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Old Cashmere, Fresh Petals

June 17, 2007|Amy Scattergood | Times Staff Writer

IF there's an emblem for this season's distinctive romanticism, it's the hand-sewn petals designers have tucked into necklines and scattered across bodices and skirts like errant bouquets.

Rosettes were strewn all over the spring runways, stitched to Thakoon's organza petal skirts, spilling across the delicate dresses from Rodarte and causing a sensation at 3.1 Phillip Lim's show, where a simple white T-shirt dress with hand-sculpted rosettes quickly became the dress of the season.

The rosettes on the Lim dress were created by Koi Suwannagate, an L.A. designer whose own sculpted cashmere dresses and paneled sweaters also are rife with hand-sewn roses. Her line, like the others, sells in high-end stores including Barney's and Fred Segal, where the floral creations can set you back $600 to $1,800.

But if your budget is limited to real flowers, you can make a simple version of Suwannagate's flowered designs yourself. Actually, you can easily fashion a rosette-studded top, Suwannagate says, "in about half an hour, before you go out to dinner."

This is because her designs owe as much to flea market forays and a fondness for recycled materials as they do to high fashion. Suwannagate (pronounced sue-WANNA-gate) has used recycled fabrics since her first collection, in 2000. It's an aesthetic she's proud of, noting with pleasure the shots of Nicole Kidman and Kirsten Dunst wearing her fitted sweaters covered in a blizzard of petals.

At her workshop downtown, Suwannagate spreads out a vintage sweater on her cutting board. "I like cashmere because even when you cut it up, it's still luxury," Suwannagate says as she snips off the sleeves and the neckline of the old sweater, then slips it on a mannequin to make sure the cuts are right. It hangs loosely, the V-neck now forming the back. "You can't be cheap," she says. With lesser quality fabric, "it would look like junk." The old, two-ply cashmere is high quality, dense and slightly felted, and Suwannagate leaves the edges raw because she likes the tactile, rough-hewn edge. (Don't worry -- two-ply cashmere doesn't ravel.)

Her flowers have a dreamy, sculptural quality. Organic, loose and sometimes slightly haphazard, they're also deceptively simple to make. Suwannagate cuts 2 1/4 - and 3 1/4 -inch circles from the sleeves, three circles for each flower. She folds each circle in quarters, then quickly anchors them to the sweater, as one would a corsage. She adds a few paper threads as the flowers' stamens, then quickly dresses one of the mannequins beside her. "It's so Marni," she says, cinching a black belt at the waist and stepping back to gauge the effect.

In less than hour, the dated man's sweater is transformed into a stylish top, casual ("I don't like it too perfect"), but with a firm elegance.



Time: About 45 minutes

Materials: 1 long-sleeved, V-neck, loose-fitting men's cashmere sweater; 1 belt; optional: paper flower stamens (available at craft shops)

1. Using sharp scissors, cut the sleeves off just above the elbow, making sure the sleeves are even. Carefully and evenly cut around the neckline, about an inch away from the stitched edges. Try on the sweater to make sure the sleeves are the right length; if they're too long, trim them.

2. To make a pattern, cut 2 1/4 -inch and 3 1/4 -inch circles out of a piece of paper (you can make the circles as large or small as you like).

3. Take the cut-off sleeves and cut along the seams so that the material is flat. Pin the circular patterns to the material. Cut out three circles of the same size for each flower (for three flowers, cut out nine circles).

4. Try on the sweater -- the V should be in the back -- and determine the position of the flowers, using pins to mark the spots.

5. Fold each cashmere circle in half, then in quarters. With a needle and thread, sew the folded base of the circle to the spot where you want the flower. Repeat for the remaining two circles, sewing and anchoring the base of each of the three folded circles close together, but not overlapping. (You needn't be too exact.)

6. Repeat Step 4 for the other two flowers, anchoring them close to the first flower.

7. Optional: Take 3 flower stamens, fold them in half and sew them at the fold into the center of a flower. Repeat for one more flower, leaving one plain.

8. Wear the sweater with a belt, cinching the sweater at the waist.

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