London Trip and Megan Nielsen Crescent Top

London is one of my my favorite cities. We usually spend a long weekend there every year.  There’re so many things one can do in London, the city never sleeps. Our London days and nights are always  filled with a variety of events such as gallery going, shopping, exploring market, drinking cocktails, watching shows etc. Which is great except it leads to one critical question – what to wear?  I want to dress comfortably strolling London streets as well as sitting in nice restaurants/bars without looking like a country mouse. I used to have a vintage (secondhand) Jaeger velvet  jacket which I call the London jacket as I wear it every time I visit London. It’s a bit worn, which is fine, but the lining was completely worn out ( one of these days I am gonna do something about it).

This time I decided to rationalise and bring only one jacket and one pairs of trousers – a faux leather biker jacket from Zara ( it’s no Jaeger but it will do) and my “feel good” Levis jeans. I know I still need a versatile Top to be a key player. I turned to Megan Nielsen breakwater collection and there it is – the Crescent Blouse. What  I live about it is how it is so sweet yet holds the right amount of edge/sassiness which would go well with with the biker jacket.

The construction of the Crescent Blouse was an absolute pleasure. The fitting is almost straight out of the envelope. Megan’s sizing is always very accurate, and I think the boxy shape of this top also helped. Due to the unusual cut-out yokes, if you have a broad or narrow shoulder it will be prudent to make a muslin first to ensure the cut-out sit directly above your shoulders. And you will need a cross-over bra so the stapes will not show. Check your wardrobe before rushing to the shops as you might already have a pair. Any bra can be a cross-over as long as the straps are not sewed to the back but fastened by bra fasteners.

It was a easy enough project but just with the right amount of challenges to keep me on my toes.  As always, Megan’s instructions are so good, and you just have to believe in everything she says even the sequence of joining the seams sometimes do seem a bit odd (that is due to the French seams!). I had doubts in the instruction so I did some mods unfortunately I was wrong and I had to rip my seams off, and still ended up a not-so-fench waist seam.

Apart from French seams, there’re a few other challenges such as using bias tapes as facing, making curved rolled hems, and making self-covered buttons. They were a bit fiddly but I ended up enjoyed doing them ( who I am kidding I loathe self-covered buttons and but the rest parts were true!)

The fabric I used is a gorgeous teal colour silk from Hangzhou Silk market. It is so soft and I want to rub my face all over it. It was sueded so it is fantastically easy to sew,  soft, colourful and easy to sew- you cannot get  any better than this.  I was holding this for a long time for the perfect project and I am glad I did.

During the weekend the top sees a lot of wear – I went to food market in it, sipping beer at the hotel lounge in it, went to Michelin star restaurant in it and I can say that it is a winner! So comfortable yet so effortlessly chic. In all the occasions I never felt under/over dressed and totally at ease. It is now my official London Top! On one desperate Monday Morning, I even tucked it in my pencil skirt and went to a client meeting, with a pair of golden triangle  earrings and oranges shoes (both bought from Spitalfield Market,London). It was a total colour clash, but oddly it worked!

Bottom line: A True Love. And go get yourself a pair of cross-over.ImageImageImage

My Second Anna Dress in Birch Organic Cotton and Tips on Print Matching

My first Anna dress was a firm favorite in my summer wardrobe, it is no surprising that I want to make another one, especially now By hand London is hosting a sew-along, which has become my lunch time read lately.

Since I knew the fitting would be spot on, I wanted to spend more efforts on styling and neat finishing to make this one ultra special. I knew I wanted a V neck and a print this time, since my first one was a plain print with a slash neck. I really liked the practicality of the short length, so this time I am keeping it shorter which means 2 inches chopped off the midi length.
Directional print match was not something crossed my mind originally due to many skirt panels of Anna dress, until I set my eyes on this gorgeous green birch organic cotton in their Elk Grove Collection.   Look how adorable these Stags are!
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I ordered 2.5metres from http://www.thevillagehaberdashery.co.uk/; only realized later that I need much more for directional print matching.

A habit of mine is always cut fabric in such an economical way that there’s hardly any left or a large whole piece was left over for something else. This includes sometime cutting on single layer (like my tirumisu dress) and sometime interesting pattern piece layout. I felt I was up to a challenge this time. 

So 2.5m (2.3m actually, after wash) long  45 inches wide  fabric, was it enough for an Anna? Of course … otherwise I would not like to share a sob story with you. So how did I do it? Read on.

