Obsessed with Embellishment

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Tim Gunn Embellished

I was cleaning out my sewing room today, and found some doll house sewing acessories - so naturally Tim had to wear them.

He looks quite dapper, and rather bespoke, wouldn't you say?

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Embellish Without Fear - Part I

I love all types of embellishment - embroidery (hand and machine - yes I like machine embroidery), beading, lace, trim, ribbons, tassels, buttons - you name it. But I must be honest, when it comes to embellishment, I have pretty strong opinions about what works and what doesn't. For the most part 99.9% of what I see as embellishment and/or "art-to-wear" is absolute dreck, and with the exception of a few well-documented historical needlework forms, such as samplers and stumpwork, nothing makes me cringe more than kitschy hand embroidery framed and hung on a wall as Art with a capital "A".

For me, embellishment and needlework is meant for clothing and useful household objects. Coco Chanel once said that the garment always comes first, then the embellishment, and I agree.

So I'll show you how I approach embellishment from this perspective. Over the years, I've seen plenty of bad embellishment on sewing blogs and web sites, but I'll use two of my own projects as examples because we can can rip them to shreds and no feelings will be hurt. Both of these projects used exactly the same embellishment technique, and virtually the same color palette, beads and materials, but I think you'll agree that one works, and one doesn't. Here's why:

Rule 1: The Pattern Comes First

Plopping an embellishment technique onto a project, that is, just using the garment as a blank canvas, really never works, and that's the main problem with this jacket:

This is a Kenneth King technique that had I wanted to try for quite some time, and I actually made that decision prior to deciding what pattern to use. Big mistake. Consequently, this Marcy Tilton pattern (Vogue 7907) is totally unsuitable because I discovered the beading is so heavy that it weighs more than the very unstructured jacket, and the quasi-Asian design of the style has no relationship to the organic, elaborate beading. The overall effect? Weird.

However, on the second attempt at this technique, I used a pattern that, by design, has a built in "canvas" - a front placket. This is Simplicity 4142 and even though the knit I used is very lightweight, the centered aspect of the placket could still accept the heavy wool felt backing needed for all of this beading and rattail cord.

Also, from a design perspective, this embellishment makes sense because the design of the pattern provides a proper showcase for the technique. This is exactly the problem with the beading on the lapels of the Vogue jacket - the embellishment just sits there, on it's own, and it has no design relationship to any feature of the jacket, even though the color palette is in the correct range.

So the lesson here is to really look at your intended embellishment, and see if it relates in a logical way to the rest of the garment, as opposed to just "sitting there." I posted a tutorial on the making of this placket a while back, and you go here for Part I, and here for Part II.

In a future post I'll cover machine embroidery designs, which have been getting a bad rap lately, and I'll share with you how I evaluate a design before I use it.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Beaded Tassel Tutorial

I first made these as a fastening for a
Chanel-like cardigan. These tassels are not hard to make, although the work is a little fussy, but if you like making jewelry you'll probably enjoy this.

The finished tassel is about 2 3/4 inches long, and the top loop is 2 inches (50 beads for mine.) If you plan to use the tassel for earrings, or to embellish a zipper on a handbag, then you can adjust the length of the loop accordingly.

Materials List

  1. Nymo beading thread, fine. Use black Nymo for opaque beads, white for crystal & clear beads . Regular sewing thread is not strong enough for this type of beading.
  2. Beading needles (I used J & P Coats H.16, size 10/13)

Naturally, for the beads you can use whatever you like, but I'll give you the bead sizes I used as a guide:

One 10mm faceted bead for the tassel head
One 6mm disc-shaped bead for the neck

Each strand of the skirt contains:

16 seed beads of one color
2 seed beads of another color as a transition
1 bugle bead that coordinate with the 2 transition beads
1 4mm bicone bead
1 Czech E-bead (a bead the same shape as a seed bead, but larger)
1 dangle (usually side drilled) or teardrop bead (usually top drilled) for the end

Each tassel has 6 strands in the skirt. If you use a top drilled bead for the end of each skirt strand you will need an additional seed bead as a stopper.

Step 1:

Cut a piece of Nymo 5 feet long. Each tassel uses one continuous strand of thread, looped back and forth through the beads. It's really important to have more than enough thread to complete one tassel because if you run out of thread and try to tie onto a strand to complete the skirt, you will compromise the strength of the finished tassel.

The first step works from the bottom up and you'll create one skirt strand, and then continue with the neck bead, the head bead, and the top loop. String your dangle or tear drop with a single strand of Nymo, then double the strand, re-thread the needle, and string the skirt strand beads on the doubled thread. Add the neck bead, head bead, and the beads for the loop. When the loop islong enough, create the loop and bring the thread back down through the head bead and the neck bead.

It should look like this:

You now have one skirt strand and the top parts of the tassel are formed. Unthread the needle. You will now use each of the two separate threads to create the rest of the skirt strands.

