The Making of the Ironwork Gown Pt. 3 - The Applique
This is the part that everyone asks me about--the appliqué.
The biggest problem to solve with the appliqué was the transfer of the motif to the velvet. I have Michaela de Bruce to thank for sharing the technique she used for her Elsa cape. She used spray adhesive to fix printed templates to the backing of heat-n-bond, and then cut all layers. I had to get more full scale copies printed, but it was by far the simplest and fastest method of transfer.
My appliqué process went like this:
Cut all gown panels in silk satin, cotton velvet, heat-n-bond, tear away stabilizer, and printed template
Fuse heat-n-bond to back of all velvet panels (this is partly why I chose low-pile cotton velvet which could handle an iron without a needle board)
Adhere printed templates to the back of the velvet with spray adhesive
Cut out velvet motif with shears (the motif was too detailed for rotary blades )
Arrange another pattern template face up on the large ironing table, pin silk panel face up on top (the printed lines show through white satin)
Carefully peel off backing from velvet, arrange and fuse in place using visible lines as a guide
Remove panel from ironing table, pin to tear-away stabilizer then machine baste along edges to hold stabilizer in place
Run tight zig zag along all motif edges, going with the velvet nap whenever possible
Peel off backing, trim all thread tails and press to relax fabrics and stitching
Flatline to polished cotton backing or other flat lining
My industrial Singer 20U machine made this infinitely easier with its hands-free presser foot knee lever (perfect for fine adjustments around turns) and flat work space. This project would have been impossible on a standard domestic machine. I also got lucky since I could see through the satin to align the cut motifs.
I had grand plans of appliquéing steadily from March-June, leaving time to assemble the gown well before Costume College. In reality, I did not start the bulk of the applique until the first week of July. Costume College is at the end of July. I know. This was due to a combination of life events and overbooking. Once I did start appliquéing, I then ran into several unexpected stumbling blocks.
Firstly, I did not consider the physical demands of this process. Between cutting through two layers of paper and cotton velvet, hunching over the machine to guide the applique, and constantly adjusting the knee lever with my right knee, my body was a mess. I did not leave myself enough time to spread the process out and reduce the strain. I bounced around from one physically stressful step to another to minimize the toll from any one of them as best I could.
My appliqué “nest” for a week straight
I also did not consider what would happen when I removed the backing from the motif. Without the rigid paper layers, the narrow cotton velvet pieces looped and hooked themselves together like an octopus. Untangling them without fraying the edges was a lesson in patience.
Lastly, although the 20U has a large work area with quite a bit of clearance, it was difficult to reach the applique in the center of panels. The curves of the motif meant I had to be able to rotate the panels in full circular motions under the machine. Even with the panels tightly rolled, it barely worked.
Although I did my best to create smooth, fluid lines with the zig zag, there were spaces where I slightly missed the edge, or went too far onto the velvet. These small imperfections are very noticeable to me and happened more frequently than I'd like. I deliberately started with the train and left the bodice for last, trusting that my process would improve.
Still, when the skirt appliqué was done, the small imperfections disappeared in the context of the overall gown, and it looked right. It was a thrilling moment. There's a lesson there about getting too close to your work. Step back, see the whole picture.
Next week: assembling the gown, wearing the gown, and final thoughts...