Sunday, 13 May 2012

Extended Major Project - Workbook Blog - Contents

N.B. see also my hard-copy Research File for annotated research images, a fabric sampling sheet and pocket sample. A copy of the Learning Agreement and Initial Work Plan is also included in the file.

This Contents list presents a chronological sequence of my progress in working on Extended Major Project for ease of reading. Click on the title to go to the relevant post, or simply scroll down this page to read the blog in reverse-chronological order.

   Starting EMP

EMP 1 - 1935 Joan Crawford Suit:
   Pad stitching
   Finishing up

EMP 2 - 1930s Evening Dress:
   First fitting


Saturday, 12 May 2012


Aldrich, W. (1997). Metric pattern cutting. 2nd ed. Oxford: Blackwell Science Ltd.

Aldrich, W. (2002). Pattern cutting for women's tailored jackets: classic and contemporary. Oxford: Blackwell Science Ltd.

Arnold, J. (1966). Patterns of fashion 2. Englishwomen's dresses and their construction c. 1869 - 1940. Oxford: Macmillan.

Blum, S. (1986). Everyday fashions of the 30s - as pictured in Sears catalogs. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.

Constantino, M. (1991). The 1930s. UK: BT Batsford Limited.

Countryman, R. S. and Weiss Hopper, E. (2001). Women's wear of the 1930's: with complete patterns. USA: Player's Press.

Cunnington, C. W. and Cunnington, P. (1951). The history of underclothes. London: Faber and Faber.

Engelmeier, R and Engelmeier, P.W. (1990) Fashion in film. London: Prestel.

Griffith, H. (1935). No more ladies. [Film] USA: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayers.

Grafton, C. (1993). Fashions of the thirties: 476 copyright-free illustrations. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.

Jorgensen, J. (2010). Edith Head : the treasury of the fifty-year career of Hollywood's greatest costume designer. Philadelphia: Running Press.

Joseph-Armstrong, H. (2008). Draping for apparel design. 2nd edition. New York: Fairchild Publications Inc.

Landis, D. (2007) Dressed: a century of Hollywood costume design. New York: Collins Design.

Laubner, E. (2000). Collectible fashions of the turbulent 1930s. USA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd.

Robinson, J. (1978). Fashion in the '30s. London: Oresko.

Schaeffer, C. B. (2001). Couture sewing techniques. Newtown: The Taunton Press

Schaeffer, C. B. (2011). Couture sewing techniques. 2nd edition. Newtown: The Taunton Press.

Vionnet, M. (2002). Vionnet pattern book. Tokyo: Bunka Fashion College

Friday, 11 May 2012

Thoughts on EMP

As I write, EMP is nearly finished and uni is coming to a close - all I'll do next is mount my exhibition!

I am happy with EMP. Truly, I am. I have taken this opportunity to really push myself to become a better cutter and maker, and I think that this can be seen in the results: two pieces which are full of imperfections, but which really reflect how far I have come during my time studying costume making at AUCB.

I can be highly self-critical at times, and channel this quality via my desire to keep improving in my work. I will have to do a lot more tailoring, and even more bias-cut work, in order to improve; and I hope to do this by joining a making workroom in the near future. (I have been advised to go for tailoring.) I purposely avoided choosing the easy option with this project (which would have been to make more tailored lounge suits) because I wanted to push myself to become more experienced, and thus more flexible; qualities which I hoped will make me seem desirable to employers. I have researched all areas of the project thoroughly, looking at original artefacts from the period as well as studying books and quizzing the tutors of all their knowledge. I have then taken all that I discovered to heart, really considered my research, then made informed decisions regarding how to proceed with my project. Some areas were especially difficult, and I made an awful lot of new discoveries; but I am happy with the way that I worked. It has felt difficult at times, working in an independent manner, but it has really helped me learn and understand how materials and processes worked. I also consistently worked very hard throughout the project, and put a lot of hours in at the beginning, which reflects in my finishing the garments on time. I am thus pleased with my ability to manage my time, which will also be a helpful quality in the industry. 

I am pleased with what I produced, as I worked so hard and don't feel that I could have made anything better. I am happy with how my pattern-cutting turned out. If I had had more time and materials I might have done things such as re-cut the jacket sleeves (which I was unhappy with), but I didn't have enough cloth to do so. Additionally, though they are not perfect, I feel I managed to make the 'best of a bad job' and create something which doesn't look too bad from a distance (i.e when not scrutinised as closely as I obviously do!). Again I feel that this is a good approach regarding industry practice, where there really might not be enough fabric to re-cut; it is about accepting mistakes, then dealing with them and learning from them, gaining enough experience not to have to repeat them.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Thoughts on the finished dress

The dress is finished!

