Cloning a polyester slip in habotai silk

One of my most beloved clothing pieces is a slinky slip that I got at GAP in the first semester of my PhD for… 14 dollars, on sale. It’s made of polyester but is very comfortable and is cut on the bias, so it is very flattering. If there was one piece of clothing I’d want a second copy of, this is it.

Way back when I bought it, I even looked for another one like it, but it had vanished faster than a genie after the third wish. Now that I know how to make dresses from scratch, it’s the perfect thing to re-create. Here is a picture of this beauty.

It is constructed very simply (which makes the price I paid somewhat understandable). Aside from a back and a front piece cut on the bias, the slip just has a facing and spaghetti straps, as well as some piping:

I’ve never sewn on the bias and have never made spaghetti straps. To think about it, I’ve also never cloned any clothing and have never created my own pattern, so we’re in for some new challenges. I decided to go without piping because, frankly, I didn’t have a fabric that matched my deep teal habotai silk in an interesting way. I’ll list the fabric source at the bottom of the post.

Fast forward a shockingly small number of days later, I made my teal slip! It is chic and comfortable, and because it’s habotai, it’s very lightweight. Perfect for the obnoxiously hot weather we’ve had for too long.

I started by laying down the original slip on paper and tracing the outline of the back and front pieces. I also copied the facing pieces and made spaghetti straps (they weren’t as hard as I expected! I used a crochet hook to turn them inside out). Here is a snapshot of the inside:

Now, for a few tips about how I made this. First, I traced the outline of the original slip on some tracing paper. I added a 5/8″ inch seam allowance, since I’m used to having that in commercial patterns by now.

Before cutting this slippery silk on the bias, I starched it with some Niagara ironing starch (the original kind, found on Amazon here. “Premium” Niagara starch might not make the fabric stiff enough). This prevented the fabric from stretching and collapsing as I cut and sewed it. Fabric cut on the bias looks beautiful in garments precisely because it has this property of stretching out of its rectangular shape. But if it leaves the perfect rectangular shape while you sew it, the final garment can become crooked and unflattering.

After starching the fabric, I carefully folded the fabric into a triangle to get a fold at a 45 degree angle from the selvedge. Here is a photo of the way I arranged my facing pattern pieces on the bias fold, right before cutting.

The next step was to pin the pieces together. Since this fabric is very thin, I used Dritz silk pins (they can be found on Amazon here) and Clover wonder clips, which don’t pierce the fabric at all. Here is a pic, again:

But before getting this into the machine, I basted the seams. Basting didn’t take long, but it prevented bunching up of the fabric. Importantly, it prevented the slippery, fluid silk fabric from leaving its perfect shape and resulting in a crooked, unflattering garment.

Once the basting was complete, in the sewing machine the fabric went! Change the needle in for a new one before doing this, though. I used a 70/09 Singer universal needle for this project, but you can also use a sharp needle, such as the 10/70 Schmetz Microtex. By the way, I have a Brother sewing machine, and the Singer Universal needles worked perfectly well.

As you can (kind of) see, I used a regular sewing foot and didn’t need a walking foot or any tissue paper. Starching the fabric before cutting it really took care of a lot of issues.

That’s it! Again, the special supplies that made sewing with slippery, thin habotai silk a breeze were:
Original Niragara ironing starch found on Amazon here
– Dritz silk pins (found on Amazon here)
– Clover wonder clips (they can be found here)
– A 70/09 Singer universal needle

The fabric I used here is the Deep Teal Habotai silk from Mood Fabrics. Dharma Trading Co has a habotai of the same weight at nearly half the per-yard cost, here. However, the Dharma “teal” habotai is a lot closer to green than the blue-green ocean of color that I found in the Mood Fabrics habotai. It’s a matter of personal taste.

Ta-Da! My next project is a peach silk/cotton wrap dress.

