The House of Tatterdemalion

Unfashionable, unskilled, inexpensive--but still sewing.

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Web Trail. . .

It's a gray, clammy, cold Saturday afternoon, so I'm websurfing. I started with a Google search of Alix Gres, whom I've heard very little about. I saw one picture of her work in a book, and it intrigued me. I'm glad I looked. . .here's where I've been:

First stop is a site called "History of Fashion and Costume". It's huge site, one which one can easily get lost in and spend lots and lots of time. (Did I mention you lose track of the passing of time? I just remembered I had a batch of bread in the oven that was trying to burn!!) Alix Gres may be found under "Fashion Designers" under the "G" listing (for Gres, Madame Alix). From what I looked at this site (as previously said, it's huge, so it may very from place to place) it is thorough but brief, much like reading an encyclopedia. Although I learned a lot about Alix Gres, there were unfortunately few photos of her work. I wish they had a gallery. The listing for "Costumes" was another place I got lost, which is about historical regional costumes. Ancient costumes include listings from Sumer, Egypt, Crete-Minoan, Greece, Etruscan, Rome, and Byzantium. It not only speaks of clothes, foot-wear, head-wear, jewelry, common motifs, and armor, but also brief descriptions of the peoples and how they lived.

Stop number two is the Metropolitan Museum of Art (here, specifically costume). I'd briefly been here before, but since the site is trying to cover all of art (and not just clothing) it's harder to find what you want. When you do find it, though, they have great pictures! I saw a piece of this dress on the History of Fashion and Costume, and had been dying to see what the full dress looks like. (This shredded ivory silk chiffon and tiered silk organza dress by Alexander McQueen reminds me of a wild goat. Apparently, having read it's description, it's supposed to reminiscent of a sea-shell.) This is all that they have on Gres. . .do click on the links for the descriptions. Often times they talk about how the dress was constructed, and point out things that you might not otherwise notice.

Kent State University always has just enough to get you interested, and then leaves you hanging! Their exhibition on Spirals and Ellipses: Clothing the Body Three-Dimensionally has several pieces of Gres', but that's all that they have of hers (as far as I can find).

And that was pretty much the end of my browsing. There were a lot of links to books, and several in French, and a lot on perfume, but no more easy-find, easy-read. I find someplace talking about a relative un-known, turning up in my search merely because he is supposedly inspired by the likes of Alix Gres and Madame Vionnett. So I looked him up (Chado Ralph Rucci, here's a bunch of pictures from his Fall 2004 show). According to Fashion File, he's the first American designer to be invited to the Chambre Sydicale de la Courture Parisienne in over fifty years. Kent State (as well as lot of other people, in their own phrasing of it) he is "impervious to fads and to the increased theatricality of the couture world". They also say "The quality of Ralph Rucci's work is exceptional in both his ready-to-wear and couture garments. His trademark meandering seams and gussets allow for better fit and ease of movement and, like most of the hand processes he and his staff develop, are a great source of pride." While this all sounds very fascinating, I'm sorry to say that his designs struck me as rather boring. To be able to examine the construction details in your hand must be very informative and striking. But when you can only see them from a distance, his work is taken down to nothing but design; and his lines and colors don't capture my imagination or my attention.

And that is the end of my browsing for today. . .

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Interesting Post. . .

That last post was a practical joke on myself. It drives me nuts when people write blog entries like that, so of course I had to do it at least once myself. When I see other people doing it (one of my uncles does it all of the time), I want to say, "Hey, get back here and explain yourself!! Why was it interesting? What is it about? What does it make you think about? Why were you there? What will you do differently? I want some answers, people!"

So here is the interesting post, to follow the interesting link. In every art field, there is "modern" off-shoot. You know, your "modern" painters, your "modern" sculptors, etc., etc. Well, the short story is that this is a link to a modern pattern drafter (though I guess in the UK they call it a pattern cutter?).

As with most "modern" art, either you like it or you don't. And if you like one form of modern art, you will probably like most forms of modern art. So if you like modern art, you will probably like modern pattern drafting. It has much in similar in that it likes to defy traditional conventions or appearances. To some, it merely looks random, without thought or meaning. It likes to be shocking, or look messy or sloppy to those who aren't sophisticated enough to appreciate it.

I, of course, am utterly un-sophisticated.

(Saw that comin', didn't you?)

So why do I say that it is interesting? Because it is technically very interesting. Hmm. That makes it sound as though it is interesting, but turns me off in some other way. Which I guess is partly true, but I think what I meant to say was: Because it is, technically, very interesting. Or perhaps: Because it is very interesting, technically.

