Sunday, April 15, 2012

Reflections: Susan Khalje's Couture Dress Class

Many, many months ago, I signed up for Susan Kahlje's couture dress class on Craftsy.  This was the second Craftsy class I'd taken--the first was Gretchen Hirsch's "bombshell dress" class.  I love Gretchen, and so I figured I'd  take a gamble on the Craftsy platform when she announced her class back in August.  In the end I was fairly satisfied with the whole online course experience, so when Susan Khalje's class was announced, I my interest was piqued.  Add to that the fact that we're currently living in a very tiny town (the nearest fabric store is actually across state lines) and the idea of taking an online class made even more sense.

So, I've been working on my own "couture dress" since before Christmas, and I'm finally starting to see the end of the project in sight.  To be fair, it wouldn't have taken so long if I'd been able to sew with any regularity, but I've been swamped with work, so I've only had the chance to work on it an hour or so at a time.  That said, there is a ton of work involved in Susan's method, and I promised myself at the beginning that I wouldn't  cut any corners.  

Here's a list of all the techniques I tried for the first time:
  • Working with tracing paper to transfer the seamlines to my fabric
  • Basting my muslin together for a test fitting, then basting the entire dress together again by hand for a second test fitting, before sewing it for real on the machine
  • Using a silk organza underlining, and a silk crepe de chine lining
  • Using stays extensively inside the garment
  • Inserting the lining entirely by hand
Here's a picture from this morning of my dress on the dress form.  It doesn't look like much in this picture, and the fabric is cooler in person (it's a mid-weight wool blend that's black with little fibers of bright green and blue from Gorgeous Fabrics).  At this point, I've got the dress itself almost completed (you can see I still have one sleeve to hem), and today, I was able to cut and construct a good portion of the lining, which is a bright Caribbean blue crepe de chine that looks great with the fashion fabric and feels amazing next to the skin.

So, at this point, here are my take-aways from the course:
  1. Precision is crucial, except when it's not.  All of the work marking and basting your pieces is designed to make your stitching super-accurate.  But then, when she needs to, Susan has no problem free-handing her stitching lines or easing in a piece to make it match perfectly.  And she'll often leave the details to be finalized during the fitting.  This was surprising to me at first, but made sense once I understood her reasoning.
  2. Every step in the process has some benefit, and makes a difference in the final product.  That said, I doubt I will ever use all of these techniques again unless I'm sewing something really special or demanding.  Underlining with silk organza, for instance, adds a ton of control, but also a ton of effort and expense.  And most of the time, if I feel good about my muslin fitting, I can't imagine that I will do a second hand-basted fitting before sewing.  But at least now I understand the advantages of doing these things, and know how to do them if and when I want.
  3. There's nothing special about my finished dress, but it was a great learning experience.  I don't think all the careful couture sewing I've done makes much of a visible difference in my dress.  I made it out of wool, which was a good fabric to learn with, but is already pretty easy to control, so I didn't reap much reward from all the hand-stitching, underlining, etc.  I also feel much more confident sewing with silk now, after my experience sewing the lining, but that's not something that actually shows on the outside of the garment.
So, as much as I love to geek out on sewing projects and really take the time to make them perfect (when I want clothing fast and poorly made, I can go to Target), I don't think I'll be adopting all of the methods I've 
learned in this course.  Instead, I think I'll integrate a few of them that seem to make the biggest difference, like using my muslin as a pattern, and marking and sewing the seamlines, rather than the allowances.  And I'll keep the rest in reserve for when I'm confronted with a difficult fabric or when I want to make something truly fabulous.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

McCall's 6163: A diamond in the rough

As I mentioned before, one of the projects I have in the works is a version of McCall's 6163, a faux-wrap dress with raglan sleeves.  From what I understand, there was a certain amount of skepticism about this pattern on PR when it was first released, although I'm not usually very clued into these sorts of things.  You'll get no argument from me about the way the pattern is styled on the envelope: it's terrible!

