The House of Tatterdemalion

Unfashionable, unskilled, inexpensive--but still sewing.

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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this, so thank you!

10:38 AM  
Blogger Tatterdemalion said...

Thank you for letting me know!I know it was just a short sentence, but writers always like to know when their work is being enjoyed. It makes us feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

11:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thank you for the clarification...i've been trying to figure this out!

10:40 AM  
Anonymous Pigmalion said...

Thank you for the clarificaiton. I have been wondering what the word couture means.Now I have a better understanding.

1:48 PM  
Blogger Elianne said...

Thank you so much for the great explanation of couture

4:29 PM  
Blogger Tatterdemalion said...

Hi, guys!

This is my 'old blog'; I've since moved to here. I've more recently written a piece that explores more deeply the way that the word 'couture' is being used in modern language, which you can read about here. It seems to be a word that is used more and more often, and without any explanation at all, so it's not really surprising that there's so much confusion over it.

Glad I could help!

4:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I truly enjoyed reading your blog on "couture".

I think that " couture", meant a garment that was either sewn by machine or handsewn with the highest degree of quality and artful expertise.
To me, I always, look at the inside seams to show the quality of the item!

4:24 AM  

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