SFD Distinguished Alumna Award

Distinguished Alumna Award

Distinguished Alumna Award

On Friday, May 11, 2018 I was awarded the Distinguished Alumna Award by the School of Fashion Design in Boston, MA.

SFD Distinguished Alumna Award

SFD Distinguished Alumna Award

{For those who don’t know the School of Fashion Design in Boston it is a small school that only teaches Fashion Design and related classes: sewing construction, pattern making, draping, sketching, CAD for pattern making, Photoshop & Illustrator, fashion photography, couture details, 2 and 3-D design, fashion history, hand-bag design & construction, shoe design, and so on. All the classes are limited to 15 or so students, with most classes being much smaller. I love the student: teacher ratio; in every class the teacher has time to check in with every student making sure each student has understood and has successfully completed the lesson/homework assignment from the last class. Located in downtown Boston, it has day, evening and weekend classes.}  http://schooloffashiondesign.org/ 

I graduated from the School of Fashion Design (SFD) in 1998, with a Certificate in Clothing Construction and Pattern Making. (SFD only awards Certificates, not degrees.) I started teaching a Level 1 Construction class the following year.  By the time I took a leave of absence from SFD 10 years later, I had taught Construction and Pattern making levels 1 and 2, Construction levels 3 & 4, and Couture Details. I really love teaching, and I’m good at it, if I do say so myself. I love seeing how each student learns: some students need to read a book, some students need to see a demonstration and some students need to do the project themselves. Of course, we all learn best by using a combination of all 3 methods: reading, watching and doing.

My book, Creating Couture Embellishment, came from teaching the Couture Details class, with some bits and pieces from other classes thrown in, too.

As the Distinguished Alumna, I had two duties: helping to select the garments that would be in the annual Fashion Show and giving a graduation speech. The garment selection process is called “Judging”. As in “Is your dress ready for Judging?” “Oh, no. I still need to hem to my dress and add the hook & eye at the top of the zipper on my skirt!” I was one of six judges; all of us are professional fashion people. We were shown over 100 garments and we loved most of them!

The Fashion Show was held a week later, and it was stunning.

Fashion Show program, front cover

Fashion Show program, front cover

Fashion Show program, back cover

Fashion Show program, back cover

Graduation was the following day. The six members of the graduating class listened to three speakers: Dr. Denise Hammon, the current head of the school. Denise, who is retiring, will be sorely missed. She kept tearing up during the ceremony as she said good bye to the graduating class and to the staff at SFD. I spoke next—the text of my speech is below. Olivia Spence, the recipient of the Isobel Sinesi Lifetime Achievement in Fashion Award, spoke next. Olivia told us of her experiences in Saudi Arabia in the late 1970’s as the co-designer of hundreds of outfits for the Saudi royal families’ wedding season. Each woman needed several outfits for each wedding ; there were many women and many weddings. Now, whenever Olivia is unsettled by an upcoming event or project, she tells herself, “If you can manage the royal Saudi wedding parties, you can mange anything!” It was a great speech and wonderful reminder that we can conquer just about anything we set our minds to. Finally the graduates were handed their Certificates and a rose. All in all the graduation ceremony lasted about an hour, just the right length if you ask me!

 

Graduation program, front cover

Graduation program, front cover

Graduation program

Graduation program

Here is my speech. I was quite nervous. I tried not to speak too quickly. I was so pleased when the audience laughed. I have added <laughs> where the audience laughed. Everyone liked my speech. Olivia and I agreed that if we had planned our speeches together we couldn’t have gotten them to compliment each other any better. Hooray!

Good Morning.                  I started to write a speech telling you about the 5 years I spent writing my book, Creating Couture Embellishment and about the 10 years before that, that I spent teaching at SFD and the 20 years before that, that I spent working in the theater. Several people said this would be interesting to you. Two pages into this reminiscence I was bored to tears. <laugh>

I thought about my SFD graduation day – well really all I remember about that day was that on my way up to the podium to receive my diploma from Mrs. Cushing I tripped. <laugh>

I thought about what would I like someone to tell me on graduation day.

