#7- If I am a sewing machine…

If I’m a sewing machine, what are you?

While floating in the swimming pool with Alice (of the re-fashioned Kimono) and my cousin Abby (donor of the Kimono) we were talking about our extended family. Abby was describing people for Alice in Abby’s unique way.

Juki sewing machine

 

One of Alice’s 2nd cousins was described as, “ felted wool sweater and hard cover book.”

2 hard cover books on a table

 

A distant cousin was described as “organic herbs and felted wool hat.”

Sage with some bug eaten holes.

Alice and I thought this method of describing people was very funny, accurate and hard to do. We tried to describe other members of our large extended family using Abby’s object driven descriptions and ran into problems. How many adjectives can be used to describe the object? Does the order of objects matter?

As we floated in the pool, I decided I was sewing machine: lots of potential for doing all kinds of stitches, but I need to be plugged in and turned On. To translate that: I can sew, I can write, I can organize, etc. but I have trouble getting started. Most of the time the jolt of energy from my morning coffee gets me going, but sometimes even the coffee doesn’t work; I get plugged in but the switch isn’t turned On. I’ll find myself reading all three newspapers on the breakfast table and think longingly about the novel I’m reading, instead of the challenging sewing on my worktable. I know that if I can get to my workroom and get started on the current project I will become totally absorbed in the work.

Once I get turned On I have trouble stopping- the Off switch is elusive. I will be totally and happily absorbed in my work and the hours will fly by – until my husband (or my grumbling stomach) reminds me it’s time to eat. My reply, “Yes, thanks for the reminder, I’ll be there in 5 minutes” and mean that. Somehow the 5 minutes turns into 30 minutes and by then I’m totally out of energy. Luckily, my husband knows this about me and compensates for my totally absorbed state/tardiness. So hitting the Off switch is as hard as hitting the On switch for me.

What about you? Are you an elevator? Moving from one floor/task to another as the people around you demand your attention? A tractor plowing through your tasks? Or maybe a weed whacker: capable of cutting through the weeds to expose the hidden flowers?

 

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#6- A Book Signing Party

We had a Book Signing Party!

Cat Burkey, Jane Levin, Ellen Miller, Tracy Aiguier, Martha Palaza, Eddi Phillips and Roseanna Ansaldi seated around a table, all holding copies of Creating Couture Embellishment.

Everyone has a copy of Creating Couture Embellishment!

from left to right: Catherine Burkey, Jane Levin, Ellen Miller, Tracy Aiguier,  Martha Palaza,  Eddi Phillips, Roseanna Ansaldi.

Over the seven years of creating the book I had many collaborators, many with more than one job.  Anne Townley was my editor at Laurence King Publishing, although “editor”. Amy Ozay designed the spectacular bodices shown at the start of each chapter. Very early on Anne and Amy insisted, rightly, that each chapter have a consistent color theme running through it, and thus elevated the tone of the entire book. Neither Amy nor Anne could attend the book signing party and we missed them!

Martha Palaza helped with the pattern making: creating the basic pattern and muslin for Faith, our mannequin for the bodices.  Martha also stepped into the breach whenever my pattern making skills faltered and gently set me on the right course.  Roseanna Ansaldi helped me master pleats, tucks and spiral flounces.  Roseanna and I tried many fabrics for the sample for these chapters (linen, plain cotton, striped cotton, cotton polyester blends) before settling on a fine wool, notable for it’s ability to hold a crease. Jane Levin created all of the line drawings in the book, working until each drawing showed a precise moment in the sewing process with utmost clarity.   Eddi Phillips designed nearly all of the amazing sleeves featured in the circles at the top of each technique.  Eddi also helped choose the appropriate fabrics and trims for each sleeve, ensuring the sleeves were couture quality. Catherine Burkey designed some of the more picturesque sleeves, and worked with me day after day until all the sleeves were perfectly sewn, creating a comprehensive library of the techniques. Tracy Aiguier photographed all the bodices and sleeves, leaving me speechless with the beauty of the photographs. I could not have “written” this book without their invaluable help.

