Post #3143: Before cutting into the fabric

Last week I posted a picture of this fabric, but the photo didn’t really do it justice. I’ve just finished hand washing it, and it’s drying on the rack – so before I go any further in my quest to turn this into a garment I took a proper photo.

This fabric came to me through Heather Cameron – one of my island neighbours and a brilliant textile artist. Seriously – check out her work in translating the Codex Canadiana into stitches which you can find through her blog.

Anyhow – she generously offered me some vintage/antique Japanese textiles for a zen-related project I am working on and that included some yardage of the silk fabric you see in the photo. This fabric was reclaimed from a kimono, and the bulk of it is in three thin (12 inch wide) but long (3 yard) strips. There are a few other small pieces as well. I’ve just now handwashed the lot and it’s drying on a rack in my studio while I think about how to approach working with it. Even a good photo of the fabric doesn’t do it justice really – the flecks on the floral motive are an actual silver, the taupe background is more nuanced – you get the idea.

Looking at this fabric helps me realize how far I have come in sewing and making garments. If I had received such a parcel a few years ago, I would not even know how to begin to approach it – how to work with these strange cuts of fabric, how to ensure the antique material will hold up to wear and so on. Coming to it now, though – I have some ideas.

First of all – to find a pattern that will work. I am going to start with the Tea House Dress pattern because I’ve wanted to try it for awhile, and it should be do-able in narrow width pieces. I’m not sure about that yet of course – first I have to cut the pattern out and then lay it out on the kimono fabric to see if all the pieces will fit, and if not, where I might be able to stitch material together to make it work (the back will definitely need to pieced). If it appears that I can fit the whole pattern onto the silk, then I’ll proceed by making a muslin to work with the fit of the dress overall. I’ve not made this pattern before, but I did make the Mississippi Avenue dress last year by the same company, and I found the fit worked for me without any adjustments.

One thing I like about the Tea House dress is that there are no closures – button holes or zippers – to worry about. This mainly because I don’t want to overwork the fabric either in making or wearing it. This pattern is also a forgiving shape – no hugging seams – which means less pull on the garment when it’s being worn. I’m also planning to underline with a black cotton batiste which I hope will provide a bit more body without losing the drape of the original too much. Plus I’ll do french seams where possible for a nice, stable finish on the inside.

I expect it will be at least a month between now and this dress being finished because I want to make a full muslin (which I frequently do not do), and hand sew in the underlining, the hems and so on. If it turns out the pattern I have chosen isn’t the right one, it may be even longer. I want to be ever so intentional in using this fabric since it is truly a one-of-a-kind occurrence in my life.

The photo at the top of this post is from the Guo Pei exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery which closes this weekend. If you do not know about the work of this costumer and dress maker, you really have to do a Google search and see the wonders she creates with fabric and thread. Truly remarkable and I feel privileged to have seen these creations up close!

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