  1. Style changes. There’re seven pieces for the skirt, seven!   I’d gone mad trying to match all of them! For my insanity and to save fabric, the first thing I did was to convert the 7-piece skirt pattern to 3 pieces only. One piece for the front skirt and a pair for the back. In the photo below,  I just overlapped the seam lines of the center front and side front pieces and stick  them together using a low-tact tape.  Easy-peacy. The same goes for the back pieces, except I cut the front piece on the fold but cut a pair of back pieces.
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  2. Decide where to match. It will be pretty awesome to match EVERY SINGLE seam – horizontal or vertical. It is impossible, though, at least for this type of directional print. The pattern pieces are not perfect rectangular, so If I matched the pattern pieces on the shoulder seams then the bodice side seams will not match. The seams that join the bodice and the skirt will not match anyways due to the presence of the pleats and ducts. The most obvious and probably the easiest seams are the centre back seams which were the one I concentrated on.
  3. Lay out the pattern pieces all in once, cut on a single layer of fabric, and match at the seam lines. When I say all, I meant the ones you want to match. I cut my bodice front and skirt front (now one piece) from the fabric first – using the most economical way of course. I then traced another back bodice and back skirt pattern pieces and laid out all of them at once on the remaining fabric, with the fabric right side up. REMEMBER: lay the two identical pattern pieces for the bodice and skirt as mirror images to each other. My fabric has about 30cm pattern repeat, which means some pieces need to be at least that much distance apart. An useful tip:  use a reference point to show the pattern repeat. I used colorful clamps at a reference point (two little birds sitting on a stag, if you must know), to help me visualize the pattern repeat. I then laid my pieces down, shifted them around a few times.  I marked the seam line on the pattern pieces and tied to match the fabric underneath them. My patterns pieces were made out of Swiss tracing paper which is slightly transparent, so I was able to see the fabric underneath the paper quite well.  Once I was content, I pinned the pieces downs and cut them out using a rotary cutter (or scissors, as you prefer) . Remember the old golden rule: measure twice, cut once. In my case I match three times, and cut once.  ALSO, don’t forget to mark the seam lines on the wrong side of the fabric (I used dressmaker’s carbon paper and a teethed tracing wheel). The marked line would guide you in the future. IMG_8485         IMG_8486IMG_8484IMG_8481
  4. Baste first, by hand or by machine. Once you cut the pieces precisely, you are half way there! The first part of the matching stitch started with the invisible zip installation at the bodice central back, which is always tricky.  Note, if the bodices don’t match, the skirts won’t. The best advice I can give you is to baste the zippers by hand before sewing, and zip up to check the fit, if not good enough, baste again till you are happy with the alignment (let the marked seamed line guide you). Don’t get frustrated by ripping the basted line, keep calm and carry on.  I got it right on my second attempt.  I then machine basted the skirt pieces using the longest stitch length, again, guided by the marked seam lines. Check, once happy, sew again with a shorter stitch length this time. If you are really not confident to install a matching central invisible zipper, why not move the zipper to the side instead? My dress has a lining so I have some extra steps to fix the lining to the zipper, no tricks here, and no pattern matching, just try to be careful when hand stitching in case of angry bubble at the zipper end.

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For rest of construction I will fast forward, in case you get bored…closed the side seams, finished the sleeves by hand and hem the skirt by blindstitching. Look, perfectly matched back seams. Can you tell the centre seam on the back?

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For the lining hem I used one of my fancy stitches came with my vintage Bernina, a scallops hem. It was super easy, I just stitched around the hem line and trimmed off the fabric. I love the effect so I don’t mind the extra effort on trimming with my small pair of scissors. I did it in front of my telly crouching in the sofa and it took me an episode of “Big Bang Theory”.IMG_8623

A few photos for y’all. Sorry about the poor lighting. Since winter approaching, the day is getting greyer and shorter, taking photos is like a battle with the light. Every I adjusted the light the moment I took the shoot it got darker! I added a belt and threw on a pair of heels so it doesn’t look too much like a little girls’ dress.

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With the lining the dress feels quite warm. Although grass green is not an exact fall/winter colour, but somehow it makes me happy and eases my winter blue. I can see a lot of wear out of my second Anna.

A Colette combo – Sorbetto Top and Clover Pants

I realised for someone who is in love with Colette Patterns I wrote very little about them in my blog. I think that was because most of my Colette cloths were made before I started blogging, and they were all in summer weight fabric – like the Sorbetto top and Clover pants combo.

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IMG_8398The top was made out of one metre green/purple silk from the giant fabric haul in Hangzhou silk market. One metre was not enough to make an entire top, obviously, so I had to use some white poly adding to the front and back, and to make bias tapes. This idea was inspired stole from the adorable Lauren from guthrie and ghani. I eliminated the pleat on the front, in order for a simpler look and to save fabric.

