Saturday, June 18, 2011

More about the Cloak: Construction Details

Here's a bit more information on the construction of the cloak that I'm currently making.

First, the main body of the cloak is hemmed with a 1/8" hem, and the edges of the frill are hemmed the same way. The simplest way to do this is with a hemming attachment. I have a Willcox and Gibbs 1911 chain stitch treadle sewing machine that makes a magnificent hem, as well as the same model, an electric version, on long-term loan from my friend Miss Johnny. Here is a shot of Johnny's machine working on miles of flouncing several years ago:

Here is the little hemmer that makes it possible:

Here is the machine at work on a straight seam, several years ago:


Whipped Gathers
I mistakenly called them "rolled gathers" last time...but that term rather makes sense because you roll the edge before whipping it. (By the way, I have edited the post to correct the mistake.

Anywhoo, here are the steps to make a narrow whipped gather. When I first tried them, the results were not good. It took a good bit of experimentation with ways of holding my hands, of treating the fabric, of stretching the fabric, and so on, to make it work. The pictures you see below date to the wrap-front dress work and are not as narrow as I have achieved since...and by the way, my results vary a lot, because I don't do this all of the time.

If it isn't as narrow as you want, keep remindng yourself that it could take several garments before you achieve a pencil-point-fine effect. Also remember that the fabrics we use, and the threads, are not as fine as back then, unless we use thread used in lacemaking, and super-fine fabric (which is hard to get and in many cases, seems to be no longer made).

Number 1

Knot the thread securely in the fabric, taking a backstitch in it too, so it cannot come out. If you don't and the thread comes out, there goes your work...

Attach the piece of fabric some foot or two from you to a sewing bird or other holder. To work accurately and speedily, you need tension on the fabric.

Number 2
Using your thumb and forefinger or middle finger, rub the raw edge of the fabric such that the raw edge rolls up tightly inside the fabric. You want this as tight as possible, for the tighter, the finer the result, more like what was done back in the day.

Maintain tension on the fabric as you do this, or the roll will not be even.

If you gently move your entire hand upwards as you roll, you can keep rolling along until you have a foot or more ready to gather.

Tip: your thumb remains steady; it's your index finger or middle finger that does the rubbing motion.

If the fabric seems not to want to roll, try wetting your finger a little. Lightly starching the raw edge can help, too.

I have looked at a video or two online of the process and those show more of a folding action than a rolling one, resulting in a much wider hem.

Number 3

Whip the rolled hem. Insert the needle as shown below, on an angle, so that the thread whips up in a spiral. This will help the gathering process.

Maintain tension on the fabric, so that you can work speedily and maintain the same needle angle all the way.

The more stitches per inch, the finer the result.

Every so often, extend the thread to its length, and run the needle up it, letting the end of the thread fly, to take out extra twist in it. Otherwise, the thread is apt to tangle and it will drive you nuts. This is a tip from Frances Grimble's The Lady's Strategem.

Number 4
After a couple of inches of whipping, hold the hem with one hand, and gently pull on the thread with the other. The hem will pull into gathers.

To keep the gathers from flattening out again, immediately press the top of the gathered section between thumb and forefinger, and make a half knot or two to hold that section. Then you can arrange the gathers at will in the space left.

You do not have to put that half knot in there, but know that your gathers will move all over the place in the meantime.

You should practice this portion of the process several times, to see how full or scant you want your frill. Just as in regular gathering, the tighter you pull the thread, the fuller the gather, and the looser you leave it, the scanter.

To my eye, gathers on things like caps were often quite scant.

So there you go.

I have no pictures yet of the process of whipping the resulting frill to the main has its own little issues, naturally. Sewing always does.


MrsC said...

Oh that makes so much sense and you've explained it brilliantly! Thank you :) And now I want someone to need a white something with a frill so I can try it. I might do a sample. I agree, getting really fine fabrics is hard.

ZipZip said...

You are welcome! Mmm, for a frilled something, how about shorter wrap or shawl for's not so many months away there.

It's almost midsummer here and I am ready to mourn the loss of the sun already, silly girl.

Very best,


MrsC said...

Too chilly to contemplate, I am drawn to warm things like quilts and velvet :) Of course it makes sense to be sewing for the coming season not the current one, but who ever said we had to make sense heehhe.
Now it occurred to me that kimono fabric is really narrow. Maybe even 10 inches wide. I wonder if it was Japanese fabric they were using...

ZipZip said...

Dear Mrs. C.,
So kimono fabric is that narrow? Hmmm. For much of the West, trade with Japan was severely restricted until sometime into the 19th century, so I am not sure how much fabric got out. However, narrow looms had been used for centuries in Europe, and ribbon-making had been a medieval cottage industry until semi-automated looms took over sometime in the 17th or 18th century (this from that great V&A book I have). So I bet there were plenty of narrow looms out there for the "narrows" industry. Also bet that someone has done a dissertation on this...

Very best,