Have you ever been obsessed with a period garment made from very unusual fabric, and, of course, you’re heartbroken, because you think you’ll never have the chance to recreate it, because where would you get that fabric?
That was me with 18th century chiné a la branche.
I’ve loved ikat in all its forms since I was given a hand-woven ikat skirt when I first started sewing, but chiné is definitely my favourite. But so hard to find!
And then, three years ago, ikat became fashionable, and Wellington’s The Fabric Store started having the occasional bolt of silk or silk blend chiné. Oh, the temptation! But none of it was quite right : wrong blend, very modern pattern, colours that are only achievable with modern dyes, etc.
And then, they had a short bolt of this:
So I snapped up everything they had, which was only 2.3m. I really wanted to make a française, but at least I had a bit, so could do a pet en l’aire if nothing else.
The idea of a pet didn’t quite make my heart go pitter-patter, so the fabric sat in my stash for almost three years, waiting. Then, with the Brown challenge coming up last year, I decided it was then or never. But I’d make one last trip to The Fabric Store, just in case…
AND THEY HAD ANOTHER BOLT THAT HAD JUST ARRIVED!!!!
(full caps to accurately express how excited I was!).
AND it was their 40% off sale!
So I bought another 7m (I think! I hope!), and started working.
This is when the story stops being awesome and goes terribly wrong.
Look at the fabric again:
Just stare at that photo for a good few seconds. Do you notice what’s happening?
I quickly noticed what was happening. As did everyone I managed to show the fabric to in person.
I held it up to Stella & Priscilla the first day I tried sewing with it, and said “What’s wrong with this fabric?”
Priscilla looked at it for 30 seconds and then said “Is it the part where it makes you feel like you’re going to fall down and throw up at the same time?”
Yep. That’s it.
Here is a photo of Felicity to give you something lovely to focus on while your eyes recover:
Imagine trying to pattern match fabric that you can’t look at because doing so makes you nauseous and dizzy!
Basically, I gave up. Pattern matching isn’t that important in 18th c garments anyway, especially since the petticoat will (hopefully) be covered by the overskirt.
Because the fabric was so heinous to work with, I didn’t get it done in time for the Brown challenge.
Not to worry! I had a backup plan! The petticoat has a secret: it’s backed in linen, and the backing has both weird patching, and dye problems:
The fading/dye problems are only on one side of the linen, so I hid them between the linen and the silk.
The patching is just a funny little strip on one side, because the length of linen was just a few cm short.
Patched and irregularities frequently show up on 18th c linings, so mine are very much in the spirit.
Despite this, I didn’t get the petticoat done for Sewing Secrets, because it was just too hard to work with. I was determined to get it finished this year, so New Years eve I had a sewing party, we sat around and sewed and chatted and watched Firefly, and I sewed the side slits, pleated the top of the petticoat, and hand-stitched it to a band.
It’s not my most perfect effort by far, but, importantly, it is DONE. I finished the last stitch at 4 minutes past midnight. A good start to the year!
The petticoat is currently sitting on my dressform, skirts all tucked up out of the way of Miss Fiss and her claws, while I consider whether I am brave enough to make a full française out of the fabric. We’ll see!
First I must finish the Frou Frou Française I started two years ago though…
The Challenge: Procrastination
Materials: 2.5ish meters of chiné a la branch (warp printed) silk satin ($25 or so per meter), 2.5m of linen backing ($5 at an op shop)
Year: ca. 1765
Notions: Cotton tape, cotton and silk threads
How historically accurate is it? The hand and hang of the silk isn’t quite right for the mid 18th century, and all the examples I can find of chiné a la branch are on flat silk (taffeta). Plus I machine sewed the seaming. But the fabric patterning is quite close to a dress in the LACMA. 60% or so.
Hours to Complete So, so, so many!
First worn: Not yet, but finished 4 minutes past midnight on New Years Day.
Total Cost $70ish