Or maybe I should just use more words and explain a little better what I mean. I don't care for most of the end results displayed on the site. They appear, to me, to be messy and random, with little thought, and rather ugly and hard on the eyes. Artsy, and unappealing. However, I find the means used to achieve those ends to be quite fascinating, and intriguing.

The site itself is also interesting, in that I found it very easy to navigate--but it was totally different than most page designs. Also, most of the pages were hand written with hand illustrations. The instructions were well written, in that I could follow them pretty well, though I won't truly grasp it completely till I try it myself. I also appreciated the fact that, while Julian (I'm assuming, probably wrongly, that the kind of ghoul-ish looking guy--no offense, but he does look it-- at the bottom of the page wrote everything) obviously enjoyed the whole "freedom" and "lack of rules" look, he wasn't too heavy handed. Since I didn't have sort through a bunch of words about "breaking out of boundaries", I could much more easily grasp the technical methods he was explaining.

Now, me being more of a boundaries type person (read, "control freak"), my immediate thought is, how can I take this and control it? This is obviously an out-working of one of the things he says in page eight of the basics, namely "Whoever implements them, automatically adds something of their own style to them."

Let's take, for example (since it is both the technique I most easily and quickly grasped, as well as the one I'm most interested in trying out), the technique of cutting out a shape, and then filling the hole with a different shape with the same size perimeter. He starts out by explaining it with basic shapes, the easiest for the mind to grasp, but quickly shifts to random shapes, as all modern art does. But my mind is still stuck on the more reasonable shapes (tee-hee!).

If you look through the "RCA students" gallery, you can get a few good examples of how people import their style. Emily Parson, for example, is being very, terribly, unendingly clever by cutting out the shapes "P" and "e" (wonder what they stand for?), and inserting a triangle into the "P" and a rectangle into the "e". So, yes, on paper her design seems to be thought-out and with reason. But, the finished product? Nothing is recognizable. It is clever for cleverness' sake alone, because once it is completed, no one can see how clever she is. Only she (and anyone she shows her sketch to) knows her cleverness. So then she is clever, but so clever that no one knows how clever she is, which makes her even more clever, because she has made herself so clever than no one can figure out how clever she is.

In the next entry, Emma Palmer shows what a less clever person can do with it. (Which must mean that I am not only un-sophisticated, but un-clever, too, because it is a lot more like what I'd like to do with it.) The shape of the original cut is still obvious to the viewer--in fact, more so, because the contrasting insert stands off of the skirt. By using a softer, sub-ordinate fabric to be inserted into the stiffer, dominate fabric, it makes the original cut-out to be twice as striking. (Outstanding, even, if one were to get clever with words.) Very deliberate, very effective.

Yujin Jung is also thinking more along my lines. As soon as I read about cutting a hole that connected to the hem, and then using an insert whose perimeter was greater than the hole and using the access as extra fullness in the hem, I immediately thought that it could make a really cool godet. This skirt, while having a very striking godet, still looks slightly awkward to me. If it were me, I would bring it under the iron fist of control, you can be sure of that! (Oops. I just realized that Yujin Jung has quite a few garments displayed. I was referring to the black skirt with the gold and white random-godet on it.)

These last two showed what some of the most "obvious" "controlled" things one might do with this technique. Emma made a very strong design line, making a sweeping curve across her skirt, and Yujin made a very dramatic godet. But my mind is springing off. . .

Supposing you made a "bustle back" skirt using this method? Using a subordinate fabric to fill in several horizontal cuts down the back would probably achieve this style, though with a much different effect. A cross between ruching and ruffles.

It could be used instead of a decorative collar, slicing into the bodice around the neck, perhaps even a much larger hole at the center back, giving the illusion of a hood pulled off the head and left to hang down.

It could be used as a repeating motif along the circumference of a hem, or at sleeves hems, or running down sleeves.

One could use it to make a 3-D pattern all over a fabric, and then cutting the decorated fabric and made into clothing.

How about a row of un-tucks down the front?

How small could you make the cuts and still have an effective design?

Which works better, "random" filling shapes, or structured filling shapes? (e.g. a "scribbled" shape, or a triangle?)

There are other techniques that seem to have potential to my minds eye, but are harder for me to grasp. For instance, the displacement technique looks interesting, but I can't wrap my mind around it well enough to figure out how to control the variables. I'm sure if I practiced it, it would make much more sense. The tube technique is the least appealing to me, because it's affects appear to be much more limited and uncontrollable. It will always involve large amounts of fabric and lots of draping and build-up. Nonetheless, this too looks like it would be an interesting technique to play with. (The first thing that comes to mind is to weight all the drape to the back, so the front appears smooth but the back is full; again, playing off of the bustle back design.) What one could do when combining techniques (either those presented here, or other more "traditional" techniques), is truly mind boggling.

