Friday, March 27, 2009

Couture house

One of the things I did earlier was some more reading on the couture houses. Then I had to organize my thoughts a bit more, because there's a ton of information about why they are so unique. Even though I'm very interested in studying everything I can get my mitts on about the techniques, I'm forever aware that what I do is a poor comparison, and always will be. Especially since a couture house isn't all about the name or designer. It takes a village to create real couture.
But that doesn't mean we can't learn from it and mimic the doable parts for better results :)

Inside a couture house, according to Claire B. Shaeffer, who's both studied in one and interviewed several thus has far more expertise, is a well oiled machine. From the top to the bottom, she explains how it's run. It's fascinating, and what's more interesting is it's very time consuming, and yet for a special client, a garment can and has been produced over night.

One of the main differences with shopping at a couture house versus a high priced retail shop of ready mades, is the first view of the fashions. If you're able, you can see the fashion show which is put on in the Spring, then another in the Fall. But if not they keep it on video, so you can see the entire collection for that season. My personal choice if I could have afforded it, because I dislike the noise of a fashion show. Very distracting, that and the press.

Another difference is you can't just simply walk into a couture house and expect to be serviced by a sales person. Instead, you contact the directrice managing the salon, or have someone do it for you once you're in the area of the house, and make an appointment. A vendeuse will be assigned to you, which works on your wardrobe permanantly, unless you find you don't like them, then you simply ask for another.

Once there, you'll be able to choose the designs you like, after which you'll either make another appointment to see them, or be shown to a room where they're brought out from the dressing room, aka cabine. Your choices are your own, but your vendeuse and the atelier are trained to know what will and will not work with your figure, and he/she carefully directs you to the most flattering designs.

You have a choice of trying on the prototypes of your choice, which are usually either slipped on without fastening up, or pinned to the front of your slip. When Ms. Shaeffer mentions this, she doesn't exactly say if they give you one, or if it's one you're already wearing. I'd assume they have some just in case.

Once you and your vendeuse have worked out the final decisions, they measure you in 30 different ways from head to toe, after which a dress form created from your measurements is made. Usually it's created by the premiere main (french for premier or first hand), who creates it from a padded form, with a muslin body or toile de corps that's zipped up over the whole form. Every client has their own specifically suited to them kept on file for current and future designs.

At this point, they use the prototype to create your garment. For example let's say it's an evening dress you wanted. They'll drape the fabric over your dress form using the prototype as a guide, and reshape where it's necessary to get the same results. Couture houses never use patterns, everything from the beginning of the design is draped, shaped, marked, and cut then sewn and that toile becomes the pattern. Which is why for a toile, so much detail is worked in by hand.

Your dress may even have different shaped pieces in some areas as compared to the protype, but the final result will look the same. Every body's built differently after all, and their job is to make it flattering to you. Not simply dress you up, the way off the rack designer clothing does.

Oh, I almost forgot, you have a choice of choosing fabric, decorations etc as well before they begin work on your piece. So long as the original design isn't compromised, you as the customer can have anything you please. If that means you wanted to add little printed roses to the fabric, one can be ordered made for you from one of the private supply companies who do create unique one of a kind fabrics for couture houses.

Once work has started, your piece is marked with thread tracings, then every detail of the design, including hemming, zipper placement, even a lining is sewn into the toile by hand. So much work for just a mock up, but you're worth it right?

After it's ready, usually a week or two later, you'll be called to have your first fitting. The room you're shown to is larger, because your vendeuse, the couturier, and directrice all gather around you to work out the details required to fit it to your figure correctly. All adjustments are made, marked, and noted at this time.

Then your dress is taken back to the work room, where everything's pulled apart. Every tiny stitch undone, then it's layed flat. If it's required, a new piece may be re-cut according to adjustments made or noted, or other details rearranged. A dart made smaller or deeper for example.

Your garment is cut from this toile, and work begins. Depending on what you chose, some workers are assigned to certain details, and your dress may find itself all over the place. Including parts that may be sent to another shop that specializes in details such as beadings or certain embellishments. When finished, it's sent back, and the pieces as they're finished, are put together and you're called in for your second fitting.

During the second fitting, it's checked for fit, drape and anything else that may need further adjusting. If your dress is being difficult, it may need to be re-adjusted and fit more than twice, but usually it's good by this time.

