I think it’s safe to say that the part I like best about recreating ready-to-wear is the pattern drafting step. When I was in high school, I loved geometry, and what’s more, I was good at it. I also loved analytical trigonometry and got a mark of over 90% in grade twelve. Just as a reminder, trigonometry is “… a branch of mathematics that studies relationships between the sides and angles of triangles…” Flat pattern drafting requires all that on top of the creative aspect. I suppose all those angles and calculations are right up my alley!
In any case, as I move into part 2 of my recreation of a low-quality-but-interesting-design shirt, I am moving from design copying to pattern drafting to fabric cutting and beyond.
When we last talked (okay, I did most of the talking), I had slapped a few grainlines on the pattern pieces, trued up the seams and began to think about the fabric.
The original (cheap) shirt was made from polyester, as is the usual fabrication for Light-in-the-Box online offerings. Although it looks relatively good at the outset, these knit polyester garments quickly develop those little pills that we all hate so much. In truth, taking out that battery-operated lint remover that our son likes to call a “sweater muncher” and applying yourself to the removal of said pills, can be rather meditative. And who doesn’t like the finished product? The problem is that with these cheap fabrics, the pills just keep coming back.
Then add on the problem of breathability, or in the case of the top in question, lack of breathability. What you are left with is an interesting, summer-worthy top that I can’t even consider wearing here in Toronto. It’s been over 27 Celsius (80 for the Fahrenheit people among us) for weeks and is only getting hotter, where it will stay until late September or thereabouts. The goal, then, is to reproduce the design in a better fabric.
Forced into online fabric shopping by the virus-that-shall-not-be-named, earlier in the season, I ordered a length of a linen-blend jersey in a cosmetically-enhancing pale peachy-pink.
I had this project in mind for it, and when it arrived, I was a bit hesitant because of how thin it is compared to its original version, although I realized that if I tweaked the sizing downward, it just might work. This, of course, is my main objection f online fabric shopping. I do it, but I always recognize its limitations. I would always prefer to take a walk downtown to the fabric district than shop online, but I’m happy I have the option of online!
As a result of the fabric’s weight and stretch factor, I decided that it was best to cut it out in a single layer.
I know so many people who sew avoid this like the plague, but it is truly the only way to come close to staying on grain with these kinds of fabrics. And I’m sure we’ve all experienced a cheap T-shirt or two that went all wonky after a wash or two. This is usually because it wasn’t cut on the straight of grain.
After cutting and marking, I had the good sense to stabilize the entire dropped shoulder seam with knit-n-stable tape. I also stabilized the portion of the side seams where the ties would be enclosed.
I whipped on my favourite sewing machine piece – my trusty walking foot – and got started. The original had serge—and-turned hems. I decided to take it up a notch and double turn all the hems. I didn’t go all the way to double-fabric-turned ties, though. In a future project, however, I might go the extra mile.
Well, she’s finished now. It had its first outing yesterday as we wound our way through downtown and the University of Toronto campus on our daily 5-7 km walk.
I think it worked out well – at least well enough that I created a final pattern to keep among my collection of GG originals!
This is the second such piece I’ve recreated, and I’ll probably do it again. How about you? Any design copying in your future? Stay safe!
One of the most attractive aspects of making some of my own clothes has always been the opportunity to copy fabulous couture pieces at a fraction of the cost. This was my thought when I embarked on the creation of my first Little French Jacket (LFJ). I loved being able to select some bouclé fabric and silk charmeuse lining, then create a reasonable facsimile of a Chanel-style jacket that cost so much less than an investment in an original.
I loved this process so much that I did it again.
And even Chanel herself was in favour of people copying her pieces.
That being said, there’s another reason for copying ready-to-wear: creating a similar design that I love in a higher-quality fabric. And finding the right technique for creating the pattern is the first challenge. Let me back up for a minute, thought to let you on a dirty little secret.
I actually enjoy browsing on the Light in the Box (LITB) web site and even making a purchase from time to time. Not familiar with LITB? Oh, let me help you with that.
LITB is a Chinese-based web site that sells all manner of objects including thousands upon thousands of pieces of clothing. Think of it as Asian Amazon on steroids with scads of merchandise pieces of often questionable quality. Headquartered in Beijing, it was formed in 2007 and now has web sites in 26 languages and delivers to over 200 countries. So it’s a major player in online retailing.
When we asked our 30-year-old son if he’d ever heard of it (he hadn’t) he spent a bit of (quality?) time on the site after which he said, “I felt as if I’d fallen down a rabbit hole…” That about covers it. If you’re bored and want to lose a bit of time, scroll on over and see how long it takes for you to be swallowed up! Anyway, if you do that, you’ll see why I noticed a few pieces that looked interesting.
