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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

Learning about Couture (Part One)

I am impressed by this exquisite and elegant book called Sewing Couture by Claire B. Shaeffer. I look forward to reading all of it.

I include the beautiful book cover at the top of this blog entry to catch your eye. But I’ve decided to share a bit about my sewing experience before I talk about the book.

couture sewing

My sewing history is simple. I began with doll clothes as a child—for my 8-inch Madame Alexander. When I was in high school my father offered to keep me in fabric if I sewed my own clothes. What a great deal for me who was on a budget of no money.

I was an early fashionista in high school. I probably saved my lunch money for six months to buy a pair of black leather boots that I found in San Francisco. These boots had tiny buttons and loops all the way up the front. I wish I had a photo of these boots and my high school clothes. Occasionally, I came home from school to find my mother, going through my closet, dress by dress, hanger by hanger, showing each detail to my aunt Bev. She’d say things like, “Look at this top-stitching on the collar that she did by hand,” or “Notice how she matched the plaid design on the side seams.”

My Aunt Bev helped this budding fashionista emerge by cutting my hair. If she were styling hair now, she’d no doubt be in a high-end salon. But her price for me couldn’t be beat. She either cut my hair for free, or my mom slipped her some money. All I know is that my aunt put up with a diva who checked every detail with two mirrors to examine the back. I’d seen an unusual “bob” cut in Vogue (in 1963). I love my aunt who was willing to keep snipping each time I ask her to go shorter and shorter in the back.

I had a unique look that other kids gawked at me.  I was either ahead of my time, or I was a geek, or both. My two besties Linda and Janice, and I made our own winter coats—fully underlined and lined. Lapel collars and bound button holes. Linda’s was green wool, mine was camel, and Janice’s was black and white herringbone.

Janice never credited me for handing her the signature look of black and white. This combo was striking with her black hair and freckles. But this is why I feel blessed to have introduced this idea to my friend. I once saw a beautiful black and white magazine spread, probably in Vogue, maybe in Glamour or Seventeen. I instantly fell in love with the sophistication and elegance of black and white. Black and white fabric. Black and white ribbon. Black and white wallpaper. Unfortunately, this color combo did nothing for me in my brown hair with reddish highlights. When we were shopping for fabric I suggested to Janice that she select the black and white polka dotted fabric .She made the most adorable sleeveless dress with cut-in armholes and a dropped waist in fairly large polka dots. Honestly, my friend should have been featured in a Vogue editorial. There was never a better match than those two colors and my dear friend.

Many years later, when I hadn’t seen Janice in probably 14 years, a friend called me on the phone and said, “Quick. Turn on ABC. Janice is on TV.” There was Janice on a local show talking about the miracle of giving birth with only one kidney. (Those of you who’ve seen Steel Magnolias may remember how the Julia Roberts’ character got pregnant, despite her mother’s huge reservations.) Catching up with a dear friend doesn’t usually occur on television. But what was more remarkable is that Janice chose to wear a black and white dress after all this time.

How I wish I had photos to acknowledge significant occurrences and plain feelings from long ago. The younger generations are so fortunate to own so many cameras that are easy to use. Besides my school pictures, I probably have less than 10 pictures of myself before high school. My parents were not happy people. I don’t think they noticed many Kodak moments in their lives. They were too busy surviving the present than to think about capturing their beautiful children for posterity. Or the other version of the story about no pictures is: My parents didn’t have their shit together and they should have had the decency to take pictures of their children.
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