When Rectangles Aren’t Enough

  Karen's Yardage

Karen's handwoven yardage waiting

to be sewn into a dress. 

Even before I started weaving, I was a fabric junkie. On rainy Sunday afternoons with no other pressing business you would frequently find me at the local fabric store contentedly flipping through pattern books. I usually selected two or three patterns from the carefully numbered file drawers, though frankly this was before a couple patterns cost as much as a good dinner out. Then I’d work my way between all the fabric stacks, stroking anything that caught my eye. I’d usually go home with both fabric and patterns, although not necessarily intended for each other. I just liked them.


So began the fabric stash and pattern library. Occasionally, when I actually needed something to wear for a special event, I matched up fabric with pattern and sewed, although it often required another trip to the fabric store.


Then I learned to weave. After weaving umpteen scarves, shawls, towels, table runners and other rectangular textiles that needed little more than hemming or fringing, I decided maybe I should start weaving cloth I could actually sew into clothes.


Cutting handwoven cloth for the first time requires a steady hand and nerves of steel. In addition, there are a few fundamental guidelines for sewing handwovens that may give even experienced sewers pause: NEVER cut handwoven cloth doubled; ALWAYS cut a single layer; and IGNORE pattern instructions to cut a piece on the fold. Either flip the pattern over to cut the other half or, better yet, transfer pattern halves to new pattern paper so you can lay out the entire piece. DOUBLE- and TRIPLE-CHECK the straight-of-grain. As for seam finishes, they are ESSENTIAL.


Eventually, I made a couple of nice handwoven jackets. Unfortunately it was far more common that once new yardage was finished, yardage it remained because I was already onto the next weaving project. And so began a fabric stash of a different sort.


Last week, I was once again sitting in front of the pattern books at the fabric store searching for the perfect dress pattern for the latest handwoven yardage. Seems the old pattern library had gotten a little . . . well, old.


The yardage itself, though beautiful, represented some special challenges. First, it is a warp-dominant corkscrew twill that shrunk from 36” wide on the loom to 29” wide after finishing. Yardage requirements on pattern envelopes start at 44” wide, and the fabric proprietors often frown on pulling out pattern pieces to measure them before purchasing.


Second, I found three treadling errors in the last third of the three yards, which made my original vision of a simple below-the-knee sheath impossible. Never again will I weave complex twill in a busy room without a dobby. So the dress will need a separate bodice and skirt, which might even be different fabrics.


A few pattern designs looked promising, but sticker shock scared me off. At the back of the store, I happened across a box of discontinued patterns for $2 each and found three that seemed a good mix of still current and classic. I forked over the $6 plus tax, took my patterns home, and started measuring. Before I could lay pattern to cloth, however, another weaving deadline presented itself. Back into the envelope the tissue pieces went until another day. 


Then I remembered Daryl Lancaster is coming to Asheville in late May, and I’ll be taking her jacket construction class. I’ve been a Daryl disciple for many years. Love those Hong Kong seams! But I have never been able to take the five-day class. It only makes sense to wait and ask her opinion. Even with the week I’m away at Convergence, and another trip to the fabric store, I should be able to get this dress done before the rehearsal dinner for my son’s wedding this summer. I might even making a matching bag from Yuka Koshizen's book Carry Me. It apparently still takes a special occasion to get me to the sewing machine.


Karen Donde

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