Here are a few that I found interesting this year…
Anyway, last year, I actually ordered a piece. Since the site is Chinese, the sizing is a bit different from what I’m familiar with and, in fact, the sizing varies from one piece to another depending on the manufacturer. You really do have to look at the size chart for every piece. But what rarely varies, is the fact that most of the pieces – especially the ones that are so very cheap, which is most of them – are made from polyester. Now, I respect polyester as much as the next person for the characteristics that make it useful – doesn’t wrinkle, endlessly versatile, can have a nice drapey hand, cheap (I did mention cheap, didn’t I?), blah blah blah. And when it’s mixed with other fibres, it can add some value. However, one of the characteristics it decidedly is not is breathable. And this kind of breathability in my wardrobe is essential in summer clothing. So, when I received the top I’d fallen for, I was not at all surprised by its quality. I was surprised that I could have ordered a smaller size. And I especially loved its clever design. So, I decided I’d make a pattern from it and recreate it in a higher-quality fabric.
First up: what technique would I use to copy the pattern?
Last year when I first copied a favourite ready-to-wear piece, the tank top was past its best-by date so I was able to cut it apart and use the fabric as the basis for the pattern.
This time, despite the fabric, I still liked it and wasn’t prepared to cut it apart. Enter the pin approach.
I saw someone do this on a video somewhere along the line but had never tried it. Now was my chance. I took out my old straight-pins that I rarely ever use these days preferring longer pins with ball heads, some banner paper I use for pattern-making and got started.
I laid the top out flat on the paper and began the somewhat laborious task of putting pins in all around the edge of what would constitute the bodice front. These pins went through the edge of the fabric, through the paper, and into the cardboard cutting mat below. You need to have something for the pins to stick into to stay upright. Once I had that piece “pinned”, I took the pins out and was left with the pinholes that formed the basis of the pattern pieces’ edges (without seam allowances of course).
Then it was a matter of connecting the dots and moving on to the next piece.
Fortunately, I selected a design that has only four pattern pieces. This is what I’d recommend you start with if you descried to do this.
Once I had the pattern pieces, I slapped on a grainline and any markings I thought I’d need on them, trued up the seams and was ready to find some fabric. I decided on a linen-blend jersey that I’ll show you in part 2. Stay well!
Let’s get one thing straight up front: I wear pants almost every day of my life. I didn’t always. I, however, love the idea of wearing dresses. And I love to wear a dress to a cocktail party, a wedding (although I have been known to wear a beautiful ivory crepe pantsuit with a silk blouse), and on a hot summer day.
The fact remains that the dresses I have in my closet – of which there are probably too many – don’t get nearly enough wear except when we’re on a cruise somewhere wonderful. I love the freedom of pants. Why then, do I not make them? I make dresses but I don’t make pants. The answer can be summed up in one word: fit.
As far as I’m concerned, pants (trousers for anyone in the UK) like all other pieces of clothing, should fit well. No gaping waistbands, no baggy seats, no draglines. After years of trial and error, I’ve discovered several brands that fit me well. And the idea of making my own jeans? Not ever going to happen. I have found my jean heaven.
Paige jeans fit me very well and although they’re expensive, I’m sticking with them. However, I do like the idea of adding a few pairs of well-fitting pants to my personally-designed and sewn wardrobe. I’d like to take a crack at designing some interesting pant styles. With this in mind, I decided to do some research on different pant styles for women over the years. And those years don’t go back as far as you might think. Women haven’t always worn pants.
Even as recently as 2019, a school in North Carolina (USA) declared that their female students would no longer be permitted to wear pants citing “traditional values” as the reason. Apart from how obnoxious this is on so many levels, it does point our the fact that the wearing of pants by women and girls hasn’t always been acceptable – and still isn’t in some cultures. Historically, pants have been male attire and evolved to meet a need for simple practicality: horse-back riding, ease of movement, warmth in cold weather. These, of course, are all reasons that women wanted to wear pants as well. And let’s not forget comfort and how terrific they can look when they fit well.
You might recall how the Greeks and Romans have always been portrayed in terms of their dress. Everyone, men and women, wore some version of a tunic, or a toga. These were simple garments from a construction perspective: usually swaths of cloth wrapped artfully around the body or in the case of a tunic, a square-shaped piece of cloth with an opening for the head that fell between the waist and the thighs. Sewing would have been so simple in those days! (If it had existed at all.)
The first historical evidence of pants emerging tells us that they were initially developed in China around 3000 years ago to make it less cumbersome to ride a horse. We have to jump almost 3000 years to the nineteenth century to find women wearing pants. Rebellious women in both Europe and North America would take to wearing trousers when they could get away with it, however, it was illegal to do so. And it has to be said that the men made the laws at that time.