I am quite happy with it overall. There are certainly things which I would change about it if I were to make it again, tweaking the patterns a little more (for instance: it was suggested to me that I put bust tucks in the bodice on both sides, but I think that on the section of the bodice where it sweeps down beneath the breast, the tuck spoils the line slightly; I would therefore omit this, despite advice from the tutors...) and definitely using heavier fabric so that I only work with one layer of cloth. But ultimately this has been a real learning curve. Making this dress has really put myself, and my skills, into perspective.

This was my very first attempt at bias-cutting, and as such I feel it looks quite good...but it is very imperfect! Certain dressmakers choose to specialise only in bias-cut dresses - such is the speciality of the skill. There was so very much to discover and learn about this technique which was so revolutionary to dressmakers when it was first developed. What I found the most surprising was how the fabric itself changed in quality; despite my hanging it on the bias for a week prior to cutting it, it continued to drape at certain points, according to how the bias was placed. Therefore, a lot of time had to be accounted for, simply to let the fabric change as much as possible before continuing to work on it. I had to manage my time carefully, making sure to do other things when I couldn't work on the top fabric, for instance.

Although the fabric I chose to work with was not ideal as it was quite thin, it forced me to come up with solutions for how to exploit the cloth chosen to make it suitable; in this case, by backing it on a glossy silk habutai. This is definitely relevant experience for my future work as a costume maker, for I am sure that I will often have to work with fabric that is not entirely suitable for a costume, and find solutions to make it work.

Interpreting the costume design was also interesting, for the fashion illustration was not a schematic diagram, and the lines described within it did not all match up! I therefore had to find a solution which was a good compromise, in order to get the right feel of the design.

Doing this project has forced me to be a more flexible and open-minded maker. I have also developed a more mature approach to making, in understanding and accepting my failures; instead using them as experiences to avoid for future projects. Overall I have worked quite independently throughout this project, trying my best to find solutions for making and for the problems I encountered, before checking with the tutors. The tutors lent me support, but mostly advised me to just 'go for it' and try it out. This advice I embraced wholeheartedly; and though as I mentioned I made mistakes, they make me a more experienced maker. I now feel more confident to approach projects with a positive, 'can-do' attitude - this will definitely benefit me in industry.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Hemming the dress

I had been told by the tutors of the difficulty of hemming a bias-cut dress. I was not sure exactly why it should be difficult, but on that note I made sure to work with caution and care. This is the method I devised for marking and putting up the bias hem:

First I hung the dress (by putting on a mannequin and raising it on its stand) for over a week, for I didn't want the cloth to drop more even more dramatically, distorting the shape of the hem.

I then marked the hem by putting it on my model and placing pins as markers at floor length. As mentioned before, i decided not to make the dramatic train as featured in the design of the dress, for purely practical reasons. I was very careful to work delicately with the fabric, so as not to stretch it, as obviously the hem is on the bias.

I then put the dress back on the mannequin and spread the hem across the floor, so that I could measure and check for even-ness and accuracy, and made more marks for the hem. I tacked with long stitches the position of the hem, then I trimmed the excess seam allowances to be even.

After this I took the dress to the iron and carefully pressed up the hem, giving it a very gentle steam (holding the iron up to steam above the cloth) so that the excess fullness in the seam allowance (there is excess as the pieces taper outwards) can be eased upwards to lie nicely against the body of the skirt.

I decided to give the hem a relatively wide turn-up (just over an inch) for the same reason that I used fairly wide bias-binding across the bodice: in case it rises up a little, so that the top fabric and not the backing fabric can be seen.

I then slip-stitched the hem in place. I had no real problems with the hem, hopefully due to my careful approach to it, as I was always cautious not to over-handle and stretch the fabric.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Neatening the seams

I was interested to see how the dress is finished on the insides. The period is too early for overlocking, and besides the overlocking stitch is quite heavy with the threads, and I believe that it might be seen as a ridge from outside of the dress; the same issue would be present with French seams.

My research, both in books (See Arnold, 1966, p.83) and at the museums at Bath and Blandford gave me two options: to leave the edges raw, or to overcast the raw edges of the seam allowances by hand.

