Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Silk Skirt and Lessons Learned

Last month, we had dear friends get married. Only two weeks before that, we had been in Wichita, Kansas, visiting my family. During that trip, my sisters and I had a girls' night out in Kansas City. Amongst all the lovely shops in the Plaza section of the city, I hardly expected to find a fabric store. And certainly not a fabric store that sold high-end, luxury fabrics! In fact, when I saw "Kaplan's Fabrics" on the map, I couldn't believe it, and had to call the store to make sure I wasn't going on a wild-goose chase! Fortunately, it was not in vain. Indeed, Kaplan's Fabrics is what all fabric stores should be...filled with fabulous fabrics from ceiling to floor, from wall to wall. I had been there for quite a while and was still finding bolts I hadn't seen on my first tour of the store. The owner knew the fiber content and price (along with the story of where it came from) for every single bolt of fabric in the store (I know, because I think I looked at almost every one!) It was amazing. Truly one of my favorite fabric stores of all time. Well, I certainly couldn't leave such a store with out buying some fabric...this is me, after all!

I determined that the gorgeous silk (scarf-weight) fabric should become a skirt that I could wear to the wedding we had coming up. I knew that I'd only have one week once we got home from vacation to draft the pattern, test it, and then sew up the skirt...not to mention I had no idea what to wear as a top with it. A tall order? Yes. But I did manage to pull it off, but not without some tears and wondering why I had gotten myself into such a position before it was done!

Here's the result:

I cannot believe I'm showing a picture of my backside, but you can see the fabric better in this one, as well as the corset lace-up in the back (and one of my "lessons learned")

It's hard to see in the pictures, but this fabric is sheer in the black parts and shiny in the printed sections. This creates very fussy fabric to sew with.

Overall, I'm happy with the skirt, but it is definitely home to a multitude of flaws. And while I may not be experienced enough of a  sewer to create a flawless silk georgette skirt, I DO know that most people won't ever notice, let alone care if it isn't perfect. And so I wore it, and I felt beautiful with every swish of silk as I walked and danced:)

The basics of the skirt design: It's a bias cut half-circle skirt, with a yoke and invisible zipper. It is lined in 100% silk lining fabric (also from Kaplan's). It was cut in four pieces: front, back and front and back yoke. Same for the lining. It also has my signature corset lace-up back, for adjustability. I just can't convince myself to make clothes that aren't adjustable somehow. I hate not being able to fit clothes I sew.

"Lessons Learned"
This next part is mainly for my own benefit, so I don't forget the mistakes I made and how I could have avoided them. Since this blog is to document my sewing projects, I am putting this in here as well. I will always know where to find the information in the future. It just may help someone else too, if they should happen to ever be so bold as to fall in love with gorgeous silk georgette fabric and decide to make a skirt from it in a week's time. I can't be the only one!

In planning this skirt, I was a good little sewer and I tested my self-drafted pattern on other light-weight fabric (a cotton lawn that I didn't care for the print of). All seemed to be well. Good. I thought I should be good to go. Not so fast, there Speedy! This is SILK GEORGETTE we're talking about. Not a fabric to be dealt with like any other fabric. THIS is the GOOD STUFF. However, I was far too inexperienced with it to handle it properly, and believe me, I THOUGHT I was being careful. 

Lesson #1: Cutting the fabric on a bias fold. Not smart. I had cut the cotton lawn this way. I had even cut the two pieces of silk lining this way. All had been well. But I way underestimated the shift-ability of this sheer fabric, and it shifted while I cut, creating a back piece that was about 5 inches shorter than I had intended. 

This created a minor heart-attack when I realized what had just happened. There was no getting more fabric. I couldn't scrap this skirt...the fabric had cost too much, and I had put too much time and effort into it as it was. Plus, I had nothing else I felt comfortable wearing to the wedding.

I began brainstorming ideas to fix it or fudge it. Nothing seemed ideal. In the end, I decided that I might  be able to get away with doing nothing. But I wouldn't know until I finished the skirt and got to the hemming of it. I decided that I wouldn't worry about it until then. Thankfully, I was right. I was just able to get by with the length that I had (Though I DO wish it had been even an inch longer). I still am considering adding a flounce to the hem of the lining (in the outer skirt fabric, since I still have an extra half-yard left). But whether I actually do it, remains to be seen. 

Lesson # 2: No darts in originally. I had hoped to create a yoke pattern on the bias that did not require darts. Once the skirt was assembled, it was clear that this was not a good idea. So, I went back, unpicked a whole lot of stitches, and added darts to the front yoke. This helped enough so that I didn't have to do them in the back, though now I can see (especially in the close up picture of my backside), that back darts will help the top of the corset lacing to not be pulled so tightly (and give room to tighten it in case I lose weight). I may have to go back and add those too.

Lesson # 3: Have wonderful friends who will come and help you when you can't do something yourself!  I could not possibly have hemmed this skirt without the help of a dear friend (you know who you are!) I called her husband (since I didn't have her cell phone number on hand), the day before the wedding and left him a message to have his wife call me back quickly. I didn't want to scare her, but it would do no good for her to call me back at 9 o'clock at night. I needed her help, and I needed to know if she could or not quickly. Thankfully, she responded very fast, and was super willing to come over and help me pin up the skirt for hemming. I heart her! 