Your work should be something that makes you happy.    

It is work so there will be times when it’s really, really hard: when you pin and baste the left sleeve into the right armhole, when rip out every seam you sew, and when press in creases where they don’t belong.     There will be times when you would rather not bother: when you would rather stay in bed and watch Netflix, or be outside in the sunshine. <laugh>     And then there will be times when everything goes right: when the zipper goes in on the first try, when the pockets match, left and right, and the piping goes right around the corner without bunching or pulling. Those are the times that make all the other hours worth struggling through.   And you can say,  “Yeess! I do know what I’m doing!”

Whatever it is that you do: give it your all.

The prime example of this is hemming a gown: the hem you know you should sew by hand, but you really want to sew it by machine because it’s a really full skirt, and it’s way down there on the ground and who’s going to look down there, because if people are looking down there, then your client isn’t very interesting is …  <laugh>  But you know you should sew it by hand because the rest of the garment is really great and to skimp here… This is when you have to step up and give it your all.  Put on some really good music, or an audio book and sew the hem by hand because you know it will be worth the trouble. When you’re done you’ll be able say, Yeesss! It was worth it!

Don’t worry that you don’t know everything.

It’s true, you will never know everything- that’s impossible. There’s always something new to learn- My sister is a Harley Davidson Motorcycle dealer in Wyoming. She taught me that Harley Davidson Motor Clothes have extra long sleeves. That’s so that when you’re riding your motorcycle with your arms outstretched, your sleeves will still cover your wrists. Yeess! You have learned something new today! <laugh>

However, you know a tremendous amount. For example, you know about pivoting a dart, adding seam allowance, sewing in a sleeve, a hundred ways to hem a dress.  You know how to design a line of clothes and how to present that line of clothes with hand drawn sketches and computer graphics.  You know the difference between cotton and silk, underlining versus interfacing, 2 way stretch versus 4 way stretch, woven versus braided elastic, wearing ease and something that’s just too big. And you know how to take-in that too big garment to make it fit.  You know how to drape a skirt, a blouse, a dress and a gown. You know how to thread a sewing machine in your sleep and how to model a garment on the runway. And it’s very clear that you know how to create a beautiful, original, custom made white dress for this graduation. So, Yeess! You do know a tremendous amount!

You’re graduating from this “wicked hard”  program at the School of Fashion Design. Congratulations! you’re amazing!

After all of this we trooped off to a delicious Brunch at Post 360.

Brunch Invitation

Brunch Invitation

London part 2

London  part 2

Part 2 of our London trip included viewing Queen Victoria’s and Princess Diana’s dresses in Kensington Palace  in London. On the way to Kensington Palace we walked through Hyde Park. The sun was out, there were primroses in the planter boxes, wild parakeets in the trees and snow drops under the bushes just outside Kensington Palace.  At home in Massachusetts 5-8″ of snow was predicted.

Snow Drops

Snow Drops

Inside Kensington Palace we saw some of the rooms Queen Victoria lived in as a child. As we are watching Victoria on PBS and The Crown on Netflix, seeing these rooms in person was fascinating. The rooms are much smaller than one would think from the television shows. Several of the rooms in the Queen Victoria part of the museum were closed for renovations. This is the only photo I took in this section of the museum– one of Queen Victoria’s gowns.

Queen Victoria's gown

Queen Victoria’s gown

The contrast of the delicate white lace gown with the heavy red and gold over-robe and the thick gold rope belt tied in a loop knot is striking.

Lastly, we went to see a temporary exhibit of some of Princess Diana’s dress.

