McKenna Linn   
Fiber Art   

Creating GREAT Slash-Fabrics for Garments, Accessories, and Embellishments!

Slash-fabric--the generic term for a centuries-old technique, known also by the currently popular (and trademarked) name Faux Chenille--is enjoying a real renaissance today. And that's a very apt metaphor! In fact, the technique of slashing through fabric layers to reveal the color below can be traced back to the Renaissance. According to one story, the fashion originated with a ragged Swiss Army's attempt to keep warm by stuffing colorful cloth into their war-torn garments (from Survey of Historic Costumes, Phyllis G. Tortora and Keith Eubank, Fairchild Publications, c.1994, p. 157).

The creative possibilities of this technique are probably best-known and characterized by the work of fiber-artist Tim Harding, which is represented in galleries, museums, and fine stores around the world. Tim "rediscovered" and reinterpreted slash-fabric in the 1980s, and has perfected it to the point that he can literally create pictures--such as a forest of birches along a meandering stream--simply by layering and slashing fabrics appropriately. If you ever have the chance, go see Tim Harding's incredible artistry.

The Slash-Fabric Concept
The basic concept of slash-fabric is: Layer and channel-stitch multiple layers of fabric together on the bias grain; cut (slash) through one or more layers, leaving at least one (usually the bottom) layer intact; then agitate well (generally by machine-washing and -drying), which causes the fibers along the cut (bias) edges to expand, creating a lush and variegated surface texture.

When making slash-fabrics, the following tips and techniques may be helpful:

Preparing Fabrics for Slashing
You don't need to pre-wash (the sizing helps to control your stitching) but for fabrics you expect will bleed, do wash and press first (and starch if desired)

Choosing Fabrics
  • Choose a more-stable-than-the-rest fabric for your foundation--it has to be strong enough to support the other layers through washing and drying; however, it doesn't have to be a natural-fiber fabric
  • The most successful slash-fabrics are generally cellulosic or silk (e.g., cottons, rayons, silks); polyesters and wools tend not to bloom well. However, there are exceptions to every rule; for instance tissue lamé generally works very well in slash-fabric constructions
  • Loosely woven fabrics tend to perform better than densely woven fabrics (a good argument for shopping mill-end stores and bargain tables for your slash-fabric ingredients--and while you're at it, don't overlook silk-suitings and home-dec gauzes and tapestries as possibilities). Again, there are exceptions to this rule; for instance, Warm & Natural™ cotton batting--not even woven--is often an excellent addition to a slash-fabric construction
  • It's okay to mix-and-match fabrics with different fiber-content and weave-characteristics (if you do, though, it's a good idea to make a test sample--particularly if you don't pre-wash your fabrics--to be sure they work together through washing and drying)
  • Potential slash-fabric candidates can be classified as either "fluffers" or "sitters." Fluffers expand and lift the fabrics above (and often below) when used in a slash-fabric collage. Sitters--well, they sit there and basically play dead. You can use a sitter successfully if you have a fluffer above or below it to lift it up; but put two or three sitters together, and it's very likely you'll end up with flat fabric.

    To determine whether a fabric is a fluffer or a sitter, cut a corner off your yardage: Cut on the 45° angle, as precisely as you can, to yield a right triangle that is four to six inches on each of the two short sides. Then wash and dry the sample. [Tip: Wash and dry your samples with jeans, towels, sneakers--anything that is rough and textured--in order to bring out the full bloom.] The degree of fraying and waving along the bias edge will tell you whether the fabric is a fluffer or a sitter.

