Clothes · Embroidery · Feet · Silk

Silk dupion, fancy stitches and fancy feet

Here’s a chance to use those fancy stitches on a grown-up garment! And try an array of fancy feet in the process.

The challenges of silk dupion

Dupion is a kind of raw silk with imperfections in the cloth that form its texture.

It is light and soft but it keeps shape and does not drape or stretch at all. It is woven densely and loosely at the same time: the length-wise threads are thin, strong and regular and provide the density; the width threads are thicker, soft and uneven providing the texture. They fray extremely easily if you cut the fabric along the width.

Note: Dupion is a type of weave and does not have to be pure silk, although this is where it originates. Synthetic dupion is dense and heavy and is an altogether different fabric.

Dupion comes in different grades depending on the density and regularity of transverse threads. Less dense dupion is much cheaper, but it is also softer, while high grade dupion can be as stiff as taffetta, almost as regular and just as expensive (I’m talking of silk taffetta, of course, not polyester).

I have a stash of silk dupion off-cuts, each not big enough for anything, being kept for trims or detailing. But now with last week’s heat wave, I decided I wanted a silk summer coat to keep the chill out in the morning, yet not to smother me with heat in the afternoon. There should be enough similar colours in that stash of dupion to eak out a coat, if I cut the pattern pieces small enough, which means panelling and detailing.

Stop to fraying with fancy stitches

The easiest way to cut dupion is on the length so that those loosely woven transverse threads would not fray so much. But that would make a garment with a subtle horizontal stripe, and I really don’t need the fattening effect that it brings. Instead, I could use the slimming effect of vertical stripes. Which means I’m cutting it on the width and have to deal with fraying.

The obvious answer to fraying is, of course, overlocking the edges. But my dupion is quite thin, so when I iron the seams, the overlock stitches are imprinted into the fabric and are showing on the right side… Not the effect I was after! No, a different solution to stabilise the seams is needed.

And how about that? Finally a chance to use those fancy stitches! The reverse looks better too:

The fabric will still fray, of course, but it won’t go too far, and now that there is no movement in the seam allowances, it should keep together better.

The coat will be lined, so I am not worried about a few loose threads there.

This also works on curved seams that need cutting in:

If you choose a stitch that is somewhat spaced out like the feather stitch or this leafy vine here, it will not interefere with the seam movement, yet will provide stability to the fabric.​

When I was ready to attach the lining, I found that the front facing frayed away as much as 7mm of the seam allowance in places! So I even had to stitch on the interfacing a little to get it strong enough.

​So rather than flipping the seam allowance to the lining side for a flatter seam as I would normally do, I decided to flip it to the facing side and stitch in place with another embroidery stitch.

​(My teachers convinced me to always iron open seams even if only to iron them closed afterwards. It does lie better this way.)

​This creates an envelope around that frayed edge and stabilises it.

​Can’t fray any further! 🙂

Getting even fancier with lurex shading

I’ve even done some lurex shading on that embroidery (was having too much fun there):

Since the triangles were not everywhere evenly spaced, I had to watch out for the shading to match. The feed was still engaged, but I reduced the foot pressure so that I could manually guide the fabric where necessary.​

First I did brown triangles with a triangle stitch, and as you can see the machine went a bit slower close to the seam but I didn’t notice it until it was all done. 😐 So these triangles are denser. Then I did the shading with the big zig-zag shading stitch, so the material was just moving in a straight line, but I had to adjust the stitch length such that the big shading zig-zags would sit exactly over the triangles. Then I guided the material gently in those places where it had to go faster or slower to match my uneven triangles…

Parallel stitching with a big clear foot

This is an absolutely brilliant foot that I found on eBay directly from the manufacturer in China. It’s a clip-on, so can be used just about everywhere with the appropriate adapter. And the price? £2.39, including airmail shipping. :-)​ They call it “Clear Parallel Stitching Foot”.

The red lines are placed at 1/2″ and 2cm, and of course you can make your own. I used it to get my green stripes even, and I could not rely on exact seam widths because of all the fraying (and also I didn’t cut my strips precisely…). But here you can see how the foot helps me to stitch at exactly 2cm from the seam to the left of the needle while leaving 1cm orange seam allowance to the right of the needle. The green seam allowance then comes out smaller due to my uneven cutting, but that doesn’t matter as it will be hidden anyway.

Double thread stitch and twin needle sewing

I’ve used the double thread stitch that I recently added to my New Home 580 – it uses a twin needle set sideways. The stitch worked straight away, with a special needle plate and a foot with a longer opening, but I kept having difficulties with tension, exactly the same as when sewing with a twin needle the right way around on any other machine.

For this coat I wanted to use different threads, not only in colour, but just different (because that’s what I had in the right colours). This is always asking for tension problems when using different threads on a single tension control! Luckily my machine has a separate tension disk for bobbin winding placed very conveniently on the main threading path, so I used it to tighten the thread that was too loose.

Both threads still pass through the main tension unit (with an added disk to separate them), but one thread can be made tighter than the other with that extra little tensioner. It can be adjusted with the screw on the top.

After a bit of experimenting, I got perfectly even tension on both threads, so the underside now shows a regular straight stitch instead of the weird loopy one not fit to be seen. 🙂

(I made that double thread guide out of a corset hook. 🙂 )

Stitch in a ditch foot

You probably know it, or otherwise you’ve seen it among the feet that came with your machine wondering what on Earth it was good for. 🙂 Well then, read on!

This is a modern clip-on foot that I am using with a modern high shank adapter on my 1950s sewing machine. Works a treat! You can also get an adapter for low shank and slant needle machines and use all the latest clip-on feet with your old darlings, just like I used above that big clear parallel stitching foot and the clear straight stitch foot for sideways twin needle (that foot happened to have a longer opening).

It is called “Stitch in a Ditch” because it has a guide right in the middle that glides very nicely over a seam that’s been pressed open, forming a ditch. This allows you to stitch exactly over that seam. On thicker material, the stitches sink into the ditch making the whole thing completely invisible. Plus, if your machine has variable needle position, you can also stitch consistently to the right or to the left of the ditch, or even both at once with a double needle! Pure genius.

The result

The coat is done! Here it is, lounging on the sofa.

​The lining is Indonesian viscose batik, but I only had enough for the body. I had to be creative about the sleeves…

​This cotton panel is just right for one sleeve, and I had two panels. 🙂 Plus, I could make a label from the off-cuts.

​I have sewn it on with the feather stitch mimicking the printed design.

So, this is the project that has been holding up my sewing queue for the past month. Was it worth it the hours of fun that went into it? Of course it was! Plus, the weather is turning to rain tomorrow, and I’ll be needing a summer coat.

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