Little details are worked out, and your dress is finished and you're called in once more for a final fitting. If you're pleased with it, and nothing more need be done, the label is sewn in at this time. Odd but they have superstitions about not sewing it in before the final fitting, so it just isn't done. The label isn't just a made by so and so type you see on most ready sewn garments. It'll include along with the house name, the number of your design and the date from which collection it belongs to.

Your dress is then packed for delivery, logged into the livre de compte, then sent to your home, hotel or wherever it is you're having it delivered. If for any reason you don't like it after all, maybe you decide the colour isn't quite what you thought it was; unlike most made to order from non couture sources, a couture dress can be returned and redone, even if the mistake isn't theirs. If you change, and can no longer fit your dress perfectly, they'll also re-adjust it as needed, because customer satisfaction is what they build their reputations around. That and you're paying through the nose for the privilege. Re-adjustments cost you nothing extra.

Although it's a crap load of work, sewing by hand, seam ripping, adjusting, resewing it, reripping it....sometimes months of work, sometimes a room full of workers pushing to do it in short time (I'm sure for a much higher price), the final dress is well worth it. Even when it comes from a collection, your couture dress will still be a unique one of a kind creation.

I'm under no misguided dream that I can ever equal what's done in a couture house. But simply following the directions, and sewing along the dotted line, compared to drafting one's own pattern for your figure, working out the details of fabric, drape, colour and design, no matter how simple. Then sewing it with your own hand with such care and detail in the same manner, even if it takes three weeks to complete....the first choice pales by comparison.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Small progress

Doing more than one project at the same time, with a few dozen more in mind, is enough to drive one insane. But at least I have a small bit, if not tiny, amount of progress finally going on some.
In relation to this blog (who doesn't have more than one theme going these days?), I had been working on my current corset project. I'm about this far, which isn't as much as I'd hoped.

I'm doing it by hand because I feel more in control that way, not to mention sitting in front of the tele with a vid on is much better than listening to my machine any day. And more comfy.
I only got as far as the busk when I realized I don't have any grommets left. I wanted to check my spiral bones to see if I had enough of those as well, but I'm strongly considering using steel instead. Either way it's on hold while I get more supplies.
Meanwhile, I managed to work out an almost ready pattern for my regency inspired hat.

And even got together a test prototype.

A bit floppy, but it is just paper and muslin. I realized after I did the bag, that it might work better if I tried Lynn McMasters approach and make the bag a band instead, gathering the top until it forms a bag. It's set on a band, which will then be sewn onto the brim. I'm also not quite happy with the brim, but after I add another half inch in the front, I think it'll be a go. After that I'll do the buckram and work out the wires.
Last, I finished my catch stitching on my grey skirt. Here you can also see the bias binding over the raw seams. They took me only about 5 to 10 minutes each to sew by hand.

Both techniques are quite old, which amuses me, because I've come across several sewists who assume the only thing done over raw edges was whip stitching. I believe the french hem is as old as the 18th century, possibly longer, as another example of covering raw edges. In couture, there are several types used, and sergers are never employed.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Corset study

When it comes to corsets, everyone has a specific image in mind. Which is why a pattern company such as Laughing Moon, or Truly Victorian can create a single corset pattern and have it work for pretty much any time period from the civil war to the edwardian.
Don't get me wrong, the LM and TV corsets are wonderful patterns, and I'd highly recommend them. Especially if you're just looking for something to go with your outfit and have it simple to sew. I'm planning on trying the TV110 once I finish my LM 100 myself.
But if you're like me, and you'd enjoy learning more about the various styles, and perhaps corsets suited to specific fitting issues, I thought this might be an interesting eye candy piece for study.
Early 20th century brassiere worn with the under the bust edwardian styles. You didn't think they just let their girls hang did you? ;)
Here are a few vintage images from La Mode Illustree family magazine, which was a very popular high fashion magazine in France from as far back as the late 1850's. Sadly extremely few originals are still in existence that far back, but the 1860's to the turn of the century are still around. Mostly in various collections.

This was an infants corset from 1918, age 6 months to a year. You'll notice there's a lack of boning, and wider seams. It resembles a type of vest more than a corset, with buttons instead of laces.
This one appears to have buttonhole tabs on it near the waist. I don't have this pattern personally, so my guess is it's used for holding either the nappy or wool soaker in place.