Shirred silk chiffon with beads and sequins

Shirred silk chiffon with beads and sequins

This gown, designed by Gina Fratini for Hartnell in 1991, was inspired by saris. Princess Diana wore the gown in Rio de Janieiro, Brazil. I was intrigue by the mix of beads and sequins at the top of the bodice.

 

Pastel sequin dress

Pastel sequin dress

 

 

 

Close up of sequins

Close up of sequins

This dress, designed by Katherine Walker, was worn on the same trip to Brazil in 1991. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to take a close up photo of the sequins.

 

Gold Falcon Dress

Gold Falcon Dress

This dress was near the end of the exhibit; it was designed by Katherine Walker and worn by Princess Diana during a visit to Saudi Arabia in 1986. I love the way the gold falcons start on the right shoulder, cross the front of the gown, continue around to back at the waist, and then cascade down the back, slightly left of center, all the way down onto the train. The falcons, made of padding and gold sequins, are different sizes and shapes accentuating the sense of flight.

Gold Falcon gown, front

 

Gold Falcon gown, back

Much has been already written about Princess Diana, the People’s Princess.  For me she represented a person who developed a style, which we would now call a brand, which could be adapted by regular people like me.  I grew up in the 60’s and early 70’s when to think about clothes and how one looked was considered shallow; we were supposed to be concerned with ending the Vietnam War, the future of our planet when it was being destroyed by DDT,  and other “serious” issues.  Clothing, make up and self presentation was not only unimportant but thinking about them was egotistic and vainglorious.  Fancy clothes, anything other than blue jeans,  were a “Costume” which didn’t reflect the “real you”.  This notion was further reinforced by my life in the theatre, where I  made costumes for a living. Somehow Princess Diana managed to marry her personal appearance in fancy clothes with political actions, like meeting AIDS patients while wearing a beautiful dress. While I didn’t need a beaded gown or even a tailored suit, I could analyze Princess Diana’s stylish appearance, her gracious ways and apply them to my life: to my wardrobe, my house and my interactions with others. Trite as it might be, she was a role model for me.  Her clothes were, and are, an access point into the courteous, smiling and accepting person that was (the public) Princess Diana.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

London!

#25- London!
I am in London, England with my husband for a week! We are staying at the Rembrandt Hotel,    www.sarova-rembrandthotel.com  across the street from the Victoria and Albert Museum   https://www.vam.ac.uk/.   We bought a membership to the V&A, which allows us access to the museum and the special exhibits as often as we like. We’ve been 3 times since we arrived 4 days ago.

Kate & Ellen smiling

Kate & Ellen

On our first day in London we met Kate of Fabricated   http://fabrickated.com/ . Kate is charming, generous and fascinating to talk to. Kate told us about her day job and we compared notes about difficulties of buying a home, apartment/condo/coop in a large city like London or Boston without parental help or a 7-figure salary. We also talked about Kate’s book project, and I think we talked about blogging and making clothes but jet-lag fog has obscured that part of my memory. It was lovely to meet Kate in person; she’s extraordinary.

After a cup of tea and piece of cake Kate, my husband and I wandered through the jewelry exhibit while trying to find the William Morris textiles. That’s the thing about a large museum like the V&A: on the way to one exhibit you pass through another exhibit that’s fascinating!

necklace made of buttons & gold wire

Button Necklace

Here’s a photo of a necklace made by Rowena Gough in 1999, of mother of pearl button and gold wire. I love this! I want to know what kind of gold wire is strong enough to support all of those buttons.  Any ideas?

My husband and I saw the Balenciaga exhibit, also at the V&A, which was beautiful. I took some photos in this exhibit- technical sewing things that caught my eye.

Hem with pleated support

Hem with pleated support

Here is a photo of the train of a long gown, which is supported by a heavily pleated underskirt or maybe a pleated facing.

Feathers & Beads on a gown

Feathers & Beads

This photo of a feathered and beaded dress is supposed to show that the feathers are beaded and the dress itself is beaded. It makes sense to bead both the feathers and dress under the feathers in scattered patterns: lots of varying sparkles from the many layers, which move differently in the room’s air currents.

