Latest Posts

The right fabric for the right project

There has been a bit of a debate on the sewing-focused internet world lately regarding what those who sew and create should call themselves.  Are we sewers (but it sounds like a waste disposal network!)?  Are we seamstresses (so confining, old fashioned, and gendered)?  Are we sewists (but it’s a made up word – gasp, shock, horror!)?

I’m actually OK with all of them.  I tend to use seamstress because, well, I’m an old-fashioned girl.

Really though, they are all slight misnomers, because the things that make the biggest difference in the final result of your project often aren’t the seams themselves: they are fabric choice, cutting, and pressing.

Pressing is so, so important – I’ll talk more about it later (the most accomplished draper/dressmaker/seamstress/costumier/pattern cutter, whatever you want to call her that I have ever worked with used to say “Never trust a seamstress who doesn’t use her iron more than her sewing machine”), but today I want to talk about fabric choice.

Fabric choice can make or break a project.  A really, really, really good seamstress can make a bad fabric work, but it isn’t easy.  It’s much more effective to just pick the right fabric for your project from the start.

So how do you know which fabric to pick?  Patterns generally give guidelines, and a good independent fabric store will have staff that will know their fabrics, and can help you pick a suitable fabric.

Silk duchesse satin with antique silver lace trim

Ideally though, you want to learn the fabrics for yourself.

Learn the different fibres that fabrics are made from: natural fibres like wool, linen, silk, and cotton, the processed naturals like rayon (or is that viscose?), and the synthetics like polyester, acrylic, and nylon.

Rayon with rayon embroidery shawl

Learn the weaves, the basics of tabby, twill, satin, and the rarer weaves like leno.  Learn the knit weaves that allow for stretch.

Cotton corduroy with stenciled patterning

Learn how to tell weaves by sight, and what a fabric is by feel, and (if that fails) how to do burn tests.

1970s Hawaiian themed cotton sateen

And most of all, learn what fabrics are good for what kind of sewing!

1940s/early 50s novelty print rayon

All of this takes a lot of reading, a lot of looking at fabric, a lot of sewing, and a lot of asking questions.  But it’s worth it – because no matter how much you know about fabrics, there is always more to know, and the better you know your fabric, the better your sewing will look.

I feel so strongly about this, and I love fabric so much, that the class that I’m most excited about at Made Marion is Fabric Identification.

It’s not a sewing class, but it’s going to be tons of fun, and everyone who takes it will be a better sewer/seamstress/sewist after.  We’re going to look at lots of fabric and feel lots of fabric and talk about fabric and play fabric identification games and learn so much.  Students are going to get to play with some of my stash (I’ve shown some examples in the photos), and their own stash.  I can’t wait!  I hope some of you are joining me!

1960s/70s novelty print canvas

The corset class in Melbourne

I’m sure you have all been waiting to hear about the corset class in Melbourne and how it went.

Well, it was amazing, fantastic, wonderful.  Not because of me, but because all the people who came and took it were amazing, fantastic, wonderful.  Just the loveliest group of people you could ever hope to spend the day with.  There were 10 fascinating women, each totally different and unique, but all kindred spirits in their love of creation and sewing.     I had the best time meeting them, seeing what fabrics they picked for their corset (so many delicious options!), and getting to know them as we worked through the corsets.

And Thread Den was such a fabulous space to work, and so helpful.  I wish I lived down the block from it!  If you are in Melbourne I definitely recommend paying it a visit (and doing a course there if you are really lucky) – and it’s just down the road from the Fabric Store Melbourne.

So the day itself: I was a little nervous.  And it was weird working in a new space.  And I misplaced a bundle of corset boning.  So things didn’t go perfectly.  But overall, I think we had fun, and everyone’s corset looked beautiful, and hopefully the students learned a lot!.

Here are some pictures from the day:


And sewing

And more sewing

And more cutting

And fitting!

