Posted in Fashion, Fashion Design, Style, Style Influencers

Inspiration for designing my wardrobe

ideaI 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):the artists way cover

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:

  1. Fashion designers are inspired continually by the world around them.
  2. 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…

  • books
  • movies
  • on the street
  • observing people
  • doing research
  • just sketching
  • listening to music
  • reliving lost personal memories
  • travel
  • architecture
  • interior design
  • nature
  • history
  • art
  • historical figures

…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…

SS0117 composite_edited-1

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.

 

The Secret Journey of a Fashion Piece — Part 1: Creativity & Design https://www.businessoffashion.com/articles/intelligence/secret-journey-fashion-piece-part-1-creativity-design

Isaac Mizrahi: Fashion & Creativity. TED Talk. https://www.ted.com/talks/isaac_mizrahi_on_fashion_and_creativity#t-832215 a bit about creative cross-training…although he doesn’t call it that. A bit about how fashion designers have to be a bit bored.

Where Some Designers Get Their Ideas. Time online. http://content.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1534892,00.html

33 Things That Inspired Fashion Designers and Their Collections http://www.instyle.com/awards-events/fashion-week/new-york/fall-2017-designer-inspiration

Posted in Fashion Design, sewing, Style

Dueling patterns: Commercial or my own design?

A couple of months ago I found myself with a free hour to wander by myself up and down the aisles of Mood Fabrics in Los Angeles. I perused all the aisles first, then zeroed in on the two or three that were home to the fabrics I was actually on the hunt for. I am not a fabric hoarder in any way. The mere thought of a so-called “stash” makes me gag. (As I’ve said before, that’s just me – no judgment – I know others feel differently, very differently!). This stems from my and my husband’s inclination for quality over quantity in as many aspects of our lives as we can manage. That means fewer clothes, a little less wine and even fewer pairs of shoes – but every one of better quality than we might otherwise accumulate. This philosophy even governs our travel: we travel less often than many of our friends, but always in style – no economy seats on long flights, that’s for sure! Well, this is how I shop for fabric.

Anyway, as excited as I was about the surfeit of wonderful fabrics – there were dozens of silks, linens and wool bouclés I adored – I stuck to my little pink book where I had specific patterns and their requisite yardages. I only buy when I know I have a project. One such project was a bit hazy, though.

theory blouse
The Theory blouse at Saks, summer 2016 collection that inspired me

I had a picture in my mind of a sleeveless Theory blouse that I had considered last summer at Saks. It was, however, a whopping $385.00 CDN which, even for someone obsessed with quality, is a bit steep for a blouse. So, I reluctantly put it back on the rack, concluding that given what it was and its potential price-per-wearing, it was past my point of diminishing returns. But I never forgot it.

 

With the concept of the blouse still in my head, I searched the shelves for white, textured shirting to see if anything caught my eye. It did. So, against my own rules, I bought it without an actual pattern in mind. When I got home, though, I found what I thought might be the perfect pattern.

McCall’s 7546 isn’t even sleeveless, but it has of-the-moment- bare shoulders at the top of its long sleeves. It does have that tie, even if it is a bit wide and long, sewn as it is into the back seam. So, I prepped the fabric by washing, drying and ironing, then began to think about tissue-fitting and cutting a muslin. But there was something nagging at the back of my mind.

I’m ready to design my own blouse, I was thinking. I had learned to draft a bodice for a blouse, how to draft necklines and collars, how to create button plackets, and I was certain that drafting a tie that was set into the side seams would be a piece of cake. I was ready. So I started sketching.

My own version of the sleeveless, tie-front blouse has that front placket, but it also has princess seams in the front and back and a mandarin collar. I just love a mandarin collar (and have a plan to draft myself a cheongsam someday). Anyway, I thought why not draft the pattern then cut and sew muslins for both of the patterns? Why not make it a bit of a competition (where I get to be the judge and decide which one will have the privilege of being cut from my Mood fabric)?

So, I started drafting a pattern then cut out both patterns in muslin. Then I started sewing.

Of course, with my own pattern, I knew I’d likely need at least two test garments to get it just right. I needed two. The second one fits perfectly, and although the muslin is stiffer than the fashion fabric, the tie isn’t bad. However, I actually think I like it better without the tie at all! I guess that’s part of the design process.