  • Stitch on the bias grain; otherwise, the cut edges will ravel rather than bloom
  • Stitch adjacent rows in opposite directions to minimize shifting
  • The finer the fabrics, the closer you should stitch your rows. To deterimine the optimum stitching distance for any particular combination of fabrics, test: Start with rows 1/2" apart; then try 3/8" apart (or 1/4" for very fine fabrics, e.g., silks) and 5/8" (for coarser fabrics, e.g., tapestries and homespuns) to determine what looks best
  • Stitch rows using a short, very narrow zigzag (or a three-step-stretch) stitch to add "give" along the bias grain

Composing Layers
  • Use a minimum of three slash-layers; with fine fabrics, you may want six or seven (gasp!) for the fullest bloom (good news for fabric "collectors"!)
  • Use different fabrics to create a single layer for an interesting design variation
  • Build your slash fabric on the wrong side of the foundation, so the "in" side will look pretty, too
  • Add "shadow fabrics"--odd shapes, chunks, colors, etc.--at random between your layers, for interesting visual effects; the higher-up in the sandwich, the more obvious their shape will be (important: be sure these shadow fabrics are positioned with their grainlines running identically to your layers)
  • Optional: Use basting spray to secure layers and shadow fabrics (this also helps when slashing, so your scissors grab the whole bunch--no more, no less)

  • Sharp shears are the time-honored tool of choice for slashing. There are also several new tools especially designed for cutting slash-fabric, such as the "Slash Cutter" by Clover and Omnistrips™ from Omnigrid®
  • The process of making slash-fabric necessarily involves lots of cutting through many layers of fabric. If you use shears, the repetitive activity may stress the small muscles of your hand and arm and put pressure on the nerves and blood vessels in your hand. If you do a lot of slashing, you may experience tingling and numbness in your hand and thumb, as well as soreness and weakness in your forearm and elbow.

    To avoid these symptoms when using shears, do your cutting in stages (e.g., slash for 30-45 minutes; stop, stretch, do something that uses other muscles; then resume slashing. Better yet, continue slashing the next day.)

    If you plan to make lots of slash-fabric garments and accessories in a concentrated period of time, investigate cutting tools that will lessen the pressure on your muscles and nerves, such as electric scissors.

Tips for Finishing
  • Shake cut fabric well before putting into the washer (do this outside!)
  • Wash and dry with jeans, towels, sneakers, etc.--things that are rough and textured--to help blooming
  • Wash and dry at least three times in an automatic washer and dryer
  • Brush with a stiff brush to enhance texture

Piecing & Seaming
  • Don't attempt to make slash-fabric garment pieces to size; they will very often shrink differently than anticipated; rather, make slash-fabric panels an inch or two larger than your pattern pieces; wash and dry them; and then cut out the garment
  • To make flat seams using the lap-and-cover method (as I did for my "Slash Jacket"; see photo): Cut pattern pieces from finished slash-fabric panels leaving a 1/4" seam allowance around each piece; serge or zigzag raw edges to finish; overlap edges along seamlines (total of 1/2" overlap, given 1/4" seam allowances); zigzag along both edges; cover join with 5/8" strip of Ultrasuede Light® (or other binding of choice); zigzag both edges of strip to secure and finish

Embellishment Option: Slash-Fabric "Worms"
It struck me as I worked on a particular project one day that one could use slash-fabric "worms" to embellish garments and accessories. As it turns out, someone else develped virtually the same technique quite independently at about the same time (Gail Settle, "Shaped Chenille: An Old Technique Takes a New Shape," published in Martha Pullen's Sew Beautiful magazine, issue #59, Fall 1998). Just goes to show that creative sew-ers think alike!

Several options:
  • Cut through all layers of the unwashed slash-fabric construction between each stitching line; then stitch each of these flat "worms" along its center stitching line to your garment. Wash and dry the garment to make them bloom. Simply butt the ends to join segments.
  • Cut through all layers as above, but wash and dry your worms before stitching them to the garment. This allows them to twist--as they will naturally do--and provide exciting and surprising glimpses of color from the "back" side of your construction. Then couch them to your garment.
  • You could also make "double worms" and "triple worms" by cutting through all layers on every second or third row of stitches. Probably best to attach these to your garment before washing and drying.

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