next step is to clean up the pattern so I can publish it – hopefully in the fall!

traces of thread: the coat

Remember the coat from my collection?

This was by far the most complicated, and involved garment I made. But so, so enjoyable! I really thrive on learning new tailoring and sewing techniques, and being able to put them into action. This coat became the catch-all of sorts, of techniques I was intrigued by and wanted to try. Some of them were perhaps not completely necessary, but they certainly didn’t hurt!

I used a vibrant magenta silk charmeuse for the lining, which was… a little challenging. Charmeuse certainly isn’t the easiest fabric to work with, being kind of slippery both in cutting and in handling. I just took my time working with it. The colors in those cell-phone pictures are kind of off, but I like seeing pattern layouts, so there! That is what it looked like while I was cutting out and trying to get the best yield possible! I ended up using about 2 3/4 yards of 60″ wide fabric – mostly because the skirt of the coat is so voluminous!

The cartridge pleats in the skirt is lined fully along the edge with the silk lining fabric. It was quite a task to figure out how to attach everything, as a section of the skirt is sewn edge to edge with the lining, but the rest is sewn wool bodice to wool skirt, and silk bodice to silk skirt. was confusing!

I think the edge of the cartridge pleats came out very nice, and it’s a lovely detail to discover up close. What I’m holding in the picture, is the lining skirt hem, which due to a silly patternmaking glitch on my part, I had to ease into the skirt hem facing. Since the skirt is curved, there is a separate facing all along the edge, about 3″ wide, and then the lining is sewn to the facing. On the inside I catch-stitched the wool facing to the outside skirt edge, so the facing would stay in place and not flop down – which it was very prone to doing since it was such a long piece (probably over 3 yards in total!)

Anyways, in several places I used some organza bias strips to ease the fabric, and it worked so well! I first read about it in one of Gertie’s sew-along posts, and it had me really intrigued. It is quite clever – just place a strip of bias organza (1/2″ should be enough) on the stretch of fabric that needs easing, sew it in place close to the stitch-line, but in the seam allowance, and the bias will stretch out while sewing, and ease back when you’re done. Now that length of the fabric has shrunk in length, without any puckers! Then you sew it to the other piece of fabric as normal. It’s a fantastic way of easing without any wrinkles or puckers.

The design- and patternmaking stage of this collection fell pretty much exactly with the winter. I found myself staring at people’s coats during my morning commute on the “L”, studying the construction and details of them. I noticed a lot of them at a sort of mock flat-felled seam, where the seam allowance is folded to one side and topstitched about 1/4″ away from the seam. I loved the look of that detail, and included it on the bodice and the sleeves of my coat. The above picture is also meant to show the sleeve of the coat, which I put some extra touches in, and I think it ended up looking quite nice!

A large reason the sleeve looks nice, is the addition of a sleeve-head. It’s a batted piece of bias muslin, basted into the seam allowance and lying in towards the sleeve to improve the shape of the sleeve. It’s meant to prevent the top of the sleeve from falling down and looking limp, but in this case it also gave a nice shape to the gatherings at the top as well. I ended up not putting in any shoulder-pads because I liked the overall shape as it was, but they are also something to add for a tailored look.

I also reinforced the shoulder, by sewing in a straight-grain strip of organza. Muslin also works for this purpose, and I sewed some around the armscye too to prevent stretching, but during construction, and afterwards, during use of the garment. I got a little over-ambitious and started pulling the organza taut as I was sewing, which has the danger of actually making the fabric shrink, instead of just maintaining the original shape and length! (Don’t do that. Don’t pull!)

I reinforced the edges of my silk lining fabric. I knew from experience that silk charmeuse frays like crazy – not necessarily just from sewing and handling it, but definitely in use after the garment is sewn. I wanted the inside of this coat to be as durable and well-made as possible, so I cut bias strips about 1/4″ wide of interfacing, and ironed on the edges of the lining pieces after they were cut. Yes, it took quite a while, but it was a great relief to not have a fraying mess on my hands while I was sewing, and more so, that I wouldn’t have a ravelling mess on the inside of the coat, creeping towards the seamline and threatening to become undone!

I’m sure there is a ton of stuff I’ve forgotten – oh, I know! Interfacing! Lot’s of interfacing – on  facings, on stresspoints such as either end of pocket openings… really, lots of places. I learned that interfacing really improves the overall feel of the garment; makes it feel more sturdy and professionally finished. I also used weft interfacing for the first time, which was wonderful! Like regular woven fabrics it has a cross-grain and a straight-grain, and therefore also stretches like wovens do. You need more of it since it has to be cut on grain as well, but it doesn’t change the hand of your fabric to a stiff, different thing. It’s your fabric, just better!

Well, that was the tour of the stuff I did to my coat! I hope this geeking out is enjoyable to other people too!

the big reveal: my collection

Finally, pictures of the collection I’ve been working on for the past 8 months or so! (See here and here for the work in progress – especially the second picture in the first link). I’ve called it “Traces of Thread”, and the pieces were inspired by Norwegian folk costumes, with a dash of Victorian era and some nostalgia thrown in for good measure. I think that shows!