There is not much else have not been said about this pattern, it is free, simple yet produces beautiful results! I french seamed everywhere I could, and reinforced the neckline and sleeve edges with iron-on bias tape, to prevent gaping and for added strength.

The trousers were made of pink pique (that is e with an apostrophe) from Stonefabrics.co.uk. (they have a website but only offer mail ordering service, very old fashioned.) The pique has some stretch to it, which was called for in this pattern. I didn’t make a muslin but left a generous seam allowance to allow for future adjusting. I sewed a size 12 according to my waist measurement. Oh my godness those pants are huge, I felt like I was wearing a sack. I had to cut a lot excess off along the side seams and inner leg seams (sorry for my amateur terminology). The crotch depth was still too long, which you can probably tell from the photo. I also broke the zipper on the side, now it was stuck, so I added a little pants hook and eye to fasten. Due to the stretch of the pants i am still able to pull them up without opening the zip, and they are wearable but I had to constantly pull them up otherwise they will fall down! I am considering to add some belt loops so I can wear them with a belt. This is still a great pattern though, I just need to figure out the fitting issues next time (in a winter weight wool maybe?)

Happy weekend

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“Hello Sailor” Mini dress – Colette Laurel in knit

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It’s gradually getting chilly these days, I started to dip into my autumn/winter wardrobe and  was pleased to find this little dress I made a while ago which I completely forgot about. It is a royal blue mini dress with sailor’s collar inspired by the photo in Etsy.  I was somewhat obsessed  with this dress on the model,  serious how gorgeous is she? I pretty much decided I MUST have this dress, one way or the other.

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Photo from Etsy Shop SmokeandOakum French 70s mini dress 

Since mail-ordering from States is a not economic viable option (UK custom and all).  Luckily I sew,  so I decided to hunt for the right pattern and fabric for an “mock” one instead.

Without long  I decided on the pattern  – Colette Laurel , except this pattern was for woven and the dress called for a knit. I had never sewed knit before in my live and from I heard it was a whole different kind of beast than woven. I did extensive (probably unnecessary) research and decided to a) sew a smaller size without the bust darts; b) get a ball needle; c) use zigzag stitch for all horizontal seams (subject to stretching) and straight stitch for all vertical seams.

The material I chose was a royal blue ribbing knit- you know, the kind used for neckband in TShirt, with 100% stretch on the horizontal and zero on the vertical direction. I knew it was not meant for dresses etc but I couldn’t find any “beefy” knit in blue in my local fabric shops, so I took a chance. It was dirt cheap and came in a big tube that I had to cut it open. The fabric choice was not that great as the  fabric would stretch so much therefore appeared baggy and bubbly at places. I was ok with that cos the dress does look very loose in the picture. For the sailor’s collar I drafted my own pattern with the help of an online tutorial (there’re plenty of them out there) and used a quilting cotton (again, not a fabulous fabric choice but i couldn’t find blue stripes in apparel fabric locally). I hand stitched the collar to the dress with a catch stitch as I had no idea which type of stitches I shall use to join knit with woven with my machine.

Although I was geared with some pre knowledge on knit sewing, I kinda winged it during the making. But it turned out to be OK, not perfect, but a dress I will definitely wear and not feel embarrassed about it.

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Thinking back, I should have reinforced the shoulder seams with clear elastic or bias stay tapes as they are now stretched out of shape (after all, it is ribbing knit). It was my very first knit dress and it broken the barrier between woven and knit for me, therefore it was special.

What do you think? Do you usually see something in the shops or online you really love but for some reasons can’t get hold of, and resort to sew your own?

Happy Mid Autumn Day, my family and friends in China!

Refashioned TShirt – Inspired by Briar Tshirt Pattern from Megan Nielsen

I did very little sewing during last week, as I have been waiting in anxiety for my new (well, secondhand) sewing machine I purchased from Ebay to return from the local sewing machine repair guy.  It was a machine made by a famous Swiss company and it was the last mechanical model they ever made…I can’t keep it no more, it is a Bernina 1008! Hooray!

The machine needs quite a bit of works to be done in oder to return it to full working condition – new foot pedal (so expensive, sigh…), new bobbin case, new press foot, new light bulb and a couple of other parts, overall it will cost me around £200 plus some extra to buy the Bernina feet (as the machine does not come with any). BUT,  Bernina is Bernina and I bought it rather cheaply so it is still a pretty amazing deal. I have been sewing on an entry level Toyota (yes, they do make S/M beside cars) which has served me well but it is the time to upgrade. I am hoping the new machine will improve my sewing skills from “happy-go-lucky” home sewing to couture sewing (just kidding, no machine can really do that) and serve me many years to come.