The fight for pant-wearing started in earnest in the 1850s – not that long ago. In the 1930s Marlene Dietrich sported pantsuits and got away with it although she was occasionally denied a restaurant table because of her attire. The second World War made pants a practical alternative to skirts in many occupational fields that women had to take up at the time.
Pants didn’t really ever appear on fashion runways until French couturier Paul Poiret designed what we would now call harem pants in 1911. Although that predated Dietrich and the second world war, only very bold fashionistas wore them.
When Christian Dior pioneered his “New Look” in the 1950s, pants lost their new-found prominence that had emerged during the war. He set pant-wearing among women back several decades.
It was the rebellious 1960s when pants came to the fore and we never really looked back (save for those cavemen running the aforementioned school in North Carolina and others like them).
These days, most of us couldn’t function in our daily lives without them, not to mention having the choice to do so. Which brings me to my current project. The perfect pant block upon which to base some future well-fitting designs.
Two years ago, I thought I’d developed one. There were one or two details I was never really happy with but since I’d used the traditional approach to developing it and put the work in, I kept it. But never used it.
Since then, I’ve wanted to copy a pair of comfortable Eileen Fisher pants that I wore to death and are long since gone from my closet as a result. So, I thought I’d revisit the pant block. This time I started with a simple commercial pants pattern that I thought I could adapt.
So, I did some initial tissue fitting then cut them out from a left-over piece of rayon-blend ponte fabric from a dress (another dress) I had recently made. I started by sewing them together completely with a 5 mm stitch in red thread – my all-over machine basting. After the first try-on, it was clear that they were miles too big everywhere but this is where the fun began.
I then started taking them in, one seam at a time starting with the crotch line. Then I tried them on again. Another tweak, this time with a different colour of machine basting until they were darn near perfect. Of course, by this time I had really wide seam allowances which I left in place until I took out the machine basting.
I did the permanent stitching along the final basting lines. Before I removed the basting lines, I transferred all the seam lines to the pattern I had traced out. These seam lines would be the dimensions of the sloper. Of course, I then removed the basting, serged the seams, lowered the waistline (which I then transferred to the pattern) and added a wide, inside elastic band to finish them I generally dislike anything with an elastic waistline but this is wide and subtle and after all, these are really yoga pants. As far as I’m concerned, they’re still a bit wide for ponte knit but this width should work well in a woven. I can always remake the pattern for a narrower stretch fit.
The final step was to transfer the pattern (without seam allowances) to poster board. I then measured for the high hip, low hip, thigh, knee and centre front and back, measurements I’ll need in future pattern-making. When I compared this block to the one I created using the more conventional measurement-to-math-to-pattern approach I learned two years ago, it was close. This time, though, I had corrected the issues I’d had with the original one.
I was anxious to make them up in leftover woven material to check the fit and tweak the back darts but the piece I planned to use wasn’t big enough. I guess I’ll just have to wait until I can pick up a piece of fabric from one of my favourite fabric stores. I just hope they’re still in business when all this COVID stuff is over. Not long now!
every season: fashion pundits cobble together the trends, tips and colours of
the season so that the rest of us might fall into line and get behind those
trends. Personally, I do enjoy seeing the new trends and figuring out which of
them (if any) might actually work in a real life in general, and in my real
life in particular. Add on to that a serious consideration of whether or not I
really NEED any new pieces of clothing, and you find me mulling over my fantasy
fall/winter 2019-20 design inspiration. It’s partly fantasy because I don’t really
need many new pieces and because I prefer style classics, but it’s also partly
reality since I will, indeed, use it to figure out what I will design, make and
buy for the season.
When I say
that I don’t really need any new pieces, I really mean that. Since it’s the beginning
of October and the fall chill is beginning to put the run to summer weight
wardrobe pieces and bare ankles (so sad to see them go, but I do have two new
pairs of boots that I look forward to wearing), I took advantage of some time
over this past weekend to begin the changeover from summer to winter clothing.
Of course, there’s a bit of crossover at this point in the the year. One day
last week hit 27 degrees Celsius (something like 80 degrees Fahrenheit for the
centigrade-challenged), so those cashmere sweaters just don’t cut it.
the great-closet-turnover of the fall season, I discovered that I have plenty
of clothes. In fact, if I went on one of those year-long clothing-buying boycotts,
I’d be okay. I wouldn’t have to leave the house unclothed. But I would really enjoy
a few new pieces. I just have to be judicious about what I buy. For example, I’d
love to have three new coats, but I cannot justify this on several levels.
need more closet space – not going to happen. Second, I’d need to look beyond
black, other wise what’s the point? This isn’t going to happen either because I
live in Toronto and black is de rigeur for the winter. Just take a walk down
Bloor Street past D & G, Holt Renfrew, Louis Vuitton and the like and you
will see a sea of black. Even down on Bay Street among the financial towers.
