Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Camellamangorayakalcashelmersilk Vest!

Maybe, if you are stuck on one of those projects you just can't seem to complete, this story will give you solace that you are not alone! We all have these stumbles.

In keeping with both my infrequency of posts and my desire to use this blog to record particular projects that were full of "learning" (you could read that to also mean "a pain in the neck"!), I have recorded here my journey thru the final Camellamangorayakalcashelmersilk Vest (I call it the CLG Vest for short).

May I never walk this path again!

About 10 years ago I made few sheets of felt as follows: 1 very fine layer of extrafine merino wool topped with a fine layer of either llama, alpaca, yak, camel, cashmere, or angora (moving from darkest to lightest, top to bottom) and then covered with some very heavy (I was into texture at that time, apparently) wisps of bombyx silk. I didn't take pictures of the pieces, just jumped into making a jacket from them.

Note to self:  don't be so heavy handed with the silk!

I was left with a bunch of scraps, not much bigger than what is pictured below. And at about that time, a lovely and very talented local quilter and teacher (Christine Fries of Loveabideth.com) took a nuno felting class here. In the course of talking with her about felt and about her quilting techniques, we decided she had a lot to offer felters with respect to using freeform machine stitching to create surface design on felt.

So we scheduled a class and in preparation for it she requested any scraps of felt I had so she could play with some different stitching/surface design ideas in advance of the class, which we scheduled for almost a year off.  I gave her some of the scraps from the felt jacket I made (honestly, thinking she was kind of crazy for thinking she could do anything with such small scraps!).

She came back to me a couple of months later with several examples for me to use to entice felters to the workshop. And on the side, she gave me a "reconstructed" new piece of felt from all the scraps of the CLG Vest. It was long and rectangular (should have taken a photo of it) and what she had done was use some creative stitching to stitch together all the little pieces!!! Here is a closeup that maybe will let you see some of the stitching. It is there, but is freeform and so adds to the texture and design of the piece!
 So, with a freeform attachment to my machine and inspired by both Christine's effort and the rug hookers and quilters of early America (who used every bit of viable cloth from old clothes to make rugs or quilts), I decided to take this piece of "refurbished felt" and do something with it.

Note to self: Not every piece of felt must "become" something useable. It's ok to take the learning from it and just throw the tangible part out.

About all I had enough for was a vest. And I didn't really even have quite enough for that. But since I hadn't given Christine all my ends from that project, I pulled out the rest and began stitching them to the piece she gave me. This allowed me to make a large enough sheet to make a vest.

While at the time I remember thinking that once I had cut out the fronts and back and stitched them together I was basically "done" (the hard part behind me!), it turned out that the journey had just begun. (this is the back of the vest pictured below)

Note to self: my ideas/projects are never as easy or as quick as I think they will be!

First, to strengthen the edges, I used some high twist reeled 100% silk thread to stitch a decorative chain around the front opening, neck edge and bottom edge. My intention at that point was to knit a collar using this gorgeous baby alpaca yarn that I had just started stocking called Eco Duo. You can see how lovely it matched the colors and "nature" of the fabric. So this silk chain stitch was not only going to reinforce the delicate edges of the felt, but also serve as a means to pick up stitches.

So I took picked up stitches all along the front neck edge and knit a garter stitch collar using short row shaping and it looked awful. So bad, I didn't take a photo to record it (some things are just so bad you don't need a photo record to remember!). Basically the yarn (a worsted weight) was just too bulky and heavy for the delicate fabric.

So after ripping out the alpaca yarn collar,  I decided that since "bulk" seemed to be the issue with the baby alpaca, I'd just use the 100% reeled silk thread I had stitched around the neckline edge with (see picture, right). I chose the slightly duller white (2nd from the top) to use. I picked up and knit a garter ridge and decided after about 6 ridges that maybe it wasn't  the "bulk" of the alpaca that had bothered me since I didn't like this either! I think I  just really don't like the combination of knitting with felt. I should have known this....I've never liked when weavers sew a jacket and add knitted sleeves, so why I thought I'd like this is beyond me.

Note to self:  remember that you just don't like garments that combine some knitted component with either weaving or felting...so don't go there again!

 Then in an "ah-ha" moment, I wondered why I hadn't made a nuno felted collar? Duh! It would be delicate, in keeping with the "felt" and the same fibers! 

So I nuno felted a collar (see photo right) and was totally underwhelmed by it. So I took that off.
 (BTW....those are safety pins marking where I planned on making a silk frog for the front closure)

At this point that I was so disgusted with the whole project, I let it sit in the shop without a collar for a while. My friend Lynn thought it was ok that way, but I was determined to have a collar.

So my next strategy was to  use a plain white silk chiffon fabric. Sew it on and maybe tuck/ruche it in a few places.

Rather than go thru the bother of sewing it on first and then ripping it out as I had with the 2 knitted collars and the nuno felt collar already, this time I tested the effect by simply draping it on the mannequin as shown below.

I liked that look basically, so went ahead and cut and sewed a silk chiffon collar and then tucked/ruched it here and there.

And hated it.

In disgust, I literally ripped  it off!

I was so frustrated with it this summer, that I remember tossing it into the workshop and deciding to go bake my favorite cake to feel better!

 This was the cake I baked to feel better...chocolate cake with swiss meringue (or as we called it growing up - marshmallow) icing.
It  gave me strength to go try a different silk fabric that Lynn had given me that, which instead of being as sheer as the chiffon was heavier and had a bit of a texture to it.  I didn't like that either and ripped it out as well....but somehow after a piece (or two) of cake, that failure didn't seem so bad!

So I hung the vest back up in its' unfinished, collar-less state in the store for the summer and I've been tempted a few times to sell it to a customer who has asked about buying it on several occasions. I should have just sold it to her so it would be out of my line of vision. But because I had this notion that the vest was "unfinished" and the challenge of figuring out the right collar had eluded me, I just couldn't let it go!

Note to self: Let it go! Especially if a customer wants to buy it! Let it go, let it go!

Around Thanksgiving time I relegated the vest to the back weaving room.There it hung all fall until over XMAS break, while getting out leather to work on my most recent eco-printed bag (putting leather trim on it-so excited about this project!), I came across a piece of white Tibetan lamb and in a flash, knew it was the answer to the collar dilemma.

I've sewn it on (a bit asymmetrically by design) now and FINALLY, am calling the CLG Vest done. Not sure why this version of the collar allows me to say "ok, done" (since I don't really think I like it...no, no, no... don't go there), but I'm not questioning it! It's Done. Fini.  Off my to-finish list. And it feels so good to be free to move onward wihtout this nightmare on my mind!