In fact, one of the most frustrating things for me about the designs on the site is their randomness. I keep looking to see ideas brought out, explored, built upon, progressing from here to there with interesting side trails. Instead, they appear to be totally random, coming from nowhere, and going nowhere, and rather hard to grasp upon and build off of yourself. What they see as playful and inventive, I see as confused and incomplete, a technique that has yet to be mastered and executed with the end result in mind. They want to be led by their creation, and I want to lead my creation.

At any rate, I am grateful that they were willing to share their knowledge and experience willingly (and also freely!). It is unique and innovative, and has sparked several ideas in my mind. I am sure that my style will not be their style, even as much as their style is not my style. But it has opened me up to a new way to think about manipulating fabric, and I hope I don't forget it.

Oh, and one last note. On page seven he says, "Being an amateur is always an advantage." This always brings a huge grin to my face, but not because I think he's off his rocker. Much to the contrary, it makes me grin so big precisely because I think I do know exactly what he means. I think perhaps I could write a whole post about it. But not tonight.

Interesting Site. . .

I just saw this interesting site.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Carr Couture

Couture. . .the Art of Fine Sewing”, by Roberta Carr, is the second of two “couture” books I got out of the library. (The other having been previously discussed.) At the time I got these books out, I hadn’t realized quite so well how large of a difference there is between different versions of “couture”. My definition–or, at any rate, what I was looking for in couture–is a high level of technical skill, and a very specific skill. “Couture” sewing is not sewing used in every day garments; nor is it’s sole goal to be sturdy and withstand abuse. “Couture” sewing is supposed to be about not disturbing the fabric as it is made into garments–the sewing should not effect the drape or hand of the fabric, where ever possible the seams should be matched perfectly. There are no “short-cuts” in “couture” because couture is the long way. “Couture” always has impeccable details of the finest quality.

One time I read somewhere–and, alas, I do not remember where, or I would tell you—that one should never take the description “couture” to one’s self, but wait until it is given by someone else. If one has to say that one is the leader, than obviously one’s position as a leader is already in jeopardy. If you’re truly the leader, you don’t need to say it, and no one needs to ask. Couture sewing doesn’t say “Look at me! I’m couture!” But it doesn’t need too.

This is how I view “couture”. It is sewing of the highest level of workmanship. Just as there is fine furniture, miles and away above the typical furniture one can buy, there is also a higher level of sewing. Although the styles of work may change upon taste, the level of construction, precision and technique remain as high as possible. Wether it is an ornate, highly decorated chair, or a chair of sleek, modern design, huge amounts of time and skill are invested in it to make sure that it is without flaw. No one would expect a Joe Handyman with a set of power tools to make the finest level of furniture, and especially not in just a few hours. In the same way, wether it is a simple sheath dress, or an ornate ball gown with a long train, skill and time must be invested to make sure they are perfect.

As a less-than Jane Handyman, I don’t expect to start cranking out couture sewing after reading a few books. But I would expect my “couture” books to talk about things that are more difficult, more detailed, and harder to achieve than what would be found in a typical sewing book.

Happily, this book did a better job of fulfilling those expectations than the first couture book I’ve talked about. Unhappily (but not unexpectedly), the author and I still seem to have different ideas of what “couture” means.

For those of you who don’t care two beans what “couture” means, I shall first just talk about the book.

This book does address some “couture” details, such as Doir roses, which she shows you how to make, step by step. It is also more thorough (and thicker, at 200 pages), and organized well. My favorite chapter was the sleeve chapter, which has the perhaps one of the most complete chapters I’ve ever seen on sleeve styles. A particularly interesting style was where you make a center front seam in a sleeve (it runs down the length of your arm on the side, as though you have just cut the sleeve pattern in half lengthwise), and insert 3-D geometric shapes into that sleeves. I say 3-D, but it’s hard to give an accurate picture using words. If you placed circles in the sleeve, you wouldn’t wind up with several spheres sticking out of the side of your arm, but several flat disks–round, but flat. These shapes aren’t inset into the sleeve, as though a hole had been cut out and a different piece of fabric put in it’s place. The are raised, above the surface, and distinct from the sleeve, but still connected. It looks more as though the sleeve has sprouted shapes.

The good news is that, even if my words don’t bring the proper image to your mind, this book was well illustrated. It also has several pages of full color photographs, but unfortunately, the photographs didn’t do near so well at showing details. Many of the garments were made out of black, and we all know how hard it is to see details in pictures of black garments.

The instructions were thorough throughout the book; Carr made every effort to make the book accessible and encouraging. This is a good book to introduce someone to the world of “couture”, and it includes several pages giving brief descriptions of past couturiers.

