Monday, July 21, 2014

Generating Design Ideas With a Free-Form Project

I recently learned a great way to play with new design ideas -- creating a free-form project. It's the kind of project that encourages you to reach into your imagination and try new things. The concept is to divide a simple bodice or skirt pattern into four quadrants and come up with new techniques, test new ideas, play with color, explore new fabrics, etc. Please excuse the Valentine's Day vibe -- I just grabbed some quilting cotton from my stash!

For my project, I used a sloper and flat pattern techniques, but draping directly on the dress form would work, as well as starting with a simply styled commercial pattern.

In one quadrant, I played around with a vertical curved seam -- kind of serpentine in shape. It wasn't as difficult to sew as I thought -- just needed to stay-stitch and clip along the entire length of the seam. I also converted the bust dart into gathers, which is something I really like. It gives the side seam a softer look while still allowing a nice fit.

On the other side, I drafted a princess seam and curved the CF piece so the middle is wider than the ends. For the side seam piece, I created a flared peplum.

I think it is kind of interesting to have a "partial peplum" and may incorporate this treatment in the future. I'm not too excited about the princess seam shape -- it may be more interesting if there is a way to create a unique shape that spans the entire front.

In the back, I tried to develop a curved "flap" that allows a peek of a contrast color underneath. For this, I drafted the curved piece and added a bit of flare to allow the piece to stand away from the body a bit (will stand away even more in a more structured fabric). I think this could be an interesting detail on a jacket.

I really had fun working on this, and came away with a couple of design ideas that I plan to further develop and use in future projects. I can see how this could be a great project to do regularly, perhaps every month or so -- such a great way to set aside time to play!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Some Details of My Current Projects

I can't believe it is already July! I've actually been very productive on the sewing and knitting front, and thought I would share some of the details from the projects I've been working on. These projects are for my collection, and so they are supposed to be cohesive and tell a story, but I'm not sure how it will all turn out. I think each piece works fine individually, but it is the cohesive part that is the most challenging for me. I think I just need to finish the pieces and look at them collectively -- I know others have actually spent quite a bit of time editing their finished pieces, so I'm sure I'll be doing the same soon!

Parallel Darts and Pleated Sleeves
My experimentation with parallel darts has turned into an actual dress. I love the vintage vibe, but what a pain to sew all of those darts!

I tried various ways to sew the darts, and found the best (and cleanest-looking) way was to sew the empire seam first, press, then treat them as internal darts (sew from the seam line to each dart point). This ensured that the seams were all even.

For the sleeves, I decided to go with a pleated sleeve, complete with organza sleeve head! For a short sleeve like this, I faced the inside with self fabric and then pleated both the fashion fabric and facing to create more volume for the pleats. To help balance the sleeves, I created a high pleated neckline -- higher and more dramatic than I originally envisioned.

Leather is Back
Ever since my first leather project, I've been looking forward to working with it again. This time, I used the same, soft leather as a flat piping trim for the curved seams of a pencil skirt.

I cut strips 1.75 inches wide, which gave me a half-inch seam allowance and 3/8 inch flat piping when folded. I considered using the raw edge rather than a folded edge, but was glad I folded it, as it has a more finished look to it. I cut the strips so they mirrored the curves -- it was still challenging to sew the leather to the curved edges, but I think it helped to have the curved shape in place.

Pops of Color
Because these fabrics are dark, I wanted to incorporate pops of color to help brighten things up. For this skirt, I added a strip of pink silk taffeta to the back kick pleat to add a bit of color to an otherwise dark fabric.

For the matching jacket, I used the same pink taffeta as the hem facing (body and sleeves) and as a flat piping for the lining. I just love this lining print!

Here's the front of the jacket -- complete with leather flat piping and cool buttons from Britex.

Textured Stitches
I'm actually including a hand-knitted project because knitting is a significant part of my work. I used Spud and Chloe's Sweater yarn for this -- a wonderful wool/cotton blend that I love working with. I wanted something easy to put on and comfy to wear, yet polished enough to match my tailored pieces.

Here's a detail shot to show the mix of stitches I used. The cuffs and flounce collar are worked in a decorative stitch that reminds me of a floral texture. I created a hem band (the hem is higher in back than in the front) using a simple moss stitch, while the teeny tiny pockets are worked in single crochet (to match the crochet edging on the flounce collar).

Now back to work!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A Quick Trip to New York City

Thank you very much for all of your lovely comments about my Classic French Jacket. I am proud to have finished it and look forward to wearing it in the fall and winter. My matching skirt is in progress -- keeping it simple, which seems in-line with how Chanel would have done it.

I just want to share a few photos from our recent trip to New York City. While the only fabric shopping I did was spend some time at Mood -- and the only thing I bought was some pink coating fabric for my cape project! -- I did have the opportunity to visit two amazing museums.