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The key piece of the collection – the wool melton coat. Between the wool fabric, and the magenta silk charmeuse lining, facings, and interfacing  – there are a ton of pattern-pieces! The most time-consuming feature is in the back – cartridge pleating, with the lining fabric showing on the edge. This is definitely strongly inspired by the “bunad”; the skirt of mine has this kind of pleating all around the waist. Just imagine how heavy that skirt gets!

The seamlines in the front and the back are also inspired by the seamlines of my particular regional version of the “bunad” (click the image to see it larger!). The wool was an absolute dream to work with, like sewing in butter! This was by far my most tailored piece, and I have a post coming up about what sort of techniques I used on the coat.

(Wool from B. Black and Sons, silk charmeuse from C & J Textiles, cotton sateen from Mood Fabrics)

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The lace top was also quite an undertaking! I knit the top from a lace-weight yarn, and I think there must be multiple thousands of stitches in this thing! This will also get a post of its own I think – I guess I like to talk about stuff I’ve made, and how I made it! The skirt is made in cotton sateen, which has a wonderful feel and weightyness to it, but can be a little difficult to sew with since pins and needles leave marks in the fabric. The draping on the side is a nod to Victorian bustles, but also the hiking up of heavy skirts when climbing  stairs or such.

(Ravelry page here, yarn from Loopy Yarns, buttons from ages ago from Panduro, cotton sateen from Mood Fabrics)

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The cartridge pleating strikes again! This was actually also a bit of a technical challenge  – and I have pictures, but that’s for another day and another post. The fabric is a silk gauze, and it was my first time working with that. It frays, it’s really shifty, but it’s all worth it for the fantastic way it drapes, and for the richness the gauze weave. Because of how it’s woven there is a subtle pattern, as well as some dimension to the fabric. Beautiful!

The fabric for the belt is screenprinted, with a design I composed. It’s been a lot of fun to be the creator of the fabric, from designing, to prepping the screen, to actually printing the fabric. Hmm, I smell another separate post coming…! The skirt is in a lovely wool flannel. I just love working with wool – it  does exactly what you want it to do, especially with  steam and gentle prodding!

(Silk gauze from Vogue, cotton sateen twill from my stash, screen from Atlas, wool flannel from Fishman’s Fabrics)

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And lastly, my knit jacket ensemble. The jacket pattern is based on traditional folk wear, with largely geometric pieces. For example, the shoulder has a couple of rectangles inserted, and then gathered into the collar just like the “bunad”-shirts I studied (don’t worry, there are more details coming up in a separate post!). The vest underneath is bound with bias silk dupioni, and has a front panel that attaches with snaps. And the leather belt cinches in the waist in good Victorian fashion, while the clasps bring back the folk and traditional feel.

(Ravelry page here, yarn from BrooklynTweed, Cotton twill from my stash,
silk dupioni from Vogue, wool flannel from Fishman’s Fabrics, leather from Tandy Leather Factory)

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Well, there it is! It has, not surprisingly, been a lot of work these last months, but a tremendous learning process. I’m more sure than ever that I *love* making things, and making them in the most beautiful and well-constructed way possible. I’m also really glad to have been able to include knit-wear, and textile manipulation, like some dyed fabrics for the linings, and the screenprinting – to be part of the making of the fabric itself! The next step I guess, is to go further down into the hierarchy of making – spin my own yarn, weave my own fabric? Regardless, now it’s time to step back, pat myself on the back, and be proud.

Photos – John M. Burnham
Hair/Make-up – Ingrid Feder
Model – Sally Freeman

(If you’re in the Chicago-area, do come check out the upcoming fashion show I’ll be in! May 17th, Garfield Park Conservatory, great collections, nice people? Good combination!)

collection progress: in pieces

On this grey Sunday, with a cold  I’m trying to eradicate, I figured I’d show you how I’m doing on my final senior fashion design project.

Even though we’re well into the second (and last semester) where we make everything, I haven’t actually completed much. The patternmaking and sourcing takes quite a long while; by the time you’re ready to start sewing, you already have your fabric, your pattern, and every thing goes together quite quickly. I guess what I mean to say is that sometimes the actual sewing or creating part doesn’t take all that long, but the preparations that makes it a breeze? That’s the time-consuming part!

My only finished garment so far, a cotton twill vest with mitered dupioni silk bias binding.

A wool coat and a pair of wool flannel pants – in the early stages of construction.

A hand-knit jacket, still in pieces.

Swatches for a lace-weight knit top.

This silk gauze blouse has been living on my dining table for… ehm, three weeks now. I’m pleating the fabric, and it’s just so delicate that I don’t want to move it until I have to!

I hope you’ve enjoyed these little glimpses of a large project in process! I should start having some more completed garments soon, and that’ll be encouraging and exciting!