Black. Yup, everyone is in black. Oh, wait. Do I see a rust-coloured parka?
Well, yes, I do. Rust is fine these days, but still an oddity.
this is where I begin my rumination about this year’s wardrobe.
stop before beginning my own process is to take a look at those fashion pundits
and their narrative about what we will all be wearing this year. I love to
start at the colours.
Pantone (the paint people of all things) seems to lead the way on this front.
Or so they’d like to think. Evidently, this season’s colours include the
…as well as
a few more that are grossly orangey and/or the colour of guacamole. They are
too putrid to even consider on me.
According to Harper’s Bazaar, we should all save our black ensembles for next year in favour of…
Yes, pistachio, shades of purple, bright orange, shocking pink (fuchsia to me) and neon. First, I have to say that in my view only one of these colours could actually be worn from one season to the next. There is only one that wouldn’t cause me to feel slightly nauseated every time I passed a mirror. That colour is fuchsia. It’s a cosmetically-flattering colour and I think it can be worn by lots of people, especially those of us who have embraced our natural silver and platinum locks. So, I think that could be a keeper. My palette this year, then, reflects only a few of the so-called on-trend colours…
… and I’m planning
to use a hearty dose of black and grey to ground the collection. Because that’s
who I am. And it has to be said that Chanel presented a lot of black and white
this season. Love it!
considered the style trends as well. According to Elle magazine, the 90s are
back as are the 70s and 80s. Dear god, do those of us who lived through this
the first time have to be subjected to another dose of Dynasty shoulders and
bell-bottomed pants? In a word, NO! There is an old saying that if you lived
through a fashion trend once and it comes back again, just step away. It’s not
for you. I don’t’ know who said that, but I’m sticking with it. There will be
no bell-bottoms entering my closet. I think that older women are so much more sophisticated
about that “lavender trend” that they talk about? Think about older women, then
think about lavender. What does it conjure up in your mind? Arsenic and old
lace? Lavender-scented, dark, musty rooms? Hankies? Not happening here in my
think the model on the right is wearing a blanket from her grandmother’s sofa,
but I digress.)
The last time I wore a cape was to accompany my prom dress when I graduated from high school. I was sixteen, made both the dress and the matching (*gag*) cape, thought I was something else, and will never wear a cape again. It’s just not me.
however, like that suiting is back. I love tailored jackets and suits. It’s just
that my lifestyle doesn’t’ really require much in the line of suits these days.
I suppose I could wear one when we go out for dinner.
As usual, I’m inspired by Audrey Hepburn and the 1960s style but interpreted in a more modern, grown-up way. So, here is my design board for this season. I’m working on pattern design at this stage and will be using a combination of commercial and personally-designed patterns as I move toward figuring gout what to do with the three or four pieces of fabric I’ve that have inspired me this season. Net time: the fabrics and shapes of the designs.
There’s always more than one way to do something, I always say. And there is nothing more satisfying than learning something new. So, put those two elements together, and I’m looking at a new tool for designing patterns.
When I begin a new design, I always begin with a sketch. New tool or not, that isn’t likely to change. That sketched idea can be inspired by any number of elements like a 1960’s sewing pattern I love, an outfit I saw in a film, a piece of fabric that I just can’t get out of my head. Regardless of its provenance, that sketch is the start. However, up until now, I have only had one approach to getting that sketch off the paper and onto Gloria junior (my fitting mannequin, in case you haven’t met her yet.)
That tool has been flat pattern making. I have a longing to learn draping, and I’ll get to that eventually, but I love the geometry of creating that flat pattern on paper from a variety of numbers and lines (I was that nerd who loved analytical trigonometry in high school and topped the class). Back in January of this year when I shared with you some of the design and sewing-related presents I’d been lucky enough to find under the Christmas tree, I was excited to tell you that I had received Cochenille’s Garment Designer, and this would be my first foray into using computer-assisted design software. Well, I have now finished my first project with this software. Let me begin by saying that understanding flat pattern making makes this particular software far more accessible, and provides you with far more design options. You’ll see why.
One of the things I liked about this program (and the reason I suggested it to my husband as a terrific Christmas present for me), is that the designer’s web site has some very good videos to help me along with getting to know what it can do. I’m not ready for Adobe Illustrator – nor am I prepared to pay the price for it at this point. I just wanted to dip my toe into the water, and this program is a good way to do that. But it does have its limitations. Stay with me here.
This is what I wanted to create a pattern for:
So, after inserting the USB key which is necessary to actually open the program on every occasion that you use it (keep it in a safe and handy place), I began with inputting my own measurements for a personalized sloper.