The strange ruched 3/4 sleeves and tasseled belt leave me entirely cold.  But underneath all that silliness, I maintain that the pattern has "good bones": I love the shape created by the raglan sleeve, deep v, ruched waist, and slim skirt.  View B, without all the silly details, has serious potential.

The only major change I made to my version was to omit the collar.  Knit collars are silly, and to my mind, give the dress a distinctly down-market look.  Leaving off the collar was simple.  I just omitted the collar and band, and re-graded the sleeve front and re-graded the sleeve front and bodice front to create a smooth line.

Here's how my first version turned out--you can read my review on PR here.  I used a great lightweight career knit from Haberman's, and I think the resulting dress is totally classy, flattering, and versatile.  I've worn it a lot, although it's too lightweight for the serious winter weather we're getting right now.  For my second version, I'm using a bolder knit print that I recently scored on sale at Joann's, which I think gives it a slightly more edgy, BCBG-inspired look.

So, it turns out that McCall's 6163 is a great wardrobe builder in disguise!  On that bombshell, it's time to end.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Busy...but sewing

The other day, my mom says to me: "If you haven't called in a while, and you haven't updated your blog, I know you're busy with school so I don't worry."  Ah, the wisdom of mothers!  How right she is.  I have been very busy with school.  I'll be honest, being on the job market is definitely an emotional roller-coaster.  But despite all that, I have been sewing, so over the next few days I'll try my best to get the blog up to date.

So, stay tuned for posts about:
  • the Burda low-back sheath dress, 1-2010 #125, which I successfully completed in time to wear to a wedding on Thanksgiving weekend
  • my Lady Grey coat, which now has sleeves and a collar.  I'm hoping to hem this week and be working on the lining by the weekend
  • my second version of McCalls 6163, which I maintain is an awesome wardrobe-builder in disguise
  • my next project, a wool blazer.  I'm hoping I can continue to build my tailoring skills on this project, and I've asked for more tailoring books and supplies for Christmas ;-)
On a purely personal note, the Mr. is graduating from college this weekend!  Go baby go!  Returning to college as a "non-traditional" student, and balancing school with a job and adult responsibilities, is an impressive feat.  On Sunday, my man will graduate  Summa Cum Laude with his B.B.A. in Computer Information Systems, and I couldn't be more proud of him :-)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

First ever bound buttonhole

Check it out: my first ever bound buttonhole!  (Above it is the button I've selected, a large-ish leather knot that I think goes along with the trench-coat vibe of the Lady Grey coat.)

As I mentioned in my last post, I had been planning to do bound buttonholes on my coat, but I didn't realize that I needed to do them before basting in the hair canvas.  So my compromise will be to do a bound buttonhole on the right side, which will show when the coat is buttoned, and a plain buttonhole on the left side, which will be hidden.

I've contemplated bound buttonholes before, and I've read a few tutorials, but I've always been daunted, especially by the step where you sew over the tiny triangles to attach the the "lips" of the buttonhole.  They just look so tiny!

So I was pleased to find that the whole process was easier than I had feared.  The organza backing really makes it easy to control the fabric, and sewing over the triangles is really no sweat.

The main thing I want to improve for my next buttonhole is the marking/alignment.  If you look carefully, I think this one is just a tiny bit caty-wompus, and I know I wasn't super-careful when I marked it.  Next time, I think I'll mark the true grain carefully on the fabric before I start, to give me a reference-point when I mark the actual buttonhole.

But for a first effort, I think, it's not too shabby!

My new-found romance with tailoring

This weekend I made my first attempt at tailoring, and I'm in love!  Gertie's tutorials are freakin amazing, and I know I wouldn't have had the confidence to undertake a project like this without them.

So here's what I did: after pre-shrinking my wool in the drier and cutting my pieces, I finished the edges of the bodice pieces on my serger.  I'm lining both the bodice front and the side with hair canvas, as Gertie suggested.  But since my particular hair canvas is very stiff, I decided to cut all my interfacing pieces on the bias to soften them and give them more drape.  (I got this idea from Couture Sewing).

