I haven’t sewn a garment for myself in quite a while, not since December 2021, to be precise. That project was an alpaca wool jacket, which came out fine, but I haven’t worn it too often because the fabric is a bit itchy. Oh, well. One of the challenges of making your own clothes is learning to pick the right fabric for the right project.
I have a lot of fabric in my stash, accumulated over decades. This is a common challenge for people who enjoy sewing—inspiration and purchase, followed by lack of time, energy, or whatever excuse to actually sew the garment. Call me guilty, as charged. But recently, I decided that if I wasn’t going to sew something or make use of all those fabric scraps from prior projects, I should at least find a way to responsibly recycle them.
Turns out our composting service will recycle textiles for a minimal fee. So I dug through my fabric stash to see what to eliminate. Not easy. I have a lot of nice textiles. Still, it was time to be realistic. After filling a bag for recycling with scraps that I will never use, I examined several yards of beautiful teal rayon. I must have purchased it not long after Al and I married, so it’s nearly 40 years old. But still in excellent condition.
Then I dug through old patterns, many of which I will never sew because I no longer like the styles, and bagged a bunch to recycle. But I found one, a simple caftan, that held promise for that gorgeous fabric.
Rayon is a tricky fiber. It drapes beautifully, but ravels easily and is slippery to sew. With two thumbs in bandages at present and limited dexterity, I knew it would be a challenge. That’s probably why I’ve avoided it all these years.
I read up on sewing techniques for rayon and set to. First I zigzagged the ends to prevent raveling, washed the rayon on delicate to pre-shrink, then air-dried it and pressed it on low (no steam). After testing the pattern with left-over muslin for the front and gingham for the back (more leftovers), I made some adjustments. Then I went to the fabric store and bought a better rotary blade cutter than my old ones, which I could no longer hold properly, some rayon thread, and some extra sharp needles for my sewing machine (recommended for rayon).
The rotary cutter was worth it, because I was able to cut out the pattern quickly and neatly, without hurting my hand. Theoretically, you’re not supposed to use pins other than those intended for silk, or they’ll leave permanent holes in rayon. I tried mini binder clips to hold the seams when I stitched, but they were too clunky and hard to open and place properly. Turns out, fortunately, that this fabric was fine with pins.
I took my time. I experimented with seam binding, but that didn’t work. I couldn’t serge the seams, because the serger destroyed the delicate fabric. So I stitched the seams on my trusty old Huskvarna, trimming them and zig-zagging the edges. For the neckline binding, I had enough fabric to cut bias strips, found some stretchy iron-0n interfacing in my stash, and made custom bias tape, which worked great.
Finishing the sleeves and hem was the hardest part of the project, because the pattern called for pressing under a quarter-inch of the edge, then folding it again and stitching down. Like I said, the fabric is slippery and I don’t have the ability to nudge a narrow, raw edge with my fingertips, which no longer exist. Stitching a quarter inch from the fabric’s raw edge gave me a guide for the first fold, which I pressed. Then I made the second fold, pinned and lightly pressed. But the big aha was realizing I could top-stitch the hem from the wrong side, thus easily controlling the narrow folded edge, and no-one would know the difference.
The finished dress earned a “Wow!” from Al, the desired response. I’m really pleased with it. It’s cool and comfy and fun to wear. All these years later, I finally found the right project for that beautiful teal rayon. I can still sew. And there is so much left in my stash. . . .