This is definitely one of those skirts that look better on a body than on a hanger....but we got another six? eight? ten? inches of snow again yesterday and there is no way I am standing out there wearing a mid length skirt and nice pair of shoes only to watch them disappear into the mountains of new and old snow.
But as soon as this cold weather breaks, I'll celebrate with some pics :-)
I absolutely loved working with this lace, it was stable and thick enough to manipulate easily but soft and light enough to make the darts and seams almost invisible.
I used my altered Marfy free pattern from last years sew along without making any further alterations, cutting a muslin first to check fit and then cutting a secondary cream silk charmeuse layer before joining them both together with some thread basting.
Once the two fabrics were joined (muslin behind/silk on top) I sewed the right hand seam with a 2.5 stitch from top to bottom leaving the left hand seam open.
The lace has to be joined using lines of handstitching so the three fabrics (muslin, silk, lace) make a single fabric, but it can't be laid down or sewn flat because of the curves of the hips, thighs and waist.
I've tried a couple of ways to do this over the last few years - my large ham, rolled up fabric mounds etc but the only way I've found to get that exact fit is to join them while it is on my dress form.
I thought I would start with the hem for this skirt, using a scallop or trim detail to really show detail, I played with the proportions of the hem and underlining until I liked what I saw, and then pinned the hem all the way around so the lace could not be pulled and moved... and from there it was a simple case of pinning every few inches while smoothing the fabric all the way to the waistband.
Interestingly, if the lace is pinned smoothly following the lines of the pattern,then the dart excess appears automatically where it should, which makes it very simple to pinch and shape them out nicely.
Although this can take half a day or so to do properly, its not hard. You just need a light hand and lots of patience....
and once all that lace is pinned and smooth, the form can be removed from the stand and laid flat on a desk... having it laying flat makes sewing basting lines so much easier than when the form is upright.
Before I started basting, I tested a number of coloured silk threads on a small square of the lace by running a few different coloured silk stitches from top to bottom, leaving them to sit overnight before removing them. It's amazing what tiny stains a thread can sometimes leave, especially those vintage spools...
In this case, the Orange Belding Corticelli left no marks at all and pulled out quickly and smoothly.
Starting at the waist, I ran long stitches down as far as mid thigh removing pins as I went (past mid thigh the skirt straightens out anyway and can be sewn flat on a table)
I'm not very orderly when I do this kind of work, but each column is roughly two inches apart, with large running stitches securing the lace firmly.
When the front and back had been basted to mid thigh, I sewed a machine basting seam of 5.0 into the open left seam so I could try it on.
and I don't know why, but I am always surprised that no matter how carefully I work, little bubble's of fabric do appear...but I just stick pins in those looser sections while I am wearing the skirt to mark them, and then once the skirt seam is unpicked, open up the silk basting and run new basting lines to each area carefully, while smoothing out the fabric.
It's not an exact science, and I find that it's not unusual for me to try the skirt on two or three times - but it's so much better to have the lace laying nicely at this stage before you go on to the real hand stitching.
and once it's all behaving....get that 20 plus hours of tv or audio lined up and ready to go!!
I like to use a single thread of Gutermann - no beeswax and a single tiny knot which I tuck under a solid lace section close to where I start sewing........Its not easy to get the needle to the underneath of the skirt to begin as it moves the lace and skirt to much for my liking but by using a single tiny knot on the outside it can't be seen at all if you start in the middle of a design detail.
and because this lace has re-embroidered cording, I was able to use that to hide my stitches, hooking each tiny stitch over the cord and then popping up 1/2" or so later following the orange lines to some extent. When I finish a line, I always place a pin at the top and bottom - its easy to go back and re-sew the one you just finished again otherwise, trust me!
Spot the stitch :-)
Once the skirt has been sewn down to mid thigh all around, its time to baste that side seam again for another fitting.
