Category Archives: Quotes about sewing

The ABCs of D-R-E-S-S-M-A-K-I-N-G, Part II

One of the most intriguing aspects of couture dressmaking is that the techniques and the sewing procedures have really not changed much in over 60 years, perhaps even longer. There seem to be very few short cuts when it comes to MAKING a quality garment. (And, although sergers are handy and have their place, they are unnecessary – nay, unwelcome, even! – in the world of couture dressmaking.)          Thus we come to our second half of  The ABCs of D-R-E-S-S-M-A-K-I-N-G

M, of course, is for MUSLIN. Although many of my fellow dressmakers around the world refer to this as a toile, in the States we call our test garment a muslin, after the basic cotton fabric, purchased cheaply, which is used for its construction. Once I started taking classes with Susan Khalje, I learned the true value and versatility of this basic part of dressmaking. Subsequently, my muslins are written upon with abandon, torn apart, discarded when too many fitting issues are revealed, and regarded with a certain restraint, for what they can and cannot do. They CAN help you fit your pattern to your particular shape and needs. They CAN be a test run for the construction of your garment. They CAN suggest to you if the design you have chosen is right for you (although not always). They CAN’T mimic the flow and drape and weight of your fabric. So – as always – one needs to use her sewing brain to compensate for the lack of this important detail – and make a best guess as to how the finished garment will actually fit and look.

How many muslins does one dress need? Sometimes, several!

How many muslins does one dress need? Sometimes, several!

A is for ACCURACY. Accuracy in marking straight-of-grain, seams, notches, darts, buttonholes, buttons, center front and center back, fold lines, pleats, tucks, pockets, etc. etc., is absolutely paramount for a successful garment. This is often time-consuming and tedious work, isn’t it? But have you ever had to go back to your tissue pattern to see exactly where a notch or seam junction are? That’s also time-consuming.   I try to do it right the first time, but sometimes I miss. So – I am always striving to increase my accuracy when it comes to marking my fashion fabric.

Just for example, the most important ingredient in making successful bound buttonholes is precise marking.

Just for example, the most important ingredient in making successful bound buttonholes is precise marking.

K is for KEEP. When you have a workable muslin pattern which has been successfully made into a finished garment, and you have notes and diagrams, and suggestions written on it, KEEP it. You never know when you might want to use it again. I think I have kept all my muslins – in large plastic zip-lock bags for the most part – except for one. I could not wait to get the muslin for what I call my Ghost Dress out of my house! I will never make this pattern again! The moral of the story is, Keep the good, discard the bad…

I also like to keep extra buttons, and at least a little bit of extra fabric and trim (if appropriate) for each of the pieces I complete. One of these days, I’m going to put together a notebook of fabric swatches, so that I can keep a record of all these yard goods which have stolen my heart.

I is for INNER WORKINGS. The inside story of any couture dressmaking is a story of attention to details. Interfacings, inter-or-under-linings, linings, seam finishes, bar tacks, waist stays, boning, pad-stitching, even labels (and the list goes on and on) – give your garment a professional look. Skimp on this part of dressmaking and results will be compromised.

Here is just one page from the 1957 Vogue Dressmaking Book which shows some "inner workings."

Here is just one page from the 1957 Vogue Dressmaking Book which shows some “inner workings.”

N is for NEEDLES. Using the correct needles will go a long way in making your sewing experience a pleasant one. I have only recently started using real basting needles for attaching silk organza underlining to the fashion fabric – and what a difference it makes.

These are excellent basting needles!

These are excellent basting needles!

Of course, everyone knows the importance of changing your machine needles frequently. I even find that my hand sewing needles sometimes need to be “retired” if they start to show signs of losing their sharpness – or get a bend in their spines.

All in all, sewing needles are amazing things! The magic within them has been recognized by artists, poets, and, of course, by dressmakers, for centuries. Samuel Woodworth summed up their charms and inextricable human connection in this charming quote:

The bright little needle – the swift-flying needle, the needle directed by beauty and art.”

G is for GET ON WITH IT. Sometimes the most difficult part of dressmaking is getting started. Starting a new project – especially a complicated one, can be daunting, but the only way to get started is to . . . get on with it.