The first is The Metropolitan Museum of Art, where they currently have a special exhibition on the work of couturier Charles James.

Images from here.

Given the beauty and quality of his work, it is surprising that he is not as well known as others. It was a treat to see his pieces up close, as what truly makes them special is all of the care and attention he gave to perfecting every detail of the garment. While his gowns have drawn a lot of attention, I was particularly struck by the tailoring of his coats. The silhouettes are so interesting, and I love his exploration of shapes, volume and sculptural techniques.

Images from here.

The draping on his gowns were masterful. This was one of the most inspiring fashion exhibits I have seen, and if you have the chance to visit NYC before August 10, it would be well worth the time to see it.

Images from here.

The second museum we visited was the new 9/11 museum -- the National September 11 Memorial and Museum. While there has been some criticism of the museum -- "crass commercialism" --  I personally found it to be a moving experience. I was especially impressed by the detailed timeline of events and the abundant use of quotes, video clips and other media to tell the story of that day from personal perspectives.

There is so much to see in NYC -- I hope to go back again!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Classic French Jacket: Finished

I have finally finished my Classic French Jacket! The weather has been so hot recently -- triple digits! -- and this jacket is so substantial (i.e., for fall/winter only) that, even though I finished it days ago, I haven't been moved to photograph it until now.

I have seriously lost count of the number of hours I have devoted to this project. If I had kept a meticulous record, I would probably be horrified! That said, this is one of the most beautiful garments I have ever made, so I guess every minute spent has been well worth it.

The above isn't the best photograph, but I had to show off the flowers in the pots -- they are actually thriving rather than withering away like most of my attempts at growing things!

I wish I could photograph how well it feels to wear this jacket. It feels light and effortless -- no strains, no bunchy areas, etc. It is just a pleasure to wear. I wish I could do a mind meld to gain Susan Khalje's knowledge of fit.

Most Difficult Task
Believe it or not, one of the most difficult tasks of making this jacket was choosing the right trim. At first, I focused on the traditional trims -- black or navy braids that would contrast with the winter white color of the fabric, but I couldn't get excited about any of them. Susan suggested a look at the beaded trims, which turned out to be perfect. When we tried out different beaded trims, I had an immediate reaction to them. Here are the two I considered. Given my love of pearls, I ended up choosing the lower one.

Lesson learned -- be open to different types of trim and go with your gut reaction when selecting one.

Most Difficult Construction Challenge
From a construction perspective, the biggest challenge for me was setting in the sleeves. The sleeves are sewn in by hand, which should have made it easier. Unfortunately, my fabric wasn't easy to ease, and so while one side looked great, the other side required a lot of work. See the "bubbling" on the left armhole seam compared to the smooth line on the right?

Five tries later -- sew, rip, re-sew -- I finally got it to an acceptable state. Not perfect, but I can live with it. Lesson learned -- perfection is a process.

Most Significant Revelation
I absolutely love the three-piece sleeve. Having the extra seam line down the center of the sleeve is perfection. It allows another seam line for fitting, which gives a beautiful fit at the cap and all along the sleeve.

Favorite Part of the Process
I really liked all of the hand-sewing this jacket required. Fell stitch is a good friend when constructing a jacket like this. Done right, the stitch becomes nearly invisible.

One quick note -- I chose not to include the classic chain at the hem of the jacket. Mine is so weighty as it is, and the beaded trim gave enough weight and structure to where I felt I didn't need to add it.

Some Things I Would Remember to do for my Next Jacket
1. Test the fashion fabric and lining combination first before committing to it. I would "quilt" the two pieces together to see whether I liked the resulting feel of the fabric; whether the fabric has any quirks when sewn; and whether I could anticipate any challenges with the fabric. Also, it is a good way to see whether the quilting is too visible for your taste.

2. Have a sewing friend help with fitting throughout the process. Sewing can be a solitary activity, and often we forget how fun and helpful it is to have a sewing friend share in the process. There are many, many fitting opportunities when making this jacket, and the objective eye a friend can bring is priceless.

3. Be thoughtful when trimming seam allowances. Couture sewing requires wide seam allowances, which are helpful when fitting but are also useful for adding structure in key areas, such as the center fronts, hems and shoulders. I think it helps to think about which seam allowances should be maintained as wide as possible, and which ones make sense to be trimmed back to reduce bulk. The fabric choice, the feel of a certain area (i.e., the intersection of the front facing and hem) and the need for support are all factors that go into deciding how much to trim.

4. Take time to plan out the trim placement. I was really surprised how much time I spent trying to figure out how to best place the trim on my jacket. The trim is such a focal point that you want to make sure it is perfect! You have to think about how to treat the corners (I ended up cutting the motifs and matching them at the corners rather than trying to miter them); ensure the trim is even everywhere (I counted the pattern repeats in my trim and matched them in key areas); and make sure the jacket doesn't buckle after the trim is sewn on (I carefully pinned the trim before sewing and, while sewing, checked frequently to make sure the jacket was lying flat).