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So, here’s where I am in the duel of the commercial versus self-designed patterns: I have now completed a muslin for my own design and it’s ready to rip apart to make the final pattern. But before I do that, I’m working through the muslin for the McCall’s pattern. I want to see the two of them side-by-side. At this point, I do have a contender in mind for the prize fabric, but I’m not quite there yet.

Next week!

Posted in Fashion Design, sewing, Style

Style inspiration: The 1960’s in the 21st century

I’m not sure why, but I’m really inspired by the styles of the 1960’s. I’ve been collecting inspirational vintage patterns on a Pinterest board for some time, and when I look at them I’m struck by a few design elements that seem to emerge again and again.

As I examine these shapes, I see that there is a certain neckline style that immediately appeals to my personal aesthetic. So, it isn’t at all surprising that I was attracted to Vogue 8886 on a recent online pattern-buying spree. It has that very retro feeling without being truly vintage – I’m not a vintage kind of gal in any way, shape or form. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t swoon over clothing from earlier eras from time to time. I just like to think that I can take elements from them and make them contemporary. So, I embarked on this sewing project hoping it would be just that kind of outcome. Well, it is – sort of.

First, this was the subject of my rant about fitting the bust. I made the mistake of thinking that I had to cut the larger cup size (which Vogue handily made available in the pattern envelope). Never again. I had to do a bit of research to understand that even if I measure a D- cup, the fact that it is a 32-D and not a 38-D makes the need for that fuller bust change entirely moot. *sigh* Well, I’m now over it.

I actually finished the top. It now fits quite well (although as usual it is probably not quite form- fitting enough since I tend to be frightened of the possibility of anything being too tight), and it is divinely comfortable. The problem is – if you must know – that the very thing that inspired me to buy the pattern and sew it up is the very thing that bothers me. It’s about the neckline.

When I first laid eyes on the pattern, it looked to be a raised boat neckline. A bateau and the Sabrina, a variation on the bateau, is probably my very favourite neckline.

sabrina neckline
Audrey in that Sabrina neckline first designed just for her!

I think it is über flattering on most women, and especially on me. I thought that the banding just made it even nicer. The problem is that the band isn’t a band at all – it’s a large, fold-over collar.

 

vogue-8886-sleeve-variations

Right from the cutting out, this surprised me, but I thought, how big can it be? When I made up the toile, I had my answer: big. But I decided to persevere. It didn’t look too bad on me, I thought. In fact, I thought it might be quite nice. So I completed it as designed. But now I’m left wondering where and when I’ll ever wear it.

At this time of year when it should be the most appropriate kind of thing to wear, it occurs to me that it doesn’t fit well under a coat or blazer (it’s really bad under a blazer), and it’s too cold to go without a coat yet. Once it’s warm enough to go without a coat, it will be too wintery to wear.

My lesson here is that I need to examine the line drawing on the patterns I buy more carefully before putting my money down. I worked hard to get this pattern to fit and thought I’d make it again as a dress, but there is still that collar. I might try making it up without a collar at all, but I might as well draft my own boat neck that is ideal for me and not take a chance on this commercial pattern again. You live and learn!

I still think I can make some 1960’s style elements work in the twenty-first century, though!

Posted in Fashion Design, sewing

A sleeve sloper at last: May I begin designing now?

With a well-fitting bodice sloper for woven fabrics (OK the first well-fitting one wasn’t so well-fitting after all, but the current one is!), enough dart manipulation and neckline knowledge to be dangerous, and a passing familiarity with creating front closures for blouses and jackets, I should be ready for my first major design project. Well, not quite. Sleeves, I need sleeves.

vintage sleeve pattern 1950s
Vintage McCall’s pattern featuring so many sleeve variations. I think they should come out with a modern one!

So after my vacation and the thrill of planning new projects that I’ll get to over the next few months, I had to get back to my basic sloper work and draft a woven sleeve sloper. But before I get to that, I thought it would be fun to look at some interesting tidbits about sleeves and their history.