I was surprised to see so many of the 1930s dresses left unfinished on the insides, with raw edges; however, larger seam allowances were often given (around half an inch) and additionally, the fabric of that period was definitely of better quality, with a higher thread count, when compared with similar fabrics available in today's market. Therefore, the fabric had actually survived intact, and the dress was neither damaged nor any worse for wear, by leaving the edges raw. On a chiffon dress, the seam allowances were trimmed (or perhaps had frayed?) to as little as 1/4"; but the seam had still not deteriorated.

On other dresses, the seams had been overcast by a whip stitch done by hand, which was quite inconspicuous and a little more protective of the seam allowances.

An option for me would be to carefully zig-zag machine stitch down the raw edges, placing the stitch over the raw edge so that the thread draws the edge in close - as I would finish raw edges of the cloth on a pair of tailored trousers. This would be much quicker, however I didn't want to risk the machine catching or pulling on the fine crepe cloth, or there being a discrepancy with the top- and backing fabric (i.e. if one of them slipped under the foot).

Although I am not aiming to accurately reproduce a 1930s dress (as my classmates are for the Patterns of Fashion competition), I do want the dress to have a feel of authenticity which reflects my research into this period. I therefore decided to do the historically-accurate finishing by whipstitching by hand.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Choosing the trimmings

The trimmings are not a major part of this dress but are nonetheless important. I found it surprisingly difficult to find a square diamonte buckle, they were nearly all rectangular! I did find these shell buckle ornaments (see far right) which I felt I could change into dress clips for the shoulders.

I couldn't find any belt buckles in haberdashery shops so decided to look in some antique and second-hand shops. I found this lovely belt buckle (far left) which I believe may well date to the 1930s due to the art deco-esque shapes. Whilst it was a different shape from the buckle in the design, it felt more elegant than the squarer buckles I'd found and suited the dress a lot. There was one problem: the vintage buckle was startlingly different in tone from the new shell ones I'd bought previously! I was first a little concerned as all the dealers told me that there was no way of polishing up the vintage buckle, and I didn't really want to break down the new ones too much with French Enamel Varnish as I didn't want to spoil them.

Further searching however led me to find some real dress clips, also seeming to be possibly from the 1930s or 1940s. The trimmings are slightly tarnished and missing a few stones but overall I feel that they add to the period look and feel of the dress, and the age of the buckles, and quality and colour of their metals, look very nice with the colour of the dress.

In industry this method of sourcing, of course, might not always be suitable. Trimmings from an established supplier might be requisite so that they can easily be re-ordered and/or replaced in the future. 

Monday, 23 April 2012

Finishings & the placket

I have top-stitched the point at the bodice to draw attention to it, which I discovered in Blandford.

I then trimmed and layered the seam allowances at the bodice-skirt seam, and slip-stitched a piece of bias binding on top to cover this neatly, and re-enforce the seam.

I made a narrow placket for the CB closure out of a piece of straight-grain fabric, then started putting popper onto it. I chose poppers which I thought would be the right size and sewed most of them on, but when I tried to close the placket it was obvious that they were far too bulky for the delicate silk dress, and didn't provide a 'clean' closure. I had made a bad choice of fastening for I hadn't considered the depth/height of the popper, just the width. It looked terrible and nothing for it but to un-pick.

First I thought that more delicate poppers were needed, perhaps ones half the size. But upon  re-considering my original research I think that using small hooks and bars will be better as I can get the edge of the fastening right against the edge of the CB and keep it all as flat as possible.

Additionally I have to un-pick some of the dress to allow for dropping before I can set the hem and do the remaining finishing!

A frustrating week of "one step forward, two steps back" yet I continue undeterred....there is nothing for it but to put it in the consideration for future experience.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Visit to Fashion Museum, Bath

I took another research trip, this time to the Fashion Museum in Bath, where I had arranged to examine some more 1930s dresses. Although I had already seen two at Blandford, I wanted to get a broader overview of what 1930s dressmaking might be like (having already studied the cut) in order to better inform my practice.

I was unfortunately not able to bring a camera, but I took detailed and extensive notes and measurements. Although the dresses that I was shown were not of the same style (evening, and quite sexy) as the one I am making, being mostly chiffon, I managed to examine carefully how seams were finished and note the quality of the fabric after 80 years! I also examined hems and closures. I even examined one of the dresses in Patterns of Fashion 2! (Arnold, 1966) and discovered howJanet Arnold had transferred what she saw in the dress, to her sketches in the book. This allowed me to better understand how I could approach interpreting patterns from this series of books.