I don't tend to cut any dart sections until I can clearly see that the lace surrounding the darts is in place..its simple to see with a quick fitting.....and only then will I remove the basting stitches and open up the skirt again.
Here, I often choose to use a ham rather than my form, I have hips and a stomach and this emulates it far better than a more flattering but not real stuffed form!
I'll also follow the lace design when I cut, as corded lace is a continuous piece and will fray at the ends once snipped, so I often play around for a while before cutting to make sure I only remove small details leaving one or two big uncut areas for overlap.
Above- the left side ends up underneath the large scallop which draws the eye away from a cut line...
and if I feel the line is still to obvious, I add back another little detail just for interest (yellow pin)
One of the back darts.
These always take quite a lot of time to sew, as I like to make sure nothing is going to work free over time but its nice peaceful work.
and once finished - I try it on again. You just never know if a piece of cut lace has been pulled to tight, or left to loose, but it all becomes so obvious the second its on, lace can sadly be fairly unforgiving when it comes to mistakes.
But it all looked good, so I opened it up again, laid it flat on the table and got on with the job of sewing down the lace from mid thigh to hem...
and once done, I sewed the seam permanently using a 2.5 stitch, steamed it flat , and then draped it over a sleeve ham to cut away the lace in the same manner as the darts making that seam all but disappear....
For the zipper, I used an 9" all purpose white generic and a pick stitch..
I really tried to make this simple as there is nothing worse than getting some cord stuck in the zipper, so instead I trimmed the left hand side right down to the edge neatly...
and then did the same on the right side, choosing to leave a single exposed large flower detail at the top and a small scallop at the bottom.
And after sewing a tiny snap in place to the underside of the cutout, its almost invisible when done up.
Finally, I stay stitched a silk charmeuse lining to the waist seam at the top and then attached a Petersham ribbon to that line stitching on the outside, flipping it over, cutting away the excess layers underneath and machine stitching the ribbon at the side seams and darts to hold it in place.
I'm working tomorrow, but can't wait to get started on Vogue V1440 on Wednesday. In theory this should be a quick make, no lining and a loose fit but I'm under no illusions that it will be!!
and a big thank you to Claire from the Domestic Coquinette blog who emailed me this absolutely fascinating article from the Financial Times this week....
I had absolutely no idea of the history of Brocade but am feeling very inspired!
Brocade: the golden thread Elizabeth Fremantle
From Byzantine boudoirs and Tudor palaces to the catwalk, the fabric exerts a sumptuous appeal. A historical writer traces its progression.
Cultural trends have a strange way of lining up. On the small screen, the all-star adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall is reaching its dramatic apogee; celebrations to mark the 500th anniversary of Cardinal Wolsey’s lavish palace at Hampton Court are getting under way; and thousands of people have visited The Real Tudors: Kings and Queens Rediscovered at the National Portrait Gallery (which transfers to the Grand Palais in Paris next month). Such is the ubiquity of the Tudors, one can even decorate one’s fingertips with Tudor roses.
Perhaps this passion for the Renaissance comes in response to years of austerity — a craving for an era when leaders had conviction and the culture was one of excess.
Fashion’s response to the trend can be found in the prevalence of extravagantly sumptuous fabrics and, in particular, exquisite brocades. Miuccia Prada took the lead for SS15 with a collection that featured numerous variations of the fabric, copied from historic patterns at frighteningly prodigious expense and teamed in panels with butter-soft leather or shaped into high-neck sleeveless shell tops. Perhaps the most definitive of her looks was a tidily-cut, shimmering brocade skirt tamed by a sensible sweater.
The extravagance of Prada’s fabrics was reined in by her frayed hemlines, which added a louche, devil-may-care attitude. At Miu Miu, the sensibility was the same, though the brocade was matt in texture and radioactively bright. Lanvin also showed layers of the lustrous fabric beneath unstructured jackets in a night-sky palette, while Vivienne Westwood showed poison-green silk chinoiserie in tailored shapes and a cape faced in gleaming copper that wouldn’t look amiss on an archbishop.
