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March 2017

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vintage hair

Hand-painted silk for Private Lives: Part Three

Recall if you will the super-exciting project we have in the works, the creation of custom silk crepe for our upcoming production of Private Lives at Playmakers Repertory Company.

I wrote the first post a while back, about the sample-creation process in which we determined techniques and media to use to get the results our designer, Jennifer Caprio, wanted for the gown. The second post, back before the winter break, covered digital manipulation of the artwork in order to prepare it for our process. And in this one, we really take it from 2D to 3D.

The draper on this production, third year graduate Leah Pelz, carefully laid out and threadmarked the pieces of the gown onto lengths of 4-ply silk crepe. She also threadmarked a lot of guidelines--where the floral pattern needed to travel, where darts would be sewn into the bodice, etc. We wound up having two lengths of fabric, each of which would need to be hand-painted with the lily pattern.

Recall that at the end of the sampling process, we had decided upon a resist technique using a thinned gutta resist and a combination of silk paints and acid dyes. In order to get the most crisp control for this sort of process, you have to stretch your fabric on a frame, kind of like a canvas for a painting. In my dye studio, i have a large steel table, 4' x 8', with a removable stretcher frame made from 1"x4"s that we bolt together and fit into the table. But, we needed to border our silk pieces with strips of muslin in order to stretch the fabric on the frame--partly because the crepe was not wide enough for the frame without them, but also because we didn't want to damage or waste part of the silk by stapling or tacking through it to hold the fabric on the frame.

photo 11
I have about a dozen boxes of these old muslin bandages which are fantastic for sashing borders onto something like this. My assistant, first year grad Katie Keener, machine-stitched these around both lengths of fabric.

photo 41
Here you can see the first section of fabric stretched on the frame. We have applied the gutta in the lily pattern and painted into the centers of some of the flowers.

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Here we've applied the deep royal blue acid dye to the fabric, making sure that we go well beyond the threadmarked edges of the pattern piece. We didn't want to waste dye or time, though, so we have not applied the dye in areas where are just going to be cut away.

photo 1 (2)
Next, we had to steam-set the dye. Here you can see we're about to roll this piece up in a "sandwich" of newsprint, muslin, silk, muslin, and newsprint. Then it went into our big steam-chamber for an hour.

After the steam-setting process, we sent the pieces to Perfect Image, a local dry cleaner who works with the theatre on many of our strange specialty dry-cleaning needs. In this case, the dry-cleaning process removes the clear gutta from the fabric, which restores the soft, flowy hand of it.

Our last step was to hand-draw the fine details into the design. Here you can see craft assistant Katie Keener (left) and me (right), each of us with our reference images of the print repeat, drawing in the fine details with Marvy Uchida Fabric Markers.

Close-up of a section of the finished artwork.

Here's the whole entire dress, laid out to check the pattern-matching up the side-seam. If you like mental puzzles, see if you can figure out how this shape above origamis up into...

...this lovely bias evening gown!


Gorgeous! makes me want to make one of my own!
I'd love to see a pattern layout - it looks like you utilised the fabric really well!
It is a bias gown, constructed from only three large pattern pieces. So in the flat layout image, the top section spirals around the body and folds over the shoulders around to the back, the second bit seams on at basically the whole sideseam, which wraps around the hips and across the front, and a third triangle of solid blue pieces in to make the hem level with the ground. If that makes sense.