by Michele on February 16th, 2013

In my last blog, I finished the honeycomb smocking on either end of the silk piece, then played around with scattering individual honeycombs at intervals, placing the flower beads inside.  I didn’t like the effect with this scarf, so went back to my original plan:  smock two more bands circling the scarf.  Once I got to looking at proportions, I decided to smock only one more band.

Here is the scarf with the three rows of smocking.  I placed the blue flower beads close to the folds at the top of selected honeycombs so they look like they are peeking out of the fold.  They reminded me of forget-me-nots, one of my favorite flowers
As you can see, I stopped the smocking a little more than an inch from each selvage, creating a seam allowance. 
When my mother taught me to sew, she told me to always trim the selvedges and match the fiber content of the thread to the fiber content of the fabric.  Yet, when I looked at the first kimono I bought, I noticed that the selvedges were not trimmed, and that cotton thread was used to sew the silk together.   The selvedges of silk kimono fabric are more likely to stretch than to shrink, I’ve found.  As for using cotton thread, if there is stress on a seam, the cotton thread will break before the silk fabric will tear.

I smocked three rows rather than the traditional four rows on the third band of smocking.  I also inserted the blue flower beads more densely toward the center of the motif.

Here is the back of the smocking.  You honeycomb smock two rows at a time, so you have a vertical travelling thread between the rows.  When I did the three row smocking, the travelling thread went straight across on the third row.

The next step was to sew the scarf into a tube.  I wanted to be sure that the smocking rows lined up, so I basted the scarf together by hand at the three bands.  I then used a zipper foot to sew more closely to the beads, stopping the thread a couple of inches above the end of the smocking.
Here is the finished scarf.

I like the honeycomb smocking at the ends because I can turn the tube scarf inside out to machine wash and tumble dry it. 

This scarf is listed on Etsy at:

by Michele on February 4th, 2013

Last summer, Jaycee, my dye partner, and I made a hydrosulfite indigo dye bath.    This photo was taken just as we had removed our dyed silk.  As you see, the surface is smooth.  After we replenished the bath from the mother vat, the characteristic "flowers"  rose to the surface, and we could put in the next piece.

We found that getting a solid blue is almost impossible with this kind of silk in indigo.  You can’t agitate the dye vat because it would introduce oxygen into the vat, but kimono silk is very dense so the indigo won’t penetrate evenly without moving it around.  Result: interesting streaks, fold patterns and variations in intensity of color.
By the time we dyed this length, I had figured out how to control the  variations to some extent by the manner in which I removed the silk and squeezed the excess dye back into the vat. 

When I took this piece of silk out of the dye bath, I squeezed the excess dye out using vertical motions.   The squeezing caused the "stripes" in light and dark, with a mottled effect especially noticeable in the darker areas.

The length of silk came out of the vat green and turned blue as the indigo oxidized in the air.   To me this is the always-delightful magic of an indigo vat.  Uneven dying was a given, but by squeezing the liquid dye out vertically, the pattern was at least semi-controlled.
When I was ready to make the silk into a scarf, I made a 1.25” hem on either end.  I also edge stitched one eighth inch from the folded edge. 

About the pinking:  I have found that with most kimono silk, a pinked edge will not ravel, so to eliminate unneeded bulk, I don't turn a pinked edge under.

I used the top line of stitching to start marking for the honeycomb beaded smocking.  I know there are various aids for smocking out there, including iron on dots.  But I like doing the marking by hand so I have more control over placement.
In previous scarves I had used a ½ inch grid, but decided to make this one a ¾ inch grid.  I start marking in the middle and work my way right, then go back to the middle and work to the left.

One thing I have learned over the years is that whatever the task is that you want to accomplish, the proper tools are critical. 
For marking the grid, I use a Porter & Fons fine point mechanical pencil with water soluble leads in grey and white.  You can make a very fine point with this pen, and the white lead is perfect for marking on dark fabrics.
I also use a clear plastic Quickline ruler.  The line markings in various ¼ inch intervals enables me to make a square grid of dots with a minimum of  fuss.
Once I had made the grid, I pulled out my tubes of beads and begin to plan the color way.  Sometimes this process takes only a few minutes, but this decision took 45 minutes, and involved at least 12 different color schemes.  In the end, I decided I wanted to use the blue flower beads since they (miraculously) matched perfectly.
I initially chose pearl and black beads for the smocking, and the blue flower beads to be interspersed among the honeycombs.

I tried this combination, but didn't like the pearl beads, so I ended up using just the black beads for the smocking.  I did like the way the blue flower beads looked, so I kept that aspect of the design.
I won’t try to explain how to do honeycomb smocking.  There are many web tutorials for you to look at. 

I do recommend the book, Bead Embroidery: the Complete Guide by Jane Davis.   This spiral bound book has excellent diagrams about doing beaded smocking of several types.   In fact if you want to do any bead embroidery, this would be a useful first book to buy.
I now have one end of the scarf smocked.  My original plan was to smock both ends, and do smocking straight across the silk at two other places, then sew the side edges together to make a tubular scarf.

But, I have to play around a bit first.  I'm considering scattering pairs of flower beads along the length, instead of the straight smocking.  I'm not quite sure what I will do yet.  That is the fun of playing with silk: you can try all sorts of things, and choose what you like at the moment.

by Michele on December 20th, 2012

I ordered a bolt (roll) of kimono silk from Ichiroya Kimono Flea Market on impulse. (This will be a recurring theme). When it arrived, I was in awe of its beauty.

I didn't quite know what to do with it, though, so I looked for information about how to make Japanese clothing.

I found a book called Make Your Own Japanese Clothes, by John Marshall. Though not a book for a beginner, it is full of information, patterns, and techniques. It is also meant to be used with modern Western 45" fabric. Kimono fabric is 14" wide.  Still, I was able to figure out how to make a michiyuki coat from the book.

I made it for my sister-in-law, who loved it.

However, somewhere during the constrution of the coat (it wasn't easy) it occured to me that the Japanese already made Japanese clothing much better than I would ever be able to. So began my efforts to design items that took advantage of the 14" fabric be continued.

Click on photo below to enlarge.

by Michele on December 13th, 2012

Hello! Welcome to my new blog - Playing with Silk!.



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