Fix It Friday - Repairing a Silk Dress

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Fix It Friday - Repairing a Silk Dress
How to Repair a Silk Dress
It gets very exciting when my friends want to repair or at least have their garments repaired for them. At last Saturday's talk and upcycling workshop, many of the participants were already keen menders and hungry for more techniques to make repairs look cool!
I'm always on the look out too; it's all part of the #slowclothing mantra that I had discovered last year, and a silk dress was what got me curious about free motion embroidery as a repair technique. I have never used or sewn silk textiles before. They seem too delicate to handle and even putting a needle through it makes me think I'm damaging it. That is until my friend asked me to repair her black dress. It's a Chloe dress mind you and has lovely embroidered flowers running along the bottom half of it.  The torn areas were under the arms and I really couldn't get my head around this one.

Was I going to use visible mending or invisible mending? And even if I wanted to make it invisible, how was it even possible with a fabric like silk?

Embroidered silk dress

Chloe Silk Dress
How to mend a silk dress

I decided to go for quasi-visible/invisible mending - is there even such a term? The plan was to make the mend complement the beautiful embroidery, either through hand embroidery or using free motion embroidery. In the end the latter won the day and I used black DMC machine embroidery thread. Tear away embroidery stabiliser was used to ensure the silk would not get crumpled up and sucked into the sewing machine. To make things a tad easier to handle (because I do want to be in control of my sewing) I used an embroidery hoop as well. It might seem over the top but this is S-I-L-K!!!

Free motion emobroidery

Free Motion Embroidery

You will need a darning foot and to lower the dog feeds (please read the instructions to your sewing machine as it may differ between machines). If you don't have the darning foot or have never tried free motion embroidery then it is better to use the normal foot, keep the dog feeds up and sew as you would normally.  The whole idea is to cover up the torn areas with as many stitches as possible to reinforce the torn area.

I decided that the stitches would look like the original embroidered patterns on the dress - I did my best and ended up with some leaves on covering up the tears. The tear away stabiliser helped a lot because it kept the stitching in place and I didn't have to worry about causing further damage to the silk.

Almost Invisible!

Can you see the mend? The exposure of the second picture has been increased slightly so that you can see the black leaves.

How to repair a silk dress using free motion embroidery

How to repair a dress using free motion embroidery

Upcycling Talks and Workshops - Reconnecting with Your Clothes

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Upcycling Talks and Workshops - Reconnecting with Your Clothes
upcycling talks and workshops in Singapore

I am happy to be provided the opportunity to share with the public about the importance of reconnecting with your clothes and the techniques you can use.

On 14th Jan and 15th Jan, learn how you can reconnect with your clothes through upcycling and repair. In this sharing session, I will take you through the history of upcycling and repair, our obsession with consumption, and what you can do to tackle this! I will be bringing some samples for you to see as well.

14th Jan - Jurong East Regional Library at 2pm (free to the public)
15th Jan - Bukit Merah Library at 2pm

Don't forget that my signature workshop, Restyle Your Wardrobe workshop, is happening on 11 Feb. It is a whole day workshop where you get to spend close to 6 hours with me! Learn how to sew, operate a sewing machine and let's jam and learn techniques to transform your old clothes.

Upcycling workshop - Restyle Your Wardrobe

Green Drinks: Minimalism, Refurbishment & Recirculation

Finally, I am honoured to be invited as a panelist at the Green Drinks Singapore session happening on 19th Jan, 7pm (venue tbc).  Also on the panel are Nathalie Ricaud, a professional organiser and Farah Sanwari of Repair Kopitiam (or repair cafe).  I will be exploring the relationship between clothes and people and how techniques such as upcycling and repair can strengthen this bond. RSVP at this link

Looking forward to meeting everyone!

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Reconnecting with Nature - Eco Dye

Reconnecting with Nature - Eco Dye
Happy new year everyone! I cannot believe how fast 2016 went. For me, 2017 will be all about embracing slow, taking a step back and reflecting.

Reconnecting with nature

Reflecting is Very Important But...

Don't dwell on the past! Dwelling is when you judge yourself too harshly and the introspection goes haywire like a record on repeat. Stop! Reflecting is all about looking at what was good, what was bad and then LETTING GO. Making the improvements that you need and MOVING ON.  Would a walk in the park help?

"A Concrete Jungle Destroys the Human Spirit"

My friend, H, started illustrating nature. I saw her sketches of the birds she spots during her nature walks and thought how relaxing it would be. On my way to work last year, I decided to take more notice of what nature has to offer. We may be a city, but the trees that we have along the roads offer some respite from the concrete jungle. In fact, nature has a positive impact on our well-being, not to mention provide loads of inspiration to creatives (think the Bronte sisters).

