Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Pimping the Parasol

Welcome to my Salon.  Today, we have another how-to for you, from the Steam Wench.

This time, I'm going to outline how I pimped a parasol for my Steampunk outfit.  I had never done this before, but I found a lovely vintage umbrella when visiting Seattle, at Red Light Vintage Clothing (Capitol Hill location).  It had a lovely carved wooden handle, and interesting striations and staining from being stored closed for many years (see Fig 1 and 2).  I couldn't resist.  I had to buy it, and then make it mine.
This is the tale of how I took this abandoned vintage umbrella and pimped it into my lovely parasol.

The first thing I did was open the umbrella and wipe down the fabric surface umbrella with a damp, clean cloth, which removed some small smuts of flaked rust and surface dirt.

Additional supplies I used in this project, in addition to the parasol are:

- extra-wide double-fold seam binding (brown)
- brown bobble-trim (found in the bargain section of Fabricland)
- brown velvet ribbon (narrow)
- teal blue fabric flower from a cheap hair clip (from Ardene)
- pretty gold and teal buttons (from Dressew)
- teal blue ribbon (very narrow)
- a glue gun
- Fabri-Tac
- brown ruffle ribbon (extracted from a hideous thrifted blouse also used in the Bustle Skirt project (see Fig 1 and 2)
Fig 1 (scary blouse)
Fig 2 (ribbons segments removed from blouse)

Fishing the Raw Edge
Since the fabric of the umbrella was frayed and had no finishing left around the edges, I decided to finish the edges between each rib with seam binding.  I cut the seam binding in appropriate lengths to fit between the ribs, pinned it in place so that it overlapped the raw edges, and then machine sewed it into place as best I could, along the "inner" and open edge of the seam binding.  Then, I hand-stitched the inch or so on either side of the rib.  Attaching the seam binding was an interesting dilemma.  I desperately wanted to machine sew it (way too much handsewing otherwise), but you try sticking an open umbrella into a sewing machine ... hence, machine stitching plus hand-stitching.

Bobble Trim
Then it was time for the bobble trim!  Yay, bobble trim!  Child of the Victorian era and the 1960's!  Who doesn't have fond memories of bobble trim?  Well, okay maybe I'm just odd ... or should lay off the opium and absinthe ...

I decided I wanted a ruffle on the outside of the parasol, on the edge, so the bobble trim needed to go on the inside.  An added bonus was that adding a continuous strip of bobble trim on the inside, would allow me to hide the bare patches around the ribs, where the seam binding ended and the fabric showed through.  Being a parasol, the inside is visible when you have it open.  So, I started pinning the bobble trim on at one point, and pinned it all along the perimeter of the umbrella, bobbles at outer edge.  I had to do little tucks at each rib tip, to accommodate the sharp corner.  

Once again, I had to manhandle an open umbrella in the sewing machine (I used one hand to stabilize umbrella, as well as balanced part of it on my raised knee (used a footstool to raise my leg).  I sewed the umbrella with the underside up, attaching the bobble trim along both edges of the trim.  I had to hand-stitch the bobble trim around the ribs, once again for about an inch or so on either side of the ribs.  I whipped through all the maching work first, and then did the handstitching around each rib after.  See Figs 3 and 4 for closeup of the attached bobble trim from the underside.  Fig 5 shows the open umbrella with the bobble trim sewn on the inside.  Fig 6 shows the umbrella closed, showing the seambinding along the outside edge, and the bobbles peeking out.
Fig 3
Fig 4
Fig 5
Fig 6
At this point, determine whether or not the existing closing-strap of the umbrella can handle the extra bulk of the trim you have added.  I did NOT do this, and realized it only at the end.  It is easier to replace the strap now, BEFORE trimming the ribs.  My instructions for replacing the strap are at the very end of this entry (because I figured it out late).  It was, fortunately, doable - just would have been tidier at this stage.

Rib-Tickling... I mean, Trimming
Now, it turns out, the next step was to trim the ribs. (I did NOT realize this til I had worked on the ruffle and pinned it on - so I'm saving you my grief.  This will also explain the order of what you see in my photos!)  At this point, I realized this was going to have to involve glue.  There was no other way, with the umbrella intact, to trim the ribs.  And the umbrella was simply to0 fragile to embark on a complicated procress like trying to safely remove the fabric from the skeleton (yikes, I can't even imagine trying to do that).  

I selected a nice dark brown velvet ribbon, moderately narrow, to trim the ribs.  I cut the ribbon into lengths to match the ribs, ensuring they would go from the top and tuck nicely under the ruffle along the circumference.

