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Working with Embellished Fabrics, Part I

I've had a piece of beautifully embellished silk chiffon for a while. A recent studio re-organization turned it up, and I think it's time to work with it. It's very heavily decorated with glass seed and bugle beads, metallic thread embroidery, and sequins. The ornamentation is so thick that you really have to search to see any of the chiffon underlay. This fantastic material inspires a tutorial about working with extremely embellished fabric. I'll take you through the process as I create a garment.

I'm going to break this project down into two sections. Part 2 will be covered in another post. Here, in Part 1, I'm going to explain how to:

1. Check the fabric to make sure the embellishments are securely sewn on
2. Attach an underlining
3. Remove the beads from the seam allowances of the side seams
4. Deal with the darts
5. Sew and catch-stitch the side seams
6. Prepare the lining

First, a bit about the nature of the design and the fabric. I am going to keep the design simplea straight skirt (very slightly pegged at the hem), without a waistband, underlined with silk organza and lined with silk charmeuse. There's about a yard of fabric. At 45 inches wide, it's not wide enough to go around me, (especially considering seam allowances). As the embellishments are symmetrical from side to side, I cut it down the middle (parallel to the selvedges) and create two identical pieces which I'll use horizontally.

working with embellished fabrics   Cut it down the middle (parallel to the selvedges).


working with embellished fabrics   Create two identical pieces which I'll use horizontally

With a minimal hem (I'll add a facing) and a simple treatment at the waistline, I'll end up with a skirt that's about 22 inches long. It won't be the longest skirt in the world, but there's a lot going on embellishment-wise, so less is just going to have to be more, in this case. By the way, use your oldest scissors for this sort of cutting jobinevitably you will be cutting through beads.

1. Check embellished fabric carefully after you have cut out pattern pieces. Embellishments are typically applied with a tambour hookand while that allows the embellisher to work at great speed, applying a tremendous number of beads quickly and easily (once adept at the technique), it's a bit of a liability. The embellishments are applied with a chain stitch, so once a thread is pulled, it can keep on pulling, removing the beads as it goes. Stabilize threads that have worked their way loose (a little dab of tacky glue on the reverse side works well, as do a few stitches in place). It might be necessary to do some filling in, so save any loose embellishments.

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Comments (13)

robinmckinney robinmckinney writes: Could I eliminate the center back seam on a wedding dress that has a train? I am dealing with an alencon lace fabric. I'de like to get rid of the center back seam to eliminate the need for a center back seam I would like to do that.
Posted: 2:09 am on July 3rd

Ocrafty1 Ocrafty1 writes: Thanks, Susan. I used to watch your show on PBS and really miss it. It got me interested in sewing with better techniques. Pressing, Pressing, Pressing correctly and taking your t-i-m-e when you sew. You always give such wonderful instructions. If it hadn't been for you, I'd never have tackeled making wedding gowns. Am looking forward to reading Part 2!

Posted: 9:13 pm on July 21st

KTopp KTopp writes: I agree with Susan's method of removing the beads. I am currently finishing up a beaded silk chiffon gown that was loaded with beads and sequins. Although rather labor intense, I found I had more control and a better look when removing the beads by hand. I enjoyed seeing how Susan stabilizes a heavily beaded garment with the organza and basting stitches. I am looking forward to Part II.
Posted: 10:04 pm on March 31st

psfws1963 psfws1963 writes: I think this will be very interesting fabric to work with.
Posted: 8:03 pm on February 14th

SusanKhalje SusanKhalje writes: I'm going to have to disagree with pheather - I've never liked the idea of smashing the beads (though I know people do that) - I'm uncomfortable with the idea of glass shards, no matter how tiny, inside a garment or in the workroom. And there are chain stitches and there are chain stitches - some pull apart right away, but often they're more stable than you'd think - tugging at the remaining beads will be your clue. I prefer a tiny dab of glue on the underside of the fabric, or an extra stitch or two to hold things in place.
Posted: 12:10 am on February 14th

pheather pheather writes: NO, NO, NO, Do NOT cut the threads that hold beads and such to clear them from your seam allowances and darts!! They are usually sewn in with a chainstitch (see the Threads article about that a few years ago). So, if you cut the chainstitch you will cause a "chain reaction" and soon beads will begin coming off every time you move the garment. The best way to get beads out of the seam allowance is to crush them with pliers. Wear goggles to protect your eyes from flying shards, perform this over a wastebasket, and give your hands a break every 10 minutes or so (so you don't get a cramp). Since beads are usually glass, they will eventually begin cutting the thread and begin unravelling all by themselves, so be prepared to nip that problem in the bud by saving fallen beads and sewing them back on ASAP, being sure to knot-off the chain of thread at both ends.
Posted: 6:54 pm on February 12th

LeslieD LeslieD writes: I love Susan's work and instruction. I am looking forward to the next installment. She makes it seem so easy.
Posted: 11:17 am on February 10th

jojoma jojoma writes: Beautiful stuff! Putzy, but worth the work.
My mother, who was a seamstress, always said " the more detailed the fabric, the simpler the pattern. And the simpler the fabric, you can do a more complicated pattern."
This is a perfect example of that philosophy.
Posted: 10:08 pm on February 9th

knittuck knittuck writes: Greetings Susan,
This is very well explained, Thank you. I'll be sure to look for the Part 2.
I have a couple of heavily embellished saris, in my fabric collection. This article has me thinking about how to use them.

Posted: 9:58 pm on February 9th

Susan1151 Susan1151 writes: Susan is an excellent instructor - very knowledgable, thorough and patient! I enjoyed one of her workshops years ago in Baltimore!
Posted: 12:02 pm on February 9th

denise50 denise50 writes: Excellent information. I've always wanted to work on embellished fabrics and now I feel I'm ready pending part two, of course. Thank you for sharing your expertise.
Posted: 11:28 am on February 9th

triangles triangles writes: Oops, should have double checked that I spelled Khalje correctly!
Posted: 9:37 pm on February 8th

triangles triangles writes: As usual, Susan Kahlje taught a rather complex subject matter in an easily understood way. I look forward to Part II. We are very lucky to have you! Linda S from MD
Posted: 9:35 pm on February 8th

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