Friday, 2 March 2012

Soft Sinamay (urgh)

Today at college, as well as our first 'contextual studies' lecture, we played with soft (i.e. unstiffened) sinamay.

 Sharon (Bainbridge - our tutor - who will be reading this at some point *wave*!) brought us a bag of unstiffened sinamay in natural, and assorted multi coloured pieces that she'd dyed.  We all had to take a piece, and then just play.

My first reaction to the sinamay - not good.  I really, really didn't like it.  I tried playing with it in one big piece at first, and I quite liked some of the shapes that I got when I pleated it back on itself - the edge was curving round - but I didn't like it enough to do anything with it.  After a while of that I decided to cut it up a bit, rather than trying to use it all at once.  So I cut, and started rolling the edges.  (For those unfamiliar with it, you roll the edges of soft sinamay with dampened fingers, and it holds.)

I tried to persevere with it, but (even with a break to make a petersham ribbon cockade), ended up in such a grump with it that, as I was packing up, I gathered up all my bits of sinamay, shoved them into my sewing tin, and squashed the lid down with absolutely no care or regard for what happened to the shapes I'd been working with.

I'm not sure why I had such a bad reaction to it.

It's quite similar to some of the stiffer loosely woven tailoring canvases that I've used - it behaves in the same sort of way - very stretchy on the bias, thanks in part to the loose weave, and virtually none at all on the straight or cross grain, so it can't just be that it's unfamiliar.

I think I pinned it down eventually, after long thought on the walk home, and I think it's that it felt messy to be working with.  Not messy in the sense that there were lots of bits flying off - messy in the sense of an untidy finish.  It felt untidy, and wrong, somehow to be rolling the edges not sewing them.  Also, I think I do have some prejudices against sinamay - in the same way that I hate other garments that you can find in badly made versions all over the high street.  I can't get over the fact that it feels twee.  And *very* middle aged.
And I think that part of it may be that I'm just not good enough with it - it's a new technique to me, so I think I need to get some at some point, and play with it till I can roll it and shape it to a standard where I'm happy with it, then see if I still feel the same.

Anyway, I carried on when I got home, so I now have a finished sample piece (apart from a head attachment).  I think it's a bit of a monstrosity as it is - too much going on, and would need lots of refinement to turn into a finished design - but this was about learning ways to work with it, not about getting a finished piece, as such.  It's late now, so I'll take pictures of the monstrous creation tomorrow!

So anyway, in conclusion, I don't think I hate the sinamay as much as I did.  I think it could be quite a nice thing to work with, for the right project, to make sinuous, organic shapes like leaves or petals - especially if you were able to create them free-form, without needing to be 100% sure what shapes you were going to end up with.


  1. What does the soft sinamay feel like versus the stiffened version? I ordered a sinamay roll, but not sure if it really is sinamay since it feels harsh when you touch it, almost like netting and it has a loose weave/wide holes in it. Thanks for your feedback!

  2. No, you've definitely got sinamay! It sounds stiffened to me.

    If you haven't handled the soft stuff you obviously have nothing to compare it to, but if you wet it or steam it, then it will feel slightly tacky - that's the stiffener / glue being activated. If you cut a couple of small pieces, lay them one on top of the other, and then steam iron them (use a press cloth), then they should stick together and become stiffer when dried and cooled.

    The soft sinamay feels quite harsh to the touch - if you use fabric, it feels a lot like a loosely woven linen canvas. But it's a lot more flexible and less prickly than the stiffened stuff. You can scrunch the soft stuff up, but I wouldn't recommend trying that with stiffened!!

    Most of the stuff that you see for sale is the stiffened version, because it's more popular, because you can create massive shapes with minimal weight.

  3. Anonymous11 July, 2012

    I am trying to do rolled edges but it keeps fraying as I roll, would welcome help?! did you steam it before rolling?

  4. Hi, Sorry for taking so long to get back to you.

    With the soft stuff you don't need to steam it. But if you wet your fingers slightly (lick or use a sponge), and then roll it in the same way as you would roll a cigarette (I'm sure there are videos on you tube or similar if you aren't familiar!!)

    It does fray less on the bias edge though, so I found it helps if you can manipulate it or cut it so that the rolled part is on the bias.

    The stiffened version does need to be steamed on the edge before rolling, but is the same sort of technique.

    Other than that I think it's just practise.


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