Guest post by Kate Mathews, former weaver and former owner of Folkwear.
If you weave unique and beautiful fabrics, you will naturally want to showcase them in equally unique garments...and not just in scarves and shawls, but in wearable art. After all that work of creating the fabric, you probably won’t want to cut into your precious yardage, so traditional ethnic garments are a perfect option for you because they typically are made up of components that retain their straight-edged loom widths. Weavers of the past didn’t waste material, so they used cloth just as it came off the loom. You can do the same.
Many Folkwear patterns offer creative options for handwoven fabric. Look for the styles with straight-edged and rectangular pattern pieces like the center front panel of 105 Syrian Dress, the center back panel of 106 Turkish Coat, the front and back panels of the Kamiz in 135 Jewels of India, 150 Hungarian Szur, the various Japanese patterns, and many others that have pieces you won’t have to cut to shape.
In fact, 118 Tibetan Panel Coat and 207 Kinsale Cloak include special “Notes for Handweavers” right inside the patterns. The notes in the Tibetan Panel Coat detail the loom set-ups and weaving of the different 2/2 twill panels, and the Kinsale Cloak notes specify the 3/1 twill draft, along with suggestions for shaping the hood from the finished cloth.
When you’re done with the weaving and ready to start sewing, you will need to take some preparatory steps to ready the fabric . . . just like you would with store-bought yardage. Pre-washing is a usual first step for treating the fabric, locking the weave in place, “fulling” or plumping up the fibers, and accomplishing needed shrinkage. Always experiment with a sample of your yardage to determine the best way to pre-wash: cold water on a gentle cycle in the machine, hand washed and rolled up in towels, or steam-pressed at the dry cleaners.
If you do need to cut into the yardage for any of a pattern’s pieces, take some preliminary steps to stabilize the fabric so it won’t stretch out of shape or unravel. Don’t let the fabric hang off the edges of the table while laying out, marking, and cutting pattern pieces, because the weight of the overhanging yardage is enough to pull it off grain and out of shape. You can reinforce the material along cutting lines with light-weight fusible stabilizer on the wrong side, being sure to use narrow strips only in the seam allowances. Before starting to sew, you can also zigzag stitch or serge along each cut edge to prevent unraveling, although be careful here because serging can stretch an edge out of shape or make it ripple.
During garment construction and finishing, consider binding raw seam allowance edges with lightweight bias strips, to secure the edges and to achieve a clean look. This also minimizes bulkiness, because you avoid the double thickness of a turned-under seam allowance edge.
Finally, think about finishing techniques as a way to add decorative elements to your already-special garment. For example, others may not see the silk-bound seam allowances inside your creation, but you’ll know they’re there. And instead of simply turning under a hem to the inside, create a contrasting facing band that turns out to the right side: a wide brocade or fancy-weave hem band at the cuffs and bottom of a coat can make it truly spectacular.