Learning about Couture (Part Two)

Most of my sewing knowledge and skills came from my teen years. I learned the basics from my mother, from home economics class at school, and from the Singer sewing class that my mother paid for ($10). I might occasionally add a new technique as needed, like how to use the button-hole attachment or how to manage a particular fabric. Most of my confidence came from past sewing experience. I figured that as long as my machine had a good straight stitch, I was good to go.  Since I was mostly self-taught by years of trial and error that was based on common sense, I only learned about draping, for instance, by watching the designers on Project Runway.

Since I’d never taken a design class, I had no idea what I’d missed. Although my sewing knowledge may be vast, it’s old. There are new tools, new books, new methods. For instance, I recently bought my first Serger. Most sewists will admit that learning to serge takes some courage; learning to thread the Serger takes some courage.

As I’ve looked at various doll clothes makers on the internet, I’ve seen a wide range of dress, some of it plain with little imagination . When I first looked for a doll clothes pattern in PDF form maybe four or five years ago, there was very little. Some cute doll clothes designers have emerged since then. Many of them have grouped together at Liberty Jane. There is one doll clothes designer Melody Valerie who makes what she calls “couture” dresses. She is able to charge $125 or so per dress, and she makes a limited edition. I think that her doll clothes are worth every penny and more that she charges.

couture sewing

Melody Valerie got me to thinking about “couture” dresses. I am meticulous in my own work, and I have become more curious about attention to detail. I’d always thought that “couture” meant fancy, expensive, one of a kind, perhaps French, etc. I’m reading the previously mentioned book called Couture Sewing Techniques by Claire B. Shaeffer. I’m surprised by the descriptions of “haute couture” that  are listed in this book. Here are some important distinctions of “haute couture,” compared to ready-to-wear clothes. Naturally, these don’t exactly apply to doll clothes. But the topic is fascinating, nevertheless, and many techniques used for women’s clothing can also be used for doll clothes.

Here are some key points about haute couture designs:

  • they are not available in stores;
  • they’re not meant to look good on a hanger;
  • they’re usually designed for an individual client;
  • designs only have to fit one client;
  • embroideries are designed and proportioned for individuals;
  • designs are fitted on the client and/or the client’s dress form;
  • seam allowances are generally wider;
  • seams, darts, tucks, pleats are hand-basted before stitching;
  • waistbands are often lined by silk ribbon and finished by hand;
  • shoulder pads are homemade, sometimes unusual shapes.

I see how couture designs are made to flatter the client. Much of the original stitching of a garment is temporary before several fittings. I think that the “couture mind-set” can apply to doll clothes very well. Doll clothes look 50 percent better when they fit correctly. Unfortunately, there is a difference in measurements among the 18-inch doll brands, like  American Girl, Madame Alexander, and others. There may also be a difference between two dolls of the same brand due to their cloth bodies.

To sum things up for now: Due to my passion for making doll clothes and for sharing my original ideas, I have renewed my enthusiasm for sewing and designing. I’m interested in trying new techniques, instead of getting by with what I already know. Instead of rushing to finish a project, I don’t mind stopping to learn a better way to make my doll clothes beautiful.  I love this book Couture Sewing Techniques,  but I’ve barely scratched the surface in learning its techniques and how they may be applied to doll clothes.

Since I started this blog, the purpose has been to share my successes and failures as I attain the skills to produce beautiful doll clothes and doll clothes patterns. To use plain language, some of the patterns I’ve tried don’t fit my dolls. Several of the set in sleeves do not fit the armholes. Some bodices have been way too tight. Other dresses are too loose and too long. I wanted to be clear about this issue because I don’t want a newbie sewist to get discouraged when they purchase a pattern that doesn’t work.

DO_Tiny Flower

3 thoughts on “Learning about Couture (Part Two)

  1. Thanks for sharing this. It sounds like a good read. Mom taught me to cut wider seam allowances because they would lie better. I still usually do it to this day.

    • Kathy, I find that using the 1/4-seam for doll clothes is restricting, but I’m not sure how to get around it..Fabric that ravels (unravels) should be avoided entirely with doll clothes. It’s so easy to end up with a hole at the seam, especially if the pattern is a little bit too tight. I only discovered fabric glue recently which can be helpful but it changes the texture of the fabric. I’m honestly trying to think outside of the box when it comes to sewing so that I can discover better ways to do things, rather than some of the accepted norms.

I love getting feedback. Yippee!

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