So, there we have it – the ABCs of D-R-E-S-S-M-A-K-I-N-G, a simplified synopsis of a very complicated and diverse undertaking. Dressmaking has it all for those of us who love to sew fine fashions – and find joy in the process.

 

 

7 Comments

Filed under couture construction, Love of sewing, Quotes about sewing, The Conde Nast Publications, Uncategorized

A Fine February Finish

Leap Year, with its extra February day, seemed to be custom made for my sewing schedule. I had hoped to have my gray cashmere coat finished by the end of the month, and thanks to those extra 24 hours, I managed to do just that – barely! I will confess to taking out basting stitches, steaming, and adding two bar tacks to the lining on March 1st (gasp), but now my coat is finished.

A Fine Feb Finish

A Fine February Finish

Photos of me in this coat will be in a future post…

Like Claire McCardell, who said “I believe in a collection of coats,” and coats are “revealing, a clue to your taste, and your knowledge of Fashion,” I also believe that one should not “make a coat too basic.” The unique aspect of fashion sewing is that one can start with a basic (or not-so-basic) coat pattern and then make it her own.

The first owner of this Vogue Designer Original pattern, designed by Guy Laroche, which I used for my coat, had obviously used it. (This isn’t always the case – many vintage patterns are still “factory-folded” and in their unused condition.)

When I purchased the pattern, I had already decided to lengthen the sleeves, which are shown on the pattern envelope as “below-elbow” or bracelet-length. I wanted full-length sleeves as a practical matter. Much to my delight, the original owner had decided the same and had added tissue paper inserts into the sleeve pattern pieces. As it turned out, the length she had decided upon was also exactly right for me.

What a nice surprise to find the sleeves already lengthened!

What a nice surprise to find the sleeves already lengthened!

There are really only a few details I chose for this coat which serve to make it “not basic.” Besides the bound buttonholes (which used to be basic but are not so much anymore!), I put emphasis on the buttons, the lining and a couple of the finishing details.

First the buttonholes and buttons: because the cashmere fabric is coat-weight, I needed to make the “lips” of the buttonholes a bit wider than normal. Once again, I used an organza patch on the underside of the buttonholes, which makes a very nice interior finish:

The line of basting stitches is the fold line - the organza patch is on the facing part of the front edge.

The line of basting stitches is the fold line – the organza patch is on the facing part of the front edge.

Here is the patch ready to be sewn onto the back of the buttonhole.

Here is the patch ready to be sewn onto the back of the buttonhole.

I found these vintage buttons in an Etsy shop. Although they appear to be gray mother-of-pearl, they are actually plastic. The iridescent strip through the middle of each one, along with the square detail on the tops, gave me the idea to arrange them on an angle. I think they add just the right amount of interest to the front of the coat.

The "square" detail on the buttons picks up the design in the lining fabric.

The “square” detail on the buttons picks up the design in the lining fabric.

A Fine February Finish

Using the printed wool challis for the lining certainly elevates this coat to a notch above ordinary. The sleeves are lined with gray rayon Bemberg for practicality’s sake.

An inside out view, trying out the lining.

An inside out view, trying out the lining.

This photo shows a good look at the finished buttonholes, too.

This photo shows a good look at the underside of the finished buttonholes, too.

Of course the detail I love the most is the flat piping I added to the front interior edges of the lining.  As I have said before, doing this is so easy and adds so much.

A Fine Feb Finish

A Fine February Finish

Here is the flat piping stitched in place - so easy!

Here is the flat piping stitched in place – so easy!

The final small detail, which helps the collar to keep its shape, is under-stitching (by hand) on its underside.

A Fine February Finish

So what else did Claire McCardell say about coats? To quote from her book, What Shall I Wear, page 69, “… you can take another step and get a coat and dress that go together—never to be separated, never to be worn with any other dress or any other coat, and always with a special feeling of satisfaction. If you take a little trouble, you may be able to manage a heavy fabric skirt to go with the coat.”  I plan to take that little bit of trouble – a skirt out of the gray cashmere, and a blouse from the printed challis – to complete the outfit, and I will hope for that “special feeling of satisfaction.”

30 Comments

Filed under bound buttonholes, Buttons - choosing the right ones, Coats, couture construction, Dressmaker coats, Mid-Century style, Quotes about sewing, Uncategorized, vintage buttons, Vintage fabric, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, woolens

Does Sewing Make Us Smarter?