We have also been to Kensington Palace, where I took some photos of Queen Victoria’s and Princess Diana’s dresses but they will have to wait for the next post—coming soon.

 

 

Sitting by the river on a snowy day…

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Sitting by the river on a snowy day…which doesn’t quite match Robert Frost’s poem Stopping By The Woods on a Snowy Evening.  As a child growing up in New England I had to memorize this poem.  Was it just children from New England who all learned this poem by heart, or did all U.S. children learn it? You can find the poem at the link below. It’s a lovely simple poem, but of course it has all kinds of deeper meanings.

http://<div id=’rg_embed_link_1875′ class=’rg_embed_link’ data-song-id=’1875′>Read <a href=’https://genius.com/Robert-frost-stopping-by-woods-on-a-snowy-evening-annotated’>“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost</a> on Genius</div> <script crossorigin src=’//genius.com/songs/1875/embed.js’></script>

snow falling on the river

A Snowy Day

 

I have been working on another version of the Burgundy blouse, seen below, as photographed by Jess McDougall.

The burgundy blouse with shirring and gold tone pearls on me.

Burgundy Blouse

 

I added to the length of the blouse and a bit more to the gathered section on the side.  Did I take the time to true the side seam after adding more fullness? No.  The side seam was already ugly in the Burgundy Blouse version, and adding more fullness her made this seam even worse.  I was hoping to just wing it and cut off whatever doesn’t fit.  Haha!  Another good idea ruined by the facts.

Front view of brown floral top

Front view

I like the fullness going from the left waist area  to right bust area.  But there’s extra fabric at the arm hole on the left and the rest of the top hangs badly.

 

Side view of brown floral top

Side view

The front is much longer than the back. Also it’s very lumpy at the waist– on both sides- which makes me think that might be the machine basting stitch I used to sew this together.  I wanted to baste it together to see if I could skip the side zipper.  I don’t have an answer for that question as the whole thing looks so awful I decided to put the garment aside for another day.  Argh!  Is it a redeemable wadder?  or forever a UFO?

Only time will tell.

 

 

 

 

Books & Novels about Dressmakers, Fashion and Sewing

Books and Novels about Dressmakers, Fashion and Sewing

I love to read, especially novels that whisk me away to another time and place. I don’t usually read the Bestsellers from the New York Times; I like easier books. I love series of books: Sue Grafton’s A thru X series, P. D. James’s Adam Dalgliesh and Louise Penny’s Inspector Gammach books. I’ve read every Anne McCaffrey novel, Christopher Paolini’s The Inheritance Cycle and of course J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books.  Another terrific book is The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George; I loved this book.  This is just a short list- if you want to know everything I’ve read in the last couple of years join me on Goodreads.

https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/1628367-ellen-miller

 

Below is a list of books that feature sewing or fashion as the focus of the heroine. I wrote a 2 sentence synopsis for all of the books, but not a review; there are professional literary critics who write great reviews. The first few books true stories or based upon true events; the others are novels.

cover of Dressmaker of Khair Khana

Dressmaker of Khair Khana

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana, set in Kabul, Afganistan, is the true story of a family’s survival after the Taliban take charge of the city. Organized by Kamila Sidiqi, the women in her family create a sewing workshop to support themselves amidst the chaos of war and the Taliban’s harsh restrictions on daily life. This was a really interesting book.

cover of Kimono

Kimono

Kimono and Geisha by Liza Dalby. Liza Dalby trained as a Geisha in Japan in the 1980’s: the only western to do so. Geisha is her memoir about that time. Kimono explains the history of kimonos, including the designs, how they have been worn and their social significance.

cover of The Pink Suit

The Pink Suit

The Pink Suit by Nicole Mary Kelby. The novel is based on the true story of Kate, a seamstress employed by Chez Nino in NY City, who made the iconic pink suit for Jackie Kennedy. The suit was designed by Coco Chanel; the design and pattern were purchased from Chanel by Chez Ninon and Kate created the suit. I knew that making a Chanel suit was labor intensive but this novel describes some of the sewing details that go into the creation of a Chanel suit.

