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How to Sew Fabric Feathers

Self-fabric adornment makes a perfect match

Threads magazine - 168 - Aug./Sept. 2013
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This 1930s gown is equal parts elegant, fun, and flirty. It’s made of an airy rayon georgette with an abstract floral print. The pullover dress is graced with a cowl neck, plunging back, fitted torso, and a sweep at the hem. Perhaps the dress’s most striking detail is the self-fabric boa-like feathers at the armholes and back. Though it was considered an economical adornment during the Depression era, the spontaneous trim puts this gown in a league of its own. Read on to see how the fringe was made from Threads #168.

In the 1930s, while the economy brought the world’s population to its knees for a strong lesson in frugality, the designer of the dress below proved the adage, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” It’s likely that a self-fabric fringe was substituted for a more expensive trim because it was easily available and adorable. The results are festive and merry and au courant with the fashions we see today.


Cut the fabric.

This feather-shaped and -sized fringe is cut folded and stacked 8 to 10 layers deep for the easiest configuration. To simplify sewing the fringe to the garment, fold each piece in fourths. Raveling is reduced by cutting the fringe on the bias, as directed.

1. The pattern shown below starts with a 10-inch square paper. Fold in quarters and draw one feather foursome. Make the feathers about 31 ⁄4 inches long. Cut 30 chiffon pieces 10 inches square. You’ll cut more as needed. Fold the pattern diagonally, and the fabric squares on grain.

2. Pin and cut the feathers in multiple layers. Pin through each feather to secure the pattern for cutting. The pattern is reusable.

Attach the fringe

On the dress shown, the fringe travels around the armholes, over the shoulders, and follows the plunging back edge to the center back. The fringe paths meet and join in the center of each back armhole. Start applying the fringe under the arm, moving up on the front and back and up from the center back. On each back armhole, stop at the point where the armhole and back neckline fringes meet, and finish with the two conjoined.

1. To make the fringe fluffier, skew the quarter folds. Make the underlayer at least 1 ⁄4 inch longer than the overlayer and on an angle. You don’t want feathers to fall in line with each other.

2. Attach the fringe units vertically (perpendicular to the floor). Lay the fringe with the pointed section toward the garment back and the fringe toward the front, stitch the unit to the dress along the base of the fringe.

3. Trim the pointed section to about 1 ⁄8-inch from the stitching. Turn the fringe section over the stitching and topstitch along the fold. Position the second fringe unit so the fringe base is 1 ⁄2 inch to 3 ⁄4 inch from the previous stitching. Repeat step 2, moving toward and up the front to the shoulder.

4. On the front, stop at the shoulder seam, and go to the dress’s center back. If it has a zipper, be careful not to stitch through the teeth. Start layering vertical fringe units one at a time from the center-back neckline and continue layering upward. At the shoulder, work at least one fringe unit to fall over the shoulder in each direction. Manipulate the units to keep the edge invisible, and permanently attach by hand or machine, as needed.

Judith Neukam is reads senior technical editor.

Photos: Jack Deutsch; all others, Sloan Howard. Illustration: Gloria Melfi

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