The program comes with standard sizes programmed in, but what’s the point in a custom design if it isn’t a custom size? I found that creating the simple sloper was just that, simple. I took my basic measurements and plugged them into the program. The more accurate one, which has far more specific body measurements, I have not yet been able to master. However, since my first design is for a knit twin set, the simple, personal sloper would do.
I started with the simple tank that pops under the cropped cowl neck. That was fairly easy to produce a pattern for after I got the hang of their terminology and figured out how to move lines and points for a more custom fit. You can see on the pattern below that I kept the sloper lines visible at all times so I could get to know the amount of ease they have included for various fits: fitted, versus semi-fitted, versus very fitted, for example. The manual does provide this information, but I’m a visual learner and prefer to see it. That way I can tweak it as I like. You can turn that off so you don’t see the sloper (or the grid lines for that matter) but for me, they are very helpful.
Once I had the simple pattern created, I added seam allowances (you can make them any width you like), rendered it as a final pattern (it automatically adds notches etc. at this point) then set it up as a full-size document and printed it like you would a regular pdf pattern – tiled and in need of being taped together.
I had a lot less luck with using this program for my cowl neck. I was able to create a pattern for the cropped main body, with all of the correct measurements, and the raglan sleeves, but I could not find a way to use the program to create the cowl. I could have used their funnel neck, but I wanted the cowl to be a separate piece. If there’s a way to do this with the program I don’t know what it is yet. More to learn, I guess. Anyway, here’s where my flat pattern-making skills came into play. I created the cowl the old-fashioned way.
Here are the things I learned about this program on this first go around:
Their definition of “very fitted” is quite different from my definition of “very fitted.” When I chose this silhouette, I found that they had 4 ½ inches of ease at the waist and 5 ½ inches of ease at the underarm. This is far too much for my conception of “very fitted.” Duly noted.
Their definition of a “wide” neckline is very different from mine. It’s not nearly as wide as I would like so this needs alteration. Obviously, this is all within my control (as is the amount off ease – see #1).
The hems of narrow sleeves are not trued. If I didn’t know anything about pattern making, I would have had sleeves that were too narrow at the bottom to turn up. I simply trued them up and added little bits of paper where needed.
When you create the final pattern here, the sleeve notches are the same on the front and the back. And they are not in the standard location (3’ and 3 ¼’). I had to add them.
Although I also received two plug-in design packages that are extra with the software, I still don’t have access to a large enough variety of necklines. Okay, I can create them, but I did hope that separate turtles and cowls would be inclusions. If they’re there, I can’t find them. Yet.
The program is actually very fun to work with. I enjoyed noodling around with a few other designs and have found them to be a very good fit. The program’s designer mounts webinars every so often, and I think that this little program can do a great deal more than I have figured out yet. I plan to take a few of the courses (they are $25 each it seems and come up periodically – you need to be on their email list).
So, at this point, I will continue to play around with it (in fact I already have a mock-up of a princess-seamed, zipper-front jacket which I’ll show you at some point) to see how much more it can do than I have figured out yet. But I still love my flat pattern-making!
I have made garments following every instruction on a commercial pattern down to the smallest detail. I have made garments using a commercial pattern but using my own approach to process. I have tweaked commercial patterns. I have used commercial patterns for the foundation for personal designs. I have designed patterns from scratch using only my own drawings. But I have never done this before. I have never actually copied a ready-to-wear garment.
In my “other” life, I’ve spent a lot of my time writing, teaching and thinking about ethics. And the very notion of copying something that someone else created has never really sat well with me. Stealing intellectual property comes immediately to mind. That being said, most design these days, barring the most outrageous (and even some of them) is in some way derivative of something else. Sometimes it is simply reminiscent of another era, but often the designers seem to have a type of groupthink in a season where shapes and colours all seem to have come from a single mind. So, is there really anything that is truly original in fashion design these days?
I had that conversation with myself when I was thinking about a fairly practical issue. How could I get myself another version of a sleeveless T-shirt that I absolutely loved when the original producer was no longer making this design? The only answer would be to copy it.
Years ago, I bought a Landsend T-shirt that turned out to be one of my very favourites. You know the type of garment I’m talking about. It’s the one that you didn’t see coming. It’s the non-descript little piece that you find yourself turning to every time the weather/season/event begs for one. Yes, you have others in your closet, but this one feels terrific, fits well and just makes you feel good. You should have bought three, but who knew that you’d love it so much. So, the day comes when you look at it and think, “I can’t really be seen in public in this anymore. It’s too worn/old/holey…” Pick one, or in my case too faded. It was a black cotton jersey which, as we all know, fades miserably over time.
So, I went online to see if Landsend had them and of course, they no longer existed. So, the question was, could I recreate it and perhaps tweak the design a bit to make it even better. Well, as much as I hated the thought of cutting the thing apart, I knew I’d never wear it n public again, so I took out my trusty sheers and got to work.