 

cover of Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker

Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker

Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini is set in Washington D.C., around the time of the Civil War. Elizabeth Keckley, a fine seamstress and former slave, really did make Mrs. Lincoln’s clothes. Jennifer Chiaverini’s fictionalized account of their friendship and Keckley’s life was interesting and the book has been made into a movie.

 

cover of Circle of Pearls

Circle of Pearls

 

Circle of Pearls by Rosalind Laker is set in 1650’s England, a time of revolution and distrust. The pearls are Julia’s inheritance, which she pans to wear at her wedding, but the revolution upends many plans.

 

cover of The Dressmaker

The Dressmaker

 

The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott follows Tess on board the Titanic as a personal maid for Lady Duff Gordon. Tess and Lady Gordon survive the sinking of the Titanic and later testify in the hearings about the catastrophe.

cover of The Dress Thief

The Dress Thief

 

The Dress Thief by Natalie Meg Evan addressed the issues of copyright, blackmail and doing what’s necessary to keep from starving. Set in 1930’s Paris Alix, the heroine knows she’s not doing the right thing copying designs but….

cover of The Dressmaker

The Dressmaker

The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham. I must confess that I saw this movie on Netlix or Amazon and I haven’t read the book. However, it’s a terrific story set in 1950’s Australia involving the complexities of returning home, clothes as a show of defiance, lost memories and revenge.

cover of The Wedding Dress

The Wedding Dress

The Wedding Dress by Rachel Hauck unravels a mystery surrounding a vintage wedding gown found by Charlotte, the owner of a bridal boutique in Birmingham AL.

cover of Silk For The Feed Dogs

Silk For The Feed Dogs

Silk For The Feed Dogs by Jackie Mallon follows Kat Connelly as she finishes fashion school in London, finds works in London, then moves to Milan, finding her way “In The Industry”.   I really enjoyed this book.

Please send me any recommendations of books and novels about dressmakers, fashion and sewing that you have read and enjoyed.  I would love to accumulate a library of “sewing books” that are fun reads.

 

 

 

 

 

Lace Presentation at the Boston ASG meeting

#17- Lace Presentation at the Boston ASG meeting

On Saturday, November 4th,  I spoke to about 35 members of the Boston chapter of the American Sewing Guild about Lace and Lace Trim. I had made a Power Point presentation based on the Lace and Lace Trim chapters in Creating Couture Embellishment- my first ever Power Point presentation. I think the presentation was OK, not great, as I was nervous; I know I rushed through the information at the beginning too quickly. I think the middle and end were better, as I slowed down, but I think I relied on information from the book too much and the topic didn’t catch fire in everyone’s imaginations.  Afterwards I overheard someone say, “Well, she certainly knows her subject…” Damning with faint praise.

Because I was nervous, I forgot to take photos at the event–again.   I recreated the display and photographed it in my workroom so you can see what I brought for Show and Tell.

Three shirts and eight sleeves with lace and lace trim on a table

Lace and Lace Trim display

Top row: a new shirt with Lace Appliques going over the shoulder, the Lace bodice, and the Lace Trim bodice from Creating Couture Embellishment.

Bottom row: Sleeves: metallic lace with beads and feathers, lace in a plain seam, lace applique, lace motif, lace around a curve, lace mitered at the corner, lace eyelet insertion, adding lace to beading and lace beading from Creating Couture Embellishment.

 

I started the talk by explaining the structure of lace; I definitely went through this bit too quickly. Then as I talked about how to sew with lace, I passed around some of the flat samples made for the book. Later the bodices and sleeves pictured above were passed around the room too.