"A concrete jungle destroys the human spirit" Lee Kuan Yew

When I am taking notes and making sketches in nature I notice how this process that evolves has a calming effect on me. But it has also made me realise that no matter how well intended our actions of reduce, reuse and recycle (the 3R mantra!) are, we sometimes forget that the main intent is not to create jobs, not to get the economy to grow year on year, but to protect what little fauna and flora is left. The rest is just secondary.
My recent visit to Pulau Merambong just off the coast of Singapore couldn't have left me feeling anymore so. It is full of marine life but unfortunately its existence is being threatened by recent reclamation works. In fact our tour guide mentioned that the rich diversity of species there would mostly likely disappear by 2018 - we saw seagrass, seaweed, anemone, mangroves and crabs.
On a more personal note, I have been asking myself should my work also reflect the beauty of our surroundings so that others would at least start to appreciate them?

free motion embroidery
My interpretation of Sea Anemone

Eco Dye

My thoughts turned to eco dye expert, Terriae Kwong, who I had interviewed several years back.  I contacted her and met up with her during my trip to Hong Kong. During my meeting with her, she was kind enough to share with me her process. I definitely learnt a lot from Terriae and here are some key pointers:

Eco dye with Terriae

#1 Know Your Plants 

I take this whole process of eco dye as an opportunity to know your flora. Terriae knew her eucalyptus leaves from her Chinese tallow.  Each type of leaf and flower imparts a different colour to the fabric it touches.

#2 Be Patient

This is something that can't be stressed any further. Slow clothing is all about, well, SLOW! The process of eco dye can take up to 4 hours or even more.  It's your opportunity to appreciate what you are doing too.

#3 Appreciate Natural Fibers

Terriae explained that it was important to use natural fibers in eco dyeing. While blends are good, she went on to say that dyes from leaves are brighter on non-synthetic textiles. If you are looking at changing the colour of synthetics, sublimation is the best.

Eco dyes can be toxic - wear gloves!

#4 Safety is Important

Although we associate eco and natural as being non-toxic, this is not true. Natural things can be toxic, the eco dye process can be toxic especially with the use of mordants. Wear gloves, work in a well-ventilated area - I don't think I can stress this any further. Terriae highlighted the need to do this and to ensure that her beautiful cat, Mogi, didn't eat her materials.

Terriae and Agy after the eco dye process

#5 Appreciate the Unexpected

It's like opening a present. As what I said before, there will be surprises and you don't know what the effect will be. Don't be disappointed if it's not what you are looking for but perhaps, like life, you can turn something disappointing into a positive!

Do you remember this post? Remember to check it out!
how to be an explorer of the world

Embracing Slow Clothing

Courtesy: EllenZee

"There is more to life than increasing its speed"
Mahatma Gandhi

Why Are We Always in a Rush?

My dad commented how things got very hectic at work; he thinks it could be the computer and the mobile phone. They were supposed to increase work efficiency and productivity. In the end work got very stressful. Everyone seems to be on edge - clinch that deal, reply that email (apparently it's a must to get back to people within 24 hours), be contactable even on a holiday etc! But why the rush? Where are we rushing towards? Is there even a finishing line?

Too Much Information, Too Many Choices, Too Much Stuff?

Sometimes I wonder whether the finishing line is the destruction of Earth - maybe we will stop then, or maybe it will be too late. Our love for speed has led to excess - too much information, too many choices, and ultimately too much stuff.  Have we ever stopped to think about what has been sacrificed in our quest for speed? By the way, I came across this very interesting movement - giving up technology!

giving up technology

Less Appreciative

Excess has left us too little time for things that should have higher importance and priority in our lives. We want instant gratification - sounds cliche but we only want to dabble and test the waters, we never want to immerse ourselves in an experience. It's either a quick fix or nothing at all.

Fast Fashion

The fast fashion business model has always been about decreasing the time to market and such is the speed at which new clothing lines reach the customer there is an increasing pressure not only on the environment but on everyone in the supply chain from the garment worker to the designer.  You might have read how the industry is facing a burnout because of this, and unfortunately, this model is becoming the norm because that's where the profits are (we are selfish by nature). But does this mean sustainable brands have to go down this route to sustain themselves financially too? I think this is a question many sustainable brand owners ponder over every day.

Slow Clothing? Slow Fashion?

Last month, I was delighted to meet up with Jane Milburn of Textile Beat in Hong Kong.  In the little time that we had over breakfast, we shared so many things - being artists upcycling textiles, how to get the message out there, people's perceptions and how to keep going in what can be a tough scene.

