Posted in Fashion Design, Style, Style Influencers, Stylish Books

Creating my cruise collection: My creative process for design inspiration

Picasso quoteWhen I was thirteen years old, I fancied myself something of an artist. It occurred to me that there was no reason why a young teen-aged girl could not be a best-selling writer, or a fashion designer (never mind that I went on to study science and communication in university; I did eventually write books and now…well, here I am!). I was a sewing fanatic and loved the process of putting a piece together. But the design elements! That’s what I really loved.

I used commercial patterns – it’s just what you did – but loved the process of thinking about how I could make them different, could make them mine, by fabric choice, detail tweaks and putting elements of an outfit together in a way that was different from that on the pattern envelope. Fast forward to the twenty-first century and I think that my creative process has been honed through the years, but there is still that young girl in me who wants to create. And my creation process always begins with something that seems awfully non-creative: an organizational system. But stay with me for a minute.

twylaA few years back (actually 15, but who’s counting?) Twyla Tharp wrote an extraordinary book called The Creative Habit: Learn it and use it for life. If you are unfamiliar with Twyla Tharp you’re likely not much of a dance fan. Since I’m the mother of a ballet dancer, she’s very familiar to me as one of the foremost choreographers in the world. The Broadway hit Moving Out based on Billy Joel’s music was her brainchild. In any event, she has a wonderful chapter in that book called “Before you can think out of the box, you have to start with a box.” And she means that quite literally.

She says, “Everyone has his or her own organizational system. Mine is a box, the kind you buy at Office Depot for transferring files…I write the project name on the box, and as the [project]progresses I fill it up with every item that went into the making…that may have inspired me…”[1]

She uses a box. I use notebooks. Some of my notebooks are digital, but my favourites are pen and paper ones. I use them for my writing and I use them for my sewing and design projects. And I gather ideas from everywhere then write them down. And paste in pictures. And tape in fabric swatches. So, for this cruise collection that I introduced you to in my last post, I did all this then finally organized my thoughts around the areas of shapes, colours, textures, inspirational muses and vintage early 1970’s fashion because that’s where my head is these days.

First the muses. For this little collection, I’m inspired by the Mediterranean style of Audrey Hepburn and Jackie O. For their days in Nice, Cannes and Antibes, whether strolling the Promenade des Anglaises or sailing the Med on a yacht, they had a kind of je ne sai quois, and yet je sais. At least je sais a feeling and a style. That’s what is underpinning my design thoughts.

 

My next exercise was to find pictures whose shapes I am drawn to with the feeling of my muses in mind. I always surf over to Pinterest to suss out black and white photos that grab my attention. I use black and white so I won’t be distracted by the colours in them. That comes next. As you can see by the photos I was drawn to that there are recurring themes. I will obviously at least be using stripes! I’ll also have to balance angles with a more organic flow. Can I do that? We’ll see.

 

Then with all of this in mind, I think about the colours that capture the feeling. I’m thinking about the beach and the sea – of course! So, when I look for colour photos to inspire me, I’m drawn to blues, greys, tans. These will figure prominently in the fabric choices.

 

Then what about textures? Every collection needs a bit of texture. When I return to Pinterest to find textures that attract me, I’m drawn to sand patterns. It will be a terrific challenge to see if I can find fabrics that have textures reminiscent of sand patters, and that all fit together.

 

Finally, I go to my own captured images of vintage patterns and find so many that reliably inspire the same vibe I get from Audrey and Jackie on the Med. I’m not into retro fashion, so anything I design that is inspired by these will be a modern take. Anyway, it was Voltaire who said, “Originality is nothing but judicious imitation.” So it will be judicious.

 

Once I have all my inspiration material in notebooks, I extract the most important ones and they make it onto my inspiration board.

