Thanksgiving… and beyond!

Another Thanksgiving, come and gone. How was yours? Ours was a delightful day of eating turkey, mashed potatoes, and some really killer pie — plus a healthy dose of relaxing on the couch, hanging out with family, and watching movies. The rain let up for a minute, so I even got to get out on a deliciously relaxing bike ride =)

We did a little Black Friday shopping, but in the afternoon it was Back To Work with us! And we’ve been staying quite busy since then. (After all, we do have a launch on Saturday…) Pre-launch week is one of the most exciting, as well as the most hectic, weeks of the whole process. There’s always a little bit of sewing to finish up, plus the photoshoot to arrange and take; then there’s photo culling, ad-writing, label designing, various announcements, and a thousand other little things to do. The myriad of different tasks is a nice change of pace, however, after several 40-hr weeks during the “build” where really all we do is sew!

The new holiday garb will be up in the Etsy shop at 10 am, PST. As usual, we’re excited to share the beauty with you!

–Melinda and Melody

a little history of French Lace

As promised, here’s another vintage trim find from our recent trip to Nancy’s: some French lace in an unusual color called “rose beige”. Isn’t the level of detail incredible? The difference between French cotton lace and modern poly lace is almost past description (almost like they’re two different species), and if you’ve never seen how beautiful the real stuff can be….well, I really hope you can someday.

The lady working in the ribbon room and I got to talking about French lace, since we both love it so much! She told me it’s been made the same way since the late 18th century, on giant looms smuggled across the channel from England. Most of them stopped in Calais, in factories disguised as housefronts. Stealing that kind of technology was a capital offence back then! Ah, the things we do for beauty…

Each loom is run by a single person, who is solely responsible for its upkeep and well-being (read: you don’t touch somebody else’s loom!) And they get ‘handed down’ over generations. Lacemaking is also the only industry in France that still operates under the Napoleonic code!

The looms, she told me, are lubricated with graphite (essentially pencil lead) instead of oil. So when the lace comes off the loom, it’s black, not white! (I was surprised, too.) The workers put it in a shaker for about 48 hours, and that is apparently enough to get most of the graphite off the lace. (The floors are a different story. They’re coated with over 200 years of graphite, and slippery as all get out!)

The workers then tenderly wash, dry, press, and inspect the lace. The ribbon lady told me she’s only found graphite flecks twice in all her many years of dealing with French laces! It’s exquisite. It’s also very heavily subsidized by the French government, which is why you can usually find it for between $5 and $15 per yard. That seems like an absolute steal when you consider the incredible amount of work that goes into each length!

–Melinda

announcing Silver Bows!

Yes, it’s true! All that work we’ve been doing means there will be a Christmas collection this year!

The Big Day is Saturday, Dec. 3rd, but we’re still trying to work out a few kinks in the logistics. We’ll be sure to keep you posted as soon as we figure it all out!

Melinda and Melody

multiplication

It’s not what I would have expected — but even doing the sewing for this business requires a lot of ordinary, easy math. Fractions are already everywhere in sewing (5/8 of a yard, 1/4″ seam allowances, &c) but as soon as you start making multiples of anything, you have to do… well, multiplication!

Take, for example, our most recent custom order, the Garland Dress. It’s got a peplum (peplums are rather like short skirts, only just for decorative purposes) made out of little stiffened loops. It’s made to fit a small doll, so it shouldn’t be too many loops, right? However, at the correct scale, I calculated we’d need 7 loops/side. Since there are two sides, 7×2 = 14 loops. And, since each loop is roughly 3″ long, when flat, that means 14×3 = 42″ of loop material!

As if 42″ wasn’t enough fun, the original photos show trim marching down both sides of each loop! So, 42″ x 2 sides = 84″ (which incidentally is about 4.6 times the height of a doll!) That’s a fair bit of trim, but wow! are the results spectacular or what!

 
Can’t get enough multiplication? Now just imagine how much trim and loop material you’d need to make a run of four Garland Dresses — or a person-sized dress!! =)

–Melinda and Melody

the Garland Dress

As you may have noticed, we haven’t been doing much custom work lately. But we couldn’t pass up the chance to try to make this. I mean, what a challenge!

The Garland Dance is from New York City Ballet’s production of Sleeping Beauty. We were awed at the sheer amount of visual activity on this dress! Bodice, peplum loops, lace at the neckline, buttons down the front, ribbons everywhere, and (if you look carefully at the rightmost dancer in this photograph) a skirt made of at least four layers — white, yellow, lacy, and pink!

After hours of studying the photos, making mock ups, searching for just the right fabrics and trim, and finally stitching it all in place, here is our version of the Garland Dress!