And now, everyone who dislikes negativity of any form, please plug your ears, avert your eyes, hum loudly, or leave the room. Because here is the part where I disagree with the author. She not only has a different idea of what “couture” means, but she is also very inconsistent.

The book opens by saying:

“Couture! Just the sound of the word conjures up glamour–the finest–the best–fanasty. Yes! Couture is fanasty in so many ways. It’s a dream, a vision, all those beautiful people in exotic places celebrating the happiness of life. . .”

Obviously, this is very far from what I hold “couture” to mean! Shortly thereafter, however, she began talking about “perfection” in construction, so I forged on. She went on to talk about cutting out bodice pieces one side at a time, on a single layer of fabric, already cut down to a smaller and more managable size. This made it easier to block the pieces of fabric so that they were perfectly on grain. She made a point of telling you not to smooth out wrinkles to the side after pinning it on grain–those wrinkles indicated that those places in the fabric were out of grain–and had you steam them out instead.

All well and good. This sounds like a terrible amount of work, but it makes sense.

Then she goes on and has you use a sewing machine.

No, I am not a luddite (but close!). But even I, Jane Handyman, can see my sewing machine stretch out seams, pull things out of alignment, and leave twists and puckers. Why, after spending hours and hours on arranging my fabric so that it was perfectly on grain, would I stick it under the machine needle? If that small amount of stretch doesn’t matter in “couture”–why go through all the work of carefully blocking out each individual piece and steaming out off grain places? Why not just fold the fabric in half and cut it out that way? There wouldn’t be too much off grainness that way–some, but enough for her “couture” to worry about?

Part of me wonders if perhaps she was told to make sure that any home sewing could take home her book and learn to sew the “couture” way, and she realized that very few home sewers will put up with much hand sewing with their fancy new sewing machines sitting right next to them. “Couture is Judgement!” she says, encouraging you to make the call yourself as different issues come up. Perhaps she just used her “judgement” to decided that machine sewing everything wouldn’t make much difference. She makes many and repeated claims to perfection being a necessary part of couture, but can’t seem to bring herself to actually hold to it. She even says

“My field is couture. Oh, you know what that means–structure, hand-stitching, shaping, attitude, and beautiful fabric.”

But for her, it seems that attitude and beautiful fabric trump structure, hand-stitching, and shaping. For her, attitude and beautiful fabric is the heart of couture; the rest is a nice after-thought, but not overly important. In her epilogue, she tells this story:

“On a trip back to Rhode Island to my cousin’s 25th wedding anniversary, I needed a fancy dress. Very few of my family had seen me since I opened my fabric store and sewing school. I wanted a prosperity dress. Mary Margaret, a modern couturier, and I teamed up. I designed and she masterfully executed a black chiffon with satin and gold stripes dress. She would surely tell you of the hours it took to perfect the miles of double bias ruffles that fluttered around the neck and down the back. . . It’s the kind of dress that never asks the question “How are you doing?” The answer is revealed in the dress.”

To her, this is the epitome of couture–to parade wealth, stature, honor. To me, this story was the epitome of how we are different. To me, the construction is what makes it couture; to her, the attitude and appearance. I also felt sad for her that she felt the need to wear a “prosperity” dress to visit with her family. I can more understand the desire for a “prosperity” dress when one is amongst strangers, but family is where you are supposed to be loved and accepted regardless of how much “prosperity” one has, or what kind of clothes you are wearing. (I do, however, believe in dressing for the occasion. If anniversary party was formal or fancy, it would have been rather disrespectful to the whole event to show up in jeans and a t-shirt.)

When one who is learning how to play the piano watches a master pianist, who has practiced for years on end and refined their skill continually, the beginner will not be instantly assured that playing the piano perfectly is easy and accessible to all. But they will be challenged to improve, to continue to practice, to strive for a greater level of skill. In the same way, I would rather see a “couture” book that challenged me, that showed me what to strive for, even though I could not reach out and take it right away.

I found this book to be interesting, and even inspiring at some points. But I didn’t find it to be very challenging. She wishes to make couture easy and accessible to all, but as with all things in life, the more you are willing to put in, the more you will get out. Exclusiveness cannot be had by all, or it is no longer exclusive. Couture cannot become easy and accessible to all without ceasing to be couture. As the saying goes, “Remember, you’re special. . .just like everyone else.”

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Couture? Haute Couture? Juicy Couture?

Ack! I'm guilty of lack of clarity in terms!

I just discovered that I wasn't just talking to myself; someone had actually read some of my writing. That does tend to happen when you put it on the 'net, but always shocks me when it does actually happen. I could have responded to the person in the forum where the question was posed, but I'm afraid of speaking to crowds. So instead I'm going to speak to myself and this brick wall here, and if anyone else happens by, they can eavesdrop. (Or comment.)