The richly-decorated silk we have come to know as brocade (characterized by its continuous pattern in two contrasting colours) originated in China, spreading westward through Byzantium in the Middle Ages. But it was the Italians in the 15th century who developed increasingly sophisticated shuttle-weaving techniques to enable the creation of the complex patterns associated with the Renaissance.
Silk production alone was costly, and the manufacture of hand- woven broccado fabrics was labour-intensive, so brocade was traded throughout Europe at extortionate prices. Thus, it was the perfect status symbol for an upstart royal family with a tenuous place on the throne: the Tudors.
It wasn’t until Jacquard invented the mechanical loom in the 19th century that prices dropped and brocades, or “Jacquards” as they became known, were more widely available.
I remember my first brocade. It was the 1980s and I was proudly stepping out in my new gold and red trousers from Crolla. “Wearing your gran’s old curtains?” laughed some wag driving a black cab. Sporty black leggings were the thing then, but for those who wanted something more dapper, it was either Crolla, with its clever juxtapositions of plush furnishing fabrics, or, if you were a dab hand with a needle, the John Lewis upholstery department. The design label wasn’t the first to mine the fashion potential of fabrics usually swathed across the windows and sofas of stately homes. During the war my mother dazzled in a dress made out of old brocade curtains, just like Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind.
“I’m going to Atlanta for that $300 and I’ve got to go looking like a queen,” cries O’Hara, ripping the bottle-green drapes down. There’s nothing like a dash of brocade to make anyone feel like a queen.
“Even armour was elaborately engraved and gilded to mimic the patterns of fabric
In contrast to our girl-and-boy-next-door royals, the Tudor family was splendidly attired in lustrous fabrics, as The Real Tudors demonstrates. This display of majesty was essential to Tudor power and sumptuary laws were passed dictating what fabrics
people were permitted to wear, making social position instantly recognisable.
The apogee of luxury fabrics, cloth of gold, made with real gold thread, was only worn by royalty, though if you were a duke or an earl you might get away with wearing a discreet panel of the stuff. Purple was also the preserve of the monarchy, and gold and purple patterned silk became the ultimate expression of Tudor power dressing. This visually-codified class structure is accurately depicted in Wolf Hall, where the costume designers have dressed royalty in a vibrant palette to outshine the lesser mortals in their muted colours.
As the century wore on, clothing became increasingly elaborate, with some of Elizabeth I’s court dresses so encumbered with textures and patterns they bordered on the absurd. Even armour was elaborately engraved and gilded to mimic the patterns of fabric, and women’s brocade dresses were often edged and lined in fur, a contrast of textures which Simone Rocha updated in her silvery cloque dresses with marabou trim for SS15.
When James I came to the throne, the royal court moved into a period of unprecedented excess. Queen consort Anne of Denmark pillaged Elizabeth I’s vast wardrobe to make costumes for the masques she so loved — to the horror of some of the old guard. The new king repealed the sumptuary laws and finery was available to anyone who could afford it. In a magnificent pair of portraits of the Cecil sisters, c1615, by William Larkin at the newly refurbished Kenwood House in Hampstead, the girls wear identical dresses of gold and white silks, textured with lacerations — a witty contempt for opulence, an echo of which can be found Miuccia Prada’s raw-edged brocades.
What contemporary designers have managed to do is marry decadent luxury with pared-down shapes and styling that take all the vulgarity out of excess. I don’t think we’re going to see our party leaders in patterned silk just yet and I doubt they’ll be passing decisive sumptuary policies either, but I do hope to see Kate Middleton discreetly embracing her status in Prada-style contemporary brocade before the year is out.
Elizabeth Fremantle’s ‘Queen’s Gambit’ and ‘Sisters of Treason’ are published by Penguin
Photographs: Bridgeman Images; Catwalking.com
Have a great week!