The House of Tatterdemalion

Unfashionable, unskilled, inexpensive--but still sewing.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Quibbling with the King

Arrgghh! A pun on a last name! I hate puns on last names, particularly when people are making puns on mine. Aren't I a hypocrite?

I am speaking of, as you may (or may not) have guessed, Kenneth King. I recently got his book "Designer Techniques: Couture tips for Home Sewing" out from the library. I have, as I'm sure you've implied, some disagreements with him. (I almost called this post "The King is a Fink", but that seemed too harsh.)

I first got interested in Kenneth King when I saw his "Books on CD" being sold on Pattern Review. I was particularly interested in "The Moulage", though all of them looked interesting. But, being a very suspicious type person, I didn't want to buy a cat-in-a-bag. (The saying, of course, comes from olden day swindlers. Cats were cheap; you stick a cat(s) in a bag, and go tell some un-suspicious type person that it's really a pig, or a couple chickens (which are a good deal harder to get a hold of than a few stray cats). The un-suspicious type person buys the wiggling sack, and doesn't know until he "lets the cat out of the bag" that he's been majorly ripped off.)

Anyway. I read some where, though I can't find it know, that he chose to put his books on CD because it was cheaper, and then he also didn't have to deal with constricting editors. Well, right off the bat, this puts him head to head with me, because I hate books on CD's (though I do have some sympathy for him, as I also think I would hate constricting editors. And I'm obviously cheap). Spending too much time in front of the monitor makes my eyes feel miserable, and I can't reference the computer while I'm working, or curl up in my bed with my computer. If I get a book on CD, the first thing I would have to do is print it out. And pay for my own paper and ink, and a binder to keep it all (hopefully) together. So, cheaper for him, maybe, but not me.

However, I also have an independent streak (or maybe several independent streaks. . .), so I understand where he is coming from, and am willing to overlook the desire to do things as such. But I would still like to know what I am getting before I pay my hard-earned money for it, thank you very much. If it was a book, I would get it out of the library, or look at it at a book store. But noooo. He doesn't even include so much as trailer or excerpt from his books.

I did manage to dig up one book he actual made into a book--the aforementioned Designer Techniques. Whilst I was waiting for it to come in through inter-library loan, I found his website.

I found reading his "About" section to be encouraging. He seemed to be agreeing with me on many things, such as. . .

". . .This customer wants clothes that set her apart from the crowd, but not in a shocking way. . .She wears the clothes, instead of having the clothes wear her."


". . .I maintain that the truly revolutionary stance in today’s climate is to produce clothing that is beautiful and beautifully made, enhances one’s appearance and is both a joy to look at and a pleasure to wear."

I'm not so sure I would say "revolutionary", but at any rate, I agree we oughten forget our clothes are subordinate to us, not the other way around. Never should we say "Oh, I can't do that, I'll ruin my clothes!" but rather make the clothes for what it is we are doing. Function over form, but not forgetting form either. (This is one reason I like Shaker work so much. It is undeniably beautiful and beautifully made, and it is also both a pleasure to look at and to use.)

Thusly encouraged, I wandered over to his
Gallery, whereupon I discovered that just because we technically speak the same language (American English), we apparently don't speak the same language. Okay, so none of his models are actually nekkid, and they are still able to move. And I suppose that there have been less appealing pieces of clothing invented before (maybe). I don't know exactly what is supposed to make his designs timeless, either, besides the fact that they don't seem to technically belong to an "era" or "style". I guess if you're crazy enough to wear them once, you probably always will be. Really, though, he mostly serves to me as a powerful reminder of why I don't bother to keep up with all the runway shows, and why I don't want to become a clothing designer down in NYC, and why I will always be considered "unfashionable" and "fuddy duddy".

Yes, m'dear, we know all about your weird tastes in fashion. How about actually talking about the book?!

Oh. Yes. The book. I was getting to that. Eventually.

It was a disappointment.

Even after reading the website and realizing that if he was from Earth I was from the outer rims of Pluto, I still thought he would give me ground-breaking technical information. After all, the book was called Designer Techniques: Couture Tips. . . I mean, to me, "couture" brings to mind lavish hand sewing of highest technical ability. "Designer techniques" speak to me of secret and stunning methods previously un-heard of to the common seamstress.

While he did have valid tips, they struck me as just that--tips. Nothing ground breaking, unordinary, or partciularly unusual. Just helpful hints. Nothing really couture either; almost everything was done by machine. It seemed as though the whole book ought to have just been a few more paragraphs (or maybe chapters) worked into some much more complete reference. As it was, I would never even think to look up information in his book, because it is hard to remember where one sees a 2 or 3 paragraph blurb on velvet. The book is almost completely un-related, not brought together by any whole, and not big enough to be a valuable reference.

