Get Over Precious Factor When Creating Handwoven Garments

Sewing with handwovens can be intimidating. With some planning and care, you can make handwoven garments from even your most precious yardage.
Karen entrusted her handwoven Monk’s Belt yardage to her favorite couture seamstress, Susan Stowell of Asheville, who meticulously cut, matched, fit, and finished the dress for a fashion show. Photo by Zaire Kacz Photography

I love designing and weaving yardage, and wearing handwoven clothing. It’s that step in between that trips me up.

Even when I’ve decided on a pattern, fit the muslin and laid out the finished yardage on my cutting table, I may walk around and around it, rearranging pattern pieces and meticulously checking grain lines for days before scissors finally meet cloth.

It’s not that I am a novice sewer. I was sewing long before I became a weaver. I guess I haven’t been able to get over the “precious” factor, as one instructor put it, of sewing with handwovens. “It’s only cloth,” she would say. Yes, but cloth I’ve spent hours, days or weeks designing, warping, weaving and wet finishing out of yarns that cost more than most commercially woven fabric I’ve ever purchased.

Handwoven garments are in reach for weavers with basic sewing skills. Straight skirts are a perfect way to start sewing with handwovens!
Straight skirts can be simple sewing projects for weavers with basic sewing skills. Karen embellished this one, made from wool and local alpaca, with locally-tanned buckskin side panels. Photo by Zaire Kacz Photography

It’s also the details. When I was whipping up skirts, tops or dresses from commercial cloth, I never thought much about seam finishes. If it held together on the outside, no one needed to see how it looked on the inside. If raveling might be a problem, out came the pinking shears.

Now when sewing with handwovens, details matter…a lot. For one, seam allowances can be fragile, depending on the yarns used, so at the very least they should be serged to prevent them unraveling to nothing and weakening seams. More importantly, if you’ve put that much work into creating the cloth and designing a garment, shouldn’t the inside of it reflect the same level of care?

I never made a muslin before I became a weaver, either. Buy a pattern, cut it out along my size lines, stitch it together, and if it didn’t fit, rip it out and try again. If you’ve ever tried to pick machine stitches out of a lofty handwoven wool fabric or a fine, patterned fabric with lots of floats, you’ve no doubt discovered how difficult that is, and the toll it can take on the cloth. It’s not like you can run to the fabric store and buy another yard.

Tips for Sewing with Handwovens

So here are a few lessons I’ve learned in my quest for handwoven clothing.

  • ALWAYS fit on a muslin before cutting handwoven cloth.
  • If seam allowances will show, Hong Kong seams look professional and are not that hard.
  • Stick to simple styles that showcase the cloth and are easier to cut and sew.
  • That doesn’t mean you have to wear a sack. Darts are your friend.
  • Take care when positioning pattern pieces on patterned cloth so graphic elements don’t highlight a body part that doesn’t need more highlighting.
  • If your sewing skills, like mine, were learned from the “good-enough” school, take a class and learn some couture fitting and finishing techniques worthy of your beautiful cloth.
  • When your handwoven cloth demands a garment that is spectacular, hire a professional to design, fit and finish it for you. Then get back to weaving.
Master the art of sewing with handwovens with expert advice from Daryl Lancaster. Learn how to design handwoven yardage for a sewing project, how to cut handwoven cloth, and how to create a flattering final handwoven garment.
Daryl Lancaster’s web seminar on sewing with handwovens. Click here to check it out!

If you’re a bit afraid of sewing  with handwoven fabric, I hope these tips help you overcome that fear!

And if you’re looking for a bit more guidance, I highly recommend Daryl Lancaster’s excellent online seminar on garment construction with handwovens. Click here to learn more!

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Sewing Handwoven Cloth
Karen Donde

About Karen Donde

“Exploring infinite ways to create patterned textiles at the loom drives my fascination with weaving. A ‘structure’ weaver, I am drawn to intricate interlacements, but am thrilled when simple combinations of structure, color and texture yield a beautiful, complex-looking woven design.

“For me, the learning is as much fun as the creating, and the desire to share that learning by teaching others the craft through instruction and writing will be the focus of my continued development as a fiber artist.”

Karen weaves limited-edition, one-of-a-kind and custom fiber art, clothing and household textiles for sale and teaches beginning and intermediate weaving classes and assorted workshops at Sutherland Handweaving Gallery & Teaching Studio in Asheville, NC. She began weaving in 1998 and has been teaching since 2004. In October 2008, she earned a Certificate of Excellence in Handweaving-Level I from the Handweavers Guild of America. She currently is pursuing the Level II certification and is enrolled in the Professional Crafts-Fiber program at Haywood Community College.

Taking advantage of her journalism background, Karen now writes for and about weavers and has published several articles in Handwoven magazine.

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