This journey starts with some plain white cotton jersey, a little dye, lots of thread, and a love of hand sewing. Not too exciting to begin with, but it certainly has possibilities.
I often get frustrated when I can’t find the fabric I want for a project. Some textiles only seem to exist in my mind or are cost prohibitive. But with a little work and some inspiration, I made my own!
Step 1: Dying the Fabric
One of the biggest challenges in this process was sourcing cotton jersey. There were a few online options, but not what I was looking for.
I ended up purchasing plain white Cotton Jersey, Fiber Reactive Procion Dye, Soda Ash, Professional Textile Detergent, Non-Iodized Salt, and Gloves and had myself a little dying adventure.
I have worked with RIT and Tulip brand dyes in the past with mixed results. This process was more involved, to be sure, but the end result was so much better.
For the first batch, I placed a scrap of cotton over the top of the container which contained my dye and about 1 cup of water, secured the fabric with a rubber band, and dumped it into the sink with my salted water. Not a great idea (especially considering I had not yet put my rubber gloves on). The water did not funnel through the fabric quickly enough, so it had nowhere to go but climb the fabric along with the pigment onto my hands.
For the next batch, I covered a second container with fabric and poured the liquid into it, giving the dyed water time to seep through the cloth. That worked much better! In the end, I am quite impressed with how even the color turned out. Taking the extra step of filtering the powder dye through a fabric medium made all the difference!
It is certainly more work than purchasing fabric that is ready to go, but I am confident there will be more fabric dye in my future. And, to be honest, it was not nearly as difficult as I expected . . . just a bit tedious.
Step 2: Arts & Crafts Stenciling
The next step was the stencil. Mylar stencils are available for purchase, but they are quite expensive, and I did not want to wait for the thing to show up in the mail.
Natalie Chanin recommends using pennant felt as a stencil medium in her Craftsy class. I did find a supplier, but once again, did not want to wait for the stuff to arrive.
Instead, I purchased some non-fusible heavy weight interfacing (Pellon Peltex Sew-In Ultra Firm for anyone who is interested). It is about 1/16" thick, has a similar feel to pennant felt, and is able to be cut with an x-acto knife. It seems to have worked quite well. I sprayed the Pellon with some spray glue, left it to set for a few minutes, and then applied the printed image. After all of the pieces were removed, it was easy to pull the remaining paper from the interfacing.
I have a bit of fear about x-acto knives (I blame a 6th grade science project accident) but I decided it was going to be the easiest way to get this thing done. My technique is less than stellar because of my paranoia about slicing through a finger, and some of the smaller bits are far from perfect, but it gets the job done!
Step 3: Testing, Testing, One, Two, Three . . .
After testing the pattern, making the stencil, and dying the fabric, it was time to get started with the fun part . . . lots and lots of hand stitching!
There are many different ways to stencil fabric, but I knew I did not want to use fabric paint. For one, it is something else to purchase. Also, I do not like the idea of working with a fabric that has been painted. It seems to me it would get stiff and difficult to hand sew. So I went the lazy route . . . a Sharpie pen.
I started with a green felt tip. There was some drag across the fabric, but nothing terrible. However, I did not like the way the color looked on the blue jersey.
After digging around in a desk drawer, I came up with a blue fine tipped pen. And it glides across the fabric more easily than the thicker tipped Sharpie.
I started my swatch with two small pieces of the dyed cotton jersey. I have quite a few spools of hand quilting cotton thread and found a blue I thought would look nice with my fabric. After looking at my sample in the daylight, I decided I did not like the color of the thread - it looked too gray on the bright blue fabric. What I ended up using is actually a top-stitching thread meant for jeans. But hey, it works!
Time to cut out my skirt pieces . . .
Step 4: Stencil Application
Once each pattern piece was cut in each color, the next step was to apply the stencil to the top layer. The stencil was placed over the fabric and held in place with magnetic pin holders.
I decided to orient the pattern along the grainline of the fabric. Starting at one end, I traced each cutout with my Sharpie pen. This went very quickly. The Pellon is thick enough to keep the pen on track and makes for easy tracing.
Next, the stenciled fabric was matched back to its plain jersey counterpart and pinned together. Thankfully, this fabric likes to stick to itself, so I went easy with the pins.
Which means more hand sewing!
Step 5: Trimming
After realizing that my small embroidery scissors were not incredibly comfortable to use for all the cutting required to reveal the under-layer, I splurged on a pair of appliqué scissors which are made for the job!
Which leads me to the scariest step of this process . . . the cutting. But the reveal was definitely worth it. It is also nice to take a break from the sewing and still be accomplishing something on the project.
Step 6: Modifying a Sewing Pattern
I have a pink wool coating that I keep meaning to put to use. The pattern changes from year to year, but this time around it was shawl collar coat.
I began working on a muslin, but the fit was not going to be right for the thick wool fabric, and I put it aside and was soon distracted by other projects and fabrics. By the time I picked it up again, the weather made working with wool rather ridiculous. Whoops. There goes another winter season with no new coat.
My main issue with the jacket construction what to do with the section of bodice front that is turned and becomes part of the collar. I did not want the green side of the work to be visible for such a small portion of the piece because I was afraid it would look like a mistake.
I ended up adding an extra layer of blue jersey to the folded section.
Step 7: Details
As for the closures I used for my Alabama Chanin jacket . . . crochet covered snaps!
A few months ago, I came across this image which solidified my thoughts on snaps as a garment closure for this project. I generally prefer hook & eyes at a waistline because they are not going to snap open at an inopportune moment, but a knit fabric seemed like a safe bet. And when they look so pretty, it's hard to resist.
I did not follow the given instructions, but just played around with a crochet hook and a small length of thread until I was happy with the result. I have covered snaps with fabric in the past, but I think I prefer this look.
Step 8: The Finished Garment
And here is the finished look.
On its first outing, this combination received a couple of comments from strangers who liked my “suit.” That was not my original intent, but I think that may just be what I have created. An appliquéd suit! And I think it works.
Step 9: A Second Option
I had the idea of making a second top to wear with my Alabama Chanin skirt before I started dying the cotton jersey. I was generous with my yardage cuts before I threw the white cotton into the dye bath, and thankfully, there was enough to cut out a corset top from the Alabama Studio Sewing Patterns book along with my Shawl Collar Coat.
Okay, so it’s not really a corset – it’s an Alabama Chanin Corset Top.
It does have some lovely princess seams that mimic a corset and give some nice shaping to a garment that wears like a t-shirt. And that is a pretty cool trick!
And now I have my own hand stitched mini wardrobe.
Although I have to admit that after finishing the top, I had a moment where I thought I had made a huge mistake layering the green over the blue.
I made a swatch and liked it paired back with the skirt when it was tacked to my dressform. But it can be difficult to envision what the finished garment will actually look like from a small swatch.
Now that I have worn the top and skirt together, I really love the color reversal. And I will admit that I have already started another hand appliquéd piece!
So I am going to call my hand made textile adventures a success!! And infinitely more interesting than plain white jersey I started with!