Making the pattern would be quite easy, I thought, but what would I actually make it out of? I knew I didn’t want a fade-prone black jersey again. And I know how much I love bamboo jersey. So, I wondered if I had enough of the black-striped grey that I’d used on another faux-wrap top. And I did! My newly updated faux-wrap sleeveless T design was coming together. Of course, the bamboo jersey has more stretch than the cotton jersey, so I figured that I’d probably have to tweak it a bit smaller – I was right.
Once I had all the pieces for the T cut apart, I trimmed them, pressed them and laid them out on pattern paper. I traced the pieces, added seam allowance and notches, trued the seams, decided where the shirring on the faux wrap should be (it had always been lower on the seam than I thought it should be), labeled everything and got ready to cut out the fabric.
The one thing I had to really think about was how I was going to finish the neckline and armholes. The original had binding. I wasn’t keen on that. I wanted a softer finish. So, I found that simply doing a double-turned and stitched hem was the answer.
I’m delighted at how it turned out.
The question is: is this really a copy or is it my own new design inspired by the original? The fabric choice is very different, so the T fits better. The designed was tweaked. Is it mine or is it theirs? In the end, does it matter? As far as I’m concerned, Coco Chanel can have the last word… Imitation is the highest form of flattery. I hope the original designer of this T is flattered. It’s meant sincerely.
And so, my *Little Black Dress project is finally (!) coming to a close. Well, maybe that’s rushing things a bit since I have three really well-fitting muslins for three different dresses all of which would make terrific little black dresses. [I actually did four but eliminated one fairly early on.] And yet, how many classic dresses does one really need? The whole point of the perfect LBD in my view is that it is so versatile it can be dressed up or down, so timeless that it never goes out of style, so comfortable you enjoy wearing it everywhere, and so well-fitting that you need only one. But…well, I’ll start with one.
Before I get to the current process, I just need to mention that my absence from my “atelier” is not because of any loss of interest in creating or writing, rather it’s because I’ve been to Asia. The trip was unimaginably fabulous! There were some style and fabric aspects (I had a custom silk jacket done for me to wear with my LBD and more), but mostly we just visited Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, The Great Wall of China, then Hiroshima, Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo in Japan. But all of that’s for another blog space entirely. (FYI my husband and I blog about all things travel at www.thediscerningtravelers.com). Anyway, I’m back in the atelier and at the computer, designing, sewing, and writing blogs and books. So, the LBD.
I have decided in a fit of narcissism that I really liked my own design best, at least for the first dress. So, I have gone back to the muslin of LBD #4 to begin the process. Of course, this means that I actually have to create a pattern since it’s not a commercial one. The truth is a LOVE pattern-making.
My process begins with a final fitting to see where the pattern might need tweaking (my darn shoulder slope did need a bit of a tweak), then sitting at the cutting table to cut it apart. I remember the first time I cut apart a muslin (I was making my first Little French Jacket). It almost broke my heart – I had become quite fond of that ugly piece, because it fit me! Anyway, I’m a bit less emotional about the process at this stage of my design/sewing career, but I’m still just as careful. These pieces will be the foundation of my perfectly fitting LBD.
I then take those muslin pieces to the ironing board and go at them with both the iron and a lint brush. Then I’m ready to make the pattern.
I decide not to use couture techniques – rough butting directly from the muslin, thread-tracing seam lines etc. – mainly because of my fabric choice for this first dress. Did I mention the fabric choice dilemma?
I had thought I’d be using a high-end wool-blend fabric, underlining with silk organza and lining with silk charmeuse. However, I haven’t found that perfect fabric yet. I will, but in the meantime, I found a textured crepe knit that will provide me with a dress that can also travel well because, as you’ve probably figured out, I do a lot of that, too.
The fabric, as you can see, doesn’t actually beg for couture techniques. In fact, now that I’ve fallen in love with my serger (more about my former distaste for serged finishes in a future post), I’m going to use it for interior finishing. I know – I should be slapped. Bottom line: I’m making a paper pattern.
Since the last made-from-scratch pattern design I did, I’ve discovered a new gadget, a tool. I’m sure I’m late to the party but when I discovered the double tracing wheel, I thought: why haven’t I know about this? The truth is that I’ve seen them before on Amazon. You know when you buy something there they give you a list of related items others have bought? I had taken a passing look at it, but I just never figured out what I’d do with one – mainly because they show it flat in a package rather than in action with the wheels actually pointing in the direction they’re meant to go in. Anyway, I thought that this would be perfect for marking the cutting line outside my seam edges.