There were a lot of variations in styles, but certain things remained the same, such as having open seam allowances inside the dress - not French seams- and often neatening them by catching the raw edges with a whipstitch, by hand. This would allow the fabric to stay as light as possible, and so that the seam allowances don't show in a ridge on the right side.

This was a really helpful trip as it strengthened my understanding of 1930s dressmaking techniques

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Dropping the skirt!

I raised the point and it was really incredible how much the fabric had dropped: I cut away more than 5cm at the top when I pulled the cloth taught!

After I put it together and came back to it over the next few days, however, the skirt had dropped even more! I didn't want to change the point again as I had it sitting quite nicely otherwise. I therefore decided to unpick the opposite portion of the skirt and push all the fabric down.

I machined this back up but over the course of the following week still a little more fabric dropped. I have therefore decided to leave it for another week to get the most out of it as possible, then put the seam back together. Then all that will remain is the hem, and the seam finishing.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Re-working the bodice

I made the changes to the bodice and put it back together on the stand. It looked good!

I felt that it did resemble the original illustration. The noticeable difference is that the bodice on the illustration was more drapey, had more fabric. However I had discovered from the fittings that when I added more fabric and drape to my dress, it was too much: it was unflattering and gaped open. The reason for this, I surmised, was simply that the model in the illustration has a larger bust than my model. This would require more drapery to fit around the body - whereas to get a good fit I have to match the pattern to the body itself. This is another considering to account for when interpreting a costume based simply off an illustration.

I made bias-binding from the top fabric and finished off the edges. I made the bias binding fairly wide, approx. 2cm. Although this is wider than the 1930s dresses I researched, I did this on purpose so that if an edge gaped a little, or came away from the body, the white backing fabric would not be immediately visible. It may look less delicate but has the desired function.

What I did discover however, after putting it all together, was that one of the back bodice panels was wider than the other! Extremely frustrating, but I measured many times to check and decided that the difference was noticeable: I would have to un-pick and trim some of the excess away so that they matched. I did this, and upon scrutinising the bodice once more, they still seemed slightly out! In fact once I re-measured the difference was extremely slight; and due to the fabric stretching in places. The bias drape was constantly changing the nature of the fabric itself! Nothing to be done; luckily the style of the dress really exploits the draped feel, and I don't think that it's overall very noticeable.

More lessons to be learnt here regarding handling bias drape projects.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Second fitting

I held the second fitting as soon as wel came back from the Easter holiday as I really wanted to get ahead with the project; overall I am trying to work as efficiently as possible to allow for extra time at the end of EMP as a safety net!


As suspected there were problems across the bodice. Strangely, even though I had had to add length to the bodice before, it was now too long and gaped open terribly. I took it up at the shoulders. The cross-over bodice needed to pleat down more sharply, in order to get the straight diagonal line which mimicked that of the point across the body. The point of the skirt needed to come even higher, and the pleat at the lower bodice needed to be moved more centrally so that the fullness lies at the apex of the busy - where it needs to!

The line of the bodice at the sides, though, lay nicely.

Despite my efforts at hanging the fabric, it had dropped quite noticeably across the centre of the skirt. This would have to be unpicked at one of the seams and smoothed across.

Alterations as expected, but nothing too terribly drastic. It has made me feel relatively positive about my making skills as I do have to put them into perspective - as with my tailoring skills! Normally bias-cut dressmaking is a really specialised skill in this wide field of making and cutting; it takes years of practice to learn just how to handle the fabric. It\s easy to overwork as the bias stretches so easily, so I have definitely noted to really hang the fabric for as long as possible, and even to tack the whole dress together and hang it on the stand for a week or so prior to machining everything together at all.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Cutting out and preparing for second fitting

Before cutting out I hung my fabric on the bias for a week. I hoped to stretch it out as much as possible, to avoid the fabric 'dropping' later on. From past experience in working with silk velvet backed on calico, this was a real problem which kept creeping up weeks into the project and I hoped to eliminate as much as possible at the beginning.

I carefully ironed the fabric. Cutting it out was difficult as, as I had anticipated, the cloth liked to move about. To try to combat this I fixed it to the cutting table with masking tape; however the cloth still moved under the blade of the scissors themselves as I cut. Therefore, on top of the large seam allowances that I had decided in include in case of need of alteration, I cut excess around the pattern pieces, so that they could be 'tidied up' if needed. I also created a little tool to check the bias of the cloth, so that I was getting the pieces really on the correct grain.

