August 25, 2011

So. Gauze. Silk gauze, to be exact. Lighter than air, softer than a kiss and absolutely beautiful.

Also? A pain in the the ass.
Let me back up. Here's the inspiration image again-

Print from the fashion magazine "De Gracieuse", found at The Memory of the Netherlands.

From the beginning I had decided that I wasn't going to copy it exactly. I knew I wanted the top to be different somehow, and I knew I wasn't a huge fan of the bows at the bottom. I liked the idea of the fabric underlay beneath the lattice, though I wasn't a fan of the ruched look of said fabric. I also wanted to change the four pouffy rows of trim at the hem. I decided to replace them with rows of floaty of gauze ruffles following a scalloped line. I also wanted the bottommost tier to be a dark peachy rose and each successive tier to be lighter, until the topmost one was pale cream. I don't ask for much, do I?

Dharma Trading Co. sells beautiful 36" wide silk gauze for dirt cheap (or rather, they did; it was $1.60 a yard at the time, now it's nearly $3.00), so I bought a bolt . After testing various ways of sewing it, I decided that it is the most horrific stuff to sew ever. The sewing machine doesn't sew it, it just eats it.  Hungrily. You can't use a tear-away stabilizer to help, because the moment you try to tear it away it will just rip the silk. I suppose I could have tried water soluble stabilizer, but I either didn't think about it or had some reason I didn't want to use it at the time. A few years ago I had great success using my serger to do a super narrow rolled hem satin stitch on the edge of some poly chiffon ruffles, but several attempts to do the same on the silk bombed. I was at my wits end. I was NOT about to hand sew that much gauze. So how to hem yards and yards of this stuff?


I already had a ten yard bolt that had hardly cost anything; I could simply cut the edges off five inches deep down the entire bolt and use the very clean looking selvage as the "hem" of each ruffle. I ordered another bolt and between the two I had four lengths of silk, each ten yards long and perfectly finished along one edge. I planned to use the middle portion of each bolt to underlay the lattice, so it wasn't going to go to waste. Success! A very careful pass through the serger bound the upper edge messily, but enough to keep it from unraveling in the dye bath. One obstacle down, more to go!

I've dyed fabric before (generally by tossing it in the washing machine and praying) but I'd never had to hit such a specific and complicated color goal, nor tackled such delicate fabric. A previous costuming attempt to dye a much more robust silk had resulted in great color, but absolutely wrecked the fabric. Hot water is generally necessary for dyeing, but most silks don't like it so well. I found a cold water dye that purported to work on silk and seemed to be approximately the color I wanted, but swatch tests gave lackluster results. I scoured Dharma for appropriate dyes; the only ones I could come up with would require hot water. I ordered two anyways.

Between these and possibly a few drops of various other dyes in my stash I miraculously got what I wanted

I wish I could recall what I did to get my final results. Honestly, it was all a blur of test swatches, emptying and refilling my giant dye pot, mixing, remixing and mixing some more. By the end of it, my hands, my sink and my counters were various shades of reddish bronze and I had this-

The top two are already dry and pressed;
the bottom three are still wet and therefore not their final colors yet.

The middle fabric in there is some silk organza I threw in on the off chance that it would be useful later. I'm glad I did that, because it turned out to be perfect for making fabric roses.

Dried, pressed and waiting to be ruffled

The only problem is that I ended up needing to heat the water to set the dye, so the gauze ended up with a bit of a crepe-like texture that I wasn't super thrilled about. OTOH, it's going around the hem; if anyone wants to get down on their hands and knees to critique the texture of the fabric I'll stomp 'em.  Or possibly let my ginormous hoopskirt eat them and spit out their bones, whichever pleases me most at that moment.  The gauze is still soft and super floaty so it serves its purpose.

I ran gathering stitches along the top edges of each length of gauze and began sewing them to the skirt. I lightly drew a chalk line where I wanted each tier, pinned each ruffle upside down along that line, stitched about 1/4" in from the edge then let the ruffle fall down to hang over the stitches I'd just made. The bottom ruffle runs straight around the base, while the remaining three follow a scalloping pattern so that they reveal more of the dark base ruffle where they swoop upwards. The peak of each scallop falls directly below the bottom juncture of each lattice strip.

Three of the four ruffle tiers

All four of the finished ruffles. (I tried to edit this pic to get rid of
the yellow, but then it kept loading sideways. Damn computers.)

After the ruffles were on I trimmed and neatly finished the bottom edges of the lattice strips.  I thought long and hard about doing the gauze underlay I'd planned.  Ok, I really only thought about it for a few seconds and then said HELL NO.  The gauze was too much of a pain in the ass to use and the silk strips were so difficult to sew through.  Besides, the cream silk of the skirt has such a pretty luster that it would be a tragedy to cover it. That decision made, there were just a few things left to do on the skirt at this point- closures, a placket and some roses to replace the bows in the inspiration image. So next up, handmade fabric roses!


  1. Oooh! What a fabulous inspiration images! I love the colours you are going for, and the way they came out of the dye bath.

    And despite your description, I'm now itching to get my hands on some of that silk gauze!

  2. Thanks! I got pretty lucky with the dye, that's for sure. As for the gauze, it's only half as horrible if you handsew it. It still tries to move about like CRAZY but it works. I did the sleeves for my bodice with them with a minimum of cursing.

  3. I want to make a dress with different shades of blue silk gauze,and your post gave me a lot of useful information for it.I love the colors you used!

  4. So glad it was useful to you! Good luck with the gauze. It really is beautiful stuff, just soooo finicky.

  5. This gown is sheer magic (sheer...gedditt??) and yes, I'm a big fan of using the selvedge. I can claim it makes sense on doll's clothes, because there's an issue of scale and a hand-sewn hem can spoil the way fabric hangs. But I'd be in denial. I do it because it's a spectacular cheat. Now I'm going to check out this silk gauze at Dharma.

    1. Lol, I just claim it's period (it is!) and that I'm just making the best use of my time. You're totally right on the doll's clothes too!


Your comment won't show up right away, but don't worry! I moderate comments because the spam is ridiculous. It may take a little while for me to approve your comment, but check back soon!