An 1899 young ladies corset. Lightly boned, it begins her preparation for wearing a fully cinched corset, while giving her the freedom of comfort. No different than training bra's today.
Around this time, the longer corsets were beginning to come into fashion, which also may be why it's an under the bust style. Small brassieres were worn with those as mentioned above.
Instead of a busk it's buttoned up the front with lace and ribbon trim.

A nice example from 1906, for a girl between 11 and 13 for sports and gymnastics. I found this pattern interesting due to it's unusual style. It has buttons on the outside, probably used for holding up her underskirts.
Other examples of this can be seen on adult corsets. Hooks sewn in upside down to hook onto the corset cover, thus holding it down in place. And hooks facing down to hold up a petticoat, which might slip around. Madam Foy's skirt supporting corsets from the 1860's come to mind.

Madam Maury's demi corset from 1972. These were sewn into the front half of a bodice, for support when a full corset wasn't wanted.
I find it interesting it has small belt like buckles in the front for adjusting the size, instead of a busk.

Here, a simple house corset from 1902 in cotton, and to the right, a leasure corset from 1906.

Two more corsets from 1901 and 1892. The 1901 has small squares drawn over it, which reminds me of the cotton windowpane fabric often used for bonnets back in the 1830's. If so, it would make a great fabric that's both comfy and cool in the summer heat.
As a modern reference, women today often wear leasure brassieres, or light control sports bras when they're at home and relaxing, or while sleeping if they're rather bosomy. Victorian women don't seem so different after all :)

From 1901, an extending corset for suffering ladies. Which could cover a multitude of issues, from medically related issues to her monthly, which for some can cause severe stomach and back pain.
It could also cover that tummy problem many women have, which contrary to popular belief, was a problem as far back as the tudor period. We just don't see images of women with real figures because the slim willowy look was popular at this time.
It's no different today. Unless modeling for a company that specifically deals in larger sizes, most models seen in magazines and advertisements, are the thinner, starving waif types, which doesn't reflect the average woman realistically.

Here we have an 1868 red wool flannel corset. Notice the lack of boning. These were worn under their dress, but over the corset to add warmth in the winter months. Some women preferred to knit them, but sewn examples do exist, along with their counterpart the wool, and or quilted petticoat.

An 1870's posture corset, worn by young ladies mostly. It may have been worn over their dress, as evidenced by the following photos. Because the first has the girl sketched in her chemise, I have no doubt that some styles of this corset were worn under the clothes, while others were worn over the dress, and drawing it in full attire wasn't merely a point of modesty. These images are a year apart, the first from 1870, the second and third, 1872.

I own a clear copy of the demi corset pattern, and the 1872 posture corsets from the July 21st issue. There's another version in there as well I didn't bother scanning.
The suggested colours for the exterier corsets, were red and violet, with the red version having cording sewn across the upper back, similar to the 1870 version, for added support. However the violet also has a pair of belt cinches, so it may have served as a waist training corset as well. The magazine doesn't detail it's specific purpose, only how to sew it along with the patterns.

This is from a 1913 pattern, for the long Edwardian style corset. Notice the early example of a brassiere used to maintain support, while the corset was used to give the long smooth figure popular from early 1900's to the 1920's. Aka the titanic period to some.
It was and is difficult to sit down in, as well as walking is slow. Unless you enjoy tripping.
This one is equipped with stocking garters, worn with knee high stockings, and was usually made up in white coutil. Closer to the girdle which slowly developed from the 1920's and onward.

This is a 1907 swiss waist style, under the bust corselet. This pattern is unique in that it's the only one I've seen so far, that is quilted. Because it's done up in a decorative fabric, the purpose of this style was to be worn over the dress as a fashion piece, and did not replace the corset itself.

Lastly of the images I intended to share from my own studies, is the Victoria corset. The pattern for this corset is from an 1862 issue, and may be a style worn by the queen. It's a well known fact the queen influenced fashion all through her reign.
Unlike most corsets with gores, this one has the full hip pieces, very similar to Madam Sebille's 1863 patent. In 1904 Emile Savoye invented a similar corset, also with full hip pieces. In her patent she describes it as "conformable to each body whatever may be the form and size of the persons." and "obtaining an agreeable appearance."

