Now on to the me-made bit in the outfit – the Choli Blouse… This is actually quite a simple top. Many choli blouses are. The most labour-intensive bit is in the embellishment. So after finishing the custom embroidery, I kind of lost interest, which made the simple blouse construction excruciatingly slow.
Style Shots & Mug Shots
Inspirations & Design
To recap, the outfit I bought was a copy. So while the blouse fabrics & trim supplied do match the skirt, they don’t look like the original design I wanted. I decided to make a blouse from scratch so I can incorporate as much of the original embellishment design as possible.
- I kept the front pretty simple & scale back the amount of embroidery because I wasn’t sure I can manage even just the hem & neckline borders.
- There wasn’t any photo of the back, so I took inspiration from other designs I liked & went for a basic U-neck that’s as open & deep as the bra I was going to wear would allow, with tasselled cord ties at upper back.
- I debated whether to keep the sleeves see-through like in the original design or use the same opaque fabric as the bodice. I went with opaque because I thought I might want to wear the top as a vest over something like La Chemise, in keeping with the cooler London climate. It sort of half worked: On the plus side, it hid the messy underbelly of my embroidery. On the down side, my top turned out a bit on the tight side, so I’m not sure how practical – or visually pleasing – it would be to wear this as a vest over something else.
There are quite a few YouTube video tutorials on drafting Choli Blouse patterns from key measurements. But I thought I’d get better fitting patterns if I design from my own Blocks.
- BLOCK: Top/Dress Block + Fitted Sleeve Block.
- Pivoted front darts to create Front Armhole Princess Seams. (I really should sort out my Princess Seam Blocks.)
- Picked a fight with gravity by moving the Bust Points up a bit & closer together for a fuller look.
- Pivoted back darts to create smaller Back Waist Darts that won’t disrupt the embroidery design much.
- Shortened bodice & sleeves for a cropped top with short sleeve.
- Lowered neckline per design & pivoted out about 3/16″ per side (3/4″ total) from the neckline to pre-empt any gaps opening up on drastic lowering of the neckline.
- Made the sleeve cap more shallow & wider at the top for better arm movement.
- Added 3-sets of bra strap/band retainers – at the shoulder, further down the back straps, & near the CB opening.
- Added placket beneath the butted CB opening which fasten with bra hooks & eyes.
- Added detachable underarm sweat guard to help prevent sweat stains on the diva silk fashion fabric.
Well, it wasn’t a great success, despite a fitting muslin being made for a change.
- The raised bust line didn’t fit very well. Gravity won this round. My bra was no match for it. It also didn’t help that I had to wash the fabric after I finished the embroidery (I had some hay fever sneezing fits while doing the embroidery). The washing or the pressing afterwards shrunk the embroidered neckline, which then pull the whole top up a bit further. Slight draglines above the bust was the result. Thankfully the blingy necklaces & shawl hid these draglines on The Day!
- The whole thing is a bit tighter than planned. I always forget the extra ease needed to accommodate the innards – eg lining, interfacing, bumpy underbelly of couched embroidery. A fitting muslin is no help in this case – unless you include the extra layers in your muslin as well. The shrunken embroidery mentioned above no doubt made it worse. So I’m glad I didn’t aim for Bridezilla Second Skin Look in the first place!
- And finally & most importantly, my draft failed the only test that matters when it comes to a Choli Blouse: I can’t bust out any ‘Screw In The Lightbulb’ Bollywood dance moves in this! The sleeves are still veering towards restrictive tailored fit. Me bad for not checking this in the fitting muslin – I only checked for standing still fit & lounging around comfort. Good thing no dance off was planned for the post-ceremony luncheon!
So the hunt for a TNT Choli Blouse pattern continues.
Fabric & Notions Used
There were a lot more bought than used. It was impossible to find supplies that come close to the inspiration photo & match the skirt. I never knew there were so many different shades of gold & types of metallic threads! So the Stash got a feast in the process…
And here’s the list of what I ended up using…
- Fabric: 2-tone shot silk dupion from A-Z Fabrics (Goldhawk Rd, West London)
- Lining: cotton lawn/rubia from Partap Textiles (Asian fabric shop in Green St, East London)
- Notions: Pro-Sheer Elegance Light Fusible Interfacing from Fashion Sewing Supply, snaps & hooks from the Stash
- Straight border: Metallic mesh ribbon (???) in Antique Gold from M&J Trimming, NYC; Krenik Metallic Medium #16 Braid in 202HL Aztec Gold Hi Lustre, 002HL Gold Hi Lustre
- Flower petals: Krenik Metallic Medium #16 Braid in 202HL Aztec Gold Hi Lustre
- Flower centres: Krenik Metallic Fine #8 Braid in 5005 Gold Coin, Krenik Metallic Blending Filament in 202HL Aztec Gold Hi Lustre
- Vines (on neckline): Krenik Metallic Medium #16 Braid in 002HL Gold Hi Lustre
- Couching thread: Guttermann Sulky Metallic Thread in 7004 Gold
- Tools & notions: white waxy dressmaking carbon paper, Siesta No-Sew Embroidery Roller Frames & Siesta No-Sew Table/Lap Stand Legs, sew-on/edge-reinforcement tapes made from cotton ticking from the Stash, buttonhole twist threads, Canvas needle (for pulling #16 Braid through to wrong side), size 5 Crewel Embroidery needle (for #8 Braid crewel embroidery) & size 24 Chenille Embroidery needle (for couching the #16 Braid).