Textile Beat

From our conversation, I took away several important points:

#1 Embrace Slow
We need to slow down - it is obvious but I think everyone is ignoring this fact.  A generation ago, life was slower. It allowed us to appreciate things. We got our so called "fix" through making things. The process of designing and making your own things, be it a wooden stool, a knitted pair of socks or a dress meant we took pride in what we made; we enjoyed the making journey. Now that we are so engrossed with speed, we have left that all behind and the only way to get this enjoyment is through shopping. Of course, this shopping fix only gives us short bursts of happiness and we discard our purchases just as readily as we bought them.

#2 Embrace Slow Clothing, Embrace Repair
Embracing slow means embracing slow clothing. Notice I didn't say "fashion". Jane explains and captures what the essence of slow clothing is:

"Slow clothing is a grassroots response to fast fashion that considers the ethics and sustainability of garments, values provenance and artisan skills while focusing on timeless style, comfort and connection. It is about thoughtful, ethical, creative and sustainable ways to enjoy the garments we wear every day while minimising our material footprint on the world. Slow clothing manifests itself through 10 simple approaches –  think, natural, quality, local, care, few, make, adapt, revive and salvage."

My favourites are caring, making, adapting, reviving and salvaging - these are the things that are really lacking when it comes to clothing. I also think repairing clothes is another valuable skill that people tend to neglect.

#3 Reject Fashion
I know this sounds strange but fashion is all about trends, and trends generate consumerism. So instead, why not focus on what really matters - clothing. Clothing is what keeps us warm, protects us, gives us our identity and communicates how we feel.  Fashion, on the other hand, dictates the communication.  Rejecting trends means having more control over your life - you decide! And with slow clothing, you CAN make the choices to slow down, like how I have made mine to

a) care more for my clothes
b) make, upcycle and repair
c) go natural wherever possible

What steps have you taken to embrace slow clothing?

Vintage Part 2 - 8 Tips on How to Take Care of Vintage Clothing


Last week, I interviewed Jasmine Chee of Dark Horse Vintage and she shared with us what vintage is and her 6 tips for buying vintage clothing. It's all done and good if you've invested in one such garment, but how do you care for it and stop it from deteriorating in Singapore's hot weather! A few years back I had shared my tips on making clothes last longer, but a little extra care is needed with vintage pieces as Jasmine explains. 

Laundering Tips

#1 Handwash is Best

Vintage garments tend to be very delicate especially if they are handsewn or are tailored from fragile or fine fabrics such as silk or chiffon. Handwashing will prolong the garment and minimise the friction of the fibers during the washing.  Jasmine says that if in doubt do approach a dry cleaner who has experience with delicate wear.

#2 Cold Wash

If you don't have time to handwash, then pop the garment into a laundry bag before putting it into the washing machine. Set the machine to COLD and low spin. Hot water will soften and damage the fibers. If the garment is very wet, avoid spinning at high speeds, and instead lay it flat on a towel and roll it up to squeeze out excess water. 

#3 Knits Dry Flat

Ever hung up a knitted garment and found it drooped by the end of the day? The best thing is dry it flat on a rack. Again, squeeze out excess water with a towel as in #2.

#4 Avoid the Sun

That's if you have colourful prints on your vintage garment - the colours will fade. Otherwise, if it's white then use sunlight to naturally whiten your whites. 

#5 Dry Inside Out

I always have an issue with my family not turning their clothes the right way around before putting them in the laundry basket. But, Jasmine says it is a good thing because the fibers on the right side won't be damaged as much. OK!

Storage Tips

#6 Hang or Fold?

Jasmine advises to fold delicate or knit vintage garments rather than hang them. 

#7 Acid Proof Paper

Acid proof paper helps protects your vintage clothing and apparently, it slows down their disintegration. 

#8 White Peppercorns

Yes, the little white tangy seeds are useful not only in the kitchen but in our wardrobe too. Jasmine says this old technique was used before moth balls were invented. These natural moth repellents can be bought in any spice store or supermarket. Just put a small handful of seeds into a sock or tissue and slip them between the clothes. Depending on the humidity, the peppers will have to be replenished once the peppery smell goes. Please be careful that you don't end up buying black seeds or else your garments will be stained. If you are living in colder climates then the best thing would be to use lavender or rosemary.

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Tips for buying Vintage clothing

Vintage Part 1 - 6 Tips for Buying Vintage Clothing

Vintage Part 1 - 6 Tips for Buying Vintage Clothing
6 tips for buying vintage clothing

A few weeks ago I was reading Clothing Poverty by Andrew Brooks. One of the things that stood out was how people today perceive clothes that are passed on and resold. How the garments are regarded and valued is very much dependent on how they are presented and labeled to the consumer.  What do you think qualifies as secondhand clothing?

Secondhand or Vintage?

Most people would not give secondhand clothing another chance - "secondhand" gives the impression of being very old, worn out and not properly taken care of. 