 

Did you know that during the middle ages sleeves were cut straight out from the main bodice of the garment with a triangle of cloth added as a kind of gusset underneath for ease of movement? It seems that sometime in the 14th century the rounded sleeve cap was developed paving the way for our modern notion of set-in sleeves. Just as an aside, I think that in sewing, learning to set in a sleeve to perfection is one of the first things newbies ought to get. I mastered that one many years ago but I still find setting in sleeves in my test garments in muslin annoying. The fabric I use is so unforgiving even the slightest hint of a pucker shows! But I digress…

Sleeves are functional: they protect our arms from sun, wind and cold weather. But they are also fashionable. When we see clothing from the 1920’s it’s clear to us that it’s actually representing that era, for example. But if you look at the sleeves on their own, you can see how these sleeves might be incorporated into a modern design aesthetic.

sleeves 1920s

On the other hand, sleeves that were clearly in style during the Renaissance, for example, might have a harder time finding their way into twenty-first century clothing. Although, maybe someone might like a medieval-looking wedding gown? Sleeves have come a long way I think.

 

I used what I have been learning from Craftsy’s Suzy Furrer as I continue along this pattern-making learning path. She provides quite a detailed, professional approach to drafting and so I dutifully measured the arm elements – with a little help from my husband who is a meticulous measurer.Then armed with pencils (erasers), rulers, curves and all manner of other drafting tools, I set about following her instructions.

First, though, I had to draft a blouse/dress template from my bodice sloper since ease has to be added for this kind of garment. I was very pleased with the fit of the mock-up I created with this new template and actually deiced to put it on poster board for blouse creation in future. That way I won’t have to begin with my sloper itself – I already have a template with that ease – and which has the sleeve sloper fitted.

suzys perfect sleeve sloper
Suzy Furrer’s perfect sleeve sloper from my course notes. It illustrates the drafting points but doesn’t include the forward slope for the elbow that has to be added.

 

The first mock-up of the sleeve was, to my great distress, not perfect. It had a great fold of fabric at the front while the back fit perfectly. I had the sense to set in only one sleeve so was able to mark the changes on the first sleeve, cut it out of the bodice and use it to redraw the second sleeve (which I had already sewn together – seam ripper to the rescue). My plan at that stage was to suck it up and start the sleeve sloper draft all over from the beginning if the second one wasn’t perfect. But it was! Advice for sleeve sloper development: test slopers one sleeve at a time.

sleeve progression
From toile to draft #2 to final sloper on poster board.

 

With that done, I cut apart the entire toile and used it to create the blouse/dress/sleeve sloper set. I’m closer to designing my first blouse or dress than I have ever been!

IMG_1787
My final set of blouse/dress template and sleeve sloper.

 

[PS I highly recommend the pattern drafting classes offered online by Craftsy.com. And I don’t get paid to endorse them. I just think they offer a good product at a very reasonable price.]

Posted in Couture Sewing, Fashion, sewing, Style

In the ‘Mood’ for Inspiration: A fabric store mecca and other sewing muses

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust

I’ve just returned from a three-week sojourn that took us from cold Toronto to sunny Los Angeles and onward to San Diego, Yuma, Tucson, Phoenix, Scottsdale and finally Vegas. The minute we determined that we’d begin in LA this year, I began thinking about Mood Fabrics and wondering how I could wangle a solitary hour there. Well, I did. And I came away inspired. Before I left, however, I had to figure out how I’d best use my hour alone in fabric heaven.

First, if you’ve come along with me on any of my previous sewing adventures, you know that I don’t “stash” fabric (how I hate that very idea), rather I concentrate on quality over quantity and really dislike the idea of hording cheap fabrics. (No judgment here: it’s just not for me.) I love the idea of choosing quality fabrics and taking my time to complete projects in a way that ensures a garment I’ll love for a very long time. Mood Fabrics is just such a store to find those treasures. So, I first thought I’d take my list of planned 2017 projects and focus on finding just the perfect fabrics. Then I thought if I do that, I’ll miss seeing everything else. So I took Proust’s advice and stepped away from the seeking just to look.

mood fabrics la
The Mood Fabrics first view is of bolt after bolt of bridal silks, satins & laces!