Here's the piece of writing in question, from my post "Quibbling with the King":

"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, inordinately, or particularly unusual. Just helpful hints. Nothing really couture either; almost everything was done by machine."

Now, the question is, does couture have to be by hand?

Before we answer that, one must ask: what does couture mean?

Strictly speaking, "couture" just means sewing. It's French. (Or, according to the first French-English dictionary I found with a Google search, dressmaking.) And, just as technically, "haute couture" means high (or elegant) sewing.

But what do people use these words to mean? Well, the term "haute couture" is a highly regulated term. You can't use this word, even if you use the same techniques as couture houses, unless you belong to the Syndical Chamber for Haute Couture in Paris, employ 15 or more people, and present collections at least twice a year, with each collection having at least 35 different outfits.

What do they use the word "couture" for? Well, the term "couture" is a highly unregulated term. You can use it for whatever you want; no one can stop you. Confusing? You bet!

Some people use it to mean the same technical sewing as a Haute Couture house--the only difference being the people who do "couture" (as opposed to "haute couture") don't belong to the Sydical Chamber, don't have 15 employees or more, and don't present collections twice a year.

Some people use it to mean custom-made clothes, no matter what techniques were used.

Some people use it to mean very high end Ready-To-Wear.

And some people use it to mean "this object is high quality and exclusive", regardless of whether or not the thing actually has any relevance to sewing (or exclusiveness) at all.

So here is where I am wrong--just because something says it's couture has nothing to do with whether or not it was hand sewn.

Here's where I'm right. The word couture does always bring to my mind lavish amounts of hand sewing.

And this is the really big question: In which way was Kenneth King using the word "couture"?

I cannot remember for certain whether "haute couture" sewing techniques have machine sewing in them. I thought not--that a machine never touched the garments--but that remembrance is very shaky, so I won't hold to firmly to it. The main portion, certainly, is done by hand, as well as all embellishments and details.

The reason why is obvious only to perfectionist, and that is exactly what "haute couture" sewing is supposed to be all about. The difference may not seem huge, nor obvious, to most people, but people who worry too much about the details can always tell. It's for the same reason I insist upon hand-quilting the king sized quilt I'm making in honor of my parent's (now past) 25th wedding anniversary. I could machine quilt it, it is true. But when I compare hand quilting to machine quilting, the former is undeniably better. It is softer and more supple, instead of stiff and rigid. It allows the fabric and batting to maintain their natural drape, instead of becoming firm and slightly uncomfortable. It looks better, and it feels better.

Now, do I despise all machine-quilted quilts? No, and far from it. Will I hand quilt every quilt I make? No, and far from it! If I had really wanted to make a top-notch quilt, I would have hand pieced it together as well, instead of using a machine, but I didn't. Hand sewing is for those special things that we are willing to put more work into it, not for common everyday things. (As I'm sure you've picked up, "haute couture" is supposed to be the exact opposite of common.)

Machine sewing is easier to master, but masterful hand sewing produces much better results. A 6-year-old can sew by hand or by machine, but their machine sewing will probably always be better. Someone qualified to work in a couture house will be able to sew with both machine and hand sewing, but their hand sewing will out-strip the work of the machine.

Kenneth King's book was certainly about sewing (couture, of a type), I won't deny that. It just wasn't the treat (couture, of a different type) I expected it to be.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Patterns and Fit: Practice

Note: This is the second post in a two-post series. "Patterns and Fit: Theory", was the first in the series, and this post refrences back to it frequently. Please scroll down and read the "Theory" post first. It'll make this one make more sense. Honest.

"The times, they are a-changin'. . ."

"Okay, class, after a conglomerate streamlines, simplifies, and stagnates, what comes next?

Yes, that's correct. They usually die a long, lingering death. In the meantime, new companies appear. Smaller, more nimble and agile, these companies set out to solve the problems that the complacent Hutts were content to let the populace suffer with. They rapidly out-strip the old monopolies, and a fierce competion between these companies keeps progress moving forward. Gradually, these smaller companies begin to battle for dominance. One, or several, move to the top, and squash the rest of the competition, turning themselves into conglomerate monopolies. And so goes the wonderful cycle of life. Remember, you can always see past conglomerates looking down at us from the stars. . ."

It has begun.

The Big Four (abbreviated as The Big$, representing the Butterick-McCall-Vogue conglomerate and Simplicity) are struggling. The products are being held in derision by more and more people. Small, independent companies are rising to the challenge. And, of course, they are not using the same methods as the Big$.

