Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Silkworm Farm Visit

Last Friday I visited a silkworm farm with my sewing teacher and her interns. It's not a modern, working silkworm farm, but rather a kind of living museum that demonstrates silk production in France from the 19th and early 20th centuries. The museum is called Le Jardin du Tisserand.

It's a one-man production and he gave us a lovely tour, starting out in the magnanerie, where the worms eat, grow, eat some more and make their cocoons. You can see the latin for 'eat' in the world magnanerie. :) It takes approximately 30 days - depending on the weather and other conditions - before the silkworms decide to make their cocoons.

When they are ready to make their cocoons, they basically climb out of the box and head for high ground. They try to find the highest position possible. Then they make the silk threads to cocoon themselves and they are suspended like that, as if in mid-air, with no part of their body touching the wood. These worms are in a Japanese-style system, in wood. The worms like wood; they hate plastic.

The silk is not really differently colored, but the sticky stuff that holds the cocoon together is and it can come in white, off-white, yellow, and even green. The sticky stuff does slightly color the silk thread, so commercial silk farms use only the silkworms that produce white colored ones so as to have a neutral starting place for dyeing.

If we want the silk, we have to kill the silkworms while they are still in the cocoon, just before they are ready to emerge. Apparently they have to be killed in a very quick, specific way so as not to damage the threads. Some are allowed to live in order to reproduce.

Here's some photos of the traditional ways to process the threads, starting with the first step in the upper left-hand corner and going clock-wise.

I'm skipping lots of steps, and I'm not an expert, but here's what I remember from his explanation of the process.

First, there's some fuzzy stuff (don't remember the name!) that is removed from the cocoons, then the cocoons are heated in water and the silk threads come off quite easily. They must be unwound from the cocoon, until nearly the end. Half a dozen or more cocoons' threads are all intertwined together for strength during the unwinding process. When the cocoon becomes clear and you can see the chrysalis, you remove that particular cocoon from the batch and add another one. You don't want the thread to break off and weaken the batch.

The strands that are unwound during the removal process end up looking like real hanks of thread by the end of it. The threads then have to be further manipulated and twisted around to turn the hanks are turned into bobbins. The rate of twisting that the threads do as they are put onto the bobbins determines the quality of silk that results. For example, to get a crepe de chine, the bobbins are wound at a certain speed with a certain number of twists. I don't remember the math, sorry!

And then the bobbins are set up and the warp is created. Of course, after that you can set up the loom and weave!

The example of an industrial machine that he had on the premises dates to the early 20th century. He had it set up to weave a jacquard. The design is controlled through the little holes in those long sheets.

The photos go clockwise, with the oldest machine being on the upper left-hand corner. The exception is the photo of the date, which goes with the last (computer-like) machine.

The other looms and machines on the premises include a manual loom that takes at least two people to work it. There is also a machine that people would use to create the first part of a jacquard pattern, by placing cords in such a way to indicate where the colors ended up. The arranged ropes would then be transferred to another machine, which read the rope pattern and punched holes in the jacquard cards. It's essentially an early computer! The machine he has is from the 19th century.

There was also a passementerie loom, or a special loom that is designed specifically to make ribbons and trims. Apparently, these looms tended to be more decorated and carved than other looms.

Passementerie loom:

Finally, here's a look at the mulberry trees outside the complex. The only thing that his silkworms eat are mulberry leaves, so he has to grow a steady supply himself! In fact, the latin name for the worms is Bombyx mori, with mori indicating the mulberry tree.

The cost of silk production is colossal! Frankly, after he described all the steps that are required to produce a bolt of silk cloth (and he left out a lot of them to save time), I'm surprised silk doesn't cost even more than it does. I have a new appreciation for it.

I'm sure I have given a very incomplete overview of silk production, but I wanted to share some highlights from the tour. You can probably find more complete information on Wikipedia or something; I haven't looked!

Our field trip didn't end there, however, so in my next post I might show you what we did next. Hint: it involves old wedding dresses!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Jacket Update

I'm been working slowly but steadily on my Burda jacket. The basic shell is done, minus the collar and button placket.

Here's the front:

Here's the back:

The jacket is too big, so I'll have to make some adjustments.

Here's the pieces of the lining.




Here's an up-close shot on the shoulder seams. Here's the teacher's (she did one to show me how to do it):

Here's mine. It doesn't quite match up as well, but I'm still very happy with it:

There's only two classes left in the semester and I'm not sure I'll finish this by then. Hopefully I'll be able to finish it up on my own during the summer!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Finished Knitting: The Chaparral Bolero

I had nearly finished knitting my tank top, so what did I do? I started another project, of course! And I still haven't finished the tank top, but this one is done, done, done!

I made this Chaparral bolero; the booklet describes it as a 'cropped Kimono style cardigan.'