So, I trace my muslin seam lines onto paper and begin to use the double tracing wheel to mark cutting lines. The problem is that the tracing wheels themselves don’t have a serrated enough edge to transfer to the paper visibly. So, what to do? I pull out my large sheets of waxed tracing paper and mark the cutting line on the back of the pattern. Voila! I just cut the edges from the back-side markings and I have my pattern pieces ready! It has changed my life! No more going around the pattern with my ruler making little marks that I then join up to make a cutting line. Genius!
Now I just need to find a bit of time to cut the darn thing out, mark it and baste it together.
There is something deeply satisfying about reaching the successful conclusion of a project that has been planned carefully and executed systematically taking the time along the way to get it right. Well, I have just completed my first start-to-finish personal G.G. design and I’m pretty happy with how it turned out.
Unlike my deep, dark past when sewing meant getting to the finish line before the deadline, my year-long foray into slow sewing (…from fast sewing to slow…), my present sewing self is much more interested in taking on projects that will teach me something. To say that this project has taught me something would be a serious understatement.
It all started last year when I decided that now was the time to begin fulfilling a long-standing dream of mine and begin to learn something about fashion design. I decided to begin with learning flat pattern-making. This would have two important outcomes: first, I would be able to actually design something that could be sewn together; and second, I could find that elusive perfect fit.
As you probably already know, this meant beginning with a Craftsy class (or three) delivered via video by instructor Suzy Furrer. I began with creating my own sloper developed from a personal moulage – the moulage which I eventually used to create my personalized dress form. The sloper then became the basis for learning the first steps in design – baby steps, the first of which was dart manipulation to create different style lines. Then it was on to learning how to create different necklines, collars and closures, then finally a sleeve that would fit me and any bodice I might create. It was at that point I decided it was time to plunge into my own first design.
I’ve noticed that many people choose a very simple “pop-over” type top for their first project. I wanted to challenge myself a bit more so designed something that would fit my summer, downtown kind of lifestyle. It would have to be sleeveless; it would have to have a collar; it would have to have a front placket. And so I began sketching.
As I mentioned in my last post, the design actually evolved through the process; this was a situation that I had not anticipated, but I suspect is more the norm with “real” designers. The initial concept has to be tested to see if it actually works and has the aesthetic that you’re looking for.
I started with an idea which became the sketch.
…which became the toile…
…which resulted in a few new ideas…
…which became the final pattern…
…which was then cut from my cotton/polyester, linen-look fabric and sewn into the final garment…
…which is now awaiting the perfect day for its first outing!
I have a couple of other small projects on the go now: I’m challenging myself to use up some left-over fabrics, so I’m doing a commercial project and a simple new design. Then I begin my third Little French Jacket project. Who wants to sew that one along with me? Hmm?
I love the idea of having a collection of clothes designed and fitted specifically for me – clothes that suit my lifestyle and my aesthetic, and fit me to perfection. The only way that this is happening is if I do it myself. First and foremost, though, I know that everything starts with an idea. And in spite of the fact that I think I know what I want, when it comes to putting pencil to paper and creating that first series of sketches, I’m not so sure that what comes out in the end will be any different than what hangs on the ready-to-wear racks. Or maybe it will. I just need to give some thought to how this creative process plays out.
Some years ago I developed and taught an undergraduate university course in creativity as applied to corporate communications. It was such fun and my students absolutely loved it. We spent a summer school semester exploring how that creative process works and what it means to be a creative person. I created for them a complete workbook for the course (maybe I should publish it!) which guided all of us through various ways of looking at creativity and processes for tapping into our potential. Here is what the introduction to the workbook said:
“You should have figured out by now that before you can “create” anything – whether it is a brochure, an academic paper, or a new recipe for frittata — something happens in your mind first. So, you need to start thinking about what Freud said: “Insanity is continuing to do the same things and expecting different results.” Put those two ideas together and you may begin to understand that you first have to change the way you think about things if you expect to come up with new, imaginative and creative approaches to anything – whether it is solving a client’s PR problem, writing a song or choreographing a new dance.”
And in the margin I had placed the following quote from Julia Cameron, the author of The Artist’s Way (a book I highly recommend):
No matter what your age or your life path, whether making art is your career or your hobby or your dream, it is not too late or too egotistical or too silly to work on your creativity.
…so now it seems that I need to take my own advice. I started by considering how some of my favourite designers (Diane Von Furstenberg, Eileen Fisher, Karl Lagerfeld, Erdem & Smythe – an eclectic collection to be sure!), might approach the process. My research led me to the following conclusions:
Fashion designers are inspired continually by the world around them.
There is nothing magical about their creative processes.