I mark tacked the fabric by hand to get all of the lines and placements. This was time consuming but I really felt that it was a necessary step. I then placed the pieces of top fabric on the backing fabric, basted them together, then re-tacked around all of the lines to keep them together, using a different colour.

I decided to go ahead and sew together the skirt parts, as I was confident in the fit across the body. The bodice was more of a grey area though, and thus I tacked this together instead, anticipating changes.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Fabric choice

I researched the fabric colour choices for this period and common cloths were: satin, crepe and chiffon. My aim originally was to find a heavy double-backed crepe at Shepherd's Bush, and I made a round of all the shops to find the cloth. Surprisingly it was difficult to find the fabric in a shade which I liked and was suitable to the period. Also the cloth was extremely expensive and I felt uneasy regarding the cost. Unexpectedly, I was offered a ream of thin silk crepe by one shop owner whom I am friendly with for an incredibly cheap price (£20 for 5.5m!), and in a lovely colour which really did suggest and sum-up the period: this nile green.

Although the weight of the cloth itself is not perfect for the project, I have decided to use it regardless. The cloth is slightly see-through due to the thinness so I first thought that I would line it with itself. However upon thought I have instead decided to back it with silk habutai. This cloth is thin but has a shiny not a rough surface. Backing the dress with this instead of with another layer of crepe will counteract the 'tooth' of the cloth; it will cling, slip and slide across the contours of the body, as is required by the dress style. Even with the price of the backing fabric, the cost of the dress is still only a fraction of what it would have been had I bought double-backed crepe.

In an ideal world I would have of course used the more suitable, and more expensive, fabric. However in the professional world it is likely that I might indeed be using a thinner or not so ideal fabric due to price as well, or else because it was of a required colour or pattern. Although backing the dress will give me more work, it also gives me experience of making a lesser-suitable work for the purpose. I feel that this will be an invaluable exercise as it's a situation likely to occur when working in industry.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

First fitting

I held the first fitting immediately after cutting out my amended patterns...


When we first put on the dress, with the underwear that I had considered, many things were clear. Firstly that the dress should be worn with no bra, simply because the drape required the natural placement of the breasts.

The line of the seams around the thighs was actually quite good. but there was a problem regarding the bodice portion. The dress simply wasn't sitting in the right place. We realised that the waist seam line did need to come to the actual natural waist. At first I was advised to move all the parts in the pattern pieces around but this seemed extremely complicated.  I realised that the simplest solution would simply be to lower the dress itself, on the figure, by adding length from the shoulders. Suddenly everything fell into the right place, without the need for such drastic alterations!

There were still a few things to be changed: to add more volume to the bodice across places, and to raise the point at the bodice centre front.


Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Draping the toile

I have researched pattern cutting of the time, for since in books on Madeleine Vionnet, the pioneer of bias cutting, as well as in Janet Arnold. However it was immediately clear to me that the only real option for this dress was to drape on the stand. Using what I had discovered in books on draping as well as (notably) my research at Blandford, I came up with a plan on how to drape regarding the placement of the grains.

I decided to use a cheap, drapey fabric that would accurately mimic the flow of the required top fabric, instead of cheap calico (which is too stiff, but is what I might normally use due to economy).

There was nothing for it but to get started so I spent a morning draping and re-draping. I have not created patterns in this manner for over a year (during the 'Candide' project in second year!) so it took me a while to get used to in but in fact I discovered that just as with flat pattern drafting, with or without systems, there was nothing to it but to keep trying. After a while, and a few changes, I managed to achieve something which I felt bore resemblance to the design. However what I did discover was that, as I had anticipated, in fact it was not possible to completely transfer the illustration onto the mannequin (that I had padded up according to my model).

Firstly, it was impossible to create the exact same line across the side of the thigh as they didn't match up to be a continuous line! I therefore just had to make a decision and came up with something as close as I could which retained the same feel.

Secondly, if I created the same flared elements at the skirt hem on the front, with godets inserted as suggested by the illustration, the silhouette of the skirt changed completely. I decided to eliminate the godet idea and keep the skirt pieces whole.

I also found elements of the bodice difficult to drape, but hope that this could be changed at the fitting when it is on an actual, moving figure.

Additionally, lthough I did not want to make the dress have a train, purely for practical reasons, I left the hemline very long so that it could be set at the fittings.