 

As I walked in the store I thought I’d died and gone to fabric heaven. I was immediately surrounded by quality silks, linens, shirting, tweeds – in short all the fabrics I love to work with and wear. It was a bit like stepping into my own favourite Toronto garment district fabric store, but on steroids. No vestiges of the chain-store fabrics anywhere in sight. I loved it. So I meditatively walked all the aisles looking, feeling, enjoying.

Once I had navigated the store this way, I then decided to take out my notebook and go back to a couple of aisles that had really caught my imagination. [Anyone who knows me realizes that I’m a digital person for most of what I do, but Moleskine notebooks are part of my life all the time!] The first stop was the silk aisles where I bought some beautiful silk organza to underline a couture dress project in an as-yet-unselected fabric (I’m going to take Susan Khalje’s course).

[My little Moleskine notebook was ready to serve!]

Then I went back to the cotton shirting aisle where the choices were almost overwhelming. I knew I needed two fabrics that could go together, and that I wanted black and white. I also hate most prints unless they are geometric, so zeroed in on stripes. In addition, I wanted a tone-on-tone white cotton shirting for a new spring project. I came away delighted with my purchases (I also picked up a new awl for my pattern-making and a bias tape maker because I’ve always wanted to use one!).

Later on the trip my husband and I wandered into the Phoenix Art Museum (like you do) without especially high hopes only to discover a true treasure: the most fascinating contemporary art collection we had ever found, the world’s largest collection of extraordinary southwestern American art (as you would expect), and an unexpected treasure: the last day of a fashion exhibit. I was so excited.

“Eye on Fashion: The Kelly Ellman Collection” was a room full of extraordinary vintage clothing donated to the Museum’s archives by collector and museum supporter Kelly Ellman. There were over 600 pieces representing many eras of twentieth-century fashion from Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel to World War II fashions with a bit of the 1960’s in between (including a display of those notorious paper dresses from the 60’s).

I find these kinds of exhibits truly inspiring. I look at the overall design – what I like about it, what I don’t – then move in to see details of design and construction, always considering how I might incorporate these into future projects.

[Details, details!]

A few years ago I attended a Valentino retrospective at Somerset House, a small museum near the Thames in London. At the end of the runway portion there was a video exhibit of a variety of couture techniques employed in the couture house and that was really an eye-opener.

valentino

[The Valentino exhibit. Of course, I didn’t take it. We weren’t permitted to take photos 😦  Photo credit: http://www.ella-lapetiteanglaise.com/valentino-master-of-couture-at-somerset-house/%5D

Well, now that I’m truly inspired, it’s time to get back to my two unfinished projects (including completing my sleeve sloper). Won’t be cutting into the new fabric for a while yet! Is that a stash? Yikes!

Posted in Fashion Design, sewing, Style

Learning to manipulate darts

I’ve been thinking a lot about darts this week. That’s likely because now that I have a well-fitting bodice sloper, I need to start learning what to do with it if I want to design a few of my own creations. I could just do a bit of online research and plunge in head first, using trial-and-error to guide me, but I prefer to begin with another course from an instructor who knows what she’s doing and is willing to answer questions: I signed up for Suzy Furrer’s course on dart manipulation. So, I started the course and sewed up a few of the mock-ups for practice (I’ll get to that in a bit). As they sat there on Gloria junior (my dress form), I stared at them and began to wonder if darts were actually a part of my life. To find out, I rummaged through my closet.

What I discovered was quite eye-opening for me. Darts and I hardly ever co-exist! Try as I might, I could find very few items in my closet that have darts. I seem to be a no-dart-knit-wearing woman. What I found was that I had a few tailored jackets with darts and little else.

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One of the few pieces in my closet that actually has darts: front French darts, back neck and waist darts. Fits like a glove!

Over the years I have always thought that if I had to describe my personal style in a single word it would be “tailored.” My go-to work clothes ran to tailored suits with structured jackets in the early years when we were much more formal in our work attire, to more recent years when those jackets gave way to crisp white shirts from Brooks Brothers with jacket-style sweaters. So, would I actually use these dart manipulations I’ve been learning? First, a history lesson, since the evolution of textiles and style have played a part in my own personal style evolution – and my use of darted clothing (is darted a word?).

