Monday, August 15, 2011

Trash Top: Making it Work

On Wednesday I typed these words into Facebook, “I need a dress form. I’m just putting it out there.” And a mere 4 hours later “Pinny” was sitting on my design table. I’d been searching for a while, but that day, after typing that sentence, I found what I’d been looking for: a great price ($25).  I just love Craigslist. True, she didn’t come with an ornamental stand, nice for photos, and has a couple stains. But I can use an ugly stand I already have for practical purposes and I expect a beautiful stand will one day materialize.

So I felt ready to rock out some clothes and gave myself a Project Runway inspired challenge: two days and two items from my studio. I picked a top which I’d taken from the trash. (Sort of.  You know how, after a yard sale, people often leave a box of unsold items at the curb? That’s my favorite time to shop.)  To coordinate with the muted pink and mustard flowers in the top, I chose a warm brown silk kimono I’d purchased years ago and never dared to cut apart.  Here is the blouse before and after. The kimono skirt and jacket will be the subject of the next post - so stay tuned.

Finished Front
Finished Back
Style Influences: Victorian & 1700s torn silk.  There wasn’t much fabric in the blouse. But I could feel that there was a layer of interfacing within the collar and that it wasn’t fused to the fabric. So I knew I could separate and use the layers. I immediately saw a high lacy Victorian collar in my mind’s eye, and this was the inspiration for the whole design. I decided to combine a few historical references with an edgy contemporary silhouette. The design features a high, fluffy upstanding collar with a drapey razor-back that is sexy without being revealing. The geometry of the angles, with clean finished edges, are a deliberate contrast the frayed scalloped edges of the collar and blouse hem: a juxtaposition of curvy and straight, prim and adventurous.
On the original top, I especially hated seeing the cheap plastic buttons. In Victorian times, buttons and other closures, that revealed how a garment came off, were concealed cleverly within folds and tucks. This was because seeing them implied ‘easy off’. I have seen some antique dresses that are hard to tell how to put them ON, like this circa 1900 top from my collection which uses 32 hooks and eyes!  (Pinny has allowed me to see and photograph this garment in 3 dimensions for the very first time.) I like the secrecy of a hidden closure, as long as it is practical. Reversing and hiding the buttons behind a new placket was a way to dress up the top while simultaneously dealing with a small tear in the existing fabric.

Many people might be surprised to learn that raw edges aren’t really a new thing. Upon scrutiny of numerous costumes from the 1700s, I’ve noticed that long bands of ruched torn silk are a common decoration. Since I wanted a ruffled appearance but didn’t want to add any weight, I decided to stretch the fabric along the scalloped neckline.

Back Neck detail – sexy and functional. Since I removed the shoulders, all the weight of the blouse-back is suspended from one central point at the back of the neck.  Having no more fabric, I used an ornament of lace and tulle scraps to fortify this area as well as to add another Victorian detail. Again, I think of the Victorian tendency to eroticize things like a woman’s neck, wrist, or ankle.

Tim Gunn Make it Work moments:

I had to remove the double stitched thin bias edging all around in order to re-sew the armscye and used one of my favorite tools: this wickedly sharp Surgical Steel Seam Ripper.
I saved this edging and used it to stabilize the new placket by ironing it flat, adhearing it with Misty-Fuse, and double stitching. My hand-covered snap was devoured by my studio monster and had to make another.
Finding buckram inside was a boon and really lended itself to embroidery. But I didn't like the first flower and had to carefully pick it out. I embroidered a “J” on the center back of the buckram ‘lace’ (in lieu of installing a label), and stitched ‘bars’ to create the illusion of lace and support the collar. However, since it barely shows, I decided to limit the embroidery and not do cutwork, as I had initially planned. I found that the less literal I was with the lace, the more I liked it.
I also thought about using more left-over bias strips as casings for recycled collar stays, to insure an upright collar, but ended up achieving the same effect with sewn pintucks along outside collar piece.

The collar closes with a medium size snap. I hid one side under the black lace and covered the other in fabric. That way it is barely visable if you choose to wear the collar open. Snaps are under-used in my estimation and covering one in fabric is easy to do and makes an inexpensive closure. If you've never made one, here's how:

Technique: How to cover a snap with fabric
Snap your fabric between your snap, with the right side facing up on top of the female side of the snap. Stitch a running stitch around it, allowing enough room for the fabric to go up and around the snap. Cinch in the running stitch to enclose the metal, but not too tightly, and unsnap the snap. Pass your needle up through the bottom hole and through the fabric. Move over a bit and pass needle back through hole. Now tighten the thread and the hole will pull down. Backstitch around the gathers of fabric on the back of the snap and secure with a tight knot. Carefully trim the excess fabric flat and as closely as possible. Douse the cut edges and stitches on the back with Fray Check, but avoid getting it on the front side, and set aside to dry. Now you can attach it by stitching around the edges, catching the fabric as you go, for a very pretty couture finish.

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