Lesson # 4: If you are going to get in over your head making a skirt with slippery silk fabric, make sure the fabric is gorgeous enough to hide all the mistakes. Despite all the flaws, mistakes and imperfections in this skirt, I did receive compliments on it. Most of them said they would never have guessed that I hadn't bought  it. I think that is a compliment. One random male-friend (about the age of my father), told me I looked "gorgeous" that evening. I was a little embarrassed by this, but flattered none-the-less, I admit. And of course, my own dear husband praised the finished result and said he was quite proud of to my ears! I love you Hon!

Miscellany Lessons:
* Use new, sharp, fine tipped needles in your machine. 
*Do NOT attempt to serge. Even with the fine, new needles in your serger. Sergers like to eat silk georgette. At least mine does. 
*Pin like crazy, and watch out for pins that fall out of the fabric. 
*Finish seams with a tight zig-zag stitch in the seam allowance. 
*Hand wash or wash on extra-delicate cycle in machine and hang-dry.

And so that ends my lessons on sewing with silk georgette fabric. I hope these tips can help others in the future, and myself as well! I don't want to make the same mistakes twice!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Felted Wool Water Bottle Holders and Tutorial to Make Your Own!

So, I had said I write a post about the water bottle holders I've been making. I admit they are very addicting to make, since they knit up so quickly!

They are made with 100% wool roving yarn (also called single-ply bulky sometimes). I've been buying it at JoAnn's, but most yarn shops (brick and mortar as well as online) have some, though the colors are sometimes limited. I've been using size 10 1/2 DPNs, then switching to circulars. But you can do the entire thing on DPNs if you prefer. I'm also planning on experimenting with size 9 DPNs for the ribbed section on top, since it still has a tendency to not felt up as tight with the rest of the piece.

Here's a completed holder, before it's been felted. This is a 40 oz Klean Kanteen bottle, which it is made to fit.

The pattern is my own design, and it's very simple.

This is intended to fit standard 18-27 oz Klean Kanteen stainless steel water bottles. 

size 10 1/2 Double Pointed Needles ( you can do the entire thing in 10 1/2 DPNs, or you can use a smaller needle size for the ribbed section. I've used 10 and am experimenting with size 9. Also, you may wish to switch to circulars after the first 5 or so rows. I find it much easier to start on DPNs, due to the number of stitches being cast on.)

Cast on 40 stitches (48 st for a 40 oz bottle)
Rnd 1: K2, P2, continue to end of rnd.
continue to work in 2x2 rib for 15 rnds.
Knit 40 rnds in stockinette (55 rnds for 27 and 40 oz) 
(I have not made any holders for the 12 oz, but my guess would be at this point to knit 20-25 rnds, after the 15 rib)

To form the bottom:
Begin decreasing: 
Round 1: k8, k2tg. Repeat to end of rnd (k10, k2tg, repeat to end of rnd for 40 oz)
Round 2: k7, k2tg, repeat to end of rnd (k9, k2tg, repeat to end of rnd for 40 oz)
Round 3:k6, k2tg, repeat to end of rnd (k8, k2tg, repeat to end of rnd for 40 oz)
You get the idea here, right? Keep decreasing the rounds until you have only one stitch left. Knot it and weave in the ends.

There. Now comes the felting. Now I know I do not necessarily do it the "right" way. But it works for me, and it's easy-peasy. I throw it in the washing machine on a hot/cold, delicate cycle with one rinse and a little bit of detergent. I've heard that you should not allow felting items to go through the spin cycle, but I haven't had any problems with these holders. Feel free to skip the spin cycle if you like. The basic point is that you need to get the holder down the size of the bottle. If you have the bottle on hand, use it to check the progress of the holder. I usually put mine in the dryer too, but again, this is optional. It can be left to air dry (perhaps stuffed with paper to hold the shape)

If you notice, some of the holders pictured are folded over at the top. This was because they were too tall for the bottles. I was able to get the grommets through two layers, but it was a little tough. I have altered the pattern to make the holders shorter, therefore folding shouldn't be necessary. 

Next step is to add the grommets. I find placing them a little lower is better. I use extra-large grommets, and 1 inch wide strapping (for the strap). I like to make the strap adjustable, so I use a plastic strap adjuster for that purpose. Wa-La...a new wool water bottle holder! The great thing about it is that it is a natural insulator! Enjoy! (If you are interested in a full step-by-step tutorial, please contact me. I won't bother if no one is interested!)

NOTE: I have never done a knitting pattern before for others to use, so be gentle with me if I don't do it exactly correctly. Experienced knitters should have no trouble following it (or making it up for themselves!) If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me, I'd be happy to help! 


These particular holders have been in use for a few months now, and they are holding up very well. I noticed that the 27 oz holder (not pictured) really stretched out alot. I think it's the weight from the water dragging it down. I also think I needed to place the grommets a little lower, to offset the weight. I don't have pics of it, but  I will get some up soon.

And so there you first pattern on this blog! And it's free! I hope someone else can enjoy it as much I have! (and I DO have a few of these all knitted up that I need to finish and list in my Etsy shop, in case anyone is interested in purchasing a ready-made one! Feel free to contact me to give me encouragement to get going on these!)