As we all know, we think of darts as those funny little triangles on patterns that are sewn into garments as a kind of pleat to make flat fabrics bend to fit round bodies. Darts were, in fact, one of the first sewing lessons that I can remember in home economics classes back in the day. They were crucial to getting a bodice (and later skirts and pants) to fit. The technical skill required to sew a really fabulous dart cannot be overemphasized – although it has to be said anyone can learn it! The truth is that poorly sewn darts are a dead giveaway to a home sewn garment that looks amateurish. Anyway, back to the general history. Who actually realized that these little darts would be needed?

Who actually invented the “dart” is a mystery, but it seems clear that by the Regency period (which began in 1811) garments worn by people in the western world had darts. It does seem to be a western thing as far as I can figure out. For example, consider the Japanese kimono – no darts. The Indian sari – no darts. But the modern Chinese cheongsam? Well, this little piece of fabulous clothing is the real reason I want to learn to manipulate darts – so that I can design a well-fitting cheongsam for myself. So, I take the course.

The technique I’m learning is what is referred to as the slash-and-spread method. From the bodice sloper that fits me, I can manipulate out the various darts into design lines. I mean – who wants a dart in the armhole?? Well, maybe someone does, but I don’t. So I learn to decide where I do want the dart or seam, then cut that dart or line, then cut a leg of each of the darts I don’t want and slide them closed. As the unwanted darts slide closed, another space opens and voila! A seam or BIG dart (or two) where I do want it. What fun!

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Three of the manipulated dart patterns: (l to r) French, armhole 9!), and neckline.

Anyway, I decide to do a few of the mock-ups (BTW if you do this, you’ll want a bolt of muslin fabric!), and find that I need to further manipulate them for them for a really good fit.

For example, as it turns out I really like the look of the front neckline darts (the shoulder, armhole and waist darts were all closed to open up these style lines radiating from the neck – and I could do 2 on each side if I want. Such fun!), but because I’m a bit concave in the upper body, I need to bow out the darts 1/8 inch at about the 4-inch down mark to get the proper fit. As I stand back and look at this ugly little toile, I can see various iterations of it in dresses, tunics and tops. I can see a cheongsam-inspired top for example.

So I guess that on balance, I will, indeed be using these dart manipulations at least on woven fabrics, but also on stable knits. I just need to learn how to draft collars and sleeves.

I have a long way to go in this journey to learn to design a few pieces for myself!

Some resources I found useful:

Pattern Making Fundamentals: Dart manipulation and pivot points. Isn’t that sew? Blog. http://isntthatsew.org/dart-manipulation/

Dart manipulation slide show. http://www.slideshare.net/thyrine/dart-manupulation

Posted in Fashion Design, sewing

A knit sloper that fits to perfection! And my advice on learning to make slopers

img_1412When I finished my bodice sloper designed for woven fabrics (A bodice sloper at last!) I looked at it closely, examined my current lifestyle and considered the kinds of fabrics I love to wear. I concluded that a bodice sloper/block that will be the basis for my design ambitions (designing my own capsule wardrobe – oh, yes, that’s the plan!) has serious limitations if it’s only to be used for woven fabrics and looks like the bodice of a dress with a waist seam.

I mean, I cannot remember the last time I willingly wore a dress made from a woven fabric (with absolutely no lycra) that was designed with a sewn-in waistline and darts of one sort or another. First, I wear dresses only to weddings and funerals (and even then I’ve been known to choose a beautifully cut jacket with equally well-cut pants and pumps), on cruises (and then they have to be the kind that can withstand packing – so no wovens), and on hot summer days (linen please, with no waistline). With all of this in mind, I began to wonder what precisely I might do with the sloper.

Well, I do like what is called “stable knit” fabric. Some sewers ridicule the very idea of a stable knit, believing that a knit by definition isn’t stable. But I do recognize that some knits are more stable than others and I like the stable kind. So, I suppose I might be able to use the block to fit stable knits that might have princess seams or French darts. And I think I know how to get rid of that waist seam. God, I hope so, because I can’t see when I’m going to need it. Peplums are out of the question in my wardrobe! If I can master that, then it’s likely that I can design myself some tops and tunics – once I learn how to draft necklines and sleeves, though. So, it will have that usefulness. However, it’s best use seems to me to be as the basis for making a knit sloper, which is what I did this past week.