If you enjoy looking at vintage corsets themselves, you really must see the image links collected at Demode, and Lara's corset museum, from Lara Corsets. I wasn't able to find a good vintage pattern for the nursing corset yet, but she has one on display. Which is a great help to anyone trying to figure out how to convert a corset for this purpose.
And very last of the links I'll share for now, one of the most extensive corset lists I've come across, for further research and study. The Great Corsetry Links.

Friday, March 20, 2009

My how time flies

Although time got away from me, it has not been spent unwisely. Ok some of it has, but I've done quite a bit of reading, research and thinking.
My original plan was to do a full wardrobe from the ground up. Underpinnings of a sort based on vintage garments, but dag nabbit I need clothes now. But, although it's skipping the underthings a bit, I chose to keep it vintage.
Last week I started a victorian walking skirt, drafted using the information from a really nice book by Don McCunn titled How to Make Sewing Patterns. I use it in combination with the pattern drafting information from YWU (your wardrobe unlock'd) for most everything I make. It certainly saves the cost when you're not paying for the more expensive vintage patterns, plus it's less fiddly when it's based on your measurements from the start.
I still have to get my digicam back online, so no photos just yet, but it's not finished yet either. I'm about 3/4 of the way through. I chose a nice grey cotton, and as usual with my things, I used medium quality muslin to make bias strips to cover the raw seams with. I plan on using hooks, although buttons might have been nice. But the placket is in the back, and buttons just aren't easy to do when they're behind you. The next skirt I do, I'm definately going to have to work out a decorative front placket so I can have buttons for a change.
We're also putting in our first garden this spring, which means I also need a sun bonnet/hat. I just began the draft of it, based on information from a vintage book originally from 1928. It's found here if you're interested in millinery :The New-Way Course in Millinery

My idea was to draft a type of regency poke bonnet that can pass for a cute modern hat as well. I'm using buckram with a bit of wire to get the shape of the brim, however I decided to use a fabric bag for the top. Similar to this bonnet:

I just haven't decided what colour to make the bag yet. I planned on making a work dress, originally doing it in something tudor like. But now I'm wondering if I should go with something that matches my hat a little more.
Thirdly I got down to sewing another corset. The first three weren't quite right, but over the past year I've done nothing but learn more about corsetry. And thanks to it's increased popularity, more information is being shared all the time. Crossing my fingers and hoping here. I'm saving coutil for when I'm confident with making corsets, so this one is going to be in black poplin with black cotton lining. I wanted to keep it light, since summers here are terribly hot.

However, black might not be the best choice of colour, it is the colour I find most attractive in corsets. If needed, I won't finish it off until I've decided whether it needs another layer or not. I plan to finish the outside in either blue or red floss with a bit of lace. Undecided yet, but I'm leaning toward making it either by crochet or tatting.
And I have narrowed down something of the wardrobe I want to do.
Since I recently had some input from hubby, he's indicated he really likes turn of the century styles. Aka edwardian. Which narrows things down a bit, but fits right in with my love of steampunk. I have my eye on a nice Edwardian princess chemise from la mode illustree to start, and of course the corset is in the works. One of them anyway. I want to tackle this one for the edwardian pieces:

On top of that I have to learn to knit a pair of stockings. 18th century sewn won't work with this era, although I would love a pair just to have.

For the knickers/bloomers I'm using the free instructions graciously shared by Elizabeth Stewart Clark at the Sewing Academy. It's a free pattern if interested, and if you like it, she has two books on how to sew vintage fashion without patterns as well. Her forums is probably the absolute best place to learn early 19th century fashion, and the ladies there are very friendly.

A petticoat will be necessary, however I've learned it's easier just to use my walking skirt pattern and draft that into a matching petticoat. It fights with my skirt far less, and they work almost as if it were a lined skirt. I haven't decided yet, but I think hand embroidery will be in line since I want everything to be vintage couture. Machine eyelet fabric as a quick cheat doesn't seem right.
Still working on the main pieces, but already I have a lot of work ahead of me right now. The edwardian era is the easiest to fit in with modern fashion, really. Because they had many pieces that are very similar high fashion worn even now. I think the directoire jacket for example, would be very nice in the modern board room, don't you?
I guess rather than go days with nothing to say, if I come across something interesting, technique wise, or a nice period piece for study, I could share those as well.
Tomorrow I'll see if I can find a corset collection I have bookmarked. It's probably the absolutely best source for online study when it comes to corsets, and you'll be surprised by the styles she has. It's both fascinating and inspiring.