Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Developing a "Hand" for Silk - 5 Rules to Follow!

Have I mentioned lately how much I love silk? I love the way it looks, drapes, feels and wears. I have been showing you how silk can be used in a more casual and every day style in my previous blog posts. Our lifestyles need it to be more wearable, fun and expressive. Silk is one of the dynamic categories of fabric we have at Stonemountain & Daughter - most of it coming directly from amazing garment manufacturers around the world. Our stock is continually changing and different from what you will find anywhere else. I hope you will have a chance to stop by and check our our collection of Silk in solids and prints - crepe, chiffon, charmeuse satins, organza, raw silk noil, silk knits, woven silk with lycra, and many more expressions of Silk come alive in our aisles and your vision!

Back in 1981, at the age of 22 when I first joined my father, Bob Steinberg, in our store, I was overwhelmed by all the different weaves and names for silk. My curiosity has turned into a life long love affair which I enjoy sharing with all our customers.

We often talk about a fabric's "hand" being soft or beautiful, firm or stiff and heavy or light.  The hand of a fabric refers to the way the fabric feels when you touch it. It doesn't really matter how pretty a print is or how extraordinary a woven design is; if it doesn't feel right to your touch for the project you have planned, then you're probably not going to buy it.

Some fabrics that boast a soft hand would not be right for an upholstery project, for instance. You would be looking for a firmly woven fabric that had some substance to it. You probably wouldn't want anything that felt rough or sticky, either, especially if you wanted to cover a soft chaise for your bedroom. 

A fabric's hand is just as important when you are making garments. Choosing the right fabric for a pencil skirt would probably differ from that of the hand of a fabric for a soft blouse. We love the feel of silk next to our skin, making it one of our go-to fabric choices for a Spring blouse.

As much as we love silk (or even fine synthetics), sewing with such a smooth and soft "hand" can present some challenges.  We don't want you to shy away from buying a beautiful silk for your next blouse - we just want you to go into it armed with the tools and techniques special to this fabric.

We love this Deer and Doe Datura sleeveless blouse pattern from France.  It's not especially difficult to work up even though the pattern envelope's "Advanced" description must have applied to using fabric with a soft hand, such as silk. (A soft woven cotton or rayon would be a great fabric to try first, if you're apprehensive). We will admit that the pattern instructions are very French - brief and to the point - and they perhaps assume that we are indeed advanced sewists. Even Laurel had to interpret the not-so-detailed instructions, applying construction techniques that she has been using for years.

Rule No. 1 when working with silk: Don't start your project after you've just come in from pruning your rose bushes.  All kidding aside, silk is not very forgiving and does not like fingernail snags, body oils, or rough chapped skin. Silk feels dreamy in your hands, but it's also slippery and lighter than air.  You may find that your hands feel large and clumsy handling this delicate fabric at first, but forge on...it will be well worth it.

Rule No. 2: Invest in some fine pins.  Many of you, like Laurel, use the thin long quilting pins for pattern layouts.  We love them too, but they are definitely a no-no when working with silk and silk-like fabrics. Pins can leave pinholes, so pick the finest pin you can find to use on your silks, organzas, and fine polys.

Rule No.3: What goes for pins also applies to sewing machine needles.  We can't stress too often how important it is to make some trial stitches on your fabric. Test out several needles (and threads!) to see which size works best. Laurel started with the Microtex 70/10, but at one point she switched to a fine Universal needle - if you hear your machine groaning or clunking while sewing several layers, you may have a damaged needle.

Rule No.4: Don't always assume that the pattern maker knows best! If you've been sewing for a while, you know some tricks and techniques that have worked in the past with special fabrics, so use them, even if your pattern instructions omit them.  For instance, Deer and Doe's blouse called for just trimming the armhole and neckline seams, but we know that sewing curves requires a little clipping to make seams lie flat. They probably assumed we knew that!

Rule No.5: Beware the iron! Make sure your iron's setting is right for delicate fabrics such as silk.  It doesn't take to much to create a nasty "shine" on fabrics where one is not supposed to exist.  Pressing silk is a slippery business, so take your time and don't be impatient.

Thanks again for sharing the love of fabric and sewing with me. I always love hearing from you, so feel free to post here or email me directly at fabriclady3@gmail.com to share your own experiences or questions. Please stop by the store and take a look at the many garments that Laurel has been sewing up for me - they are gorgeous and will inspire you to get sewing!

It's been a good year so far at Stonemountain. I am blessed to work with amazing people all focused on a vision of providing great quality fabrics, notions and patterns at fair prices. In my twenties I was inspired to "Find a need and fill it!" Well we sure have here at Stonemountain and are super excited about what more is possible in 2015!

Creatively yours,
Suzan Steinberg

Stonemountain & Daughter Fabrics
2518 Shattuck Ave. @ Dwight Way
Berkeley CA 94704


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Making Mistakes is Part of the Process!

  Me thinks it is a token of healthy and gentle characteristics, 
when women of high thoughts and accomplishments love to sew; 
especially as they are never more at home 
with their own hearts than while so occupied.   

~Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Marble Faun, 1859

Garment sewing is enjoying a resurgence here at Stonemountain. We had a very busy 2014 with our full schedule of classes, and hundreds of you showed up to learn new sewing skills.  And hopefully you have been reading our blog regularly to be inspired!  We totally understand the satisfaction that you get when you finish a fashion garment that you can actually wear. 

