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.