Since most of the women in this group are not interested in making an entire garment out of lace, I wanted to show these ASG members that they could easily add a little lace to an existing garment, creating something striking and unique. One of lace’s endearing qualities is that it doesn’t ravel, making it ideal to use for appliques. One of lace’s drawbacks is that the net background that lace is woven onto can be very delicate and can rip, which is why a used wedding gown often has rips near the hem where the train of the gown has caught on something. Often the rips can be mended using a narrow zigzag stitch. But the delicate net background also folds down to nothing, so you can bunch up the net or push the net under the more solid motifs, when appliqueing lace.

I bought 2 shirts at a local discount store: a blue and white striped shirt and a plain blue shirt. The blue and white shirt is a casual shirt. I wanted to maintain the that easy going feeling, but make the shirt unique; I added some cream colored Alençon lace on one shoulder.

Blue & white shirt with lace

Blue & white shirt with lace

Piecing lace for an applique like this is a bit like working a jigsaw puzzle; you move the motifs around until the pieces fit together nicely.

Pocket close up to show lace coming out the pocket

Pocket close up

On this shirt I started the lace coming out of the chest pocket and continuing over the shoulder. On the shirt’s back I pieced a fleur de lis and two large flowers to the lace that came from the front. Once I had the motifs pinned in place I trimmed away the net fabric and the extra bits until I had a single layer of lace motifs.

Blue & white shirt back

Blue & white shirt back

Alençon lace is good to use as an applique because the heavy cordonette that outlines the motifs provide solid outline edges to sew to the garment. The appliques can be sewn to the garment by hand or by machine; in this case I used a narrow zigzag stitch to sew the pieces of lace to the shirt. I also used some tear-away interfacing on the wrong side of the shirt to prevent tunneling by the zigzag stitch.

For a more formal look you could use some blue lace, but I love the way the cream Alençon lace makes this shirt “a little bit country”.

The other shirt I embellished is a blue button down shirt. I wanted the embellishments on this shirt to be more formal and subtle, so the shirt could be worn under a jacket to an office.

Blue shirt with lace embellishment

Blue shirt with lace

This size M shirt doesn’t show very well on my size 4 inflate-able (!) form; she’s listing to the back a bit. The inflate-able forms are wonderful for traveling Show and Tells.

Blue shirt collar close up

Blue shirt collar close up

I added 2 rows of a lightweight, polyester edging trim to the collar. The trim is placed with the footsides next to each other so the decorative headside edges are visible. (The footside of a trim is the sturdier edge of the trim, designed to be sewn to fabric. The headside is the decorative edge of the trim.) Because this a demonstration garment the footside edges of the trim are spaced 1/16” apart from one another so that you can tell it’s two rows of trim, sewn to the garment with line of straight stitches through the footsides.  If I were making this for a client I might butt the two rows of trim together and sew them to the collar with a single line of zigzag stitches catching both pieces of trim. Part of the stitching method decision requires thinking about the look of the under collar: do you want two rows of straight stitches or one row of zigzag stitches on the under collar?  Of course you could sew the trim on by hand catching only the upper collar with your stitches.

Blue shirt arm close up, side view

Blue shirt arm side view

On each sleeve I added a strip of allover black lace. To insert the lace I unpicked the shoulder seams and the cuff seams part way. Next I cut a slot along the straight grain of the sleeve. Then I added a strip of lace to fill the slot, sewing the two fabrics together length-wise, with a ¼” seam. I tucked the ends of the lace into the shoulder and cuff and re-sewed those seams shut. Finally I topstitched the long seams to keep the seam allowances from showing and from raveling. The lace strips aren’t visible  if you are wearing a jacket, so you could wear this shirt to a business meeting. Take off your jacket and you’re ready for a more casual setting.

I’m really pleased with lace additions to blue shirt: it changes up the shirt from one of thousands to one of a kind.