Several days ago we were in Bruges. Not only is it a beautiful medieval city, I learned that at one time this city was the center of the European cloth industry. An outgrowth of that industry was the art of making lace.
Unfortunately this art form is hanging on by a thread. However at the Lace Museum in Bruges There are a handful of women trying to keep lace-making alive. They have a display of exquisite pieces of lace, provide lessons and demo for visitors.
During our visit there were about 20 students from North Carolina who learned basic lace-making, and I was able to sit in with them for a one hour lesson. Wisely, their college professor/tour guide thought it would be good for this group of technology-competent students to learn traditional lace-making. All we did was a 4-thread weave, hardly lace. As with any group, some learned very quickly and others struggled. I was at the midpoint on the learning curve.
As you can see, here some photos of the gorgeous pieces in the museum, and a pix of me fumbling around trying to learn to make lace.
If like me, you’re a lover of fine fabrics, you likely are noticing that wool fabric (and other natural fabrics for that matter) gradually are leaving the fashion scene. When available, the price is outrageous but really, when is the last time you purchased a garment or piece of fabric made fro100% silk or wool?
While I can’t say I’m studying this phenomenon, naively I have assumed the declining availability of wool ready-to-wear and fabric is due to exactly that – it’s not available , as in there are fewer sheep in the world.
Then came my trip to Paris where I’m a duck out of water in my new stylish ski-type jacket. Nearly every woman in Paris wears a (fashionable) wool coat, even on a rainy winter day. Young children wear gorgeous wool coats – the kind you absolutely can’t find in the US. Admittedly these garment are far more costly than the inexpensive and poorly constructed garments we tolerate but they look soooo much better.
What’s more, going into fast fashion stores in Paris, there are tons of partial or 100% wool garments. With this new information in hand, I can only assume that we In N. America aren’t fighting for what we really want to sew with or wear. What a sad state of affairs. The next time I’m in a fabric store and pick up a piece of wool, instead of thinking about the high cost, I am going to thank the proprietor for carrying such wonderfully durable fabric. Then I’m going to purchase it.
Several weeks ago I posted about the hot pink maternity coat I sewed for my DD Megan. Of course I couldn’t wait to see what was hiding under that coat. Now we know – little Genevieve is beautiful just like her mother.
More later but I had to share a photo of our little beauty(ies).
It’s prom time and one of my dear nieces asked me to hem and alter her dress and to sew a really puffy petticoat for under the dress. Absolutely beautiful and a skirt of yards of tulle.
The first and most time consuming step was to remove and replace about half of the lace applique and bead-sequin trim. While this took time, it was straight forward. On the other hand, I knew that hemming the tulle was a once and done affair. If not done correctly the first time, removing stitches would result in damaged tulle. Here’s what the hem looked like originally – a narrow turned over hem.
As you can see, it wasn’t sewed all that well when the garment was manufactured. It was turned over twice and sewed close to the edge. Originally my plan was to repeat that process after the dress was cut to the desired length. Fate changed that plan.
On the day that I was finishing the dress alterations, one of my sewing friends came to my house to see how a serger works. One of the finishes I showed her was a rolled hem. Immediately I realized that’s what I should use for the hem. Why hadn’t I previously thought of this? The result was a beautifully finished rolled hem.
How to Serge a Rolled Hem
While this process will vary slightly by serger, the general process is the same.
1. Remove the left needle.
2. Thread the right needle and the upper and lower looper with thread that matches the fabric.
Note: Because of the limited serger thread color selection, I used one spool of regular sewing thread and wound 2 bobbins in the same color.
3. Set to a very narrow stitch width.
4. Set stitch length to a very short stitch – some sergers have rolled hem settings.
5. Disengage the cutting blade.
6. Place cut edge ~1/16″ to the right of the right needle. This part will turn under and will disappear into the rolled hem
7. Sew a sample one the fabric you’re hemming.
Note: The fabric should not pull or ruffle the edge.
8. Adjust tension as needed.
Note: This is the part that varies by machine so it’s difficult to provide specific directions.
The result is an amazingly beautiful hem and it takes only minutes to complete. I was so thankful that I remembered to use this finishing method, which would work equally well for chiffon, crepe or many other fabrics.
Settings for a Baby Lock Evolve (or similar serger)
Remove left or Overlock 1 needle
Disengage cutting knife
Stitch width 3.5
Stitch Length 1.5R (Rolled hem setting)
Stitch Selector – D
Upper Looper Selector – Up position
Tension – no settings as this is automatic on an Evolve
Altering a wedding dress isn’t something I do regularly, but I’ve muttled through on several wedding or formal dresses. So in case you’re tackling this project, I’d like to share some “how to’s”. Of note, these same directions are applicable to any formal dress or bridesmaid dress.
Recently when I altered EB’s wedding dress, I needed to find 3″ of extra circumference in for a well-fitted dress. While that seemed like a lot of fabric gain, it was very manageable and yet it was nearly the maximum alteration I could get without adding additional fabric to the sides (not an option for this dress because of the pleating). Yes, and then there were the leftover stitching marks – how were they eliminated?
Here are the steps I went through to get this lovely result.
Altering the sides of a wedding or formal dress that’s too small:
1. Start by taking a peak at the side seam and zipper allowances, which for most dresses is where you’ll find the extra fabric. (This dress had 1″ side seam allowances and 3/4″ seams for the back zipper).
