Sewing by hand, making appliqués, and beading
By Brittney MacDonald, Life & Style Editor
Last week I began discussing the importance of detailing, and I will continue with that now because it is where most first-time costume makers fall short. As I said before, details are key—but how can you make sure that what you focus on will stand the test of time? Sure, fabric appliqués look pretty, but how long will they last before unravelling or falling off? Truth is, they should last as long as the rest of your costume, and though it can seem like a lot of work, making sure that your beading and other craftsmanship is up to snuff will save you a lot of time in the long run since you won’t have to continually repair or replace things.
Beginning with the easiest thing I can think of, that is oftentimes the most mishandled: fabric appliqués. For my costume I had to make over 30 small, pink flowers with beaded centres. I’ll get to the beading in a bit, but for now let’s focus on the appliqués themselves.
When making appliqués, especially ones that will be three-dimensional and not just patchworks sewn flat onto the surface of your garment, your first step is finding a fabric that will retain its shape. Gauzy silks may be pretty, but they’ll flop over and look wilted after too long. I find the easiest way to avoid this is to go with synthetic fabrics if you want something a little ethereal or transparent, or to use canvas should you want something a bit more rustic. For my purposes, I used both. For my appliqués I wanted a feminine softness to complement the floral designs on the rest of the costume, but I also wanted the pink to be fairly bold against the navy of the skirt. So I chose to do two layers, pink taffeta on top of pink canvas. Pairing these two stiffer fabrics meant I wouldn’t have to starch and iron them every few hours.
For the actual process, I made a stencil out of craft foam that was slightly bigger than I wanted the flowers to be. Because I intended to scrunch the flowers a bit to add texture, I knew that visually they would appear a little smaller than they actually were, so I compensated by making my stencil bigger. Remember, you can always trim them down if they’re too big, but if you cut them too small, you’ll have to remake the entire thing.
Because both canvas and taffeta are woven fabrics, you risk them fraying if you leave them unhemmed. To avoid this, as well as to save time, I painted clear nail polish around the edges. It may stink for a bit, but it will seal them so you won’t have to go back and replace all the damaged ones later.
With the fabrics cut and sealed, we move on to the bane of every tailor’s existence—sewing by hand. Sewing by hand is tedious, annoying, and slow; it’s best to avoid doing it as much as you can. If you find you have to, don’t use the same thread you would use in your machine. Machine thread is often thinner and will break more easily should you use it for anything outside of the mechanical realm. I find that using wool or a thicker nylon thread works best because they’re meant for heavier fabrics, and will hold quite a bit of weight even if your sewing skills are less than stellar.
For my appliqués I did each by hand, scrunching them up into a desired shape and looping the thread through the bottom repeatedly till I was satisfied. This might not have been the most efficient method, but it worked and I was satisfied with it.
For the beading, I had originally intended to do the centres of the flowers as well as some beads added to the decorative buckle of the belt. I altered this though when I found some rhinestones on sale in the perfect colour for my belt. Remember that continuing theme of adaptability? Sometimes, if you’re stuck on how to do something, just go to the craft or home improvement store and look around. They might have something that’s a bit unorthodox, but will work perfectly.
The beaded centres, however, remained the same. For this I offer the same advice as I did with hand sewing—don’t use a machine thread. I prefer sticking to crewel wool thread because it’s stiffer and can offer a tighter hold, but also fine enough to pass through the centre of a bead repeatedly. Make sure it’s coated should you be unsure of the weather. Wool, like any natural fibre, will warp or change if you get it wet.
Well that’s all for now! Good luck, and I hope to see you sporting your own creations soon!