Adding trims to the Je t’aime dress

Last time, I wrote about the pencil dress I made from a very quirky cotton poplin fabric. While beautiful, I found that it could use some additional trims. Voila! I enjoy the structured bodice trend, so I added a black velvet ribbon to give this dress a bit of a corset-inspired look. The way I made the separations between horizontal strips of ribbon smaller towards the sides of the dress also give it a slimming effect – by giving my front an illusion of volume. My small bust and swimmer lungs have to be treated like royalty.

Once I added the ribbon, I found that the dress looked a little too risque, so I found the perfect use for some scraps of black silk-cotton voile I used to make a sleepwear slip! I turned the voile scraps into lightweight bows at the straps of the dress.

Voila! risque has been upgraded to cute.

Plus, the bows on the straps are historically inspired. Here is a 19th century advertisement featuring a corset with bows on its straps.

Thomson's patent glove fitting corsets. [front]

“Thomson’s patent glove fitting corsets. [front]” by Boston Public Library is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Next, I’ll write about the turquoise slip I made from habotai silk.

The “je t’aime” dress

What a week! It’s been 8 days since the grand event: I passed my oral qualification exam, in which I defended my topic for my PhD dissertation. It’s been a wild week of inflated ego since then. Meanwhile, I also made a dress! This is my fourth sewing project, after making a linen dress, a silk & cotton slip, and a robe for my boyfriend. Here it is!

I used a stretch cotton poplin fabric, which I will link to at the bottom of the post. I followed the Butterick 6453 pattern, and Gertie Hirsch’s sew-along tutorial to make it. It is perfectly lightweight and comfortable, with a quirky elegance. A little see-through, but nothing lining can’t fix :). I will list all of the materials at the bottom of this post.

Since I am quite pear-shaped (usually I buy tops in size 4 and bottoms in size 8 or even 10), I ended up cutting a (Butterick) size 8 top and a (Butterick) size 14 bottom. It was helpful to make a practice muslin for the bodice, since I wanted to make sure that the size 8 would actually fit me. The initial muslin was almost snug! I ended up adding half an inch to the front panel, and making the armholes higher. Here is the armhole modification I taped onto my traced pattern piece:

I made sure that the side and back panels matched up at the armhole by cutting the armhole modification out of a single sheet of paper, and then split it in the middle, attaching the two halves to the front and side panel patterns:

Of course, the facing pieces needed to also be modified, so I put the modified bodice pieces on top of the original printed pattern, matched up the sides and top to the size 8 lines, and traced the adjusted corner on there:

And here is the traced adjustment on the front facing:

And, since I’m tall, I measured the length from the center of my shoulder down to my waist. It measured 3/4 of an inch longer than the measurement listed at the waistline marker on the pattern, so I added that length to the bottom of the bodice pieces:

Finally, as I mentioned, the main fabric I used for this dress is a little see-through. In the spirit of minimizing waste, I re-purposed the practice muslin into a comfortable cotton lining for the finished bodice. The soft off-white color of the muslin fabric was perfect, as it enhances the bright white color of the main fabric, while also blending into my skintone a little.

What a beautiful cotton dress! I cannot wait to enjoy the 90-degree weather we have here in Connecticut. Here are the materials I used for this dress:

The Butterick 6453 pattern
White 14″ visible metal zipper
“je t’aime” stretch cotton poplin fabric from Mood fabrics
Tracing paper for tracing out the pattern and then sticking modifications to it
Col-erase color pencil for tracing the adjustments onto the printed pattern tissue paper
Muslin fabric for a practice bodice and lining
White mercerized cotton thread from a thread kit I own
My trusty seam ripper because mistakes happen and we should fix them 😉
White 3/8 inch lingerie rings and sliders from a Dritz lingerie slider & ring set
Pellon ultralightweight fusible interfacing for the facing pieces

That’s all for now! I am hoping to add some black trims to the dress to give it more visual structure, at which point I will write about that process and result. Next up: a deep teal slip from silk habotai.

Psst: some (not all) of the links I include in my posts are affiliate links. If you click on them, there is no cost to you. But I might make a little money. Thank you for reading about my PhD & DIY journey!