Laurence King Publishing spent two years “editing” Creating Couture Embellishments: book design, layout, color correction of my photos, copy editing and text-photo matching, checking the colors of the “actions” lines in Pleats, Tucks and so forth. All the work by Laurence King Publishing transformed my Word documents into a beautiful book. But it had been two years since many of us had gotten together, and some of the collaborators had never met each other. The release of Creating Couture Embellishments was the perfect reason to have a party together.

My husband and I made Swiss Chard Spanakopita and a big salad. We had wine, beer & ice tea. For dessert we had cake & ice cream.  In between the main course and dessert my fellow artisans and I sat at one table to sign books. You would think that our spouses/partners would cheer us on as we signed books—you would be wrong! They ignored us and carried on with own conversations that had nothing to do with fashion. Luckily, my niece Alice (of Kimono blog fame) was suitable impressed by all of us and took pictures to commemorate the occasion. We tried to stretch dessert so we could talk for hours but we had to disband about 10 pm as everyone had a long drive home and work the next morning. It was a wonderful party to celebrate a unique event: Signing Creating Couture Embellishments!

 

 

 

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#5- About Me

#5  About Me

I am a sewist*, an author, a teacher, a mother of 2 grown children, and wife.

Ellen in a pink muslin

I am sewist:

Long sleeves on a table, from Creating Couture Embellishments

Long sleeves on a table, from Creating Couture Embellishments

I love to make to clothes. I love taking a piece of flat paper or muslin and creating a pattern, cutting out the garment pieces in a luscious fabric, pining the pieces together, sewing and pressing the seams to form a three-dimensional thing that slides over the body giving voice to wearer’s inner vision of herself (mine or a client’s). Creating clothes is slow, meticulous work but oh- the final product- it speaks of me: the love and care put in to it and it speaks of the wearer: bold or soft spoken, brightly colored or muted tones, bejeweled or plain- if it accurately represents the wearer- she will stand tall and feel confident: an equal to anyone in the room.

I am an author:

photo of book

It took seven years to “write” and edit Creating Couture Embellishments ; it will be in bookstores in July, 2017! Creating Couture Embellishments is a 400-page, abundantly illustrated, how-to book with 3 sections–basic tools and techniques, fabric manipulation, and embellishments and trimmings— 23 chapters covering 174 techniques including quilting, ruffles and flounces, passementerie, beads and sequins. The “writing” included making the samples, photographing the samples and writing the text to accompany the photographs of the samples.

I am a teacher:

Couture Detail notebook, filled with handouts from Ellen’s class

photo of binder

I love to teach pattern making and sewing. I am fascinated by how students learn: some need to read a textbook, some need to see a demonstration, some need to do the project themselves. The moment when an idea or concept suddenly makes sense to a student – the aha! moment – is joyous. It might be a small moment: a button needs a shank so it stands above thicknesses of the cloth around the buttonhole, or it might big a moment: clothing alterations are like draping but on a real person. When a student understands the lesson- that’s the reward for a teacher.

I am a Mother and Wife:

My two children are very private people, as opposed to me, I will answer just about any question and I have no modesty. My children are amazingly smart- like their dad they attended an Ivy League School, and are able write coherently about Enya and Chemistry in the same paragraph. My beloved husband of 30+ years has spent the last 40+ years managing professional theaters. As he might tell you, like many former boy scouts he is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, kind, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. And a little silly sometimes.

*Sewist is the newest term for someone who loves to sew, as sewer can be confused with someone who loves to sew or the waste-water handler. I’m not crazy about sewist but it’s better than sewer.

 

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#4-Alice’s Kimono

My niece once removed Alice received a child’s kimono similar to this one from her aunt/ my cousin Abby.

Colorful Japanese children’s kimono on dress form

Child’s kimono on a dress form

 

Alice wanted to alter the kimono by shortening the torso and sleeve lengths so she could wear it as a fun top. What a great idea! I started by taking apart the sleeve and torso hems. The more I took the kimono apart the more the dirt and stains on this lovely fabric became apparent.

Here, at the center of the photo, you can see the lines of dirt that marks the clean seam allowances that had been tucked inside the sleeve.   Alice and I agreed to take apart the rest of the kimono and wash it to see if we could reduce the dirt.