Grommet setting

If you are wondering why it took me so long to post about this, I’ve actually been holding off on this post until some of the fabulous ladies who took the course blogged about it themselves.  Go check out Kitty’s adorable navy & ivory corset (and her other dresses – *swoon*, and Andy’s amazing Japonisme corset (I can’t believe how perfect her pattern matching is!).

Thank you Thread Den for having me, and thank you, thank you ladies who took the course!

Tutorial: How to unpick and wash a vintage kimono

I love re-using vintage kimono silk for new garments.  I’ve used it for the Vionnet dress, my Deco Echo top, the jacket and over-skirt of my Japonisme dress, the Carte Blanche gown, the lining of my 1770s Lady Anne Darcy dress, my (as yet unfinished) 1770s jacket, the sash of my chemise a la reine, and a few other garments.  Yep.  I really love re-using kimono silk!

Here is how to unpick and prep a silk kimono for re-use.

This time I’m working with a silk crepe under-kimono.  You can tell it is meant to be worn as an under-layer because of the white collar cover.  It is unlined, and calf length, but the process for pulling it apart is the same as for any kimono.

The under-kimono, front

The under-kimono, back (with a large stain).

First, some basic things about kimono.

Kimono fabric is a special fabric woven to a narrow width, between 13.5″ & 16″.  Kimono are constructed entirely of rectangular shapes, mainly in full widths of the fabric.  In places where the kimono uses narrower widths, the extra fabric is just folded into the seams (just like 18th century dress construction!).

Extra fabric with folded into the seam & tacked down

Kimono are completely hand sewn with silk thread, using running stitches, tacking stitches, and hidden fold stitches.

Silk threads

Running stitches

Tacking stitches

To pick the kimono apart, I use a seam ripper, and thread scissors.

Seam ripper and thread scissors

Because the kimono is hand sewn, it’s easy to slip the thread scissors into a seam and snip some of the threads:

Snip snip

Cutting the threads with scissors

With the seam open, just keep snipping threads.  Watch out for backstitching at the beginning of seams.

Running stitches with back-stitches at the beginning of the seam

On seams with long lengths of running stitches, you can pull a length of thread, snip a few inches down the seam, and pull the whole thread out at once, gathering the seam as you pull, and then the gathers release as the cut thread pulls through.

A long seam of running stitches

Pulling the thread & gathering the fabric along the thread

The thread pulled out and the seam released

When you have snipped and pulled out all the threads, you will have reduced the kimono to a pile of rectangles – and possibly a little bit of fluff and dirt and musty smell.

With most kimono the outer fabric will yield two very long full-width lengths that ran from the front of the kimono to the back hem, with a join down the centre back.  There will also be two medium full-width lengths from the sleeves.  Finally, there will be a number of narrower partial-width lengths that formed the collar.  You may also have two short, narrow pieces from the inner opening of the sleeves, though these may also be in a contrast fabric.

Lined kimono will also have one or two different colours of lining fabric.

Time to wash it!

Because these are vintage silk, and may be using dyes that run, it’s important to wash your kimono pieces by hand, with COLD water.

It’s also important to wash the different colours of kimono fabric (outer fabric, lower lining, upper lining) in separate batches, just in case one batch has a non water-fast dye.  As my fabric is non-lined, I don’t have to worry about that.

Cold hand washing (in my bathroom basin)

If your kimono is particularly dirty, or smells a bit musty add some gentle detergent or shampoo to your wash.  A little vinegar also helps to get rid of a musty smell.

Agitating the fabric with my hands

Gentle agitate your silk fabric the wash water.  If the agitation releases a lot of dirt into the wash water, drain the water, rinse the fabric thoroughly, and then fill another batch of wash water.  Repeat until the water runs clear, or until all the fabric is releasing is dye, not dirt.

When your fabric is clean and thoroughly rinsed, hang it out to dry.

When dry, press with an iron on a silk setting, and your fabric is ready to go – time to turn it into something gorgeous and new!