To add insult to injury, several tips weren't from him at all; they were directly cited from "Sandra Betzina-Webster". Although one must be impressed with Ms. Betzina's ability to show up in such a vast number of sewing books, one must also be a bit annoyed with Mr. King for not even publishing original tips.

Irriatingly, it seemed to be nothing more than a quick attempt at his part to make a few bucks, a feeling which his introduction only encouraged. Although it did have very clear illustrations to explain what he was talking about, the main photographs were totally unrelated to the text. They were mostly models in a sewing room setting, lounging about in some of his garments, in a painful attempt to be amusing. (Then again, maybe my sense of humor is just as whacked as my sense of fashion. I make no apologies in either case.)

At any rate, his book was not an encouragement to buy his cat-in-a-bag Moulage--not without being able to look through it and get a second opinion. Actually, it wasn't an encouragement to buy any of his "Books on CD", particularly when I'd still have to print them out anyway.

And particularly not when compared to the competition, which I hope to post about soon (relatively speaking). Of course, European Cut doesn't cover all of the same subjects, but it's a good place to start. However, at $169.95 (for all of his CD's, excluding the tailored jacket and the eye candy ones; and you'd still have pay for the printing if you actually wanted a printed version), it doesn't stack up too great against the rest of the competition, either. Helen Joseph Armstrong's Pattern Making for Fashion Design (which is the standard textbook at many fashion design schools) is selling for about $90 on Amazon ($90.67 for the 4th edition, $99 for the 3rd edition). Connie Crawford is selling her Pattern Drafting for Everyone at for $95. There are several other pattern making books selling on Amazon for $75 or less. And if you won't even have to print them yourself!

This is, of course, not to say that all of these books are created equal, even if they are written on the same subject. Perhaps King's books are superior than the competition. But at those prices, and for only getting a CD and not a bound book, and without being able to see what I'm getting before I pay for it, . . .I'm not likely to find out any time soon.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Always two steps behind. . .

I have been meaning to post here for quite some time. I still wanted to talk about another book by Adele, as well as a book by Kenneth King and a book by Roberta Carr. I seem to be keeping quite busy, though, and just haven't gotten to it yet.

You see, I'm in the midst of a brutal battle of one-up-man-ship. She is clever, and creative. She never runs of ideas, and she is terribly critical and rarely satisfied. She won't be satisfied with doing the same thing twice. She actively looks for challanges--for difficult things to not only attempt, but to succeed at.

I am competing with her. If she has made something beautiful, I will make something twice as breath-taking. If she has made something technically stunning, I shall come up with something twice as brilliant and complicated--and, of course, take twice as long to finish. My projects seem to be taking exponentially longer, not shorter. When we aren't competing, she is
standing over my shoulder, insidiously whispering in my ear, prompting me to take longer--or maybe never even finish.

I keep telling myself I'll ignore her. I won't let myself get sidetracked by her great ideas for fussy little projects that are supposed to be "quick". And I certainly won't go off on another harebrained quest for a masterpiece that takes years to finish--so long to finish, in fact, that by the time I finish it I am so sick of the project that I am no longer elated or delighted by it. I am tired of looking at it, and in a hurry to get away from it.

I tell myself I will do things quickly and efficiently. I won't listen to her; I will make things, and I will have things to show for my work. Not a year from now--or two years, or three or five--but now I will have something to show for it. No more grand schemes, just regular things.

I know that she means well. And it never starts out as anything complicated or long. But it always grows bigger and longer and harder. I just don't have time for it!

Every time I say "Enough! No more! Just let me be; I'm not doing anything complicated anymore!" She seems to comply.

"But of course, I shan't trouble you anymore." But then she comes back.

"You don't really want to do it like that, do you? Wouldn't it be better if you changed this part here a little?" Well, yes, it would. And it wouldn't take any longer, anyway. Or not much. And it certainly does make it look a lot better.

And then again, later---"But shouldn't you change this part? And how about over here?" Yes, those are just little things. They won't take much longer. And look how it transforms the project! See how much it is improved! Thanks, that was a good idea.

And before I know it, I've let myself be talked into it once again. The project is dragging. Yes, when it's finished, it will be glorious. When I finish it. If I finish it.

She convinces me that I must begin at the beginning, and never take any short-cuts. These short-cuts, or these building off of inferior work--they pollute things, ruin things. Why destroy your precious hard work with things that degrade it and disgrace it? Your work is worthy of better things. You musn't ever leave such a weak link in your chain!