Now here is the part in contraversy. Why are they dying? What are the new challengers doing that is most importantly different? Very simply, it's very complicated. No single thing can be picked out as most important, or a most driving force. For this (one-sided, unless someone dares to comment) discussion, we will be looking solely a the aspect of fit. (This means that we will be brutally ignoring Simplicity, whom many people claim is in the process of an in-house shake-down to get back in the game instead of decaying like a prehistoric animal. As far as I know, that shake-down does not include an over-haul of fit, so it is sadly not relevant to this post.)

In fact, although there are many independent pattern companies, only a very few seem to be addressing fit. (Some one say this is proof that fit is not a key component to a pattern companies success. But I would say the proof is in the pudding; let's see which ones last.) The two that I will focusing on are the two that have most caught my attention. HotPatterns, and Modern Sewing (an affiliate of Vilar Soft).

First we shall look at HP--which, in the sewing world, most certainly does not stand for Hewlett-Packard. Nearly everyone in the sewing world knows it stand for HotPatterns, and also knows of HP's mind-boggling take off. To quote the owners:

"We had an initial inventory of 3000 pieces-we were expecting to sell about 500 pieces a month to begin with, given that we are a new company with a new product."
"First of all, we have received an absolute torrent of orders-literally more than 10 times what we expected-which has meant, despite starting with what we thought was a reasonable stock of patterns, we have had to re- print our patterns again & again. We are currently setting up the 5th print run. . ."
Not only was there a huge, unexpected demand, but they were also stabbed in the back by their cruddy fulfillment company. (It's quite a soap opera to watch, really, as long as you're not one of the ones with money involved.)

Now, HP does not use fit as a selling point. Their selling point is highly fashionable sewing patterns, followed by the fact they don't use flimsy tissue paper, and good instructions. Nearly everyone in the world (except for un-fashionable people, but who on earth is un-fashionable?!) agrees they are very "hot". Everybody likes the non-tissue paper, but that is considered standard for a non Big$ company. So that is their theory.

But in practice? They are stellar at selling their own products. They could probably sell their patterns even without fashion sketches. Say you're selling a "Pirate Queen Swagger Coat", and anyone who ever wanted to look like a Pirate Queen swaggering about rushes to buy your coat. Incidentally, there's a LOT of women who want to look like a Pirate Queen swaggering about. But when people get the pattern, what are the two things they rave the most about? Good drafting--the pattern pieces fit together beautifully. And Fit.

You see, though HP has barely mentioned it in their PR efforts, they have totally revamped the measurement and sizing charts. Now, pre-HP, this was considered much too impossible for the Big$. Too much time, too much money, too hard, too impossible, too confusing. At the same time, "plus sized" women complained that the Big$ designed their plus sizes beyond stupidly. When you gain weight, regardless of where you gain it, your bone structure doesn't gain weight. Your shoulders stay as narrow, your neck the same size. But the Big$ simply scales up a regular pattern, meaning as the bust and waist and hip grow, so to does the shoulder width and the neck circumference.

HP has essentially drafted patterns for three different body types. With their usual brilliant descriptions, they have called the three sizes "Slinky Girl", "Glamour Girl", and "Curvy Girl". Now, in previous Big$ lingo, the closest equivalent would be Petite, Misses, and Women's. But "Petites" just meant they had "shorten lines" on the pattern, Misses just meant regular, and Women's just meant they scaled up a few sizes.

For HP, "Slinky Girl" means that they are drafted for AA/A/B cup lady. Slinky girl sizes range from 6 to 14. "Glamour Girl" means they are drafted for B/C/D cups, and comes in the sizes 12 through 20. The "Curvy Girl" is for D/DD cups and has a size range from 18 to 26. This, if we remember what the nay-sayers were saying before HP, is impossible. HP is not advertising a better fit. But nearly everyone who has put together one of these patterns has less altering, and in some cases--no altering! Are people considering this a small, un-important feature? No. Most certainly not.

Yes, right now you will mostly hear about "beautiful drafting" or "So stylish".

But even the hot HP has a Plain and Simply category. If someone has the choice between a princess seam blouse that fits nearly or completely perfectly from the envelope, or a princess seam blouse that needs to be altered 6 ways from next Sunday, which will they choose? Which will someone recommend to a beginner who is just learning to sew?

Obviously the female shape has changed since the last set of blocks was made (if for no other reason of different under-garments or lack thereof). But even more obviously, not all women are the same "typical" shape, no matter what statisticians want to tell you. HP may not fit everyone straight of the envelope, but they're much closer to it than the Big$. HP fit is getting rave reviews.

Our second case study is Modern Sewing, which for the sake of my poor fingers I'll refer to as MS, even thought that abbreviation also has computer overtones. MS, despite it's name, doesn't market it's styles. It markets their supposed ability to draft patterns to your "exact" size. They can then either print them out and send them to you, or you can print them out on your home printer (it requires taping together a lot of sheets of paper after it's printed).