While I was waiting, I picked up a small project to work on during the weekend – refashioning an old T-shirt. In this blog I have enunciated my love to Megan Nielsen’s Breakwater collection, so far I have owned the Tania Culottes (blogged here), the Cascade Skirt and the Crescent Top (yet to be blogged). There was another pattern that intrigued me which is the Briar top. The tin says “The stylish alternative to a basic t-shirt or sweater. A high scooped front hem, & low curved back hem combine to create an incredibly flattering silhouette & comfortable fit”.  I didn’t buy it, because,  once you got the concept, it is pretty easy to do it w/o a pattern.  Hope Megan will not mind…

I owned an Uniqlo Cotton T-Shirt with bird print which is way big and too long for me, it also has a V neck which I hated. The feel and print were so lovely that I couldn’t bring myself to toss it.  I feel it’s feasible to convert it to a cropped version of Briar Top due to the length of the hems. The transformation was not that breathtaking but definitely makes me wanting to wear it more.

The original Tshirt looks “meh” on my Gladys and the re-fashioned one looks almost passable in a city pub!

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So here is what I did

1. Removed the neckband by a seam ripper (you dont have to do it all the way, just 3/4 of it at the front and sides), reshaped the neckline and reattached the band with my overlocker. This is probably the most onerous part of the whole process. I also needed to redo the joint seam of the band (2 secs). You will find the band a tad shorter than the circumference of the neckline due to the now round shape of neckline so you need to stretch it slightly when you sew. I used clover clips instead of pins to hold the band in place at strategic points (being the front, and the side seams). Do you know sewing over your pins present huge hazards such as breaking your machine and flying broken needles towards your eyes? I just found out the other day and was absolutely horrified as I have been doing it since the first day I sewed. Not have to worry about breaking needles flying to my eyes is so much better. Ladies, never sew over pin!

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2 . Folded the shirt at the centre, aligned the left side seam with right one, drawed a double curve continuing from the front to the back, let the highest point to be the centre of back hem and the lowest point at the front centre (French curve and water soluble pen are your best friends). I then opened the shirt up to check the shape and adjust the curve before cutting.

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3. Once I was happy, I then cut the extra pits off from the front hem and back hem.

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4. Re-hemed the front and back. I turned about 3/8 inches up and used a simple zigzag stitch to hem but twin needle would be nicer.

5. Cut a pocket shape from the left-over fabric which was cut-off from the front hem. I utilised the original hem line as the new pocket edge, which saved me some time to recreate a new edge. This mean the bird pattern on the pocket will be up-side down OH WELL.  Ah cannae be arsed!

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6. Use pins or fabric glue to attach the pocket to the shirt front and try it on to determine the best location. I used the fabric glue as it is quicker and less likely to get pinched at the boob area (Ouch!). It is a bit messy though, make sure you do it over some old newspaper.

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7. Slowly stitch the pocket to the Tshirt

8. Viola. Admire yourself in the mirror

Leggings: Papercut Ooh-la Leggings; blogged here

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Colour block Ooh-la legging (Patercut Pattern)

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I am new to Papercut patterns which is an independent New Zealand company. The first thing draws me to their products are the nifty package. Very cute hanger style, you can hang your cut patterns to the wall and pretend you are a designer working away in a studio!

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Image from Papercut pattern company website

I am a sucker for pretty packages so of course I ordered three of them already. Ooh-la leggings are the first ones I made as the weather getting colder I am in the desperate needs of some warm leggings.

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They have been many fantastic versions of the leggings floating on the blogsphere. I am very impressed by Kbenco’s running tights and she also did an extensive review on her blog . I could not agree more with her with regards to the sizing and pattern instructions (or the lack of!)

I used two colours bamboo jersey (navy blue and light grey) as I feel this pattern is particularly suitable for multiple tones to accent the unique seamlines which arc at the front and back.  I chose size M based on my waist measurement.