Difficulty was found when I un-pinned the pieces and set them on paper to trace them but I measured all pieces carefully, checked them against grains, and made adjustments as I felt best.

Here are selected photographs of my draping progression:


Adding more pleating across the bodice:

Cutting into the seam allowances releases tension and allowed me to get a smoother, more accurate fit to the mannequin.

Godets in the skirt hem give the wrong silhouette. The skirt is altogether too wide:


Raising the bust and releasing tension along this seam line:

Monday, 12 March 2012

Researching at Blandford Fashion Museum

As I am familiar with images of the cut of 1930s bias cut dresses, but not the actual construction, I had many questions regarding the possibilities in the making processes. I had many ideas for the solutions but not sure what was best. Although I am not trying to make a replica of a 1930s dress, I do want to have a degree of authenticity as I feel that this would suit and compliment my project on period cutting: to consider period dressmaking techniques as well.  I therefore paid a visit to Blandford Fashion Museum, where they had a few 1930s dresses in their collection for study.

I was able to look at two dresses, and at my guess they were previously worn by the same woman due to the similarity of style, size and fabric choice - which is always an interesting thing to consider. They were both evening dresses, and made of similar fabrics (in terms of the weight, fibre composition, and the woven metallic thread design). Very interestingly, between the two dresses there are elements of the cut of my dress to be found.

What I found really notable, firstly, was the seam finishing. I had expected French seams to be used but in fact both dresses had seam allowances (which were not noticeably narrow, 1/2"-1") which had been overcast by hand to prevent fraying. This would reduce the amount of bulk caused by a French seam, which would be noticeable on the right side of the dress when worn as the fabric lies so close to the body.

All raw edges at the neckline and armhole were finished by 1cm bias binding, made from the same fabric as the dress. The dresses closed either with a side placket and hooks and eyes which were very neatly inserted with the edges of the hooks covered by a piece of white tape; or with covered buttons down the centre back.

The hem of the blue dress was simply finished simply by being turned up, whereas the maker of the cream dress had found a beautiful and clever, but very time consuming solution to hemming a curved edge.

Some seams, especially the angular ones coming across the body, were topstitched for emphasis. Also I found it interesting that the long, lower skirt pieces sometimes had parts added in; that is to say, there were joins in the fabric where excess had been sewn in due to it being difficult to cut out the whole piece from the fabric. As the dresses were shop-bought and not home-made endeavours, this showed me that it was perfectly acceptable to have a join in the fabric.

This research has been extremely useful as it give me the ability to make a more informed choice in my making decisions.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Considering the design

The dress which I have chosen to make:
(Laubner, 2000, p.50).

There are important things to note about this image when considering is because, importantly, it is a fashion illustration and not a photograph which can be more clearly replicated. Therefore:
  • It represents an idealised, imagined dress according to the designer/illustrator
  • Therefore an exact replica is impossible
  • The proportions are exaggerated: longer legs, for instance. And it may not be possible to exactly interpret all of the lines on a figure
  • Everything looks totally smooth and perfect, for instance the draping of the upper bodice into the fitted midriff section. This may not be completely possible!
  • Additionally I have made the decision not to make the train at the lower hem of the skirt. This is simply for practical and monetary reasons; additionally, floor-length evening gowns without trains were equally, if not more, common during this period.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Getting Started on the dress - research

I have wanted to make a bias-cut dress for a while as bias-cutting is a technique that I have read and heard so much about, and something that I have never really attempted. I have been warned many times about the difficulty of the technique, but rather than putting me off this has incensed my interest. I chose to make a bias-cut 1930s evening dress to round off my exploration into 1930s cut and construction: I am making a day and an evening outfit. This links to my research into 1930s/'Golden Age' Hollywood costume workrooms. Whilst Hollywood costume designers had an influence on fashion, at the same time they borrowed from fashion: many designers chose looks straight from Paris couture workrooms.

I researched a lot of 1930s evening dresses, looking at:  1930s film stills and star portraits; 1930s ready-to-wear catalogues; advertisements, society snapshots, and finally 1930s fashion illustrations. I was looking for something which a) would be a nice contrast to the suit in terms of making; b) wasn't too complicated; c) met my taste! This was so that I would make a balanced choice of something challenging but not unachievably difficult, and one which would give me a good, sound introduction into bias-cutting.

I found this image in Collectable Fashions of the Turbulent 1930s (Laubner, 2000).

