While it's been awhile since the last blog article here, when the fire in Bangladesh happened there was no escaping the dark thing that was on everyone's mind -- we all caused it. We are responsible for how our products come to be since we all have to make a living and only the end user can really drive change, ethics and a greater responsibility for purchasing decisions. Now, with more knowledge of all manufacturing processes from food to clothes to electronics, we are, by default, more responsible. There was a time when ignorance was bliss but it's history.
Here's what makes sense now.
There are 3 areas of knowledge that are critical for any quality of life -- food , shelter and clothing. Being able to design and create two, food and shelter, have put many aspiring types on hot social maps, not to mention big careers. In fact, developing a interesting personal "brand" now requires knowledge of a few unusual culinary specialties and certainly the right interior mood or personal space. The idea is to create something original that invites friends to know you in an authentic, pleasing way. In this time of hyper-marketing and social delusion, displaying a honest, creative self is a gift to others.
So it is time. It's time to fundamentally rethink clothing oneself. Working hard to buy something that has become a tangible symbol of cruelty to so many cannot continue to be sustained on a moral, ecological, practical or financial basis. It is time to create your clothes. If you do not sew, this means contemplating a medium learning curve -- there‘s a lot to know. It will take about 2 years to become confident but after that you’ll experience a much deeper satisfaction and freedom to be who you are than you could have ever imagined. It is the third leg of the stool that completes physical living in a very fulfilling way. Being able to choose fabrics, colors, fit and designs that are truly who you are and stop being the end user of a sweatshop industry is tremendously empowering. Like recycling, using alternative energy, supporting organic farmers or public transportation, the time has come when sewing defines you as a responsible world citizen. Our collective future depends on such people to act and create.
If you have children and believe that their quality of life will, as time goes on, be increasingly dependent on developing their self sufficiency, then teach them to sew. Next to food, textile products are one of the most crucial to life. Sewing something will protect the body, create warmth, express personality, save thousands of dollars, calm the soul and develop mentality acuity and manual skills -- not to mention offsetting computer-brain fog and couch potato-itis. The payoff is inestimable and it is life long.
As more is learned about the dangerous and unjust aspects of large scale ready to wear, like the factories in Bangladesh, it is clear that personal sewing is no longer a skill that is part of the past-- it is part of a viable future for humanity. Become an ambassador for this concept. You will realize that a perfect balance develops, like your own clothing bio-system, between how often you make something and how often you need something. It does fit beautifully into a busy life.
To get warmed up to this idea, check out the article, A New World, Tips for Teaching Sewing to Today's Youth, in the June/July issue of Vogue Pattern Magazine, on stands now. And then go to You Can Make It , which helps people who know how to sew teach others in their town. Then there are numerous online sources for DIY such as, Tilly and the Buttons. Search around, solve the problem once and for all. Men too.
Thank you to Katherine Allen-Coleman for her Paper Dress Paris image. See her work here.
Once the New York Times was on board, this item had to move to the front of waiting articles.
Finally!!! The planet is leaving the strange bridal gown world in which strapless, corseted, mega busts are routinely upholstered in heavy fabrics and move like the prow of the ship through rough waters. Thanks to Downton Abbey, new focus on exquisite taste and just plain time for change, the new and better bridal gown is not built on re-bars, features normal proportions and skims the body with lightweight beautifully cut, moveable fabrics. Brides can be beautiful authentic women again, gowned in naturally cut and constructed designs that will be treasures forever, not a rigid uniform for one day.
For the best lesson on the concept check this video from the Times. Then pop over to look again at Draping and Designing With Scissors and Cloth 1920's and 1930's -- 2 volumes which the Downton ladies would have had tucked away when it was time to visit the dressmaker. Then, think it through -- how the bias cut makes clothes and brides so beautiful. And lastly, consider the original surface design of the era in The Art & Craft of Ribbonwork. (P.S. The most fabulous ribbons are found at The Ribbonerie in San Francisco -- call Paulette for the posh details, samples, advice.)
Since my patterns focus on a more organic way of design, let me explain how they are different. For many years I taught fashion and pattern design and studied the methods of Madeleine Vionnet, always waiting until I had the time to develop my own patterns using her concepts. When working this way the focus is on simplicity -- using very few but perfectly placed cuts, very few pattern pieces, a narrow range of fabrics that work on the bias and require little sewing, under support or hardware. Plus, the bias does not ravel, so no edge finishes! This is entirely different from the commercial straight grain patterns which work well with standard size charts and have the conventional front, back and sleeves. The fit and size of CFPD patterns are greatly affected by the customer's own choice of fabrics, the bias grain and the elimination of seams and darts to create a fewer pattern pieces that will drape over more areas of the body with greater comfort. Therefore, giving people confidence that every design will fit a certain standard size is not feasible. It is one reason why Vionnet's work did not adapt well for commercial production.
My philosophy is based upon the very old maxim that the more work the fabric does, the less you do. So I design patterns that are fairly simple to cut and sew yet require fine fabrics, usually in natural fibers, in order to make the garment look and perform beautifully. That way, you will love making them (less frustration), you will love wearing them and want to make them again.