The Suzy Furrer Craftsy course I’ve been using to learn to fit moulages and slopers concludes with a piece on design options for slopers, and a section on using my sloper to create a knit sloper by getting rid of darts and waist shaping. It focuses on adding negative ease to the sloper meaning that the body would fill out the knit and then some. I decided that since I don’t really like my knits skin tight I would err on the side of less negative ease than she suggests. Big mistake.

wrinkles
A well-fitting knit sloper? I think not!

 

The first attempt at the sloper resulted in a sloppy mess. I had bought some cheap (and it has to be said supremely ugly) knit fabric at the moving sale at Fabricland in Toronto. It’s not my favourite store in which to buy fabrics since they tend to stock so many less expensive synthetics and I like natural fabrics or at least blends. But they do have a terrific selection of notions and threads all of which are currently on sale, and very cheap remnants. But I digress.

My husband often tells me that I tend to buy my clothes too large, seeming to have an inflated notion of how big I am. He was entirely correct in the case of fitting my knit sloper. Since I had only this piece of fabric in which to make up the proto-type before putting the final sloper on poster board, I went back to the drawing board and re-drafted the sloper from the beginning using the instructor’s directions this time, and tweaking a bit based on my own observation of shoulder slope issues (yet again). Then I unpicked the first sloper and hoped I could re-cut the same fabric smaller. It seemed to work.

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Seam ripper at the ready! (It is a hideous colour, n’est ce pas?)

 

When I whipped up the second sloper I was delighted with the fit. All that was left was to put the sloper on poster board. As I hung the it in the closet with the woven one, I realized just how much I had learned about the process of fitting and pattern-making. After so many years of slavish devotion to commercial patterns and continual moaning about fit issues, I believe that I have the basis to move forward to better fitted garments – both from commercial patterns and ones I plan to create!

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My six best pieces of advice for learning to make slopers/blocks:

  1. If you’re taking an online course, using a textbook, or following someone’s online tutorial, watch, listen to or read the entire process before starting anything. Get an idea of the overall process.
  2. Assemble the equipment you’ll need: a flexible ruler, a curve, tape, fabric shears and scissors to cut fabric, a good pencil (and eraser), a roll of pattern paper (lots of it), a bolt of muslin or other cheap, plain fabric. I noticed that many of the students taking my course used left-over quilting material etc. with patterns on it. It’s difficult to see details of problems/issues and how to fix.
  3. Prepare yourself mentally for doing it again and again until you get it right.
  4. Keep your eraser and seam-ripper handy and use them often.
  5. Focus on the process rather than the outcome. If you can’t do this, the process will soon drive you crazy. The process can be very meditative.
  6. When you’re finished, take stock of all of the elements of fit and pattern-making that you now know that you didn’t before you started. You’ve come a long way, baby!

youve-come-a-long-way

 

Posted in Couture Sewing, Fashion Design, sewing

A bodice sloper at last! Could fashion design be next?

IMG_1439.JPGIt’s been months in the making. I’ve spent hours measuring and drawing, cutting and pinning, sewing and seam-ripping. But I’ve finally finished the sloper – and it fits me!

When last I recorded my progress, I had redrafted the sloper incorporating changes to solve problems that seemed to have emerged sometime between moulage and sloper. I then whipped it up on muslin and ta-da! It fit me! I was anxious to move forward in drafting the final sloper on poster board for posterity (and future pattern drafting), but held myself back until I received feedback from my online instructor, Suzy Furrer. When I got the go ahead from her, I ambled down to Staples and picked up some poster board – and a set of erasable coloured pencils, an item I’d been wishing for throughout the drafting process. Then I set to work creating that clean, poster-board copy to hang in a closet!

The process of creating the final sloper is really easy once the thing actually fits. All I had to do was trace the outline onto poster board, then use a tracing wheel and tracing paper to get the various lines (waist, bust, high and low hip etc.) and the darts onto the poster. The instructor refers to “tag” as the kind of heavy paper that the fashion industry uses for these pattern blocks, but tag seems a difficult item to find.

