Friday, November 18, 2016

Points On Sewing With Handwovens

Last evening at my guild we had a panel discussion about sewing with handwoven fabrics. There were some good points made and some very interesting garments modelled. I wasn't on the panel but I did manage to get my tuppence worth in! However I think a couple of things could have been mentioned that either were missed or that my opinions differ. So, for what it's worth, here are my thoughts in point form:

  • Handwoven fabrics are just fabric. More precious maybe! A little more spongy, stretchy or prone to ravel perhaps. Definitely narrower in width than commercially available yardage. But in the end every fabric has certain characteristics that you need to take into consideration before you cut and sew it. Just because it came off your loom doesn't mean it should be so terrifying to work with!
  • Fit. Fit! FIT!! The most important skill to learn is how to fit your body. Participants in the discussion said neither had a dressform. However I never learned how to make garments fit me properly until we made Debbie Double. She is invaluable! I can get behind her. I can pin into her. I can drape over her. It's like having another me to work with. I'm not sure a commercial dressform would be accurate enough at least for my non-standard-shaped body. But it would probably be better than nothing.
  • And speaking of fit, the most important part of you to fit is your shoulders, neck and armhole area. The bust can be adjusted and waist and hips are relatively simple to widen or narrow. Fit the most complex area first and the rest will follow. I have templates now that I use to quickly adjust any pattern to fit me much better than any standard shape. In last night's discussion, it was recommended to work with loose-fitting garments: bog shirts, drop shoulders, dolman sleeves - thus avoiding fitting issues. Those don't look at all good on my narrow rounded shoulders and I hate excess fabric bunching up under my arms. Some people can pull it off though.
  • I can't tell anyone what patterns to use for handwoven fabric - mainly because it all depends! On your sewing skills. On the fabric itself. On your personal taste and style. I guess if you're new to garment sewing it might be better to start with something easy with few seams. There are patterns that use every scrap of a certain width and length, many of them ethnic or "zero-waste fashion". These aren't always terribly flattering on some body shapes though. If you've been reading this blog for any length of time you'll know I personally have a predilection for long tops, jackets and vests and that I don't mind sewing quite complex garments.
  • One thought that was expressed last evening was to make garments that will have some longevity in your wardrobe. That could be easy fitting, simple shapes that will still fit you if you gain or lose weight or classic jackets and coats that remain in style for decades. I personally tend to go for artsy edgy pieces that were never in style so they can't ever go out of style! Though honestly I currently have a few handwoven garments that need some refitting or I will need to find new homes for them. They aren't working for me. But then they were made sometime in the '90's so I guess they don't really owe me anything after 20 years, huh? My weaving skills were better back then but my fitting and sewing skills are much better now.
  • If you don't know how a garment is going to work out and are afraid to waste your special fabric, make a muslin first. Preferably using fabric with somewhat similar characteristics. Even better, make it a wearable muslin. Two new garments are better than one, right? All your fitting changes can be tested out and you can see what the garment will look like on you and then any further tweaking can happen on the real thing.
  • You don't need a wide loom for garments. The finished fabric only has to be as wide as the widest pattern piece. Or if that's still too wide for your loom, consider piecing either decoratively or subtly. Remember that fabulous Japanese kimono fabrics are only 14" wide! Or you can also use commercial fabrics in conjunction with handwovens. One of my favourite vests (you can tell because it's looking a little shabby!) uses a slubby commercial silk back and collar bands with woven fronts. I added a patch of the handwoven fabric on the back to tie it in:

  • A rule of thumb I like to follow is "plain fabric/complex garment vs.complex fabric/plain garment". If you have very elaborate fabric with a close-fitted tailored garment, the lines get lost and it makes pattern layouts very tricky. Of course simple fabric/simple garment is always an option but don't expect anyone to notice that it's handwoven and hand-sewn!
  • Drapey fabrics are usually easier to wear than stiff fabrics. Fine fabrics are easier to sew and press than very thick ones. If your fabric is thick, consider using a finer fabric for binding or facings.
  • Use good quality fabric for linings. Consider a fusible knit to underline a fabric with long floats, a loose sett or slippery yarns that could distort easily.
  • Handwoven fabrics have well-deserved reputation for ravelling at the cut edges. Make sure you handle them gently and finish the edges as soon as possible in the sewing sequence. Serging, French or mock-French seams, Hong Kong seam finishes are all good methods.
  • Use the same threads and needles you would use on regular woven fabrics. You don't have to use silk threads on silk fabric and there are reasons why it's probably not a good idea. Match the colour as closely as possible and if in doubt go darker rather than lighter.

And I could go on and on. But I'm done for now. Happy to get that much off my brain anyhow!

Moving on to today's outfit, which was inspired by the socks:

  • Green "sweatshirt" dress, MM
  • Same old brown turtleneck, SB
  • Green stretch pants, SB
  • Same socks as yesterday but this time you can see them, MM
  • Painted coppery Birkenstocks

Dressed for: Grocery shopping. My locusts kids are coming for dinner tomorrow.


pao said...

Sounds like good advice to me. Did anybody listen?

Louisa said...

Thanks, pao. I was trying to be good at the meeting and not take over when I wasn't asked. Some of these points were made by others anyway. And on several points I had a differing opinion! Since this is my sandbox, er, blog I can speak my mind freely. So I did. :)