- Tasselled cords:
- Beads: Gold-Plated Brass beads, Antique Gold-Plated Brass Filigree beads, Antique Gold-Plated Pewter bead caps, Red Acrylic Faceted beads, Gold-Finished Aluminum bead caps – all from Fire Mountain Gems, (filigree beads spray painted with Montana Gold spray paint in Gold Chrome)
- Cord: Bronze Indian Zari Ropes from Jewellery Maker.
- Tools & notions: Krenik Metallic Japan Thread #5 in 002J Gold, size 24 Chenille Embroidery needle, Fray Check, carabiner catches & jump rings.
The Embroidery Design
- Stabilise the neckline & hemline edges with fusible interfacing. This also supports the embroidery & minimise puckering.
- Traced the embroidery design from the Skirt scrap. As the material couldn’t be the same as the coordinating Skirt, I tried to at least match the embroidery design as much as possible.
- Worked out the embroidery design on a copy of the Blouse pattern, tracing from the Skirt embroidery design wherever possible. Because my left & right sides are not symmetrical, the differences are worked into the spacing between the flowers and vines to keep the design itself more symmetrical.
- The embroidery design is traced onto the right sides of the fabric with a pen & a white waxy dressmaking carbon paper. Using a different colour pen allowed me to easily see which bit of the design has already been traced. The pen is easier to control & the ball-point tip produced clear fine lines without shredding the pattern paper. My waxy carbon paper lines don’t wash out, but I think it’s acceptable as they will mostly be hidden by the embroidery. Plus the sheen of the Silk Dupion masks the white line in certain light. In fact it can be damn hard to see the design when I needed to! I had to experiment with the positioning of the lighting a fair bit.
I chose the mix-n-match Siesta No-Sew Embroidery Roller Frames because of its flexibility & availability of sizes large enough to accommodate my sewing pattern pieces (they’re available in 6″-30″ widths & 7″-15″ lengths). Most frames are designed for dainty picture embroidery, so it can be hard to find ones big enough to keep the whole embroidery area flat. I didn’t want the embroidered areas to be crushed by the frame (as would happen with a hoop frame). Even rolling them up didn’t appeal. So I went for 30” roller bars (width) & 15” side bars (length) – just about large enough to keep the embroidery areas flat. I did still have to split the pattern pieces into 3 groups to make this work.
The other reason for choosing this frame was the Siesta No-Sew Table/Lap Stand Legs add-on that turn the frame into a table top / lap frame. This makes it possible to work comfortably at the table or on the sofa with the embroidery frame at the right height & with easy access to the front & back of the fabric. I did buy the optional cross-support bar, but ended up not using it.
Although the frame is designed to be “no-sew” – ie you can tape or staple your fabric to the soft wood roller bars – I prefer the sturdier looking sew-on method of traditional roller frames. So I stapled & taped strips of sturdy cotton ticking to the roller bars. (Twill tapes would have been the traditional choice, but I didn’t have any in the Stash.)
When it came to mounting the fabric onto the frame, I checked out this great YouTube tutorial…
…then did my variation of course! 🙂
- Reinforced the fabric on the sides with ticking strips.
- Baste the top & bottom to the roller bar ticking strips & rolled outward to keep the fabric taut lengthwise.
- To keep the fabric taut crosswise, sew the buttonhole twist threads through the reinforced sides & looped around the side bars. Keep top end of the thread in place by looping it around the top end of the side bar & sandwich between the bar & the wing nut. Pull the thread tighter around the side bar, working the slack loop by loop towards the bottom end of the side bar. Tighten the thread through multiple passes & alternate between the right & left side bars to keep the fabric centred. Once the loops are tight, keep the bottom end of the thread in place by looping around the bottom end of the side bar & sandwich between the side bar & the wing nut.