"Secondhand" by definition means an item having had a previous owner.  By the same token, "vintage" would then be considered secondhand. So why is vintage's perceived value much higher than secondhand clothing in general? If an item from a thrift store was sold at a vintage shop or labelled as "vintage", would the consumer regard it more highly? I spoke to Jasmine Chee of Dark Horse Vintage to find out what vintage really means and what to look out for!  This is Part 1 of a two part series on Vintage. Look out for the 2nd part next week!    here.

A Treasure Trove - Dark Horse Vintage

This little gem is nestled right in the heart of Arab Street (31 Arab Street to be exact) and I chanced upon it when I was visiting their upstairs neighbour, Touch the Toes. When I first met Jasmine she had on the full works of a vintage lover - rolled hair, bright red lips, and an unforgettable outfit! Here she is:

Dark Horse Vintage
Jasmine Chee, Dark Horse Vintage [Image credit: Dark Horse Vintage]

Addicted to Vintage

I'm not a vintage addict (handmade and upcycled is more me) but Jasmine is and her journey began during her student days in London where the vintage culture is big. Her initial reaction was "eeew, secondhand", but she slowly embraced the unique beauty of the prints and textures that came with vintage clothing, and today, over half of her wardrobe is vintage. Jasmine says she is now very comfortable wearing vintage, although sometimes she mixes and matches vintage with contemporary pieces.

It wasn't long after finishing her fashion and textile studies that she returned to Singapore and decided to set up Dark Horse Vintage in 2012. She initially took a cautious approach by operating as a pop-up, but this gradually grew as Singaporeans responded warmly to her offerings, and by 2015 she had set up a brick and mortar shop in the heart of Bugis.

How Would You Define Vintage?

I think we all get confused by the terms, but Jasmine gave me the low down and put it simply as:

  1. Vintage:  more than 30 years old so we are talking about before the early 80s
  2. Antique: at least 100 years old
  3. Secondhand: from 2 seasons ago or something from 2 - 3 years ago

So from these definitions, vintage is not secondhand, but secondhand would eventually become vintage!

What Do We Look Out for in Vintage?

Sometimes, you will find the word "vintage" pop up in marketing campaigns or even in retail outlets purporting to be selling vintage garments. Jasmine advises us to avoid these as most of the time they are mass produced to look like vintage, but wait, what do we look out for when we would like to purchase an authentic vintage garment? Here are Jasmine's top tips:

#1 Styling - vintage styles are conservative, which means no plunging necklines, no sleeveless tops and no rising hemlines. We are talking about prim and proper with high necklines, collars and sleeves.

Modest necklines

#2 Silhouette - modesty rules when it comes to the silhouette and we definitely won't see very tight ones in a vintage garment.

#3 The Little Details -  remember to always look on the inside of the garment - look at the finishing and you might find that the item is handmade and sometimes made without a sewing machine; look for good tailoring. Vintage items usually have metal zippers, large seam allowances to enable adjustments in the future (ie. wider girth!) and good finishings like French seams. 

Hand sewn

#4 The Print - the type of print will indicate which period the piece is from. Very fine details in the print usually means that the fabric was printed with machine rather than painted by hand. 

Colourful prints

#5 Read the Labels - if it's handmade it won't have a label but if it does, read it carefully. Things to spot are where it was made in (ie not in a developing country), and use of natural materials (synthetics were not as common then and more expensive) and no blends,  

#6 Rich History - vintage doesn't look all the same as there are many defining periods, and history brings a different look to each one.

20s/30s was influenced by jazz and art deco. By the 40s we were at war and because of rationing, styles were limited to simple and less voluminous looks (ie no pleats).  The 50s gave way to more feminine looks, and by the time we reached the 60s fun and youthfulness was back in with the mod look. The 70s was all about maxis and the hippy look. 

Why Buy Vintage?

"You're buying into history", Jasmine Chee

Not only are you buying into the history, but you are becoming part of the garments story and enriching its narrative. Each vintage piece is one of a kind and exclusive to you - no more embarrassing moments in the office Christmas dinner! You are also buying something that is of good quality and has detailed finishing that you won't be able to find in today's retail outlets.

Clothes with Stories

My favourite moment of the interview was when Jasmine showed the stores vintage qipao / cheongsam and kebaya pieces and the stories behind them. Each piece was tailored and made from beautiful textiles. I learnt how each one was from a different time -  high collars for modesty in the 50s to the lower collars and less tight fitting bodices for the roaring 60s. What got me intrigued though was how did these pieces remain immaculate!

vintage qipao cheong sam

Want to know how to take care of your vintage clothes? Stay tuned for next week's post where Jasmine shares her tips in Part 2 of this post. 

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Disclaimer  - this post is not sponsored and all views are my own.