Thursday, 8 March 2012

A finished suit!

Some thoughts on this suit...

This suit has certainly proved the challenge I had anticipated it would be: it has stretched my mind to discover and come up with solutions to problems, and the process of converting my male tailoring knowledge to the female body has been a very interesting one. Thinking about this has really heightened my understanding of the body (both male and female), its contours and shapes, and how fabric can and should be manipulated above the body in order to create the desired silhouette, smoothing out lines and shapes.

Overall, I must say that I really enjoyed making this suit. It was extremely challenging, which I feel leaves me better-equipped to face the future! Obviously the suit is still imperfect (I am most unhappy with the sleeves) but I have improved in my understanding as well as my skills - something which pleases me greatly and which makes me feel more confident in my abilities as a trainee tailor. I feel much more prepared about approaching tailoring workrooms now, and am excited to continue to develop my skills and knowledge in tailoring in the future.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Finishing up

The last thing to do on the jacket was to think about the centre front closure. I settled on secure, alternating  hooks and eyes so that the jacket would stay closed.

I fixed the lapels to the jacket with a short bar tack, so that there is a little degree of flexibility, and the lapels don't pull too much.

Finally, at the very end of making this jacket, I suddenly realised that I had sewn the sleeve vents in backwards! (They were facing the wrong direction). I was really, really annoyed with myself as I wish I had noticed when I cut out the sleeve. This shows the importance of constantly checking! I didn't have enough fabric to re-cut and re-make the sleeve (and didn't really want to repeat the sleeve nightmare all over again) so I decided to unpick the sleeve vents, chop them off, and sew up the sleeve seams normally. I tried to make this as inconspicuous as possible and it is only really noticeable if you examine the sleeve linings clearly. An annoying mistake, but I came to a compromise. (The sleeve vents only served a decorative purpose, anyway).

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Sleeve trouble

I have had a lot of trouble with putting the sleeves into my jacket. After my third (or is it fourth?) attempt, I have made the decision to stop and leave it with what I have, rather than risking over-working and stressing the fabric.

Although sleeves have an infamous reputation in tailoring, in the past I have not actually had much trouble with them. This complacency was disproved in the case of this project! I believe that the difficulty lies in a) how fitted the jacket is, there is not that much ease across the whole jacket; and, b) how high the shoulder pads are, throwing everything slightly askew.

I have had an awful lot of trouble trying to get the sleeve cap to lie nicely into the sleeve head. To cut a very long story short, I tried as best I could to figure it out, then talked to the tutors upon admitting defeat. Unfortunately this complicated matters further, as different tutors - with different tailoring experiences - gave me completely different advice upon how to proceed, and what materials I should (or should not) use. This left me extremely confused, but after thinking upon all of the advice, and analysing how it would function on the garment itself, I managed to make some of my own decisions regarding how to proceed.

One of the main lessons I learnt from this unfortunate exercise is the principal difference between female and male tailoring: that with female tailoring, you break the "rules"; and you actually use more cavases. 
Making this suit is, to be honest, very difficult. I am trying to find all the solutions to the problems I constantly encounter by myself, whereas if I were making this in a professional workroom situation, I would be following already-established rules and patterns. Discovering it all for myself is proving a daunting and large task. However, it  is giving me a better, broader and more in-depth understanding of the tailoring processes themselves work, and an ability to consider the qualities of and then choose what tailoring materials to use.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Decisions regarding the neckline

This jacket has no collar, as all the focus is on the neckline. Finishing the neckline on the front pieces of the jacket is not a problem, as the facing extends up to the neckline. It can therefore just be sewn, turned, then pressed closed.

I had to make a decision regarding how to finish the back neckline. At first I though I would just be able to proceed as I would any normal jacket (with a collar), by turning down the top cloth and cross stitching it down to the canvas; then, folding the lining up and slip stitching that into place. However, upon much consideration I realised that the absence of a line of firm stitching would mean that the neckline was not secure and could stretch out of shape. I therefore decided to cut a facing out of top cloth, fairly wide (2") to allow for the fabric rising up when the jacket is worn, allowing a glimpse of the inside, so that top cloth is seen and not lining.

Upon further research into men's jackets, I discovered that some jackets (depending on the brand/tailor)  do in fact have a crescent-shaped cloth facing below the back neckline, even with a collar. This has served to confirm my idea of securing the neckline as a good one, as it is done by other practitioners.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Sleeve developments.

