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 simple–a 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.
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 job–inevitably 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 hook–and 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.
2. Keep your pattern as simple as possible and eliminate any seams that you can. I've got a good straight skirt pattern, so my next job is to prepare the silk organza underlining, using carbon paper to trace the stitching lines, the darts, the waistline and the hemline. I've also given myself a few horizontal reference lines, to help me orient the fabric symmetrically.
I got rid of the center back seam (that way, the design won't be interrupted, and it will eliminate one tricky-to-sew seam, leaving just the two side seams). The zipper will go along the left side seam instead of down the center back.
Pin the organza to the chiffon as carefully and symmetrically as possible. Steam the layers (from the silk organza side) to help mesh them, and do a fair amount of basting and internal tacking to keep the layers together. The embellished fabric is really heavy, and you don't want it to sag, either now or later. Keep it in line by joining it to the well-behaved organza.
3. Before the side seams can be sewn, the glass beads need to be cleared from the seam allowances. The ornamentation consists of tiny sequins (those can stay), metallic thread embroidery (that can stay), seed beads (those have to go) and bugle beads (those also have to go).
Pin through the fashion fabric/organza unit on the wrong side, right along the seamline.
Then, working from the right side and using the pins as a guide, you can see where beads have to be removed.
Work carefully, though, cutting only through the threads that hold the beads on, not through the underlying fabric.
The seam allowance is now free of beads.
Go back to working on the wrong side of the fabric: Peel back the organza a little bit, and dab glue over the loose threads wherever beads were removed; use a really tacky, quick-drying fabric glue.
Once that's dried, smooth the organza back into place and baste the two layers together along the side seams.
There shouldn't be any beads in the seam allowance; if any were overlooked, remove them.
4. Now it's time to deal with the darts. Stitch the darts in the organza and press them over a ham.
Obviously, there's going to be extra fashion fabric, so that has to be dealt with.
The fashion fabric is too thick to dart in the traditional manner, so the fabric is cut into, and one side overlays the other.
A "leading edge" is found on the upper layer (a nice line along which to cut and then stitch), the excess from underneath is trimmed out, then the top layer goes back into place.
The cut edge is stitched through all three layers: the edge of the top layer, the underlayer, and the silk organza. The stitches (and the new seam) are pretty invisible from the right side of the fabric (which is a good thing!), but they can be seen on the underside.
It's is a good idea to do this sort of shaping on a ham, as it sort of mimics the contours of the body.
It isn't necessary for shaping to be right over the darts; it just needs to be in the same general area, and eliminate the same amount of excess from the embellished fabric as from the darts.
5. Now it's time for the side seams. Thoroughly pin the side seams, taking care to line up the patterns in the embellishments perfectly.
Use fork pins–they do a superb job of keeping the two layers (four layers, really, counting the organza) from shifting as you stitch with a zipper foot. The needle goes along the stitching line, right alongside the beads that are still in the body of the fabric.
I often sew these sorts of seams twice (stitching very slowly), just to make sure the stitching is good and tight. The loft of the fabric (because of all the embellishments) can make a tight seam a little challenging. Stitch very slowly–my theory is that by stitching slowly, the needle can sort of slide down alongside any beads that it encounters. If you stitch quickly, the needle can hit any errant beads directly–you'll break beads, you'll break needles, you'll put holes in the underlying fabric...so go slowly.
A few steps to finish up the side seams: Press them thoroughly, and catch-stitch the seam allowances to the silk organza underlining. This will keep them nice and flat.
Go back to secure the beads right along the seamlines, adding a few here and there to fill in any missing sections. You can see where a few beads need to be filled in.
Now that it's sewn together, I'm really glad I went to the trouble of basting the embellished fabric so thoroughly to the silk organza–fabrics that are heavily ornamented with glass beads (like this one) get very heavy, and they need support.
6. Sew the silk charmeuse lining together; there's nothing tricky about that. Sew the darts and keep the left side seam open to accommodate the zipper.
Jump to part two, "Working with Heavily Embellished Fabrics, Part 2," to see how to finish the skirt.