I had been concerned that poster board might actually be too light for this final product, but it seems that when you search for definitions of tag, that this tag is thinner than poster board. According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, the accurate word is tagboard and they define it as “…strong cardboard used especially for making shipping tags.”[1] When I think about shipping tags, I think of quite flimsy cardboard, and when I went into a craft supply store, they didn’t have any such material. Anyway, poster board seems to be a reasonably good medium for the sloper so that’s what I chose.

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Once I had the sloper traced out, I firmed up all my lines, and as instructed, I cut it out in preparation for “notching” and “awl punching.” The notching is done along the edges at every point where I will need to add a line to a future pattern. For example, I need notches at both ends of the waist line so that I’ll be able to join them up on a pattern traced from this block. As for the darts, well, I’ll need those awl punches at the dart points (or any important point on the interior of the pattern) so that I can join up the ends of the darts with the points.

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My pattern notcher and awl.

 

I ordered my notcher from Ebay months ago. It had to come from China (the only way to get one at such a cheap price!), and the awl from Amazon. When I look at my awl and compare it with those used by sewers and designers, although it was advertised as for this purpose, I really think it’s more for punching leather and using n a wood-working shop, but it does the trick!

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A pattern hook – I’d never heard of them before!

Storing these slopers seems to require some kind of special equipment as well. The instructor – as well as everyone else who teaches this or writes about slopers & blocks – punches a large hole in them and hangs them on a “pattern hook.” When I looked at trying to order a pattern hook or two or three, they seemed inordinately expensive. (In this photo I found online, it is actually upside down.) Several sewing bloggers have posted pieces on how to make them, and then there’s my husband who likes to browse Canadian Tire. (If you aren’t a Canadian and have no idea what Canadian Tire is, you might enjoy an online browse. Don’t be fooled by their name: they are not just a tire store although they used to be in years gone by. They’re our everything store!). Anyway, he found a pack of boot hooks by a company called Neatfreak (readily available online as well) for $12.99 CDN. They were ideal!

 

I did not have to get a large hole punch for a pattern hook; rather I was able to clip the front and back of the sloper together and hang them in the empty closet in the den. They will be joined next week by a knit sloper (my next project) and future slopers for pants!

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And here it is! The finished product at last!

 

Yay! I’m on to the course on dart manipulation in my first step toward designing something!

[1] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tagboard

Posted in Fashion, Style

Wardrobe (& sewing) Inspiration: Canadian design for the rest of us

 

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The lovely Victorian gardens in Halifax on our road trip

My husband and I have just returned from an almost-two-week road trip. We started here in Toronto, headed down through northern New York state, through New Hampshire, into New Brunswick and then relaxed for five days in Halifax, Nova Scotia with friends and family. We then turned around and headed back on a different route out of Nova Scotia, through New Brunswick (as one must), into Maine, onto New Hampshire (this time on the coast), then spent our last night in Lake Placid, New York. Along the way I found myself browsing in a plethora of quirky boutiques in a variety of small towns and cities where I encountered a few ideas. And two of the best ones were from Canadian designers.

 

I’ve long been a fan of veteran Canadian designs by Comrags, although I do have to scratch my head every year about some of their pieces. I mean – what were they thinking about this one? It looks like a burlap bag with embroidery – neither of which I find personally flattering on me.

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Really? who looks good in a burlap sack? [photo from Comrags web site]

I have also liked Simpli, a design firm out of Vancouver. They also seem to be able to source flattering fabrics – and again, I have been scratching my head this year about the designs. Why are they all so full of so much material? They say they flatter every body – but really, who looks good in this? (The jersey fabric is great, though. Again, I want some.)

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Simpli – yecch. [photo from the Simpli web site]

Lucky for me I discovered two new Canadian designers to put on my list of fabulous fabric usage as well as wearable design.

img_1381In Halifax I stumbled into Lisa Draeder-Murphy’s shop in Historic Properties where she stocks her Turbine Designs. As luck would have it, the designer herself was in the shop that day although she tells me that this is a rare event.