GG-CC019 Inspiration Board copy

Then comes the fabric search. I know that I want a cocktail dress at the centre of the evening wear, and a “day dress” for lack of a better term at the centre of the day-time dressing. I don’t like the notion of a sundress since that’s not really my style. So, we’ll see where that takes us.

After a venture down to Queen Street West here in Toronto, a browse through a fabric store in Halifax when we were in Nova Scotia this summer and a small fabric boutique in downtown Portsmouth, New Hampshire on the route home, I have accumulated a few pieces that are further inspiring me. So, now to begin a few sketches of what some of these pieces might look like!

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[1] Twyle Tharp. The creative habit: Learn it and use it for life. 2003. P. 80.

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Posted in Fashion, Fashion Design, Style

A new project begins: Creating a “collection” not a “capsule”

Ever since I began studying and learning about pattern drafting and design, I’ve obsessed about creating a kind of  “collection.” This probably stems from my internal, imaginary fashion designer. Many others who also create their own wardrobes seem to refer to “capsule” collections in a similar way. In my mind, these two are related but not quite the same. And since I’m about to embark on yet another long-term project involving just such a goal, I thought I’d begin my process by defining exactly what I’m doing (probably not what an “artist” would do, but I’m my own kind of artist) then moving directly into the creative process that got me going.

First, what is a capsule wardrobe and why is my collection different?

There is a suggestion among many (if not most) people talking and writing about capsule wardrobes that they are predicated on the notion that you’ll be down-sizing – or perhaps right-sizing? – your wardrobe. In other words…

capsule wardrobe definition

 

Well, that’s my definition based on what I’ve seen.

According to Wikipedia, that all-knowing online encyclopedia of varying accuracy, the term was actually coined back in the 1970’s by a London boutique owner named Susie Faux. Since I am of a “certain age” I do seem to recall that there was a flurry of interest in wardrobes that were well-thought-out enough to actually have all the pieces work together creating a cohesive style for the wearer. I, however, was young enough at the time to think that more was better when it came to my clothes. I most assuredly do not think that any longer. Thirty to forty items might seem like a lot (and this was the original capsule wardrobe recommendation), but if you go into an average woman’s closet, you’re going to be boggled by the number of pieces she owns. I know I am.

In 2016, the closet organizer company ClosetMaid polled 1000 women in the US and found out that on average they have 103 pieces of clothing in their closets.[1] Presumably, that doesn’t include all those pieces folded in drawers! As an aside, they also found that these women admitted that they actually like only 10% of those clothes. (When I looked this up I was also staggered to learn that “…  Americans throw away more than 68 pounds of clothing and textiles per person per year …”[2] )  So maybe we do need to “capsulize” a bit!

The definition of a capsule wardrobe as it was originally conceived was a group of essential pieces that don’t go out of style, and that form the basis for adding fashion pieces seasonally. And there were rules.

  • Colour: There needs to be a cohesive colour scheme and the colours chosen should be the most flattering to your complexion and hair.
  • Shape: The pieces should be chosen from the classic shapes so as to flatter your particular body shape (not really specific to capsules)
  • Fabrics: The garment should be constructed of high-quality fabrics so that they are amenable to wearing numerous times through the mixing and matching that will go on.

Fast forward to the twenty-first century, and capsule wardrobes seem to be created for a variety of reasons: the business capsule, the travel capsule (presumably different ones depending on the climate of the destination), the weekend capsule.

One can only conclude that if you have numerous capsules in your wardrobe, you essentially have a whole lot of clothes. So, we’re back to where we started. I think I like Susie’s approach to basics.

In my view capsule wardrobes are one type of beast, a collection a bit different. Although it has to be said that they have a number of characteristics in common: colours scheme, shapes and fabric choices among them.

 

My “collection” will be a group of garments that I am designing around a common theme and aesthetic for a specific season. In the case of my first such grouping, it will be what I’m calling a cruise collection.  But my cruise collection does not conform exactly to the cruise collections as articulated by the real fashion industry.