Now here is the curious thing. While HP is having such trouble trying to get things printed and shipped out, people are saying how they wish they could print HP out themselves--just download and print. Not only has MS made this possible with their patterns, they have gone one step further, saying they can give a perfect fit for any person.

Instead of embracing this concept and making MS explode with the same shocking results as HP, people are wary, suspicious, doubting, unwilling to even try. Why?

Is it because, like me, they no longer believe that a simple bust, waist and hip measurement will be sufficient for a perfect fit?

No. To the best of my understanding, it all comes down to public relations and good advertising. HotPatterns has it, Modern Sewing doesn't.

You see, as soon as you promise something perfect, people are determined to prove you wrong. If MS instead played-up their vast number of patterns, their style, and the ability to print your own patterns, they would get a much warmer welcome. As an after thought, MS could mention "your ability" to "customize" patterns. This accomplishes two things. For starters, it's promising less than you intend to give--you intend to give perfectly fitting patterns--but you don't say so. Then, when your patterns fit perfectly, you have exceed expectations, and gone above and beyond the call. But if you promise perfectly fitting garments, then you get a lot of bad press when something goes slightly awry.

The second thing that this accomplishes is that it places the blame, if something goes wrong, on the consumer instead of the manufacture. If you say, "I will make a pattern that fits you perfectly," ---it's your fault if it doesn't. You must have drafted improperly. If you say, "You can make a pattern that fits you perfectly!"--it's the consumers fault. They must have measured incorrectly.

I think MS has one of the coolest ideas going, but it's being so poorly executed it may never get off the ground. What if, instead, they worked quite hard with you to make sure that it was a perfect fit--if the first three measurements didn't make it quite right, they would have you take more measurements and draft it again--for free--because once you have someone who knows that every garment will fit perfectly, you have them for good. You can sell the patterns--the styles, the fashions--, and not the service of fitting, because once they know it fits, they will always come back, again and again and again. People are odd in that they don't want to pay for the service of fit, but once they have it, they can't live without it.

Would the fact that the patterns fit--perfectly!--be a small factor for the consumer? For the beginner? For anyone who sews? Wouldn't they be more inclined to buy your pattern--the perfectly fitting pattern? Wouldn't they be more inclined to sew if the clothes they sewed fit even better than Ready-to-Wear clothing? But of course!

People think fit issues have nothing to do with sewing patterns for the simple reason that they believe it to be impossible. We're back to thinking that the heroine is really hero. Because you don't know, does that mean it isn't? Because it has not been done, does it mean it cannot? Because you cannot remember it, does it mean it hasn't happened?

And this last question is a very good question. My elderly neighbor was telling me of some time she had spent years ago in Europe--I think France, specifically--and they had custom pattern shops, similar to tailor shops. You could go to these shops, and show them a picture, or describe what you wanted, and they would take your measurements and then draft a pattern to your specifications. You bought this service; the pattern was yours to do whatever you wanted. Make it out of whatever fabric you wanted, as often as you wanted. You could even make copies and sell the pattern, something that no pattern company now adays would allow. But then, I suppose, it was common knowledge that to get a pattern that fit--no small importance--you couldn't just take someone else's pattern. It would be a much inferior product, and it wouldn't put them out of business.

Supposing if these things were taken to heart now. If a company made a line of patterns like HP, allowed it to be customized as MS, and also had the feature to allow you to submit your own designs---what could happen?

Sewing could take off again. Fabric stores would again spring up. Sewing could become more fashionable than shopping. RTW could been seen as ill-fitted and shoddy. People could have more of a reason to even begin sewing. People could get it their design drafted by a pattern drafting company, and then they could bring it to a professional seamstress to sew, for completely unique clothes without any sewing on their part.

Another interesting question is--what will happen? In the short term, I think that many more independent pattern companies will be springing up. HotPattern's sizing, or something very similar, will become standard. The Big$ will play a much smaller, more specialized role, or a completely different role, or else go out of business. Some independents will allow you to print your own patterns at home, but the idea of drafting to your exact measurements will take much longer to catch on. Its success depends on whose hands it falls into--it must be someone who is willing to do the work, will put its customers at ease, and will aggressively and brilliantly market it. People are too untrusting to accept something that seems so foreign. Although they may consider me to have been naive, in thinking that a pattern out of the envelope could fit (even though my measurements matched!), they still agree with my former self that the professional pattern drafters know much more than they ever could. They are overly intimidated by pattern drafting, and so it scares them away from it--even done on a personal basis by someone else.

At any rate, we're in the midst of some very interesting changes. Keep your eyes open!

Patterns and Fit: Theory

I know, I know, there are still two other books that I ought to hurry up and write about before I forget. I am still intending to write them, but this has seized my attention, and I must write about it.