I assembled the coat front as Gertie describes: first, I basted the hair canvas to the side front, then sewed the front princess seam and trimmed away the excess hair canvas from the seam allowance.  I'm planning to use a double-topstitch, so I pressed the seam open but didn't do any of the catch-stitching that Gertie mentions.  Then, I added the interfacing to the front piece.  I taped the roll line, then basted the front interfacing in place below the line.  I haven't tried the pad-stitching yet, but that's what comes next in the process.

I expected the hand-stitching to be much more tedious than it was.  It actually went pretty quickly, and the results look totally bad-ass!  While I can't say anything about the finished product yet, I'm totally geeking out on the process, and thoroughly enjoying myself.  I see lots more tailored jackets in my future!

Unfortunatly, I realized this morning that I should have done my bound buttonhole first, since now that entire area is covered in hair canvas.  Oops!  Since it's the left side, which won't show when the coat is buttoned, I've decided to leave it as-is and do a regular buttonhole.  But for the right side, which will show, I definitely want a bound buttonhole.  So I guess that's what I'll be tackling next!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Lady Grey fitting and cutting

Contrary to my initial expectations, I had a sewing-tastical weekend.  I skipped out on my marathon training on Saturday and sewed for most of the day, while the Mr. and his classmates de-bugged the software they're developing.  Then, on Sunday, I sewed all afternoon and into the evening.  So I was able to make a ton of progress on my Lady Grey coat.

After my recent experiences trying to tweak the fit of the low-back dress, I've resolved to make muslins until all--and I mean all--of the fitting issues in a garment have been addressed.  So, I made a second muslin of my Lady Grey to check my alterations to the coat front.  Since I was happy with the sleeves on my first version, I omitted them this time.  I made sure to add the collar so I could mark the roll lines.

I'm happy with how the lapels lie, so that alteration was successful.  (Don't forget, if you make a similar alteration, that you need to alter the front facing and lining pieces to match!)  For this muslin, I also removed 1 in. from the lower edge at every seam except the center back, and I like the amount of volume this leaves.

This muslin did have one weird fit issue, which I suspect was an indirect consequence of shortening the lapel: there was too much fullness in the princess seam above the bust, which created a weird pooch/second boob.  Not the best look.  Here it is with the fullness pinned out.

I marked the new princess line with chalk on the inside, took my pieces apart, trued the lines,  re-sewed and checked the fit.  The result wasn't perfect, but my muslin has a very stiff hand and doesn't ease gracefully, so I decided not to worry about it.  Sure enough, that seam is great on the actual coat.  But I'm getting ahead of myself...

Next, I marked the roll lines using a sharpie.  (Actually, the Mr. did it.  This is one of those operations where the Heisenberg principle of fitting applies: if you turn to see the roll line, you'll change it.  So best to enlist assistance.)  It was neat how clearly you could see these lines form in the muslin, even though it's so much lighter-weight than the actual coating I'll be using.

Based on Gertie's suggestion, I decided to use my muslin pieces as the pattern to cut and mark my coat fabric, so once I was happy with the fit, I took the muslin apart, pressed each piece flat, and transferred all the markings to the pieces with a sharpie.

Here are my completed pieces.  According to Claire Shaeffer's book Couture Sewing, this is called a "toile."  (Anyone know how to pronounce this?  Does it rhyme with "foil," or with "fall"?)  Apparently, this is how patterns are made in the couture houses.  I don't think it took any more effort than transferring my markings back to the paper pattern would have.  And the muslin pattern pieces were definitely easier to pin and cut.

By last night I had everything cut, and I had a chance to start the tailoring, which I'll write about in my next post.  But so far, I'm in love!  And I can't say enough about Gertie's excellent tutorials!  But more on that soon.

What did you do this weekend?

I worked on my Lady Grey coat.  More to follow in a longer post, but for now, feast your eyes on this!