Since I know the fitting would be extremely difficult to adjust after overlocking,  I machine basted the pieces together using the biggest straight stitches in my sewing machine with the tension purposely set unbalanced.  After the legging took shape I tucked an elastic under the waist. The basted leggings looked like this

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Not too bad, apart the front piece had some pooling.  There is nothing less attractive than baggy leggings, so I pinned the extra fabric to determine the amount to trim off. (that would be impossible to do if you had overlocked and topstitched the seams)

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I basted with 1cm seam allowance (as indicated in the pattern) but used 1.5cm instead for the “official” sewing for a closer fit. ( I will sew a size S next time)

I decided to leave the baste thread in when overlocking instead of ripping the legging apart first. This really helps keep the pieces together instead of pinning.  My overlocker is not very good with curve seams and circular seams (no free arm) and I don’t want to risk damaging the knife by leaving pins accidentally. If you want to remove the thread afterwards, using seam ripper to rip a few stitches before would really help. This method has a drawback which is the baste threads can be encased within the overlocked seam hence difficult to remove. Or you can leave them in given the colour of the baste thread matched with your fabric ( I used white so had to get rid of them). It is also imperative to rip the intersected seams open about 1 inch on each direction and follow the exact sequence    for joining pieces as indicated in the pattern instruction.

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I had to chop about 8inches off from the bottom,  I am 5 feet 7 so the pattern is extremely long.  I used the chopped bits to make bands around the ankle (again very awkward process as my overlocker’s lacking free arm). On the bright side, all pieces fit together beautifully and it was quick to sew.

Despite the mixed feelings I had during the making, these legging looked great and felt amazing. They are not skin tight so will not give me the “camel toe” look, (if that’s the look you are after it can be achieved by using higher lycra content and one size smaller). Since I made them  I have slept in them, cycled in them and worked out in them, basically been living and breathing in them for a couple of days straight. (yes I will wash them eventually). I can safely say they are the most comfortable, versatile and flattering leggings I have ever own, i can see many many more pair coming – yoga pants, running pants, or lounging pant. It beats LuLuLemon’s $100 pair of pants every time, on design, originality and quality.  ( I think their price is insane non?)

It’s me in cycling gear finding hard to part with my leggings. IMG_7883

I think the design is ingenious, and really inspire you to be creative. I think they will look great with a decorative coverlock stitch at the curved seams or with an accent piping (can you add piping to jersey?). It is also a great opportunity to use out your jersey scrapes which are too beautiful to be tossed. It really uses very little material and you can mix and match.

My verdict: sold.

Till next time

Tania Culottes! (Megan Nielsen Breakwater Collection)

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I came across Megan Nielsen’s website and found myself drooling over the new Breakwater Collection. Without much hesitation I ordered two of the patterns in the collection namely Tania Culottes and Cascade Skirt (review yet to follow).

Tania Culottes are the ones I sewed first as I really wanted a pair of divided skirt to add in my summer wardrobe (ok, in UK the summer already ended in August but still…). It was my first pattern from Megan Nielsen and I have to say I was hooked! Clear in-depth instructions, sturdy pattern paper and potential for varying the style by lengthening, what not to love?

The patter is marked as intermediate but I think a competent beginner will easily manage those. It only has four pieces, two skirts and two waist bands.  The only tricky parts are the invisible zipper and rolled hem but they were well explained in the booklet and discussed at length in Megan’s blog ( amazing tutorials and tips btw). It was an overall peasy make.

I used a blue/white crepe de chine in my stash. It is only 110cm wide and 2m long so wasn’t enough for anything bigger. I sewed a L waist and XL length, and with careful planning and cutting I managed to use all the fabric with little scrapes left. Note I had to fold the fabric at the cross grain and to flip the back skirt piece upside down in order to fit all the pieces in. It was a bit touch and go.

All pattern pieces fitting in 2m wide fabric (folded at the cross-grain) with nothing to spare

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As the Crepe de chine was very very delicate, I used stay tape to reinforce all the seams for longevity , apart from the seams joining the waist band and the skirt (the band has interfacing thus stronger).

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My zipper installation and rolled hem are still not very neat, but I think due to the dark colour they are passable. One more photo at the back

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The only complaint I have is that I found the side back below the buttocks were significantly longer than the rest of the hemline. They were dangling in a very unattractive way. I checked others’ reviews and apparently I was not the only had this problem. It was quite easy to fix though – I just pin the front and back skirts together and use the front edge as a guide to trim off the extra fabric with my shears. In photo below, you can see the extra bits being cut off. I did’t do it very accurately but the result was ok. Pinning the front with the back was to prevent cutting too much at once so the back ended up shorter than the front

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Conclusion: I love love those! The last time I worn culottes I was 12 years old and I have forgotten how cool they were!  It was as cute as skirt but got the practicality of pants. I love how they flatter my legs in a way jeans never could.  The project was a lot fun, and so different from anything I’ve done. It was also great to showcase my beautiful fabric I bought from the silk market in Hangzhou, China. The market is a seamtress’ dream – hundred and hundred kinds of silk fabric piling up sky high, cheap as chips.   If you have a chance going to China, you have to visit. With enough cash and someone who knows haggling,  you could get a lifetime supply of silk.