Step 2:

This is an important step to understand: from this point onwards, you will string each skirt strand from the top down to the dangle (the original skirt strand was done bottom up in order make the neck, head and loop of the tassel)

Thread the needle and string on that single strand: 16 seed beads, 2 transition beads, the bugle bead, the bicone, the Czech e-bead, and the dangle or teardrop. After you attach the dangle or teardrop (with teardrops you will need to use a single seed bead below it as a stopper) thread through the entire strand again from the bottom up, catching every bead:

When you get to the neck and head beads, run the thread through those as well, snug the strand to the neck bead, and bring the needle out at the top of the head bead. Wrap the beading thread around the bottom of the loop where the last two loop beads touch the head bead, and bring the thread back down the thorough the head and neck beeads.

Unthread the needle, and separate the two strands of thread. Rethread the needle again as a single strand an continue as before, making another strand of the skirt. After you use up one piece of thread, go to the other piece and finish the skirt. You should be able to do 3 skirt strands on one piece of thread, and 3 on the other.

Step 3:

After all six skirt strands are complete, go through and wrap around the head bead one last time, but bring the needle out between the head bead and the neck bead. Run the needle horizontally through the many strands of thread, make a loop, and pull a tight knot. Then run the thread down thought the neck bead and through at least 6 beads in a skirt strand, and cut off the thread. This last step, of running the end piece of thread through a skirt strand, is actually very important because it prevents the knot from coming undone.

You're done!

Friday, October 20, 2006

This week on CNN.com I read with nostalgic regret that CBGB, the legendary NYC punk club, had finally closed after 33 years. I was in college during the late 70's and fully participated in that music scene, and it was one of the most exciting times of my life. Great times, great bands, and I feel lucky to have been able to be part of a true scene. If you were on PatternReview.com from 2002 to 2004 it was the same type of thing; that special feeling of being really hip and happening and watching the rest of the world catch up.

However - I have to make a public comment to John Wands of Verona, NJ. John posted on the CNN story that his fondest CBGB memory was the night the Sex Pistols played there, and Sid Vicious spat on him from the stage. I must say to you, John Wands of Verona NJ - IT NEVER HAPPENED. The Pistols never played NYC, they never even got close. On their single US tour Malcolm McLaren, their manager, booked them into redneck bars in Austin and Atlanta, and then they played one gig in San Francisco and broke up. Sid Vicious moved to NYC and lived at the Chelsea Hotel with his American girlfriend Nancy Spungen.

I do believe that John Wands of Verona NJ did indeed see Sid play a solo gig in NYC, and I'm sure Sid (or much more likely, Nancy) spat on him too, but it was at Max's Kansas City and not CBGB.

I'm not dissing John Wands of Verona NJ - everyone partied a lot in those days, and maybe his memory is just a bit hazy. I just want to set the record straight, and the info above was verified with friends of mine who worked in radio at the time. So trust me on this one:

The Sex Pistols NEVER played a gig at CBGB !

Sunday, October 15, 2006

This vest belonged to my grandmother, Adele Vestcyk (1904-1997), and she made it, we think, between 1920 and 1930. I think it dates from the early 1920's – the size is small, about a size 6, and less than a B cup. My grandmother was busty as a grown woman, so I suspect she made this while still a teenager. At the time she danced in a Polish folk dancing troupe and this was part of her costume. The style itself is a pretty standard example of a Polish petal edge woman’s vest, very common since about the middle of the 19th century. Here is an example of a modern one made in Morawica and Olszanica in the region near Krakow:

The modern ones are very heavily embellished, which might seem like too much of a good thing, but I really love them!

As you can see, my grandmother's is much simpler, and there are a few things that make it a little different; the paprika color of the cotton velvet is unusual, and while the embroidery is simple, it’s still well executed, and it has a lot of charm. I suspect she embroidered the vest, without at hoop, after she made it up. The embroidery thread is untwisted silk floss and the lining is apple green cotton sateen (the photo makes it look more blue-ish than it really is.)

There are five pairs of Bakelite lacing rings; four are ivory, and the top pair is a Jadeite green - I have no idea why the top set is a different color, and it’s a mystery as to what type of cord she used to lace the vest. Traditional Polish vests of this type are usually black, with the embellishment in traditional folk colors of red, yellow, blue and green – the colors of this vest remind me much more of the fashionable colors of Jazz Age America.

The metallic trim is really neat: it’s tarnished after all these years, but I think it may have originally been a bright copper color, and I think the fiber in the middle is silk floss. The little bow shape is not at all a European motif; I think she must have added that herself. If you look closely you can see her hand stitching.

My mother gave this to me after my grandmother passed away, so I don't remember hearing anything about it until I received it. It’s in my sewing room, and I really enjoy having her spirit with me when I sew.