Poor fit of garments is terrible plague that nearly all of us are suffering from. This is what has kept me from sewing; and this is what drives me to learn how to draft my own patterns. Nearly every fitting book I have seen has lead me to believe that they are a cure that is even worse than the disease. To use a fitting book for a cure for poor fit means that you spend thousands of hours working by trial and error, and largely guessing at which problems you have, what they are called, and how much needs to be changed. This procedure often requires the abilities of an innocent (or not so innocent) teenager who happened to walk through a toxic waste dump: three hands, eyes in the back of your head, an ability to hear inanimate objects speaking, and an ability to slow time in order to get the work done quicker so that you can actually have something that fits before you are 93.

And, should you, by some outlandish, freakish chance, actually get one garment to fit, it doesn't mean your fitting woes are over. Much to the contrary; you must go through this process for every garment you ever want to fit. Some mutant fitters claim that this gets easier and faster every time you do it. Presumably this means that, by the time you are 93, it will only take you a few months.

I am very innocent, and I have not yet ever walked through a toxic waste dump. But, in my innocence, I thought I had when my first garment didn't fit. I had taken my measurements. They had even matched what was on the back of the envelope. But the garment clearly did not fit. Among other things, the back seems threatened to pop out as though I was the Incredible Hulk. Surely I must be a freak of nature. The pattern must be right. It was drafted by professionals, who know far more than I ever know. Surely the fault is mine.

Gradually, disillusionment set in. Maybe this pattern is screwy. I'll try another. Several muslins later, it is clear that it was a universal problem with patterns, or else singularly my fault. Still presuming the pattern drafters were omnipotent, I decide yet again it must be me. I must be a freak. Seeking help online, I then discover it is not just me. Everyone has fit problems! I felt terribly betrayed and lied to. The pattern envelope never said anything about this! The closest thing they came to it was saying you could "trace between the lines" to "customize" the fit, all the while acting as though they were doing you a great favor. I was furious.

The queerest thing is that most other people aren't. They accept this as normal.

You know all those stupid adventure books where the heroine pretends to be a boy, and no one discovers? She starts out claiming to be a boy when she is young, so she just looks like a girly boy. Even as she turns into a women, no one notices, because they have come to believe she is a boy. Years later, everyone is terribly shocked by this deception, which of course is always made obvious by someone who hasn't been around the heroine as she grows up. To the outside observer, she looks like a women. To those who believe her to be man, they make any mental excuse to continue believing it. (Unbelievable, maybe. But it sounds a bit like a version of "The Emperor's New Clothes." Oddly, these stories are always written by feminists, even though to me it sounds like a great mockery of feminism.)

To me, this is a good way to explain how most "normal" sewers feel about patterns and fit. This is all they know, and they believe it to be good. They believe that the pattern companies are doing all that is humanely possible.

Ever the observant one (or overly-critical dissenter with no sympathy and outrageous expectations), I observe otherwise. At the very least the pattern companies ought to make it clear that you will have fit issues, and refer you to a good fitting book. But the true fuel to the fire was when I discovered several interesting patterns in the collection I inherited from my Great-Grandmother (who, incidentally, was 98). Two of them came with very complete fitting instructions--very clear, very concise, and to the point. Another one had alteration lines printed right on it, for the most clear instructions I have ever seen for doing a Full Bust Adjustment, as well as for narrow shoulders.

A-ha! So, once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, the pattern companies did care. They had to, I'm sure, as there was more competition. You snooze, you looze. Afterwards, things became conglomerated, and the competition done away with. What resulted is what normally happens; things were "streamlined", "simplified", and ultimately (without competition), stagnated. Quality went down the tubes, because the customer had no choice, and it was easier for the monopoly.

Determined to open the eyes of the townspeople, I brought these patterns to their attention.

I was met with scoffs and jeers, and thrown out the back gate.

Ok, so I'm being dramatic. But no one did agree with me. Some defended the 4 major pattern companies, saying that all that fit information was in the back of the pattern catalogues. Most insisted that it wasn't the pattern companies fault, problem, responsibility or worry. The pattern companies, they say, are responsible only for giving well drafted patterns; this does not include fit. Or teaching one how to sew. That was very quaint and sweet of the pattern companies to including fitting, but really, the expense is too great. There's a lot of fitting books, try them.

But, said I, hypothetically, if we pretended they cared, and it wasn't too expensive, how would you like pattern companies to deal with fit issues? Why, they said, to fit perfectly out of the envelope with no alterations at all, of course! And laughed at the idea.

As one who has serious professional interest in this matter (read: pipe-dream to start my own pattern company some day. Like when I'm 93), it is no laughing matter.