The Embroidery Sweat Shop
Flower centres & leaves at the neckline are satin stitches done in two passes: First with Krenik #8 Braid in 5005 Gold Coin, then with Krenik Blending Filament in 202HL Aztec Gold for extra sparkle. The Blending Filament worked better when wetted & used in single strand. The white strengthening filaments did still fray a bit. When this happens I just remove them before using the Blending Filament.
Flower petals are Krenik #16 Braid in 202HL Aztec Gold couched with Guttermann Sulky in 7004 Gold. The flowers petals are double loops to match the flowers on the Skirt. To do this with a continuous Braid, I did the outer petal loops first, then flower centre outline, then inner petal loops.
Neckline vines & leaf outlines are Krenik #16 Braid in 002HL Gold Hi Lustre . The line borders are Metallic Mesh Ribbon outlined with Krenik #16 Braid in 202HL Aztec Gold Hi Lustre & 002HL Gold Hi Lustre. All of these were couched/sewn with Guttermann Sulky in 7004 Gold.
As the Braids are not cheap, I tried to keep it continuous to minimize amount wasted by knotting the ends. I pulled the Braid to the right side at the end point, then back to the wrong side at the starting point & knot this starting end. This way I can pull just the amount of Braid I need to the right side, & at the end any extra can be pulled back to the wrong side, knotted & cut with very little waste.
The two Back pieces were done while I was away visiting relatives. So I stitched the Metallic Mesh Ribbon border by machine first. The fabric & the frame were transported disassembled & the framing up done on location.
The Back Darts end in the neckline design area. To avoid bulk in the dart allowance, I stitched the dart points first before framing up. It does make the fabric less tautly stretched, but it’s not too bad as I only stitch as much of the dart points as needed for the flowers that span across them.
I reckon the embroidery stitching process took me about 18 long days. I was at best managing 12 flowers a day & there were 111 of those, plus vines & leaves! I barely made it what with all the travelling. And it can be rather back-braking. I had to take regular breaks. So hats off to all the Embroidery Masters all over the world!
I didn’t do much research on how Choli Blouse are typically constructed beforehand. But I did notice a few blouses were sewn with wide side seams that are sewn last so that they can easily be let out when the Middle Age Spread hits! In other words, armscye seams & hems are done before the side seams, and if there’s any lining, they seem to be treated more like underlining – ie sewn as one with the fabric pieces.
Of course I went ahead & did this my bog standard Western way. For one thing, practical as they may be I still feel funny about those wide side seam allowance possibly peeking out at the hems.
- Back darts, front princess seams, shoulder seams, armscye seams, side seams. Repeat with lining.
- Join fabric & lining at neckline – sandwiching the back neck tasselled cords between the layers, understitch, then join fabric & lining at CB opening.
- Hem fabric & lining. I did a jacket-style jump hem in case the two fabric shrink at different rate when cleaned. (I had a previous silk choli blouse develop an unsightly pull at the hem because the cotton lining shrank more. Not keen to repeat the mistake!)
- Make the placket (fabric & lining), bra bits retainers (lining), sweat guards (lining) – all sewn right sides together with a gap for turning right side out.
- Sew hooks to CB opening, then placket. Sew bra bits retainers to lining. Sew snaps to these retainers, sweat guards, & corresponding lining areas. Tack fabric & lining at shoulder-armscye points & underarm to help keep lining from peeking out.
I’m still feeling exhausted from my stint in the embroidery sweat shop. But I’m proud that I managed it. I don’t think I would have had the patience if it were for home decor projects like cushions or wall decorations. But once in a blue moon for a garment I can just about manage. There’s certainly a lot of leftover supplies for many more. And I’m impressed by how the simple embroidery design elements like these straight borders & nothing-special flowers can add up to something that looks fancier.
It’s a shame that the fit was off. Got to respect the Bod innit! And must, MUST remember to add extra allowance for each layer of innards added. I hope I’ll get a few more wear out of this top before I get too plump or it gets shrunken in the wash!
BTW all that effort with the bra bits retainers was a bit wasted. On the day I was too hot & flustered to do up all three sets, especially as the neckline was too snug to get one’s hand in. I only managed the bra band retainers near the CB. I ruled out attaching the bra first before putting the whole thing on because the too snug neckline wouldn’t have allowed me to cajole the girls into position. I kind of wished I had gone traditional bridal dress shopping so I can study how bridal wear designers manage to make so many women look so fabulous on their big day.
A couple of things for sure, I’m definitely up for making more of these embellished choli blouses, and the search for TNT choli blouse pattern continues. Now I just need some proper Summer days in London to make these worthwhile making!