On the question of what fabric works well to make a bias toile (dry run), rayon challis is great. Rayon has the highest specific density of available fabrics and so it will drape heavier and more fluidly than cottons. Use a solid color so you can concentrate on the shape and fit. When I show a design on the mannequin, which is an 8, it is fitting slightly loose because I make everything to fit myself and I am a 10/12 - med. It is difficult to find an affordable larger size display mannequin and I'm not going to make lots of small wonderful clothes only to look at them! I wear everything I make. Plus, clothes shown on dress forms, with no arms, do not look well. I know we can't be all things to all people so I focus on what thrills me and that means I will love to make patterns for a long time.
Recently I have decided to print general size measurements right on each future design and they will appear in the product information section too. Because of the nature of the patterns (fast to make and few pieces, often just one), it is easy to make a dry run out of muslin or an old sheet adding extra wide seam allowances and then make length or width adjustments on the body.
For many of the one pattern piece designs, they can be enlarged by simply adding any amount to all the outer edges prior to cutting, keeping the neck the same -- basically enlarging the pattern equally all around. Make it in muslin first. Baste it up, try it on, adjust fit and then cut off the sleeve or body hems for the best length. In a fabric that works on the bias well, it looks best if it is large enough to drape softly, skimming the body, since the bias keeps it from looking too bulky. To look best, it should fit like the photo on the pattern cover and be in a similar fabric.
One bit of explanation about skill levels --my thinking is that since I cannot be sure that beginners understand the fabric/bias/cut issues, fabric behavior, specific edge finishes or more couture patterning, I reason that it doesn't make a lot of sense to spend hours writing detailed instructions from scratch for every pattern. Therefore, I am almost required to say they are not for beginners.
Hopefully, the more advanced people who find they need some help on a technique, have a good sewing book handy. I do spend more words on anything really tricky. While I make patterns for more advanced skills and unfortunately lack the time or patience to write long directions, I have taught very basic beginners for over 30 years and still do -- hence the reason for many of my direct, hands-on classes in which I can fully explain all the nuances. Learning why and how for the first time is so much better in person!
I hope I have helped everyone understand the sizing and skill level issues and that people will learn that in return for making a muslin once and working in just a few good fabrics on the bias, it's possible to make the design very quickly over and over and it will always look elegant and interesting.
About the choice of designs, I choose designs that I think make women look interesting, alluring, graceful and beautiful for themselves rather than what they are wearing. So I emphasize timeless elegance, closer to the body fit but a minimum tight fit and creasing when worn and I try to bring out the most fascinating behavior of the fabrics. I, like many people who have been at it for awhile, take all my sample yardage from my collection so, luckily or not, I'm not too concerned with the yardage required. I just concentrate on style and I make sure to use all the scraps for scarves, etc. -- I even cover shoes. Sustainability is important.
Since we all must wear clothes, I would like all people to truly understand the kinetic human body and how fabric best works on it in order to make the person look beautiful.
Amazing but there it was -- right on the pages of Vogue which just the month before I had decided not to renew after 40 years. I lost all hope that the necessity to cover our bodies would ever again be based upon reality and not a fantasy trip or something worse. Month after month it had become a magazine apparently designed to keep extraterrestrial photographers going or to be used as a B2B catalog, either way both magazine and clothing customers were the last thought. But the new issue shows the clothes clearly and the clothes are actually ones that can be worn in public -- great clothes that I would even save up for -- and not every model was 12! The bald truth: Fashion leadership depends on teaching fashion, one of every magazine's most important missions. Readers come to learn, understand and adopt. Praise be, Vogue is back in the game. As proof, there was:
The February Vogue is a welcome return to intelligent fashion and good taste, both of which affects careers and take home pay. Millennials, elegance and taste depend on a person's cultural sophistication, never his or her income. The best quote on that subject (sorry, forgot who) goes something like this: "You are dressed well if you can go to the worst part of town and not stand out as superior and then to the best part of town and not be seen as inferior."
Pleated fabrics and the fashion designs that incorporate their unique qualities began with the pleated ruffs of the Renaissance then early folk costume and continued through the elegant era of Fortuny to the exciting couture work of many prominent contemporary fashion designers such as Issey Miyake and Babette and, of course, the beautiful shibori work from Japan. Pleated designs are now greatly accelerated by the heat-setting qualities of many new synthetics, making them washable. Clothing designed with pleated fabrics can solve production issues in sizing since the pleats expand to accommodate physical disproportions or weight changes, making it possible to use small, medium, large sizing instead of standard sizes which means fewer returns and happy customers. Pleated fabrics also offer a wealth of design possibilities since pleats add strength to silhouettes for forming collars and sleeves, for instance, as they stretch; they reflect light in fascinating ways and they skim the body in a smooth line and yet stretch for comfort perfectly -- a joy to wear! How to: Patterns for Pleats.