2. Establish the amount of additional fabric needed in order for the dress to fit. (3″ for this alteration). Do this by measuring the gap at the zipper. In other words, with the zipper open, use a seam gauge to measure the exact amount of space between the zipper teeth. This is the moment of truth and it’s basic math. If the amount you need to alter (i.e. let out) is more than what is available in the seams, it’s likely not possible to do this alteration.
3. Determine how much can be obtained from the side seams. (I could steal 2-1/2″ from the side seams and 1/2″ from the zipper).
4. Carefully remove the side seam stitches from the outer layer and the lining of the dress – all the way from top to bottom or for the area where the alteration is needed. This means “cut”, not “rip” the seam as ripping can increase the size of the thread hole. Sometimes this can include the seams of the skirt. If the seams aren’t finished or are susceptible to fraying, you may want to finish the edges before manipulating the fabric.
5. Sew the dress and lining seam back together. ( I was lucky here – the dress and the lining had a thick fusible lining which made the seams very stable and there was no fraying).
6. From the inside, press the seams open. A sleeve board or clapper covered with silk organza works well for this step.
That’s it for sewing the side seams. While it seems easy, manipulating such a large amount of fabric is what takes the most time.
Altering the zipper or (usually the back) of a wedding or formal dress that’s too small:
1. Remove the old zipper.
2. Press out the old seamline.
3. Re-sew the zipper – you may wish to use a new zipper just in case. My preferred method is to hand-pick the zipper. The look is beautiful and for my level of experience it’s easier than machine sewing a replacement zipper when you’re trying to handle yards of fabric. (I was able to get an additional 1/2″ of the required alteration from the zipper. Also, I modified the zipper from a lapped to a centered zipper placement).
Pressing the alterations – and removing those pesky stitch marks which are tiny holes in the fabric.
Admittedly, this is the most difficult part of the process. Here are some tips to help you:
Use a good pressing cloth such as silk organza.
Use lots of steam.
Place a sleeve board or clapper under the seam while pressing.
While pressing, apply pressure from the edge of the iron directly on the old stitch-line.
If you aren’t getting the desired result and you think it will never look good, dab a small amount of diluted vinegar (1:1 with water) on the original seam or the stitch line. Brush lightly with a new toothbrush to reduce the size of the stitch marks and then press the fabric, again using a pressing cloth.
At the end of August my dear friend Kathleen’s daughter EB was married. It was a beautiful outdoor event in a lovely park and on a sunny summer day. Sounds like the wedding made in heaven. As with all events of that magnitude, there are always a few last-minute glitches. In this case the most significant “week before the event” change was the wedding dress. Originally EB selected a vintage dress and had it altered so it fit perfectly. It was ready for the big day.
As we know, there’s more to a great wedding dress than “fit”. EB loved the dress but the style (for her) wasn’t quite right. So with 10 days to the big day she found an amazing dress in a bridal shop. Now she was really in love – with the guy and the dress.
The bridal store clerk sold EB the dress and said it would be no problem to do the alterations in a week. They quoted $100 to alter the sides, repair/place a new zipper, adjust the shoulders. shorten the dress 7″, shorten the slip and to add a bustle. As Kathleen told me this, I thought, “The people at the bridal store were taking EB for a ride. There’s no way they’d do all of those alterations for $100”. Truthfully I was a little annoyed that a bridal shop would be so disingenuous as to give a low-ball quote. Haven’t we all heard the tales of bridal shops charging exorbitant prices for alterations services?
What are friends for? I was pleased to do the alterations. Besides this was self-serving as it nourished my hunger for working on a wedding dress.
The schedule: With six days to go, EB came to my house for a fitting. For 2 days I ripped, cut, sewed and pressed. In 48 hours or 4 days before the wedding EB came for the final fitting and it was perfect. She loved it and the dress looked fabulous on her.
The back had buttons all the way down to the hemline – a lovely design detail.
How wonderful it was to see the a bride feel beautiful on her special day.
BTW, since I had difficulty finding websites with information about “Side alterations – too little fabric”, my next post will be on this topic.
Forty years ago today and six weeks after Kevin returned from a 14 month tour in Viet Nam, he and I were married. In the ensuing years we have been blessed with wonderful times (and of course some tough times); three incredible children, their wonderful spouses and two adorable grandchildren for which this blog is named. Along with family and friends, we have created a lifetime of great memories and Kevin is still not only the love of my life, but also my best friend.
Congratulations to Megan and Chris, who are celebrating their first wedding anniversary today!
Oh my, how times changed us. I guess you would call us “vintage”.
About my dress: Because this is fundamentally a sewing blog, a little information about my wedding gown only seemed appropriate. (And for those of you who remember the awful plaid suit I made for Kevin in the 70’s, I didn’t make his tux.)
The following is an old folded copy of the dress I copied from a 1970 bridal magazine then I like “knockoff’s”. The fabric was a sheer poly of some type purchased from a fine Milwaukee fabric store that bit the dust about 20 years ago. The cape and veil were made from yards of silk illusion, which is now a rare find and the lace was beaded French alencon. I cut all of the lace and spent hours beading it, but had lots of time since Kevin was in Viet Nam.
A little hiccup:
For the year that Kevin was in Viet Nam, I lived with my parents. They had a toy terrier who was usually well-behaved but like all animals he had his moments. One day I was working on the nearly completed cape (fine silk – just right for a dog bed) and left it on the couch, never expecting that the dog would climb on the couch and nuzzle in my dress. But he did, and tore the fabric in several places. Grrrrh. I was able to move some of the appliques and cover the tears so all was well in the end but at that time it seemed such a big deal.