Her logic is impeccable. I begin to climb feverishly, certain this the right way, the only way. And then I tire. Things begin to seem more difficult. I stop and look up, and the top--the glorious, wonderful top, where I long to be-- is so far away, and the climb so hard. I begin to get discouraged. But I cannot stop now, or turn back. I have tasted enough of what is at the end that I can no longer be happy with any other way.

So I labor and toil on, but with nothing--yet--to show for it. Nothing but the certainty that I must get to where I have set out to go. And I am tired of it. I want to see the result of my hard work now. I want to stick my fingers in my ears when she begins on her great and endless plans. I want to send her away for a very long trip, and actually get something done.

But I can't.

Because "she" is me (as I'm sure you've already figured out).

In reality, this is nothing more than a rather complicated way of saying--"Me and my big ideas! I should have just kept my mouth shut. Why do I keep biting off more than I can chew?" But that is a good deal less satisfying than blaming it all on someone else--even if it is just an imaginary character.

One (there are many) of the most highly annoying things about taking so long to finish is that I have plenty of time to figure out what to do next--and the longer it takes to finish, the greater and more time consuming the next project becomes. Other days, I get so fed up the original project taking so long, and so impatient to see in my hands what I see in head, that I put it aside and begin on the next thing--and then I have two impossible projects to finish! And then three--and four!

Someday, I tell myself, I will finish it all, and it will be great and glorious. But no, she says. After you finish it all, you will finally be able to begin on something truly spectacular. Right now, you're just warming up.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

The Medieval Tailor!

Are we sick of tailoring books yet? No! I have long wondered what the difference was between a "seamstress" and a "tailor". Somehow, I always wind up thinking that tailors take their work more seriously. A seamstress just wants to get the job done, and a tailor wants to get the job done right. So, as one wanting to learn how to excel at the craft of sewing, tailoring seems very relevant.

However, the
Medieval Tailor's Assistant: Making Common Garments 1200-1500, by Sarah Thursfield, isn't your typical tailoring book. It's about the roots of garment making as we know it, but the roots are very far from where we are at now. In all honesty, this book isn't geared toward one wanting to excel in sewing--it's aimed at the historical re-enactor, which I am not. Does all of this mean that this was a disappointing book? Far, far from it! I loved this book.

Back when fabric was terribly expensive, clothes were cut to be the most economical, wasting the least amount of fabric. Not only which, but they were also cut (for the working class) to give complete ranges of movement. The shirts are straight sleeved and gussested--never will it bind in the armpit! The pants were particularly intriguing. Pants, nowadays, look considerably more like a loose pair of hose than they do of the original pants. The "original" pants had a lot of ease right at the joints, so there would never be any binding. On top of all of this, they are simple. Simple enough that I could show my 6 year-old brother (who keeps begging for sewing lessons)how to make a shirt---and probably pants as well. No fitting issues, only straight seems, and quickly coming together.

Although in some ways the medieval clothes seem quite stupid (shoes so long that you can hardly walk?? Hose that's so skin-tight you can't even bend over??), for the most part they seem to take more consideration into movement than modern clothes. The seam joining the seam to the dress bodice does not fall at the joint, it falls further up the shoulder. All movement takes place with in the sleeve. (This is a practice many costume makers for dancers still follow.) The lower sleeves are fitting quite closely, but not without leaving a puff of extra fabric at the elbow to allow easy bending.
It was also fascinating reading about how to make the dresses, which were sometimes quite close fitting, without using darts!

This book is quite thorough, not only in styles, social classes, and fabrics, but also in construction. The book begins by showing you how to drape your basic block, and throughout the book it shows you how to manipulate your block to achieve the different clothing styles. (These skills, of course, are quite handy for anyone interested in sewing, wether you're sewing medieval style or not.) It also shows you how to drape full length hose, if for some reason you were crazy enough to want to wear it, as well as how to make shoes, hats and headdresses.

It is even thorough enough to cover medieval underwear, although she claims that only men wore underwear. I find this rather difficult to believe. For one thing, she freely admits that there isn't very many pieces of medieval clothing to examine, and most of their information comes from paintings, books and tapestries. As she also points out, in that day underwear "functioned differently"--which is to say, it was quite common to see it. On men, anyway. Women, of all classes, wore floor length gowns. Probably the most they know about women's undergarments comes from a painting of a woman being dragged off by her hair, thus revealing her legs up to her knees, by which you can see that women's hose stops at her knees.

Why I am quibbling over women's underwear in the medieval times, I don't know. But I do know that this book stirred my imagination, and made me itch to sew like few books have. I have always found medieval clothes to be rich sources of inspiration, but to see how simply the clothes are put together makes the end result seem so easy to reach out and take ahold of, and it is hard not to want to do just that.