I did not by any stretch of the imagination need a new dress, but again I was smitten by her fabrications and could not resist. For me it’s the feel of the fabric and god knows I’ve made enough mistakes in selecting fabrics for sewing projects. They often look fantastic, but the feel? Not so much. Damn, when will I learn?

st-andrews-boutiqueWhen I was in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, I strolled into Toose’s Bijoux and found myself touching and rubbing the fabric of a series of lovely T’s. Turns out that they are the designs of a firm called “Leave Nothing But Footprints” (LNBF), and yes, they are a group of “socially-conscious” millennials. This means that their fabrics are soft and natural, ethically-produced and organic. Most of their fabrics are viscose from bamboo which if you have never tried it, is one of the softest fabrics around. I bought a wonderful, long-sleeved, well-priced ($49 CDN) T with a banded V-neck – I can’t wait for the weather to be cool enough to wear it. However, I’m now on a mission to find some of this fabric to sew with. Wish me luck!

Posted in Fashion, sewing

Sewing with knits: Moving into the 21st century

Sometimes I think I’m the only person on the planet who remembers wearing (and sewing with) crimplene. Yes, that’s how you spell crimplene. Trademarked in the 1950’s (long before I started wearing the stuff), this was a fabric that really came into its own in the late 1960’s, remained a mainstay of fashion and sewing for a few years, then disappeared into the mists of sewing history.

According to most online sources, crimplene was the trade name of both the yarn and the fabric made from it. Polyester in origin, this was a go-to fabric for all kinds of projects and will go down in my own fashion sewing history as the first knit I ever sewed with. It occasionally appeared as a woven fabric, but most of it was a textured double knit that we used for shift dresses, pant suits (yes, matching tunic tops and pants which, BTW might make a great come-back for the over-50 set with the right silhouette in my view), men’s leisure suits (please god no more leisure-suit come-backs), and even shirtwaists. I loved it.

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This great 60’s dress was for sale recently online – although I suspect that it was from the early 70’s. See that texture? Crimplene!

 

Crimplene had all the characteristics that we were looking for at the time:

  • It was forgiving (unlike many of the woven fabrics of the day).
  • It was totally unwrinkleable (likely not a real word, but you know what I mean).
  • It was machine washable, dryable and unshrinkable (which accounts for why I never learned to prepare fabric before sewing since crimplene needed no prep).
  • It came in every colour and texture you could imagine (and couldn’t fade even if you left it in the sun for years).
  • It was indestructible (and crimplene clothing is probably still stacked in our land-fills to this day).
  • And it never frayed (so those of us on the fast fashion sewing track which we have finally recovered from never had to finish a seam allowance *shudder*).

So, when I returned to sewing in the twenty-first century I wanted to learn the techniques for modern knits, of course. I decided to enroll in another Craftsy course (actually it was the first one I ever stumbled upon) on sewing with knits, took out the walking foot that came with my new digital sewing machine and figured out how to install it on the machine. I have to admit I had never seen such a contraption before – never even heard of it. But once I learned how to use that sucker, I cannot live without it.

As I made my way through the course, I found myself two lots of knit fabric whose weight I really liked and proceeded to make some modern knit tops. What I noticed, although it didn’t really strike me at the time I bought the fabric, was the extent to which it resembled – you guessed it – crimplene. Fashioned from cotton blends in this century, both lengths of fabric I chose were eerily like the crimplene I had known and loved in the last century.

See that texture? (Front on left; back on right) Not crimplene, but twenty-first century cotton knit!

Sometimes I wonder if our sewing DNA is a kind of blueprint for what we’ll evolve to as we age – but perhaps like a fine wine, we do get better with age. I’d like to think I’m a bit more discerning and that this discernment has evolved along with the increasing size of my pocket book that was thin, indeed, back in my undergrad years at university.

Anyway, as I examine closely the fabric of the cross-over top I made during that Craftsy course, I can see definite remnants of my former penchant for crimplene. Now I’m longing to have a length of that old stuff to see if it really is as terrible and unbreathable as I think it was.

This new century has taught me that knits should probably not be indestructible, nor should they be designed only for fast sewing. They should take beautiful seam finishes, and should feel divine when worn. Feeling and looking divine: that’s what I’m after!

 [If you need more about crimplene, here is a great post on a Sixties Style Blog that you’ll just love – and lots of photos! A Brief History of Crimplene http://stylesixties.blogspot.ca/2013/04/a-brief-history-of-crimplene.html]