The web site The Business of Fashion (and a fascinating one it is) defines a cruise collection this way:

“Cruise Collections, or resort or holiday collections as they are otherwise known, launch between the two main ready-to-wear seasons; Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter. Originally, they were created with the jet set in mind and catered for a client who needed a wardrobe for their mid-season travels to climates different to their own. Now, they have been adopted by many of the big brands as an opportunity to inject an entirely new must-have mid-season collection into market.”[3]

chanel cruise 2019
Chanel’s 2019 cruise collection – not exactly mix and match!

It is the last sentence of their definition that truly embodies what they are these days – a mid-season collection. My cruise collection, on the other hand, really is going to be for a client (me) who needs a wardrobe for my mid-season travel to a climate different from my own. It will actually be for a cruise. In the winter. In the Caribbean.

My husband and I have been on lots of cruises (if you don’t believe me, just visit our travel blog at www.thediscerningtravelers.com). We’ve traveled through the Mediterranean several times, both eastern and western; we’ve done the South Pacific; we’ve done China and Japan; we’ve done the Panama Canal along with Ecuador, Peru and Chile; we’ve done a Cunard trans-Atlantic and we’ve been on numerous Caribbean cruises. And I’ve always gone on these cruises with a well-selected wardrobe of ready-to-wear that works for travel.

RTW cruisewear
The usual suspects in my travel-worthy RTW cruise wear – a Joseph Ribkoff black strapless gown that can be paired with numerous boleros/jackets, a midnight blue Lauren gown, an Adrienne Papell cocktail dress (all fold-friendly) and white jeans with everything. 

This year I want to take along a little collection that I’ve designed and made for the purpose.

My project begins with a design inspiration exercise. I’m going to share with you a sneak peek of where I’m headed with this project. Stand by for the next post on my creative process and getting to an inspiration board, fabric choices and potential designs.

GG-CC019 Inspiration Board copy

[1] https://goo.gl/yVPtpG

[2] Closet cast-offs clogging our landfill. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/mattias-wallander/closet-cast-offs-clogging_b_554400.html

[3] https://www.businessoffashion.com/education/fashion-az/cruise-collection

Posted in Couture Sewing, Fashion Design, Little Black Dress, Style, Style Influencers

In search of the perfect LBD: My new project begins

I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but it’s a cliché that seems to transcend time. They say every woman needs the perfect “little black dress” – LBD for short – and I agree, but the search for that perfection seems to go on and on. Enter the sewing talent that we possess!

Over the years I’ve had any number of what would be labeled “little black dresses.” They have all been eminently useful in their own ways.

In recent years my LBD wearing is frequently confined to travel: we often take cruises on those kind of high-end cruise lines where those informal nights really require cocktail dressing. That means that a LBD that is also packable is a must. On a recent cruise down the west coast of South America, my Joseph Ribkoff black dresses were a godsend. Both the short cocktail dress and the gown (it’s actually a strapless worn a plethora of different jackets to change it ups) in the photos above are Ribkoff’s I wore on our recent cruise down the west coast of South America on Silversea’s Silver Muse.

And yet I still search for the holy grail of LBD’s. So, what are my criteria for LBD perfection?

  1. First and foremost, it should be black! While this seems like a no-brainer, we are forever bombarded by asinine pronouncements from the style police that “red is the new black” or recently “white is the new black.” Okay, I know what they’re getting at, but black is the only thing that is black. If you want a LRD or a LWD, that’s great, but I’m talking about a LBD and it naturally has to be black.
  2. Second, the perfect LBD needs to fit perfectly. The beauty of the Rikoff dresses is in the fabrics – they are knits and are a bit forgiving. This means that even a not-so-perfect fit is perfect enough. What I’m searching for is a LBD that doesn’t have to be a knit to fit perfectly. It is made for me. It follows the curves of my body and no one else’s.
  3. My perfect LBD is a sheath. I often see LBD’s that are any number of silhouettes, but somewhere in my mind’s eye, I see a real LBD as a sheath. And since that’s the silhouette that suits me best and I love the most, that’s what it has to be.
  4. My perfect LBD is simple. It is simple enough that if I choose to wear different jackets or jewelry with it, that works and changes the look. The perfect LBD is versatile in my view. I need to be able to dress it up or dress it down. Which brings me back to silhouette: many of the complicated silhouettes on offer these days – flounces, ruffles, big skirts, peplums, “statement sleeves” – all of these distract from the simplicity of the perfect LBD. I’m going for clean lines.