The incredible dearth of women’s socks

Today was a hit the pavement, walk around town, carry your fabulous booty around day. I went to my lab for the first time (after joining it during the pandemic), in the medical school. My office, however, is in a science building on the opposite side of campus, which means… Lots of walking! Who knew I was still capable of it.

My shoes of choice are Rothys, the washable shoes that are spun into existence from discarded plastic, or so the legend goes. They are so comfortable that I have three pairs (more than half of my shoe collection!)

Well, they were comfortable. Until today, when I finally encountered that they blister my feet if I walk more than 10 thousand steps in a day in them. This left me thinking: what shoes am I going to wear now? My sneakers, I suppose, as my winter boots wouldn’t be that comfortable in July. And you know what sneakers require? Socks.

Seeing as my polyester clean out included my underwear drawer, I find myself with no poly-free socks. I can’t make socks at my knitting level, and thrifting socks isn’t an appealing possibility. The time has come: I have to purchase a new item of clothing.

Taking my new minimalist approach and natural fiber requirements to the internet shops, I find that women’s socks, even at the highest prices, disappoint. It’s impossible to find any that are 100% cotton, and of the woolen variety, I’ve only found a couple that are 100% cashmere. Everything else includes a mix of nylon, polyester, or other man-made fibers. Don’t get me wrong, cashmere is great – but it only applies during the coldest part of the year.

Instead, women’s socks lean towards the transparent, sexy look, which is understandable. But not comfortable!

Men’s socks, on the other hand, when you look at the high end, include all sorts of beautiful models that are 100% cotton of various kinds, 100% silk is also relatively easy to find. The shop William Abraham is devoted entirely to men’s socks, and I wanted those luxurious socks for myself.

Therein lies a great example of the emphasis that men’s fashion places on comfort, while women’s fashion concentrates completely on the look and variety of clothing. Have we forgotten that comfort and style can and should go together?

This absence of good socks for women is astounding. If you know of a brand that sells high quality socks of pure cotton or pure silk for women, please let me know.

In the meantime, I’ll be waiting for the arrival of a pair of pink Sea Island cotton socks from the men’s section of Pantherella – and for the healing of my blisters.

Help, I’m drowning: Fast fashion edition

My sewing journey has rapidly enlightened me about what well-made clothes look like, and the environmental impact of man-made materials (think polyester, nylon, viscose).

Even just owning polyester clothing and not buying any additional polyester pieces means that one adds particles of polyester into the water system with every wash.

This has created a feeling of disdain for the synthetics in my closet. I want the polyester out of my life. Take it off me!

So, this weekend I bit the bullet and sorted out all the clothes that are not made of natural fibers. The results are astounding. Take a look at the clothing I pulled out of my closet:

My pile of synthetics

And I really like some of these – I don’t wish to part with them! See that yellow dress on the left? Bought it used from Rent the Runway, and it’s as comfortable as it is flattering and fun.

I’ve made a few attempts at cleaning my closet the radical, does-this-spark-joy, way. And I always found excuses to keep pretty much everything I owned.

This time, I feel more resolute – my reason for cleaning out the debris of my fast fashion addiction go beyond simply my style and fashion choices. It just feels icky to wear anything that ruins the oceans. So, here are the remnants of my closet after sorting out the plastic:

2 polyblend button downs are still in there, and the one pair of pants left also is a mostly cotton, but blended with some viscose. This also excludes my four wool sweaters, which I keep in a cedar closet to protect them from moths.

Sadly, this remaining closet is not well coordinated, and contains some T shirts that I simply don’t wish to wear anymore. What is my plan, then, you ask? Am I going to go right back out and buy a bunch of things again, this time made of plants? No.

Here is the plan: I’m moving my pile of sadness into the cedar closet, out of sight. And when I feel desperate need to take one of the synthetic pieces out, I will do so. It will reenter my wardrobe – temporarily. And it will be the next item that I will seek to replace, be it through making my own, thrifting or (as last resort) bought new from a retailer.

