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.
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.
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!