Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Decisions, Decisions: Dyeing the Silk for My Marie Antoinette Gown

So I was very excited when my silk taffeta came today (all 15 yards of it!) until I opened the box and realized it was not quite the color I expected. I was looking for sort of a Robin's Egg Blue color, and from the description and photo, this seemed like it would be perfect. Unfortunately, it is super goldy-green, not at all a good color for an albino blonde such as myself. So it looks like I will have to dye it.

 Behold, the golden-green fabric.
What is interesting about this fabric is that it is a "shot" taffeta, which means that the cross threads are a different color than the ones that run up and down. In this case the two shades are buttercup yellow and robin's egg blue. The buttercup yellow threads are what is giving off the golden haze. The challenge with dyeing this fabric is preserving the shot. If I make it too light, then both threads will become white essentially and I will lose some of the shimmer effect of the shot. On the other hand, it is so pale that the contrast of the shot doesn't really have that noticeable an effect (compared to red shot with black, for instance). So maybe I just shouldn't worry about it? I did some preliminary test swatches using various stages of color removal, optic whitener, and blue dye and came up with some interesting conclusions.

Here you can see from left to right: 
1) 100% color removed + optic whitener 
2) 100% color removed
3) 75% color removed + optic whitener (top) and without (bottom)
4) 50% color removed + optic whitener + blue dye
5) 50% color removed
6) 50% color removed + blue dye
7) and 8) 100% color removed plus blue dye
9) (center bottom) Original color

Just looking at the colors, I can tell that whatever I do I will need to lighten it at least 50% to get a color I can work with. To whiten silk, I use a product called White Brite which you can get at some grocery stores, Harris Teeter included. It's sodium hydrosulfite and sodium bisulfite which are safe for removing color from silk. You should never use chlorine bleach on silk. First, it doesn't really work that well on dyed silk. Second, it will damage and discolor your fabric. General note, whenever you are working with silk, using very hot water (140 -160 degrees) is a very good idea. The heat won't hurt it, and it cuts down the time your fabric has to be exposed to the bleaching or dyeing chemicals.

I am also thinking that I will need to use the optic whitener if I do not decide to take all of the color out. Optic whitener is a kind of dye that adds a UV tint to whites, making them super copy-paper white. It is used to color most white fabric, as natural fibers are never this white. It's also the reason that your sheets are never as glowing white after you bleach them (the bleach takes out the optic whitener). Excited about this product? You can order it from Dharma Trading along with any and every kind and color of dye you can imagine. 

In my experiment I found that the optic whitener tends to make a big difference, but only where the buttercup color  has gotten very close to white or cream. It did not make a difference on the original color fabric where the yellow tone was still present. I really only found the difference noticeable on the super white swatch (#1) and the 50% color removed + blue swatch (#4). 

Comparing the sheen and finish on all of these, I'm now convinced that I shouldn't worry too much about preserving the shot. The silk is shiny and pretty on its own. 

So this just leaves me with one question... which one? #4 seems to be a good compromise between blue and green, whereas the two blues on the end could be pretty as well. Must keep in mind that the trim I have chosen is silver toned. This will make a difference.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Lesson 12. Let Them Eat Cake: The Making of an 18th Century Court Gown (My Marie Antoinette Dress!)

So I'm going to a Baroque themed masqued ball in Atlanta next month, which my dear friend is in charge of putting on. It benefits a French language theatre called Theatre du Reve. You can get tickets here Bal Masque if you are interested. I'm oh-so-excited about this event because it gives me an excuse to make something I have always wanted to make. A big ridiculous Marie Antoinette style court dress, comme ca:

 I rarely work from a pattern, so I've been using some great internet resources to try to plan this out. Claudine's Idle Hands Blog has been extremely useful.

The first step is of course the pannier hoop skirt, which gives the dress its distinctive shape. To make it you need stretch free fabric and steel banding to make the hoops. The easiest way to get the banding is to go to a lumberyard and ask for steel lumber strapping. They will give it to you for free if you can use the stuff they have taken off of wood bales and are going to throw away, or you can buy it from them new for about $0.30 cents a foot. It comes on a giant reel and you have to wind it up and tape it to transport it. I cut up an old bed sheet for the fabric component, although you can splurge and use silk or something like Claudine did.