So, with the umbrella OPEN, and using Fabri-Tac and toothpics, I gingerly glued the velvet ribbon strips along each rib.  I will confess, this involved extensive unladylike (and suspiciously sailor-like) swearing.  Lots. Of. Cursing.  Finally, however, it was done (see Figs 7 and 8).  Please recall I goofily did things in a different order, so the pics show things I haven't discussed yet.
Fig 7 Ribs Trimmed (ruffle is just PINNED on at this stage)
Fig 8 (Close-up of Ribs)
The Ruffle
The next step was the ruffle.  I took the strips cut from the scary blouse (Fig 2) and stitched the ends together to make one loooong ruffle.  I then did a gathering stitch down the middle of the ruffle, so I could pull the thread and gather it a little more, to make it a little more, well, ruffly.  

The brown ruffle was lacking punch, as it was, so I decided to add a very narrow teal ribbon down the middle of the ribbon.  So, after gathering the whole thing, I then pinned and sewed a narrow teal ribbon down the middle of the ruffle (one line of stitching, in the middle of the narrow ribbon).
Fig 7
Trust me when I say that it was tricky to get this ruffle the right length.  Sure, I could have made it longer and then just cut off the excess (oh, 20/20 hindsight) but no, I am a perfectionist, I wanted a minimal overlap.  So I measured the circumference of my umbrella, and measured my ribbon length, and estimated from there.  (end result was I was short a centimeter when I pinned it on, which provoked me to unpin the entire thing and stretch, stretch, stretch ...)  Here are pics of the parasol with ruffle but ribs not trimmed (it was after I'd pinned the ruffle all along the edge, that I started to realize I had to do the ribs before sewing it on).
Fig 8 (showing off the striation)
Fig 9

Yet again, attaching the ruffle to the parasol involved a balancing act of the beast on my knee while using my sewing machine, followed by hand-stitching to finish. 

Garnishing the Ferrule
So, I had to do something with the end, or ferrule, of the umbrella.  I decided to place a mini-ruffle at the base of the ferrule, using the same remnants from the scary blouse, trimmed with blue teal narrow ribbon in the middle.  I used a remnant about half-again as long as the circumference of the ferrule, and did a gathering stitch down the middle.  I gathered the ruffle so it was nice and full, and fit around the ferrule.  I added the teal ribbon down the middle, as with the circumference ruffle.  I then stitched closed the ruffle so it became a little wee roll, or loop of ruffle.  I sewed it so the joining seam would be on the inside.

I attached the ruffle to the ferrule using my glue gun.  I set it on so that the middle of the ruffle was almost at the base of the ferrule, and the ruffle splayed out over the umbrella top, and conveniently hid where the velvet ribbons on the ribs ended.
Fig 10
Next, I decided to add a flower.  I used a teal fabric flower from a cheap hair clip from Ardene.  I used the hot-glue gun to attach a pretty button into the middle of the flower (Fig 11).  
Fig 11
I also used hot glue to attach 2 long teal narrow ribbons to the underside of the flower, gluing the ribbons in the middle to form 4 dangly bits.  I then used hot glue to attach the flower to the ruffle at the ferrule, placing it over the seam in the ruffle loop, to hide it.
Fig 11
Fig 12
Closing the Parasol
Figs 13 and 14, below, shows the parasol, closed using the original umbrella's closing strap.  As you can see, it's very tight - I could hardly close it, because of the thickness of the bobbles and ruffles.
Fig 13
Fig 14

So, I needed to change the strap.  Of course, this SHOULD have been done before adding the velvet ribbon rib-trim, so I could hide the stitching under the velvet ribbon.  Fortunately, I was able to conceal what I did mostly, under the ribbon.

I trimmed the original strap as close to the edge as I could, with sewing shears.  I then cut a length of velvet ribbon long enough to easily and comfortably go around the parasol to close it, without causing stress on the parasol.  I folded one edge over, and where it doubled over, I sewed a decorate button onto the right side of the ribbon.  Immediately under it, I sewed one half of a snap onto the underside of the ribbon.  I determined where the other half should go, to close the umbrella easily, and sewed the other half of the snap to the right side of the ribbon, at that point.  I then hand-stitched the ribbon to the umbrella, where the original ribbon had emerged from the seam, tucking as much as I could under the rib trim to hide it.  Again, this was tricky to hand-stitch, as the umbrella had to be partly open as I worked.  And voila, a much more attractive and functional closure for the parasol (Figs 15 & 16).
Fig 15
Fig 16
Below, find several photos of the final product, in use at Steamcon II in Seattle, WA.

I hope you have enjoyed my little description of how I pimped my parasol.  Please feel free to leave any questions or comments you wish.


  1. Lovely project!

    I have a similar antique umbrella that I've been wanting to likewise "pimp" for ages, but I've never had the gumption to BS my way through it. Thanks so much for the how-to!

  2. Thank you so much for sharing! It is quite lovely.

  3. I loved your parasol so much that I had to make my own and I wrote about the process with links to your post here. I tried to give due credit and I hope that it is alright.