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.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for posting this - I thought I was the only one feeling this way. I'm almost finished with my third muslin for this course and feel like I've learned a lot, but the couture techniques can be a bit of overkill for a "regular" dress. They are great to know about though!

    Even not completely finished, your dress looks wonderful, btw!