November 2, 2007

I Love Brocade

The light at the end of this tunnel has a shadowy figure of unfinished dolls.  Well, until my path reaches them, I'm keeping company with these gorgeous fabrics.  The green pillow is new Chinese brocade, a silk/rayon blend.  The vivid blue one is vintage silk.  I enjoy them both and most hand stitches disappear into the rich fabric.  I love brocade.

My paternal grandmother was from southern China.  She arrived in the U.S. in 1923 accompanied by her husband.  Grandpa had already been in the U.S. for 13 years, but returned to his homeland to bring his wife to "Gold Mountain."  He had been making a living as a cook to wealthy San Franciscans, sending money home to his wife.  When she was a young girl, Grandma's feet were bound – they were tightly wrapped to stay small, and it was a painfully handicapping tradition that made Chinese women more "marriageable."  She hobbled about in her long Chinese dresses.  When I knew her, Grandma was already in her seventies and her eyesight was failing.  During visits she'd ask me to thread her needles.  I didn't have hand sewing skills then, yet I clearly recall turning over the seams of the silk brocade cheongsam which she wore to view tiny, even stitches.  I insisted that she didn't need me to thread these needles, for these were clearly done on a machine.  I was wrong -- her garments were sewn entirely by hand.  It made sense; I remember notions kept a 12" square cardboard box from the White House department store, but no sewing machine.

After Grandma stopped sewing, she gave me a length of red and black brocade from the back of the closet.  It was enough for a Chinese dress.  Over the years I cut into it, making various things, a square pillow or two, a heart shaped sachet for a friend who lost her eyesight.  There was more, but I can't remember what happened to the rest.  I still have one small piece left in my collection.  This was the beginning of my love for brocade.


Camille said...

I simply adore brocade as well. However, my problem is that the fabric that I'm working on seems to fray a lot. Do you have any hints to keep it from doing so? I want to make large floor pillows and bedding that includes a duvet. I'm really excited about this project. This is actually my dream bedding that I've always wanted but never found anywhere, so I decided to make it myself.

Lauren Chong Sng said...

Hi Camille, thank you for finding my blog and reading what I wrote about brocade. Brocade does fray a lot, doesn't it? Drives a seamstress batty! Brocades are woven in different fibers. If it is manmade or has manmade fibers with silk, hold the fabric taut in two hands and run the edge along a candle flame -- the heat will melt the fibers together to seal the edge. Try a small piece first. If it burns and crumbles, it is silk, and will fray anyway. You can serge the edges with a serger if you have one. There's always Fray Check too: before cutting, run a fat line of Fray Check along your cut line; wait for it to dry, then cut. Hope that helps! Best wishes to you on your project -- it sounds like it's going to be beautiful. --Lauren

Anonymous said...

what type of sewing needle do you use so that the brocade does not run as I am sure that it will very easily?? I am wanting to start many projects but I am hesitante because of the runnig aspect. BY the way the comments about the fraying were great.I has given me many ideas for the edges. Thanks

Lauren said...

hi and thank you for reading my blog. i'm glad the comments to reduce fraying were helpful! fraying drives me nuts. i admit I am not educated in different needle types -- whatever is currently in my machine is what i use, which is usually Schmetz universal 80/12. as for hand sewing, anything goes here too. using specific needles has not reduced fraying in my experience. good luck on your projects. even though brocade frays, it won't stop me from sewing with it.