Here is the same piece of fabric after washing. There is still a clear dirt/seam line, but lighter, and the entire piece is much cleaner.

 

These two kimonos, the one pictured on the dress form and the one Alice received, came from my grandparents. My grandparents spent several years working in Japan in the early 1960’s; when they came home they brought a kimono for each of the girl grandchildren. We wore the kimonos for special occasions, Halloween costumes and dress-up fun. I would not be surprised if Abby’s kimono was never cleaned. Dry cleaning was a luxury for us and with the wool interlining, the kimono would have been difficult to wash.

To quote Wikipedia and Liza Dalby: Kimonos are traditionally made from a single bolt of fabric called a tan. Tan come in standard dimensions—about 36 centimetres wide and 11.5 metres long—and the entire bolt is used to make one kimono. The finished kimono consists of four main strips of fabric—two panels covering the body and two panels forming the sleeves—with additional smaller strips forming the narrow front panels and collar. Historically, kimonos were often taken apart for washing as separate panels and resewn by hand. Because the entire bolt remains in the finished garment without cutting, the kimono can be retailored easily to fit another person.

Dalby, Liza (2001). Kimono: Fashioning Culture. Seattle: University of Washington Press. ISBN 9780295981550. OCLC 46793052.

Once the kimono was partially sewn back together, I draped 2 different pieces of fabric to try as new collars.

I thought the light teal polyester worked better with the bright colors of this children’s kimono.

 

Once the kimono was the kimono and sleeves were shortened, I applied a bias strip as the collar and along the sleeve edges.

 

Alice’s completed kimono with light teal collar and sleeve bands and 4-strand flat braid closure

Alice’s completed kimono

Close up of 4-strand flat braid closure that can be added using hidden buttons

Close up of the removable braid closure

I braided some bias cord to use as fastener at the front. Alice said she wasn’t sure she wanted a fastener, so I made the braid removable by sewing some clear buttons into the kimono. The braided tie can be hung on the buttons or unbuttoned to be removed.

Alice wearing her remade kimono top

Here is Alice wearing her new kimono.

#3-Perfecting the basic muslin and patterns

Martha and I met, again, to fine tune my basic muslin; Martha pinned in some changes to the muslin.

In the back view you can see some wrinkles in the muslin: near the shoulder blades and through the armhole & upper sleeve areas. I decided not to fuss with this “small” fitting issue; I am calling it “wearing ease”- which it is… If this were a knit fabric muslin I would be more concerned, but since it’s a woven I’d rather have the wrinkles and the wearing ease.

Martha and I picked apart the muslin and transferred the changes to the paper patterns. I need to make clean copies of the patterns: accurate seam allowances all the way around, no tape making the pattern a little bigger or smaller, no arrows appointing to the correct line when there are three lines side by side, underarm, bust, waist and hip lines that connect from piece to piece to make straight lines

Because my shoulders are not the same height my fronts need to be different right to left. Also my right and left arm holes are slightly different from each other, meaning I need 2 sleeve patterns; one right, one left.

Here are the perfected patterns copied onto to poster board; my local store doesn’t stock oak tag.

My shoulders are rounded so the front bicep length is shorter and the back bicep length is longer.  Can you find the major mistake I made in the sleeve patterns?  Yup, the elbow dart is in the front part of the sleeve when it should be in the back!  Back to the drawing board with these sleeves.

These bodice and skirt patterns are not flawless, either. Not all the seams are exactly the same length, the notches may be a little off, the skirt hem is a little crooked, etc. Still, they are ideal for me; I’m ready to move forward in my quest for custom, stylized garments– after I fix the sleeve patterns.

P.S. Here are the corrected sleeve patterns.

A right and a left sleeve pattern with elbow darts

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#2-A basic muslin with long sleeves

The patterns & the muslin:

For me, making one’s own clothes requires a well-fitted pattern.  As my weight & shape have changed over the last couple of the years I thought it was time to make a basic muslin shell that fits my current body.  My friend Martha agreed to help with this project- fitting the muslins and helping me transfer the changes to the paper pattern.