I happened upon a video – a TED talk – that designer Isaac Mizrahi gave a few years back where he describes his own process. One of the ways he is inspired is what I call creative cross-training. He doesn’t’ call it that, but I always called it that for my students and myself. Here’s what he said…
For me, creative cross training means pursuing different creative pursuits and allowing them to feed one another. Just last year I wrote a guest blog post called Finding Writing Inspiration in Creative Cross-Training for a writer friend (I think I might just have outed myself in my other life and persona!). As I describe in the post, I stumbled on the idea when I signed up for a sketching course many years ago with the idea that I could improve my observational skills. I hoped that these would contribute to my writing. Well, they did, but I also discovered that I was actually finding not only improved observational skills, but also inspirational ideas. So, Isaac performs and designs and does other creative things. I write (various things), design, sew and do a bit of sketching. So, back to how other designers get their ideas.
As I surfed through various articles about where individual designers find inspiration, a number of themes emerged. Here is a list of places that were mentioned again and again…
on the street
listening to music
reliving lost personal memories
…and for me, I’m inspired by my own lifestyle. In fact, the first completely-me-created design that I have been writing about for the past few posts, seemed to be completely the result of wanting a nice piece that would withstand a day of walking in the heat of summer in the city.
As of today, I have cut out and begun sewing the final garment. But here’s a bit of a refresher about how it evolved…
I’m going to start being more observant and keep journals for design the way I have been doing for years for my writing. I’m excited to see where it takes me!
Here are some of the online places I visited for my research.
I can’t remember exactly when it was I decided that I wanted – no, needed – to learn to draft my own patterns. In my past sewing experiences, I confined my own designing to making changes in commercial patterns. You know: you change a sleeve, or tweak a collar, you make creative fabric selection, or ditch a zipper. In the end you believe it is truly yours. Well, that’s okay, but it does limit creative expression, and when I found myself continually having to tweak commercial patterns for fit, that’s when I realized I really needed to create my own patterns. So I started the courses to learn.
After a year of following several courses, creating a personal bodice sloper from a personal moulage, then learned a thing or two about operations necessary for creating patterns from that sloper, I finally created my first pattern. By the end of my last post I had completed the final muslin for my first totally self-designed pattern, and was ready to embark on creating a muslin for the commercial pattern that was also in contention for a particularly nice piece of shirting fabric. Here’s how that process went.
When I first clapped eyes on McCall’s 7546 earlier this spring, it was the sash that drew me to it. I like the idea of tailored shirts with body-conscious shaping. My own design this spring incorporates that idea, but does it differently.
First, my own design has princess seams.
Although 7546 looks as if it has princess seams, it really has slashed darts from the armholes that end some distance above the hem in both front and back.
The sashes are also different. The one I designed is sewn into the side seams leaving the back unencumbered. The McCall’s pattern has a wider sash that originates in the back seam resulting in a bit of a bulge – at least it was in unbleached cotton. I could only hope that it would be smoother in a smooth shirting fabric.
The necklines are also quite different as you can see. My own design has a mandarin collar – a design I love. The commercial pattern has an open collar with a collar stand. And of course, the sleeves in the dueling designs are so very different: my own is sleeveless, while the McCall’s has full-length sleeves with a cuff – one version with a so-called cold shoulder, the other without.
It was not in any way the cold-shoulder sleeves that attracted me to this pattern. This design feature is certainly ubiquitous in spring/summer 2017 ready-to-wear, and I have to say its popularity puzzles me a bit. Maybe it’s the Toronto weather: too cold in winter for cold-shoulders, too hot in summer for any sleeves at all. Anyway, I did buy one this year, but I’m not really sure where I’ll wear it other than on a cruise through the Panama Canal this fall. I never wear prints, and on pain of death avoid the “boho” look. Wonder what got into me? Anyway, I decided that I’d make up one of those sleeves when I created the muslin. Hmm. That was interesting.
So many sleeves, so little fabric! I decided that in the interests of making a decision, and the fact that I was unconvinced about the cold-shoulder, I should cut and sew two different sleeves for this test garment.
I first cut and sewed the cold-shoulder with the cuff, then drafted up a three-quarter length sleeve using the armscye of the pattern and my own sleeve sloper – since the sleeve from the pattern seemed a tad wide for my arms in any case. So here’s what I got on the first try.
The cold-shoulder sleeve was hideously large, gaping even more than the photos show. My own ¾ sleeve, on the other hand, wasn’t so bad. But it didn’t seem quite finished. So I unpicked them both and cut the commercial sleeve without the cold shoulder. I also re-drafted my own slightly shorter and a tad wider to accommodate an external facing. Here’s what these two looked like.
So here I am, having to make a decision before cutting into the Mood fabric. I really loved my own design – the look and the fit. But I realized that the fabric might not be the best for it. So the winner is: the commercial pattern. But I’m making it with my second three-quarter length sleeve. So, I guess it’s my own design? Not so much.
I have cut it out and begun to sew, but I’m off to the Toronto garment district this week to find the perfect fabric for my own design!