Now this is hand sewing

A lot of people think I don’t like hand sewing but that’s not true. I dislike hand sewing work arounds used to compensate for poor engineering. I think it’s wasteful to use hand sewing for work arounds. Hand sewing should be used for things that only hands can do. The best example I own of hand sewing is this vintage bias cut silk slip. The decorative hand work is evident; what isn’t so obvious is the extent to which some hand stitching can also be structural (later).

I think it was made in the late forties or early fifties in Hong Kong. What appears to be lace is actually hand embroidery in silk thread. Below is a photo of the hem which has both embroidery and applique in a contrasting silk.


The construction of the slip shows some interesting effects. For example, the joined seam of the upper bodice and the body is not straight; the seam line follows the shape of the leaves. The seam is appliqued rather than stitched along a straight or curved line as is tradition. It is so well done that -were there no gathers at the bustline- it would be difficult to discern (by the average person) that the top and bottom pieces of the front are not one solid piece (below).

Below is a photo from the inside. You’ll also note that there are three (visible) rows of bustline gathers. If you had the sample, you’d see there are actually more rows of gathers than that. Evidently, the goods were gathered (according to guide or pre-pattern) and then recut to the proper seam shape.

Still, not all the handstitching on this slip is decorative. Below you’ll see that the side seams have a hong kong finish and the second seam was done by hand (I don’t know about the first seam).

Now, if you’ve sewn with a lot of bias, you already know that it’s easiest to sew bias if you’re using big fat seam allowances -say an inch or so- but mostly, you can’t use big seams like that (for shaping reasons) except on side seams. The smaller the seam allowance on bias, the harder it can be to sew. That’s why the hand sewing of this hong kong finished side seam is all the more remarkable. Oh, I forgot to mention the seam depth itself is tiny. Call me a liar but it finishes at 1/8″. One eighth of an inch! That is incredible. That means the first seam couldn’t have been any greater than 1/16th…and don’t forget, we’re talking about bias and not some easy to sew rigid fabric. I consider the execution of this technical and structural sewing to be on par with the embroidery that I’ll be showing you next.

No part of this garment lacks in decorative attention. Below is a portion of the center front (or center back) hem.

Even the side seams at the hem were not ignored. Below you’ll see a contrasting silk appliqued finish found at the hem of each side seam. And of course, the tiny scalloped edges of the slit itself were all hand finished -with a tiny picot edge.

Back to the bodice which has the greatest embroidery detail. Here is a closer photo of the front

Looking closely, you can see this is a combination of applique, embroidery and needle weaving. Wow. The detail is just exquisite.

Now I want to show you the back (below). You can see the hand applique stitches which join the lace piece to the bodice. You’ll also note there is a backing to the embroidery. This was used to stabilize the embroidery but was not stitched or joined to the embroidery itself.

Last but not least are the straps. The straps finish at .5cm wide. Tiny. The slides are bone.

Tragically, as much as I love this, I’ve never worn it. It’s too big for me.

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12 comments

  1. Freda says:

    Absolutely beautiful. But, I would call the side seam a French seam. Isn’t a Hong Kong finish one in which the seam is pressed open and each seam allowance finished with bias binding? I have a very old (30 yrs) Calvin Klein unlined raincoat with a Hong Kong finish on all seams (and such a classic style that I can stll wear it).

  2. Irv says:

    Ralph Lauren wishes he could even come close to recreating this quality of camisole, season to season. Who are you trying to kid, Rayna ?

  3. Gidget says:

    Thought you might like this bit of info from Lace Fairy: “Mesh-based laces seldom were worked in China”

    That slip is absolutely gorgeous. What size it? Maybe you could send it on a traveling show so we can all hold it for a few seconds? ok, j/k

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  5. S.Kim says:

    “Tragically… It’s too big for me.”

    My, I sincerely feel… tragic, by all means. I know how I felt when I encountered something like this.

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