Embellish This

The cardigan you bought is functional, but blah. The dress you made is cute, but missing something. The jacket, the t-shirt, and the skirt in your closet are all in good condition, but need facelifts. What can you do? Embellish! Breakout the ribbons, buttons, trims, zippers, and more to give some of your tired favorites and new purchases a boost. 

In mid-July, Wendy, Liz C., and I headed to Soutache at 2125 N. Damen in Chicago for the ‘Embellish It’ class. Soutache, owned by Maili Powell, has a beautiful array of ribbons, fabric flowers, buttons, and more. With the focus on ribbon, you can find Petersham grosgrain, satin, and a plethora of decorative, patterned ribbons cut by the yard or no fewer than 5-inches. 

Lots to choose from at Soutache

The ‘Embellish It’ class, about 3 hours long, taught by Mareena Hunter, focused on 4 ribbon techniques which included: straight ruching, zigzag ruching, single pleating, and a fancy fold-over technique. The cost of the class covered ribbon supplies, take-home pleating templates and instructions.

As with most techniques, practice makes perfect. Thankfully, Mareena not only had a great sense of humor, but also lots of patience and experience. I can tell you that small stitches make for the best ruching and the key to the zigzag is knowing how to ‘stitch over’ properly. While I like ruching and ruffles, pleating offered the most freedom for me. We used the templates provided and created perfect ½” or 1” pleats, we combined pleats, we mixed sizes, and layered decorative ribbons on top.  But my favorite was the fancy fold-over. It was a little hard to get the hang of at first, but once it clicked I could work quickly—though I would definitely recommend a textured ribbon, like grosgrain for this technique. 

'Embellish It' fun at Soutache

Throughout the class Mareena showed us examples of how to apply these techniques to our existing garments. For example, a plain jacket becomes one-of-a-kind with ribbon trim on the cuffs and collar, an average cardigan gets new life with ruched satin applied down the front and around the neckline. Looking through some of the latest fashion mag issues, my own eyes are now drawn to embellished garments and asking, “What did they use and how did they do that?” You begin to see that, with a few strategically placed decorative buttons or by mixing textiles, drab goes out the window. 

For book references, one of the Soutache recommended sources is Ribbon Trims by Nancy Nehring. Unfortunately it is out-of-print, but used copies are available through various booksellers or online auction sites. Other good books to consider are Ribbonwork: The Complete Guide by Helen Gibb and Ribbon Crafts by Elaine Schmidt.

When our class ended, I resisted the urge to purchase and instead went back a week later with a project in hand. Being a little above average height, I usually take down the hem in everything I own, but I bought a cute day-dress that is a bit simple and definitely a couple of inches too short. Popping into Soutache one afternoon with the help of Maili and Mareena (and a few other shoppers) we hatched a plan to add some length and a bit of polka dots to my dress.

In coming weeks I will attempt a hem-lengthening, double-layered, spaced box pleat . . . stayed tuned.

3 thoughts on “Embellish This

  1. Hi girls,

    Looks like fun…can’t wait to give this a try myself. Seems like working on a live project would be beneficial…turn something old into something new and refreshing!

    I’m looking forward to seeing the new additions to your dress.

  2. Pingback: Embellish This 2 | Sew Chicago

  3. Pingback: A Party Among Ribbons and Trims | Sew Chicago

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