Tuesday, May 19, 2009

SolvyLace mini-workshop

What is Solvy and where do I find it?

Solvy is a transparent, water-soluble stabilizer sold by Sulky. It's been around long enough that variations and competitors exist, but for today, we're just going to work with the orginal, plain vanilla Solvy. You can find it among the pre-packaged stabilizers at most big fabric stores; if that doesn't work, try sewing machine shops, especially those selling the gazillion-buck embroidery machines.

I buy it in multi-yard rolls, which gives you an idea of how much I use it; you may want to start smaller, with one of the packages that are easier to find. You should be able to get a 20" x 36" piece for under $5.00, and that's plenty big enough for this workshop and for the variations I'll be discussing in the next few days.

Working with Solvy

The single most important thing to remember about working with Solvy is: DON'T GET IT WET (until you're through with your project and ready to wash it out). If you're drinking something, put it on a separate table until you're done. If you're drinking from a glass that "sweats", like the icy mugs I like to use in summer, don't even touch the mug until you're done. Do not lick your fingers to persuade the edges on a folded sheet of Solvy to unfold; they'll merge with each other and become One for All Time. Don't get it wet.

The second thing to remember is that it's flimsy, it likes to whip around and fold over on itself, it is resistant to the idea of dangling from your fingers while you look for the scissors or some old newspaper or the spray adhesive. So get your work surface(s) and tools and materials ready before you start.

Tools and materials and all that

For this particular project (making a small, say 8 x 10, piece of Solvy-lace) you
will need the following:

-Spray adhesive of your choice

-A collection of fabric and thread snippets in the colors you want to use. Sheer fabrics are particularly good; so are the metallic mesh net fabrics you can sometimes find at the glitzy end of the fabric store.

-Interesting yarns and ribbons in the same color scheme (optional)

-Thread that will not be too conspicuous against your chosen color scheme. I like a variegated thread when, as now, I want the sewn thread to blend in with the fabrics and yarns I'm using. For this project I used a Madeira variegated rayon machine embroidery thread.


- A white work surface on which to lay out the bits of fabric, etc. This is not absolutely necessary but it's a big help; it's not always obvious where the edges of the Solvy are if you're looking through it at newsprint.

- Some spread-out newspapers on a flat surface, or some other way of containing/absorbing the adhesive you're about to spray on one piece of Solvy, so your entire work surface shouldn't get sticky.

-A sewing machine set up for straight stitch

And that's it. Everything except the newspaper and the sewing machine is in this picture (I didn't think you needed a photo of yesterday's newspaper, and if you need a picture to recognize a sewing machine, this project is not for you)

Step 1: Preparing the Solvy

Cut two pieces of Solvy, the same size and shape, about an inch bigger on all sides than the piece of Solvylace you want to end up with. Since this is just a test run, I used a rectangle of Solvy left over from last week's mini-workshop and cut another piece off the roll. But if you have specific plans for your piece, it wouldn't hurt to measure it beforehand and then cut precisely sized pieces on a cutting mat.

Put one piece of Solvy aside – hanging it over a chair back works well. Set the other piece on the newspaper and spritz it lightly with your spray adhesive of choice; then pick it up by two corners and slide it back onto the white work surface.

[N.B.: That's what we did during the mini-workshop and how I did this demo. It turned out to be not such a good idea. All the people who made test pieces managed the Solvy Slide with grace and elegance, but me – I had bits of the Solvy waving in the air and sticking to themselves. You can probably see in the next picture how the base Solvy is wrinkled in places and no longer exactly a perfect rectangle. From now on, for small applications like this, I'm going to place a sheet or two of typing paper on top of the newspaper, put the Solvy on top of that, and work without moving the Solvy to a different work surface.]

Step 2: opaque scraps

Most of the time, when I make a piece of Solvy lace, it's going to wind up appliqued to something else; so there's a bottom side and a top side. And I work from the bottom up so that I can see how the piece is developing.

I want this piece to be lacy and mostly, but not totally, translucent; so I started with some tiny snippets from a couple of wonderful metallic brocades, trying to distribute them evenly around the surface.

Step 3: sheers

Now it's time to bring in the sheers. I happen to have lots of green synthetic sheer snippets left over from a previous project; there's also some green-dyed silk organza, some rose-colored silk sheer with metallic threads in it, and some lovely iridescent and wrinkled apricot sheer synthetic. Let the sheers overlap each other, let them overlap the opaque pieces of the first layer, but don't worry too much about covering every square inch of Solvy with them.

[N.B. For this test piece I'm mixing synthetic fabrics with silk. For some of the variations we'll discuss later in the week you may want to use all synthetics, or all silk; you may also want to cover the Solvy more thoroughly or less thoroughly than I'm showing here. Right now we're just getting a feel for working with the materials.]


Step 4: mesh, threads and yarns.

I like to swirl these gently across the surface as a last step. Sometimes I do a lot of sparkly thread, but in this piece I just used some scraps of a very open gold mesh and a few loops of a light green railroad thread. The other yarn that I had laid out initially, the eyelash yarn, seemed like too much for such a light and airy piece

Step 5: making the sandwich

Press down lightly on all your design elements, encouraging them to adhere to the bottom piece of Solvy. Then protect your white work surface if necessary, either by sliding a piece of newspaper under the Solvy or by reversing the slide-to-the-newspapered-side move. (Of course, if you've taken my retroactive advice and worked on a disposable sheet of white paper on top of a protective layer of newspaper, you don't have to do either of these things).

Now spritz the layered work lightly with spray adhesive, retrieve that second piece of Solvy – you know, the piece I told you to hang over a chair back in Step 1 – and lay it gently and precisely over your layered work. Press down lightly again and there you have it: your Solvy-lace sandwich, ready for the sewing machine.

Step 6: stitching the grid

Take your Solvy sandwich and stitch across it in one direction, keeping the lines between ¼ and 3/8 inch apart, at least most of the time.

After you've covered the piece one way with straight lines, turn it 90 degrees and do it again:

Now your Solvy sandwich should look something like this.

Step 6: washing out the Solvy

This invariably takes longer than you think it does, especially if you want to end up with a nice, soft, drapey lace fabric. If you take the Solvy sandwich to the sink and run warm water over it, in just a few moments it'll feel as if all the Solvy had washed away. This feeling is deceptive; if you leave it to dry at this stage, you'll have a stiff piece full of plastic - good for some applications, but not for all. I usually leave a piece overnight in a nice big tub or bucket of hot water, changing the water whenever it occurs to me to do so.

In the morning, take out the piece and lay it flat on a towel to dry. This won't take very long at all, and when you're through you will have a piece of your own unique, lacy fabric that nobody else can duplicate or buy.

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