I don’t know yet if my perfect LBD is sleeveless, has long sleeves or short sleeves or anything else in between. I’m not sure yet if the neckline is round, square or boat-shaped. I’m unsure of the fabric – this will be dictated by many of the design factors. But I do expect perfection to be lined in silk – silk charmeuse if I have my way and since I’m making it, I think I do. But anything can change at this stage.

So, how do I find the perfect dress? As I do in my other life, I begin with research. First, I want to understand the history of this oh-so-indispensable article of clothing and find inspiration from that.

chanel first lbd 1926 vogue
The October 1926 Vogue magazine sketch of Chanel’snew LBD

Coco Chanel is often touted as the creator of the LBD – or at least the notion of what a LBD means. In October, 1926 Vogue magazine published a picture of a simple, elegant sheath in black crêpe de chine that was shown with a simple string of pearls. It seemed to start a kind of trend – or what today we might call a meme. It is true that in the early part of the twentieth century and before that, women wore black to indicate that they were in mourning. Remember Queen Victoria? After Prince Albert, the love of her life died at a fairly early age, she wore black for the rest of her life. Anyway, black transformed from the colour of death to the colour of simple elegance. Chanel wanted a piece of clothing that could be available to everyone. And Chanel’s idea influenced many a designer from that day until now.

Hepburn_little_black_dressMy second icon of the LBD that I look to for inspiration is Audrey Hepburn. She wore them, but she didn’t design them. She had a long working relationship with Givenchy who designed many of her LBD’s including the most incredible one – at least for me – the gown she wore in Breakfast at Tiffany’s although to be sure, there were other LBD’s even in that film. I especially love the lines of that dress.

In a continuing search for inspiration, last week I visited the Dior exhibit currently stationed in the Royal Ontario Museum. A mere 10-minute walk from my home in Toronto, the ROM provides a wonderful way to spend a winter afternoon – and that’s just what I did.

I’m not a big fan of Dior’s “New Look” which was featured prominently – it was a 1947, post-war look that Chanel dispatched unceremoniously in 1954 with her LBJ style – but I do find close examination of designer fashions, especially historical ones, to be educational and inspiring.

I did find a number of Dior’s take on the LBD like these ones…

…and find myself inspired by the workmanship and the fabrications. The one on the left is the only one who’s silhouette is right for me, though. So, I’m off to search for the pattern or patterns I’ll try out on my way to finding just the right one. In the meantime, here are some of the other confections I took in last week at the ROM…

…I do find the above gown oddly compelling. I think I could actually wear it…

…and red is a great colour if you don’t want black. In fact, it’s my favourite colour (I don’t think black, grey, white and taupe really count although they are truly my favourite garment colours! It’s all in how you mix them in my view.).

And finally, one extraordinary gown, worn once by a Toronto socialite’s daughter for her debutante afternoon tea dance in the 1950’s. Those were the days *sigh*

IMG_1470

Up next, the pattern options for my own LBD. Stay tuned!

Posted in Fashion Design, sewing

The first complete G.G. design finished!

done finishedThere 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.

suzys classAs 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.

first pattern

…which became the toile…

IMG_1061

 

 

…which resulted in a few new ideas…

IMG_1966

 

…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?

ends and beginnings

 

 

 

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.

IMG_1061

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!

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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