Working without a pattern means one thing, of course, lots of math and some trial and error. I started just by making an ellipse on the floor with ribbon to decide what the bottom perimeter measurement needed to be. I settled on about 120", not wanting it to be too terribly big. Then I started graphing using some graph paper I generated online. Graph Paper Generator

To get the measurements, I basically drew out the shape I wanted the finished product to have, then I measured the distance across the skirt at 5 evenly spaced places. Using these figures, I created a set of ratios to represent the relationship of these measurements (with the bottom rung equalling 1 and the smaller ones equalling a fraction of 1). Then I multiplied the fractions by the number 120, which represents the desired size of the bottom. This gave me the sizes for all of the hoops and the information I needed to cut the skirt, which was just 2 identical bell shaped pieces.

This is my first shot of the pannier with the hoops installed. One thing about a pannier as opposed to a circular hoop is that the hoops have to be secured inside the skirt to make it elliptical. Otherwise it will tend to pop into the round no matter how you have cut the fabric. In this photo the bottom 3 hoops have yet to be secured, and the top two have just been tied into shape with embroidery floss. All of this while I was coming up with a good way to do the stay strings. It looks like Claudine used strings tied together, but I completely lack the coordination to tie things together which are under pressure, so I decided to engineer something that would be a little bit more controllable and adjustable.

What I came up with was kind of a string clasp mechanism like you see on brown envelopes. I attached a 1/8" ribbon to one side of the hoop and a button to the other side, allowing the string to be tightened and attached by winding the end of the string around the button.

 Shot from under the skirt looking up at the left side. Strings running from the front left to the back left part of the skirt. You can see the closure area for the hoops at the back.
Final product...


Not too bad, I think. Looks a lot like Claudine's, which was my goal.

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Life Unnoticed?

So I suppose it has officially been long enough that I owe the internet world an update. Let's begin:

Ribbon Store: 
Check. I'm still just selling online, but I'm shipping at least 100 orders a month, which is enough to keep me from going nuts from boredom and gives me some small reason to get out of bed every day. If you're dying of curiosity, it's

Still standing. I don't think I've made any major unreported improvements, unless you count the shelf build-out I did for the laundry room (post later).

Personal Life:
Still married (apologies to all of those who lost big in my mother's "will they last a year?" office pool). Still have the kitties. Haven't de-friended anyone... yet. And I've basically decided that instead of trying to become a lawyer I should have gone to Hollywood and tried to become a movie star.

That last thing I said is actually not as far off base as I had originally intended it to be. I used to be quite involved in theatre, and if you had asked me 10 years ago, I would have said that my ultimate life goal was to become an actress or a costume designer. But alas, the lie drew me in as is has so many others.  I speak of course of the promise that a law degree will serve as an instant passport to success and riches, cutting out all of that corporate-ladder-climbing nonsense, whilst also not demanding any particular kind of human talent. It all sounded so perfect. Guaranteed. Easy. Formulaic. For once, something I would not have to struggle to be better than everyone else at. It's science: take A, add J.D. get sexy 6-figure job on Easy Street. Yes, the lie. You know, I used to feel cheated by the lie, but now I have almost a fond sense of compassion for the whole ordeal. I try to look at the three-year life pause as a well needed break from my lifelong quest for indomitability. Law school did sort of coincide with my last real urge to try very hard at anything, so I'm not sure if apathy begat law school or vice versa, but there you have it.

I just had a birthday and I'm feeling old now. But of course, I've always felt old. It is so strange to look back on days where I had no clue what would become of me. It was an unsettling feeling then, but a positive one, I think. It made me at least believe that whatever happened and wherever I landed, it would be at the end of some kind of adventure - one that, of course, never happened thanks to my flirtation with the path of least resistance. Now I'm feeling like I have to redeem myself and my lost time. But I'm helpless. I fill my days with these little amusements and projects, but they never make me feel like it's anything I can be proud of. So much of it is accomplished within my little home world and I'm convinced that doesn't count. I think I'm letting my hermit tendencies get the best of me. It's always been a battle though. Socially, I tend towards lonerism, but I have this incredibly strong urge to be around people and, more than anything, to perform. Tricks, feats of trivia, comic musings, works of art and song... it doesn't matter I guess. Will work for recognition. And all because I am so painfully aware that my worst fear is a very real possibility. What if I can't help but lead a life unnoticed?

One of my favorite paintings. Caspar David Friedrich's Wanderer Over a Sea of Mist. It's so lonely and full of longing, yet promising at the same time. I feel that way sometimes. Like the whole world is laid out at my feet but somehow obscured from me.