Could it be that while we are planning, fitting, pinning, cutting, stitching, (and re-stitching), we are also using skills that can enhance the ability of our brains to process information and solve complex problems?

I have always loved the fact that sewing demands so many different skills and abilities, but I never thought of it as “brain-enhancing” until I read an article with the intriguing title “Which Professions Can Make You Smarter?” (by Sue Shellenbarger of The Wall Street Journal, December 9, 2015: search here.) The author identified five criteria that indicate the activity or job you are doing, can, according to some neuro-scientists, enhance the “elasticity” and cognitive ability of the brain. One by one, as these criteria were listed, I thought of how apropos they are to sewing. See what you think:

1) “You work at tasks that are difficult enough that you make some mistakes.”

As we all know only too well, mistakes are part of sewing. Why else would seam rippers have been invented?  Have you ever sewn a sleeve in backwards or failed to match a plaid? I immediately thought of this blouse which I made a couple of years ago; while sewing the collar/tie to the front of the bodice, I made the same mistake over and over until I finally got it right.

The Necessary Blouse

2) “You have a job [or avocation] that is continually challenging.”

Whether the challenge comes from the pattern you have chosen, the fabric, the fitting issues you are facing, your time constraints, or any other myriad of potential hazards or goals, sewing is inherently challenging. A good example of a sewing challenge is the use of Marfy patterns. With no written instructions, minimal marking on the pattern tissues, and often complex (but very exciting) designs, Marfy patterns are definitely for the dressmaker who relishes a challenge.

Here is a detail from a dress which I made using a Marfy pattern.

Here is a detail from a dress which I made using a Marfy pattern.

3) “Your work lets you progress to higher skill levels, but you are never able to master it.”

I am always amazed at people who, knowing that I have  taken numerous couture-sewing classes, comment to me that I “must know everything there is to know about sewing.”  I find that the more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know. Just take a look at the Table of Contents of this special Designer edition of Threads Magazine from Summer 2014.   So much to learn, and while every piece we finish expands our sewing knowledge – and abilities – we are still humbled by some of the amazing techniques that would take more than a lifetime to master.

Sewing makes us smarter - designer techniques

Click on the image to read the text.

Sewing makes us smarter - designer techniques - 2

4) “Improving your skills is rewarding enough that you want to keep trying to do better.”

I believe this is one of the most important aspects of sewing. The reward of using – and improving – your skills is something you can wear! Although I love a Classic French Jacket, and want more of them because of their wearability, style, and enduring appeal, I have to confess that after making my first one in a class with Susan Khalje, I immediately wanted to make another one to see if I could improve on the first one. Now I have two more in my queue – and yes, it does have at least some small part to do with making each one better than the one before.

I wanted to add working buttons and buttonholes on my second French jacket, so I devised a way to make slot-seam buttonholes. This definitely took some thinking and a bit of nerve, too!

I wanted to add working buttons and buttonholes to my second French jacket, so I devised a way to make slot-seam buttonholes. This definitely took some thinking and a bit of nerve, too!

5) “You have to pay attention to details while solving more complex problems.”

The details in sewing are legend! The darts, the seams, the proper alignment of your fabric, using the correct thread, choosing buttons, marking – well, the list goes on and on and on. We do all of this as a matter of course in our sewing, but we also know that if one of these details is not done well, it can affect the outcome of the entire garment. So, for example, while I am working my way through some complex instructions such as the sheet below, I have to be completing each detail, no matter how simple, with mindfulness and skill.

This is from one of the more complex patterns I have in my collection. It is a Jo Mattli Vogue Designer pattern for a coat and dress.

This is from one of the more complex patterns I have in my collection. It is a Jo Mattli Vogue Designer pattern for a coat and dress.

One of the sewing quotes I love so much is from the great American writer, Nathaniel Hawthorne:

“It is a token of healthy and gentle characteristics, when women of high thoughts and accomplishments love to sew; especially as they are never more at home with their hearts than while so occupied.”

It seems we are also at home with our minds while stitching away the hours.

 

 

31 Comments

Filed under Chanel-type jackets, Love of sewing, Marfy patterns, Quotes about sewing, Slot-seam buttonholes, Uncategorized