My version ended up much shorter than theirs. I made the medium and the model is wearing a small. I guess I should've gone up a size or two! Still, I'm happy with the result. Although, I have to confess, I haven't blocked it! I suppose I should do that...that would stretch it out a bit.

The rib border along the neck and down the front is knit separately and sewn on afterward, but this went very quickly.

The lace pattern was easy to follow. And there was very little sewing at the end, compared to my recent projects anyhow. This was the first time I've used a Classic Elite pattern and I found that the pattern was clearly explained and there were no errors. I think I'll have to wait a bit to wear it though, as it's knit in wool. The weather's not great here, but wool may be overkill.

And speaking of yarn, I was able to meet up with Carolyn in Paris during her travels in Europe, yay! You can see some of her travel photos on her blog, both from Paris and from her earlier travels in Italy.

It was such a pleasure to be able to meet such a cool sewing (and knitting!) blogger and even more amazing because she lives on the other side of the world from here! We spent the afternoon talking fabric, yarn, and books. But it wasn't all talk, we also had lunch at L'Oisive The and got some lovely yarn.

I picked up this skein of Renaissance Dyeing yarn. The sheep are raised in France (but they're English breeds) and the yarn is processed and dyed here too. I've been wanting to try this brand for a long time and was glad to see that L'Oisive Thé stocks it.

Now, what does it want to be???

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Doll Clothes: The Story of How I Started Sewing

Several weeks ago, prttynpnk shared a post about her doll clothes creations. Not only were the outfits super cool, but they also reminded me that that's how I started sewing.

One of the first things I ever sewed was for my Gene Marshall doll. My mom showed me what to do. We used a Vogue pattern designed especially for Gene. I bought two patterns that day for Gene; I used one and have sadly neglected the other for at least 10 years!

The Gene model I bought was very basic and came only clothed in this sad little bathing suit:

How could I not make an outfit for her?!

Truth be told, I have waaaaay more paper dolls than I do real dolls (I love Tom Tierney paper dolls especially). For one, paper dolls are cheaper and take up less space. For two, they are easier to hide! I am a little embarrassed to collect dolls at my age. Of course, that's why I'm writing about it and plastering it all over the internet!

Anyhoo, without further ado, here's Gene in the outfit I (we) made for her. You can see we chose the sheath dress from pattern # 704:

It's made in a lovely linen and I still have the unused scraps. I'm sure I have enough to make another version of the dress. But who would wear it? Oh, speak of the devil, Gene is not the only doll in my collection. I am also the (secretly) proud of owner of this Holly Golightly doll:

I have yet to sew anything for Holly, BUT I could use one of my Gene patterns because they are roughly the same size:

Look, the girls are best friends - they even share accessories. Don't be jealous that I can rock your hat, Holly:

Excuse me, who rocks the hat?!?

Since this is supposed to be a crafting blog, here's a close-up on the sewing for Gene's outfit. Notice the hand-sewn hem. I had some trouble with the back apparently:

But, for those of you who are interested in sewing for dolls, you said check out Toferet's Empty Bobbin. Her most recent posts include a Barbie Cosmonaut!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Last Me-Made-May Days: 25 - 31

Whew!!! I kinda ran out of ideas (and clothes) at the end there. I only put together 1 1/2 new outfits. I had never before paired my blue circle shirt with my red linen skirt because the shirt is so huge; putting the red belt with it saved that. And the 1/2 new outfit is me cutting the neckline lower out of a t-shirt and pairing it with my brown linen pants to go to dance class. It was so hot for a couple days there, but now it's back to raining.

Here's the last outfit list of the challenge!!

Day 25: brown linen pants again(Simplicity 2656) + a freshly cut-up t-shirt;
Day 26: Simplicity Lisette 2245 cropped trousers again;
Day 27: Simplicity Built by Wendy 3964 shirt again;
Day 28: Spring Ruffle Top again;
Day 29: top made with Simplicity 2614 again;
Day 30: red linen skirt again (Simplicity 2367), but paired with a new top:
LAST DAY: skirt is again Simplicity 2655, paired with a brand-new fair trade RTW top in a nautical theme, for Zoe!!

With my energy going to styling (ha!) this month, I didn't get much making done. I did progress on two knitting projects and one is nearly done.

And then on June 1st I got out my sewing machine and finished up a shirt in a new pattern! I think I'm going to get a lot of use out of it and I've already cut out fabric to make a second version. I'm waiting 'til my better half gets back to take proper pictures though. My motivation for self-portraiture is pretty low right now. ;)

I loved the process, as always, and it helped me find new (and perhaps, better) ways to wear my wardrobe. And of course, I re-identified the gaps I need to fill. More importantly, the sense of community and understanding in the sewing blog world and in the flickr group (and the support from my non-sewing friends!) is always such a boost and continually inspires me.

Thank you everyone and especially Zoe, for organizing this little hand-made love-fest!