As much as you may love to sew, most of you will admit there are days when things just don't go right. Even our accomplished seamstresses and fashion designers will spend some time making silly mistakes, forgetting steps and ripping out their work. We come to expect a certain amount of snarls and errors - it's all part of sewing. 

A case in point: Laurel started on my Sandra Betzina shift dress this week.  Though the pattern is "easy," we wanted to step up the style with a great Japanese rayon Chirimen. For those of you who are unfamiliar, Chirimen is a crepe fabric from Japan, made from rayon or silk and traditionally used to make kimonos.

We chose a contrasting fabric in black rayon for the yokes, side and bottom bands. Both rayon fabrics are easy to work with, so one could assume that sewing this dress should go smoothly.

Serging seams shouldn't cause a problem - it just requires a little forethought: should you serge each seam edge BEFORE you sew the seam or serge the two edges together AFTER you have sewn the seam? For this dress, we used both techniques.

All was going well until Laurel turned the garment right side out. Much to her chagrin, she had sewn the right side of the dress back to the wrong side of the back yoke... and she had already serged the seam. We all lose our concentration once in a while, and that's usually when we make those silly mistakes.

To fix it, she cut off the serged edge (have you ever tried ripping out serging? yuck!), ripped out the seam, and tried it again.

If Laurel has to rip out a seam and the fabric is expensive and somewhat fragile like this dress, she will use her sharp embroidery scissors, rather than a seam ripper.  Cut just one thread at a time.  Seam rippers have a mind of their own - before you know it, they just take off indiscriminately and you are left with a hole in your fabric.

This year, we are going to put labels in all our garments so that when you see them hanging in the store, you will be able to see the pattern that we used.  Laurel's machine will make a label, and this one was sewn in BEFORE the yoke was added to the dress back.  Not perfect, but remember, "we are not about perfection"...worrying about making garments perfect takes all the fun out of sewing.  When you make a mistake, just figure out the best way to fix it and move on.  Breathe in, breathe out...

All in all, it is an easy dress to make.  We love Sandra's instructions - they are easy to understand and there's a touch of humor here and there.

Laurel left the side seams in a basting stitch until I get a chance to try it.  We can take it in or let it out as needed, then just finish off the armhole facings, and I will have a beautiful new dress! Mary Jane belted her Sandra shift dress, so we'll see what looks best on my frame. Can't wait!

 May your bobbin always be full!  
~Author Unknown

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Fast and Easy Vest! Really! Our Modern Take on a Vest!

A few posts ago we talked about a dress that was touted as a "one hour dress," which we found out wasn't exactly on point. We typically don't talk about how long it takes to make our garments, as your sewing abilities might not match those of other sewists. Always sew at your rate. It shouldn't be a race or a chore!

But I have to say, we found a stylish pattern that lives up to its claim - Kwik Sew's "Kwik Start" vest pattern, 3838. From start to finish, you can make this vest in less than an hour. If you are feeling a bit wobbly about sewing with knits you can also register for a quick class or two to help you out!

The pattern only has two pieces - a back and a front. The edges are either serged or finished with a zig-zag or blanket stitch on your machine - no facings, no hems. Laurel thought it would be fun to make it two different ways, using several fabrics. Our original idea was to test our new linen knit fabric. This natural fiber knit is somewhat sheer and light as a feather.

Laurel has a serger, so rather than sew the four seams ( two shoulder seams and two side seams) she just seamed them with her serger.

Serge the edges and Voila! You have a vest.  
Pair it with a cute shirt or sweater for a touch of boho style!

Laurel had a small length of wool gabardine that she got at Stonemountain some time ago and a piece of snakeskin knit.  She'd had it for a long time and decided that it might be a little over the top, but what about pairing the two fabrics together for our second vest?  She used the same easy steps to make this edgy little vest.  The beauty of it is that you can wear it inside out as well, toning down the shine on the snakeskin.

Try using a different thread color for the edge finish just to add interest.

The inside of the vest back - wear it on the outside!

"Inside out"

Or right side out - two different looks.
The simple (really SIMPLE!!!!) vest could be made out of wool, knits, linen...almost any fabric. If you're brave, try using a soft leather or faux leather. What about a soft boiled wool for extra warmth?

Natalie, our buyer, shows off her vest made from our Ikats and one of our striped shot cottons. She used Vogue V1375 from Today's Fit by Sandra Betzina (or as Sandra Betzina calls it a Sleeveless Jacket!). Great for dressing up or down and so easy to make. So funky!

If you love these ikats, we have a huge collection of colors and styles in the store right now and more on the way!

And here's Suzan in her new vests!  As easy as this vest was to make, making an outfit with it is even easier.  This is the perfect "throw on and go" piece that could be dressed up or down.  Such versatility!

Kwik Sew 3838 made with Polyester Import

2015 is off to a quick start! Laurel and I have been collecting new fabric and patterns to try out and show you in the coming months. I love the way many of the garments are out on our floor with tags and photos in them to inspire you. Please stop by and visit our gallery of ideas and see where your creativity leads you!

You can make it too!
We are also getting ready for our 34th anniversary of being here in Berkeley! 
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Always Creatively Yours,