Overall, making my very own Classic French Jacket with Susan Khalje was an exceptional experience -- I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity. Now I need the weather to cool down so I can wear my jacket!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Classic French Jacket: Still Sewing

I'm so sorry for the long gap between posts! Between getting ready for the Classic French Jacket workshop and attending it, I just couldn't gather up the energy to write before now. I'm still sewing the jacket, but I hope to share some photos soon. Here are a couple of shots of the in-progress jacket with trim.

As many others have blogged about already, it is such a wonderful experience to learn from Susan in person, and I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity. As many of you know, she is introducing a series of instructional videos, and one of her upcoming ones is the Classic French Jacket (in fact, she is planning to film it this week). Given the caliber of her instruction at the workshop, I am sure the video will be excellent -- and I am looking forward to seeing it.

Here are some initial observations post-workshop:

Select and Test Your Fabric
One of the most interesting aspects of the workshop was seeing the variety of fabrics chosen for the projects. So many colors and textures! But as we started working, it became apparent that they also have very different personalities -- stubborn and unyielding (mine); changeable (firm at first but softened and stretched over time); deceptive (visually dense but lofty and airy when sewn); and unexpected (elastic properties that made the fabric especially difficult to handle). Visually, you can't really tell that the fabric will exhibit these types of characteristics. If possible, it may be worthwhile to make a test sample, sewing the fabric with a piece of silk charmeuse (or whatever lining fabric) in parallel lines about an inch apart to see how it behaves and whether you like it before committing to it.

As an example, my fabric had texture (needed to help disguise the quilting lines) so I thought it would be fine for this project. When I received it, it felt kind of heavy, and I noticed the texture and weight resulted from yarns as well as ribbons that were woven together. I didn't think much of it, but when I started sewing it, I realized this wasn't the best choice. It was difficult to hand-baste and hand sew because of the firm ribbons -- my needle kept getting caught in the weaves, so I could only take 1 stitch at a time; the thick intersections where the ribbons/yarns met made it difficult for my machine to sew through (the school machine actually jammed up a few times (!!!); and the quilting made the fabric quite firm, heavy and inflexible. In the end, I love how it turned out, but there were times when things looked very bleak as I struggled with this fabric.

Carefully Inspect the Fabric Before Layout/Cutting
On one of those bleak days, I found a slight discoloration --  looked like one of the yarn/ribbons was grayish -- on the side front piece after I had cut the piece out. Ugh. As you can imagine, any discoloration on a white fabric will be really noticeable! Luckily, I found it before I had progressed further and had enough fabric (wide seam allowances) to make it work. I thought I had inspected the fabric carefully as I placed the pattern pieces, but I must have missed this area.

Wide Seam Allowances Can Save You
I was very generous with my seam allowances -- I just did a rough cut around each piece, so the allowances were probably more than 2-3 inches. My fabric has a subtle pattern to it, which meant there was matching required at the princess seams, CB seam and sleeve seams. The wide allowances helped to make sure I had enough room to make precise matches. Also, the discoloration problem I had was resolved because I was able to move the pattern piece to an area without the discoloration (thanks to the wide seam allowances). Yes, it felt wasteful when I had to trim off the excess, but there were times when I was thankful for them.

More later -- I need to get back to sewing!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Prepping for the Susan Khalje Classic French Jacket Workshop

I am one lucky gal! I received a special treat last Christmas -- the green light to participate in a week-long Classic French Jacket workshop with Susan Khalje and beautiful Linton Tweed yardage to make my jacket. The workshop begins on May 19 in San Francisco, and I'm starting to get jazzed about it!

Here's my fabric. The tweed is a winter white composed of thick and thin yarns -- cotton and synthetics -- that give it a wonderful texture.

There are strands of metallic silver thread woven in throughout. The lining fabric is a silver silk charmeuse from Thai Silks. I still don't have my trim and buttons, but I hope to find a perfect match during the workshop.

I drafted a pattern that is basically the classic Vogue 7975 -- shoulder princess seams, round neckline and high hip length.

I referenced the new Claire Schaeffer pattern (Vogue 8991) to create a three-piece sleeve with a curved shape.

I am hoping to have enough yardage for a matching skirt -- we'll see how it goes!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Happy Birthday, Audrey Hepburn

I love today's Google Doodle honoring Audrey Hepburn, who would have celebrated her 85th birthday.

Such a style icon!

This is one of my fave Audrey looks from Breakfast at Tiffany's -- classic black dress and an amazing hat.

Image from here.

Image from here.