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fiber arts: garment #1 re-fashioned

April 4, 2012

I had a sleeveless shell of (woven) linen, cross-woven in a rust brown, that I could still fit into, but it pulled tight across my shoulders, and didn’t give me enough room to move around in. I decided I would add ‘give’ through one or more vertical panels, using knit fabrics. I worked on the back panel first.

Decided vertical panel should be off-center.

Decided completely vertical doesn’t fit my design aesthetic, so I found a mostly-vertical tree branch in my studio that I used as a template. I traced both sides of it on the fabric, using a fabric pencil. I cut along the lines with my rotary cutter.

I put the now cut-apart shell on Rozilea to see how much ‘give’ made sense. I measured out and cut a long swath of rust-colored knit fabric, with several extra inches. I pinned that fabric to the shell. I took the shell off Rozilea and tried it on myself to see if I needed to make any adjustments. (I didn’t.)

I wasn’t sure what to do at either the neck hem, or the waist hem, but I decided to leave them until the end.

I picked out 8 colors of threads to use. I have rust, and copper, but also shades of brown and red and in between (caramel, chocolate, espresso; ruby, burgundy; mahogany). I wanted staggered sections of each side of the twig outline to be handsewn in different colors, mimicking the differing shades you see on a tree trunk.

I took the garment off Rozilea, and prepared a place to sit and sew. I have a sewing machine, and I do know how to use it, but I prefer hand-sewing. And yet, I have carpal tunnel syndrome, so I have to limit the time I spend on any one hands-on activity. Hand-sewing itself is often less stress on my hands and wrists than trying to thread my needles. Compounding that problem, I experimented with threading 2 different threads into one needle (instead of doubling over 1 thread). I had successfully done that with embroidery floss on a different project. But I was using a needle with a much bigger eye for that. (I also weave tapestry with multiple fibers at once, but tapestry needles have a very big eye.) So here I persisted with this idea long past the time I should have. And I know I should’ve given up earlier because my hands and wrists hurt so much I had to stop before I finished, and not return to the project for several days while they recovered.

At that point, I had handsewn about ¾ of the twig outline on the left side, and about 2/3 of the twig outline on the right side.

Today I picked it up again, and finished it. I used variegated thread in shades of green, blue and red. (The overall impression, though, is green.) Since green thread is closer to the neckline than the waist (1/4 on the left side, and 1/3 on the right), it echoes green leaves on a tree.

For the bottom hem, I just trimmed the knit fabric so it’s the same length as the woven fabric.


Since I hand-sew, yet I have limited capability to do so, I incorporate that knowledge into my design process. No matter what I make, I try to find ways that maximize the effectiveness of the minimum amount of stitches. If I later decide that I want more stitches, for decorative effect, I will add them in stages (not all at once).

I like raw appliqué. I don’t serge or bind my edges.

I did do a bit of whip stitching to minimize the woven fabric raveling, but quickly realized it’s not sustainable for me (takes too long), and does not really fit my design. My stitches more or less follow lines, but I deliberately vary their length, and the directions they’re going in. I double back, or generally meander. Lines of stitches done in different colored threads overlap and interact.

As I sewed, loose threads from the woven fabric raveled. I thought about clipping them, if only for the photographs, so my edges would look neater. But doing that, I realized, negates my larger philosophical aim. As time passes, things change. We see entropy in action. A garment that is 25 years old does not look new. I have several that old: laundering has faded their once-bright colors. There might be minor fraying around the hems. I could repair that. But I’m not 21 anymore, and I’m not trying to look like I’m 21, nor am I trying to look like 21 was my best age. My best age is wherever I’m at.

So this garment looks how does today. As I wear it, its changes will be apparent. At some point, it may completely fall apart. That is also part of life. Since I only use natural fibers, it will be biodegradable.

Anyway, I’m very pleased with how this refashioned garment turned out. And I’m excited about doing further work, and eventually finishing, garments #2 and #3. (And in time, others.)

P.S. After all the bother of sewing with 2 colors of thread in the same needle, you can’t even tell the difference from stitches with just one color. Live and learn.


Photos at Flickr:

Overall garment, back side to show knit panel.

Detail of hand-stitching 1

Detail of hand-stitching 2

Detail of hand-stitching 3

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