Martha likes to work on dotted paper; I like to work on brown paper.

I have an old Wolff dress form that was gifted to me many years ago; it’s a size 8, which I am not. With the help of some foam pads from Fabulous Fit (www.fabulousfit.com), I was able to pad out the dress form to roughly resemble my shape.

This muslin fits me pretty well! Time to add sleeves before making any changes.

Clearly some alterations will need to be made to the pattern. Yes, I am crooked; it’s not the photos. All of us are slightly uneven: one shoulder higher than the other, one hip higher than the other, on breast larger than the other, and so forth. For me, my left shoulder is 1” (2.5 cm) higher than the right shoulder. My waist and hips are pretty level.

As I look at the photos I can see that the bust curve of the princess line is higher than my bust curve.  Also the back is too long between the bust line and waist.

 

Here is the back view with a tuck across the back: much better.

There are still some issues with the armholes and sleeves; Martha can help me fix these problems. It’s almost a great muslin!

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#1- My Book has arrived at our house!

My Book has arrived at our house!

My copy of my Book, Creating Couture Embellishments, arrived in late May!!!! I am so excited! The book looks BEAUTIFUL!   The photos are gorgeous, the illustrations are clear, the text is present on the page, but doesn’t fight with the photos. Everyone at Laurence King Publishing did an amazing job: Thank you!

The book cover for Creating Couture Embellishment featuring blue feather neckline embellishment

This project started seven years ago when someone from Laurence King Publishing (LKP) sent an email to the School of Fashion Design (SFD) asking if any of the teachers were thinking about writing a book. Jim Hannon, head of SFD, forwarded the email to the staff.   Hmm…At our Passover Seder that spring, my friend Diana and I had joked that we should write books together one summer; she is a Psychiatrist, I am a fashion design teacher. Should we spend the summer writing together?

At the time my mother was quite sick and needed more of my time, so I was contemplating taking a leave of absence from teaching. Maybe taking care of my mother and writing a book would be just the ticket for me. I spent the summer dreaming about writing a book.

Laurence King Publishing has a very clear book proposal protocol. What is the book about? Who is the target market? Are there other books like this in the market? and more questions in that vein. I had to work hard refining my ideas about this book just to submit the proposal. Once the proposal was accepted, we (LKP and me) thought it take two years to write this 24 chapter book: a chapter a month seemed like a reasonable work schedule. It took me five years to produce 26 chapters, and it took LKP another two years to edit, layout and print the resulting 23 chapter book. (Yes, 3 chapters were cut: Needle Felting, Crochet and Finishing Details, because the book was too long.)

The basis of Creating Couture Embellishments was a class I taught at SFD: Couture Details. Many of the techniques in Creating Couture Embellishments are straight from my lessons, but some of the techniques were subjects I needed to research further. I knew how to make lots of Flowers, but I had no idea how many different decorations could be made from folding ribbon. I knew how to manipulate and sew lace but I never knew the history of lace making and how the nomenclature came about. Researching and making the samples for the book was time consuming but great fun. Learning to photograph the samples and to write in an academic voice was harder. Normally I write in a chatty voice, as though we were having a conversation, but textbooks require an academic voice. “Just snug the ribbon over until it looks right” won’t do; “Pulling gently on the thread, gather the ribbon into petals” is better. The photographs show exactly where the thread goes through the fabric and must match the text. Having good photos for Steps 1 & 3, but not for Step 2 meant that I needed to redo the entire sequence, otherwise the thread could be 3” long in one photo and 6” long in the next photo. Thus, the two-year timetable went out the window and two years became five years.

 

During those five years my editor at LKP, Anne, never said, “Hurry up” or “What’s taking so long?” Every chapter I submitted was greeted with words of good cheer, followed by edits: photo suggestions, Step improvements, rewrites and general tiding up of the text. Anne, Jodi and many other editors, and I, were careful to get each step right: with the photos and in the text. The results of many years of concentrated work and patient editing are now before me: in this very real copy of Creating Couture Embellishments! Thank you to everyone who helped make this book so beautiful! I hope you find Creating Couture Embellishments helpful, instructive and inspiring.

 

 

 

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