Let’s take one last look at the heap of polyester I removed from my closet.

Goodbye, Kelly Kapoor.

Tracing my wedding dress pattern

Since I’ve only been using commercial sewing patterns for a month, I’m just starting to learn how much value they lose if you cut them, and in general how annoying it can be to cut the patterns out of flimsy tissue paper, pin the cutouts to fabric, then cut again and transfer the markings.

Hence, for my wedding dress I’ve decided to trace the pattern onto sturdier paper that I will not feel bad about accidentally ripping and won’t have to iron. Last night, I traced the parts of the pattern that are part of the bodice onto tracing paper and cut them out. Here are some photos from the process.

You might notice that instead of pattern weights, I’m using my stapler and a hole punch. They are quite heavy (remember the Swingline stapler from Office Space? This is the model – I wouldn’t want to run into an enemy carrying this stapler in a dark alley).

For tracing, I am using a black Tombow dual brush pen (excellent for all kind of marker art), which is certainly overkill – a simple black sharpie would do instead. If only I had a simple sharpie in the house. The paper comes in 20 yard roll on Amazon and is super easy to cut.

One new sewing pattern lesson learned last night: I forgot to check the sizes available in the pattern envelope, and they are on the bigger side (14-16-18-20, the so-called EE pattern size). My upper body is quite slim, and since this is a full-skirted dress, size 14 will be too large for me. I will need to adjust the pattern to fit my body better. We are going to learn together!

The whole process took me about an hour. The current cost tally for making my wedding dress is:

Time: 1 hour.
Money: $10.19 (pattern, taxes and shipping on Etsy).

Am I crazy? Making my wedding dress

I love Kate Middleton’s style. She is classy, retro, and deliberate.  So are you surprised that I want her wedding dress? Let me be more  precise. I want to make her wedding dress.

I am not *completely*  new to sewing. But I am pretty new. After making a much-worn A-line  skirt in 7th grade home ec, I took a sewing hiatus until my current age  of twenty-nine. And now, suddenly, I find myself in possession of a sewing machine and an exponentially growing stack of fabrics that is clearly making my boyfriend nervous.

So, after making a linen dress (Burda 7034)  and being halfway through making a bathrobe for said boyfriend, I feel fully ready to tumble my way to making Kate Middleton’s famous wedding  dress. Crazy? Absolutely.

I am rich with the Butterick 5731 pattern ($6.95 from FayesIdeasCometoLife on Etsy! If only that was the end of the expenses). And I have not started making the dress at all. Let’s take a second to admire the finished product once again.

Kate Miidleton Wedding Dress

We’ve all seen the dress.

I find a good number of posts by brides who have already completed their dresses… But I am here at the beginning of the process. We shall see how this goes.

Introductions

Starting a blog is like riding a bicycle… Wait, no — Starting a blog is like staring into the abyss… *shakes head, confusedly searches through her backpack for index cards* —

Once upon a time, I went to an open mic. Midway through the avalanche of offensive attempts at comedy, a man came on stage, introduced himself as a janitor at a school, pulled out a stack on index cards, and then began shuffling through them and muttering, repeatedly, that he wanted to talk to us about dating women… women… dating women…

I’ve wondered since then: was he doing that on purpose? Or did he have a legitimate case of stage fright so bad that he couldn’t even read off his note cards? I will never know. But that is how writing an introduction to anything can feel.

I am a PhD student in the sciences. I live in a suburban house with my boyfriend, and I enjoy doing crafts in my spare time. I love fashion. I like to sew, but also do things like paint and macrame.

I also have social anxiety that affects my life in significant ways.

This blog is about putting my true self in places where my true self is not supposed to belong: being a scientific researcher in a discipline that has few women. Loving fashion when my profession dictates that I should be above caring about my appearance. Living with social anxiety while living.

Plus, to quote my comedian friend’s PhD bio, “I like jokes”. We’ll see how that affects my writing.