I lined the jacket, tacked in the shoulder pads, and looked at it on the stand. The fit seems good and everything hangs nicely. I have therefore decided to fully make up and line the sleeves, and tack them into the armholes, for the fitting.

Providing they hang correctly for the model, I will then machine them in, finish the linings, and add fastenings.

I went back to the initial sleeve draft, which I had completed according to instructions in Aldrich (2002). Although I was happy with the fit around the arm, the sleeve head had no ease, and the proportion of the Upper to the Lower sleeve was also too large. I have therefore decided to re-draft the sleeve according to Graham's method for male tailoring. I will simply make any measurement guidelines slightly smaller.

This method has proved much easier, and it was simple to draft a squarer sleeve head. however my new problem was that the draft was giving me too much ease in the under-sleeve!

I had a two options: either raise the Back Pitch, or cut a higher sleeve head.  Graham advised me to cut a sleeve in calico and look at it, to see if it worked; and if not, to try the second option for the other side. I decided to cut the sleeve with a higher sleeve head, which puts more cloth in the sleeve. I made this decision based on the fact that the shoulder pads had raised the jacket by quite a lot, and that there was therefore a section of the jacket (nearly 1") which needed to be covered, but which wasn't necessarily going to need a lot of consideration in terms of movement. In other words, more fabric here should cover the edge shoulder pad, rather than being baggy and excess.

I pinned in the sleeve roughly and tried it on. It hung really nicely and even though it was pinned in, and not carefully eased, I felt that it really worked. The alteration, instead, should be around the elbow, where it was too pointy.

I am now happy and confident in proceeding to cut and make up my sleeve.  Graham's help with the alterations has shown me that I should take charge of a draft and make alterations where necessary, rather than feeling restricted by the instructions. I am becoming more and more confident in my decision-making, both with pattern drafting and making. Also, the more experience I have with things which are not immediately correct, the better, as it will aid me in continually improving my practice.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Pad stitching

I have been thinking a lot about how to create the very prominent roll on the lapels. I have come to the conclusion that to shape the lapels, I will have to make specific shapes via the pad stitching. The section closest to the centre front will be rolled the most, with the mid-section stitched flat. This should create the dip.

I was unsure about how to treat the very ends of the lapels. I have spoken to Kat to ask her opinion on the pad stitching, and she advised me to roll the ends just as I would with any other lapels (or in other words, as I would treat the corners of a lapel with male tailoring). She said that she believed the uplift effect at the ends of the lapels would be created naturally when the lapel lay against the body.

I decided to pad-stitch a sample lapel which is slightly smaller, to test out the method.

Overall it worked, though Kat has advised me to change the direction of the middle section.

I then pad stitched the whole of the lapels on the jacket front. This took a really long time, and it was difficult to roll them evenly [over my fingertip] as they are so long. However, hopefully these bumps will press out gradually, and with the help of steam.

This has been a really excellent exercise in developing my understanding of the pad stitching technique. I am truly learning advanced methods of manipulating cloth, which is aiding my professional development more and more. It is showing me how to take a technique and apply it in different ways and different situations, in order to achieve specific effects.

The one thing I am not totally pleased about is the unevenness of the pad stitching; however this will continue to improve with practice and meanwhile I should be able to smooth it out by pressing it.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Second fitting


This now fits well around the hips, however the zip does not lie nicely. Mandy has suggested machining down the zip to get it to lie flat. I will practice on a sample first before altering it.

The length of the skirt is good. I have decided to make it flare out slightly below the knee, as the pleats at the back of the skirt are not giving sufficient volume to create the right silhouette. This is a simple alteration.

The jacket needs to be taken in very slightly along the CF to draw it together.

We raised the neckline and top of the lapel once more as it wasn't sitting in its proper place.
On the back, the neckline needed to be lowered. It wasn't sitting in the right place due to the shoulder pads.

The amount of height that the shoulder pads added also meant that the cloth fell into hollows around the shoulder blades. This will be smoothed out with a piece of hair canvas.

Overall, my first experience with shoulder pads - and ones which are especially large - has been really useful as it has has taught me all of the things I must consider when using them, both at the pattern drafting stage and in the making-up process. This will be really helpful in the future when I am working professionally, as I will have no problems with using shoulder pads, and building them to specific shapes.

Apart from these minor alterations, it was a good fit on the figure. Of course everything will lie flatter once it has been properly sewn and pressed flat.