Difficult fabrics – my own sewing journey

posted in: Designing, Inspiration | 17

I have started trying to work with more difficult fabrics, in the hope that this will force me to improve my sewing techniques. I am a good enough constructor, but my stitching is rather basic compared to some of the amazing work done by my internet friends. Mary Funt, Bunny and Mrs Mole make stunning and beautiful outfits with such challenging ingredients; I feel like the basic school cook compared to their mastercheffing.

These fabrics – especially lace and fine (translucent) silks – can be really hard work, as all the workings are visible and they do not behave like a nice solid cotton or a reliable wool. They are fabrics, therefore, associated with luxury, special occasions, high prices and couture.

V&A ballgowns
V&A Ballgown exhibition

When I was at college, learning how to design and make clothes, the final term, of the second year, was reserved for the difficult fabrics. I chosen satin – shiny, slippery silk, and its polyester counterpart. We had to thoroughly research the history of the fabric, producing a short dissertation. We also had to design a collection of ten items in the fabric, including one for a client. And we had to make up one of the designs – usually the hardest to do.

Other students chose:

  • Lace
  • Velvet
  • Translucent fabrics
  • Fur (real and fake)
  • Knitting
  • Stretch fabrics
  • Leather

During the term we all made lots of samples of seams, hems and buttonholes, and pockets, using our chosen difficult fabrics. We also tried surface decoration, and pin tucks, and embroidery, and dying. It was a very liberating and fun class as we learnt about all these fabrics, and more, as our fellow students tackled them.

It was a good experience to conquer our fears. But as it has been years! And, because I have mainly been sewing outfits to wear for work, I haven’t really been near any of these fabrics.

At the moment the London shops are absolutely full of lace (Our Lady, Full of Lace). Lace tops, lace skirts, lace dresses. The quality is generally fairly shoddy. These TopShop dresses are £100 a piece, and very short indeed. I thought the colours were rather nice, and liked the use of sheer panels.

Lace dresses from TopShop
TopShop Lace dresses

As I am dissatisfied with my construction techniques I have set myself the task of getting mastery of some of these fabrics. I am not going near knitting or fur at the moment. I am going to concentrate on the translucent fabrics, predominantly lace and the lightweight, see through silks. I am planning to make a sheer blouse, with lace trimming. That will be pretty challenging I guess.

I will be writing up my sewing journey here.


17 Responses

  1. Demented Fairy

    Pretty enough dresses, but I can imagine the shoddy construction having seen plenty of these lightweight frothy delights on my own daughters [and had to repair them as they disintegrate]. And how short? eeek! Love those shoes on the middle dummy though…yum. I’m sure you’l meet the challenge brilliantly, these fabrics aren’t so bad you know.

  2. Stephanie

    Love this, K. Love to see how you are challenging yourself. I’m intrigued by the idea of sewing with lace. I have never owned a lace garment but I would love to own a lace skirt or dress.

    • fabrickated

      I have done a couple of skirts now (it takes me longer to write them up) and have a few hints to pass on (eventually). But I think you would really suit a lace skirt Stephanie. You can wear a longish, serious shape, even in a classic colour like navy, and yet have the fizz of lace. Great, understated, fun.

  3. Maggie

    I am interested to follow along in your journey. I am interested in sewing a blouse with lace as well, but it is not at the top of my list yet (maybe I’m procrastinating!)

  4. Jennifer

    Well, I have absolute confidence that you will nail it! (well, please don’t put nails in…..so dangerous and untidy) I haven’t seen you turn out a bad piece yet. 🙂 Will be happily watching the progress.

  5. mrsmole

    Oh Kate, I only work on these fabrics because that is what comes in the door, not my first choice! Lace is funny, it can be so thick that seaming it or even getting a needle through it is impossible. There must be a right way and wrong way but it varies so much in the content and inner construction. But it does allow you to cut and shift it around and basically “cheat” like you could never get away with in real life. Susan Khalje has a book about Bridal Lace and I am really looking forward to seeing what your investigation leads to. Old dogs can learn new tricks! Love the dress display…wow…wearing a dress like that to a party would surely get you a few free drinks!

    • fabrickated

      Love the free drinks comment. And the observation that lace can be very varied – I have started to shop around and am already discovering that in RTW they appear to have a completely different range of fabrics than I can buy. And many of the “bridal fabric” shops appear to have such high prices I wonder if they are justified. Anyway, life is always about exploring, learning and experimenting.

  6. Susie

    I tend to work myself up in anticipation of “difficult” fabrics also. My last lace project turned out to be a lovely exercise for me, enjoyable and surprisingly nice looking. I am looking forward to seeing your work. Patience is the best advice. I think lace can be very forgiving, especially compared to the other “translucents”.

  7. Mary Funt

    Thanks for the mention. Have fun in your ventures into the world of tricky fabrics. Buy a little extra and save all your scraps. Spend time testing; I may test several ways to sew a seam before committing. Having worked in virtually every kind of lace, they are all different and you sometimes need to invent techniques. I LOVE the salmon dress with silver beading in your first photo. It looks like layers of silk chiffon. I would love to have an occasion to try this one.

  8. Bunny

    Thanks for the recognition. I really enjoy a fabric challenge. My MO is to research the heck out of the techniques, make my own samples following my gut, and then get sewing based on the samples. I think sampling stitches, seam finishes, buttonholes, etc is critical to working with any new fabric. I keep those samples and refer back to them as well as use a notebook to track them so the next go round I know just what to do. I agree with Mary, that sometimes you have to invent techniques. It’s the fun of sewing, isn’t it?

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