Most of the trim on the bodice had to be hand-stitched down — there’s lace and ribbon at the neckline, silver cord across the bodice front, and of course the velvet ribbons down the seams! Not to mention that we stitched the rose at the neckline out of a piece of silk ribbon, and built the ‘buttons’ out of jewelry spacers and Swarovski crystals.

We also hand-stitched light pink silk ribbon onto the puffed sleeves, over the casing. It’s subtle, but we loved the way it added an extra dimension to the sleeves.

And here are the afore-mentioned layers of skirt!

It was truly one of our biggest projects yet, but we couldn’t be more satisfied with how it came out!

Swiss insertion

As promised, here’s another treat from my recent trip to Nancy’s Sewing Basket!

This gorgeous swiss insertion just knocked my socks off. It’s huge (well, about 2.5″ wide), but super detailed at the same time. And I loved the blend of art-deco flair with traditional embroidered flowers!

‘Swiss’ is very densely woven (if it’s good swiss, that is) from incredibly long-staple cotton… Ok, bear with me on a little rabbit trail here. Cotton grows in ‘bolls’ which are then ‘picked’ to untangle it into long strands rather than the giant lump it grows in. You can do it mechanically, but all machines cut the fibers in the boll up, to some extent or other, leaving you with short, choppy strands of cotton — that’s called “short staple” cotton. When such fibers are spun and woven into fabric, the finished cloth usually has a slight fuzz all over the top, since it’s the ends of the short fibers frizzing out everywhere. If cheap quilting cotton were a hairstyle, it’d be a crew cut!

By contrast, when you ‘hand-pick’ cotton, you can be much more gentle and get single, long fibers instead of multiple short fibers. The resulting fiber is called “long-staple” cotton and when you weave it up, the surface is incredibly smooth. It’s also very strong, since each individual fiber is longer. (Which rope bridge do you trust more — the one with long, continuous ropes across the chasm, or the one where each rope has been knotted a hundred times?) When you weave long-staple cotton densely, like in the case of swiss insertions, you can trim right next to the edge and it won’t ravel. Wow!

This is also swiss (it’s the name for a kind of fabric, but in this case it really did come from Switzerland!) It’s vintage, and hand-embroidered. So beautiful, it makes me almost weep. It’s only about an inch and a half wide  from raw edge to raw edge — and how I wish you could see the tiny stitches in person!

Still to come: French lace!

–Melinda

A trip to Nancy’s

 

Nancy’s Sewing Basket (www.nancyssewingbasket.com) is truly one of the nicest fabric shops I’ve ever been to. I usually end up going on gray, rainy days, so just walking into the warm, high-ceilinged space is wonderful — not to mention you’re immediately surrounded by gorgeous, unusual fabrics!

First off, you’re in the silk section. Nancy’s carries many different kinds of silks (on this trip I was delighted to discover they have the full line of Radiance, which is one of my favorite choices for lining. It’s a cotton/silk blend, delightful to work with, and just the right weight for dolls! My normal fabric haunt was getting a bit hit-and-miss, but Nancy’s said they carried all the colors on a standard basis! Hooray!) I also picked up some real silk taffeta, which I’ve never tried before. But just fingering it, I can tell it’s going to be a lot better behaved than polyester taffeta…

If you can manage to tear yourself away from the silks, you find yourself next to the linens (real handkerchief linen imported from Italy!), then the velvets (oh dear, don’t get me started), and the wools (yes, it’s soft — did you know that’s Italian cashmere!?). But tucked away at the back of the shop is probably my favorite part: the ribbon room. It’s so tiny that if you didn’t know it was there, you might miss it.

It’s chock full of incredible ribbons, trims, and laces, many of which are vintage, imported, or otherwise rare and beautiful. I had to control myself to come away with only this much — the longer I stayed, the more I discovered! I’m going to split it up over several posts, since there’s a lot to say about some of it.

I’d eyed this c. 1910s lace last time I visited, and finally gave in and got some. Apparently it’s Aesop’s fable lace — but we don’t know which fable it is for sure. Any guesses? I love the soft, two-tone color scheme, not to mention the charming birds thereupon!

Cotton satin ribbon. Yes, since satin is a weave, you can weave cotton into a satin. I’d never seen it done before — it’s a lot less shiny than silk or polyester satin ribbon, but it’s got a deliciously gentle luster and a very intriguing feel in-hand.

And check out this satin-back velvet ribbon! The camera doesn’t do the colors justice — it’s a deep forest green on one side, with a greenish gold backside. So luscious that if ribbons were edible, I don’t think this one would last very long around here! Don’t quote me, but I think this one came all the way from Japan.

 

Oh dear. Time fails me — but don’t worry, I’ll tell you about the swiss insertion and French lace coming up!

 

–Melinda