Archive for the ‘Couture’ Category

2013-12-05 17.46.45

Dawson Street bespoke Jacket – and it has a matching skirt!

Inspired by two recent thrifting vintage finds – both of them tweed. The first is a bespoke (made from scratch) lady’s tweed suit maybe from the 50’s or 60’s made in Ireland by a shop on Dawson street which is no longer in existence. Some lovely West Van matron surely must have had it custom made for her on a visit to the ‘auld country.

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Detail – Irish Cottage Industries, 18, Dawson Street Ltd. Notice the flecks of red and green in this stunning twill tweed.

The second is a man’s British Austin Reed ‘Cue’ tailored jacket made with the classic Scottish Outer Hebrides Harris Tweed fabric.  I think this jacket is also from the 70’s or thereabouts although it’s not bespoke. The man’s jacket is very heavy weight fabric with pretty square shoulders – I imagine a rugged young man sporting it as he climbed up a mountain in a sturdy pair of shoes! No MEC gortex or fleece to be found. The jacket is mine now and with some strategic re-seaming and additional darts – I turned it into a lady’s beach walking jacket.

Deconstructed Austin Reed Jacket ...Reconstructed into a lady's beach walking Jacket

Deconstructed Austin Reed Jacket …reconstructed into a lady’s beach walking Jacket. I’m the lady. Oops, forgot to take a ‘before’ shot – suffix to say I removed almost a 2-inch width of fabric from the shoulders (and removed the shoulder pads).

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Detail – Pristine leather button – no signs of wear at all. See the gorgeous colours involved with the tweed?

The fabric (100% wool woven in a ’twill’ diagonal weave) and design is completely classic although I couldn’t find exact design references that matched them online. The Harris Tweed Authority doesn’t actually publish the trade mark numbers online… mine is No. 319214 which I think is one of their more popular twills.

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Harris Tweed ‘Orb’ label. Check out the Harris Tweed Authority – so so interesting http://www.harristweed.org/harris-tweed/love-harris-tweed.php

It would be hard to place both jacket’s exact provenance without time consuming research – suffice to say I was thrilled to find them as both garments are in pristine condition. The top button on the man’s jacket was actually hard to insert into the button hole which indicates it was rarely worn. A wonderful feature of tweed – is that both fabrics come across as neutral at first glance but the closer you look reveals the myriad of colours that are incorporated into the fabric, blues, greens, yellows, grays, etc. So subtle and elegant.


Sheep Shearing for Harris Tweed

The fabric in the man’s jacket is made up of wool that is firstly dyed and spun in a island mill and every yard is handwoven in the home of a Harris Tweed weaver. I would expect the Irish tweed has a similar pedigree. The lady’s jacket has beautiful tortoiseshell buttons and the Harris Tweed man’s jacket has leather woven buttons.

2013-12-04 18.05.04It’s so appropriate that I happened upon both these treasures at the thrift store just as I’m reading an interesting book “The Coat Route’ (Meg Lukens Noonan) which is about bespoke tailoring and ‘slow’ clothing. I had to deconstruct both of my finds and tailor them to my measurements. I used tools originally from my mother’s stash… the Savile Row measuring tape, and her tailor’s chalk.

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Wow, the inside of the lady’s jacket and skirt showed the incredible workmanship that goes into bespoke construction. All the classic techniques were in evidence… wide generous seaming (for potential alterations if ‘yer measurements expanded), beautiful interfacing and underlining and hand sewing on some of the seaming. The man’s jacket even had horsehair interfacing! I managed to get away with only partial deconstruction by undoing the lining only at the bottom of the jackets and at the shoulder seams. Still, it was a lot of work as I had to recut the shoulders and reset the sleeves on both jackets to make them much smaller – but because the fabric is of such high quality the alterations worked out beautifully. I also narrowed the sleeves on both jackets to give proportion and balance.

2013-12-05 17.41.03Wearing the tweed is fabulous – especially in this December cold weather. I feel like I’m right out of Downton Abbey. I definitely prefer the style and function of tweed over our West Coast gortex and fleece.  The design will never go out of style… gets better with age… is ecologically sound because it’s biodegradable, VOC absorbent, non-allergenic, energy efficient manufactured…in other words it’s a fabric for the 21st century.  There is nothing like wearing a garment of this quality – I feel like a million bucks in both of them! My dear mother would be proud of my finds and my commitment to bespoke alterations.


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Constructing the ‘for real’ dress was definately a labour of love…an experience of great satisfaction but also a lot of frustration at times. I loved working with the dupioni silk… the silk chiffon – not so much. I ended up hand sewing most of the bodice so I could keep the chiffon under control, it moves, wriggles and refuses to comply! Probably didn’t help that I changed the back bodice design to be pure chiffon – which presented me with some technical challenges that I had not worked out in the muslin test dress…

Pick stitch for inserting the zipper - a strong stick and decorative.

Pick stitch for inserting the zipper – a strong stitch but also decorative as it leaves little dots.

I now fully understand why custom design and construction is so expensive. I completely under estimated the time factor necessary for couture (typically hand constructed) of a full length formal dress. I wonder about myself sometimes in my ability to estimate how long things take… a problem that I think many creative people encounter. Or is it just me? A simple mathematical formula would work – i.e. 36 inches of hand rolled hemming = 30 minutes * 7 yards. duh.

Fair warning – this is a long post… brevity has never been my strong suit. However, updating the post gave me some breaks from bending over my cutting and sewing tables.  Gone are the days of cutting on the floor. Even cutting on the table was physically challenging. I miss having the selection of work tables available in the capilano textile arts studio – finding one that suited was easy – and easy on the old bod.

Hope it fits!

Hope it fits! In my hurry to meet the Fedex deadline forgot to take a pic of the back which is just chiffon so you will see her lovely back!

The ‘hand’ (the feel of the fabric) and the way the silks draped is lovely – even on the dress form where I stored my pieces until I was ready to sew. The dupioni silk was crisp and light – and the airy flowing chiffon makes for a lovely combo. The chiffon seduced me at this stage… but as noted ‘le chiffon’ is a tough mistress to love after hand sewing over 6 yards of hand rolled hems.

pieces - ready to sew

pieces – ready to sew

The colour is a gorgeous coral which I’m now glad we went with.  The colour suits our spring time weather with a tropical hint of the summer yet to come. The transparent silk chiffon is a lighter or tinted coral with a slight irridescent shimmer – and blends beautifully over the darker shade of the coral dupioni silk. No, I didn’t dye it myself – there wasn’t enough time to deal with any mistakes in colour matching so I went with already dyed fabric. Maybe I’ll take on the dye job when I’m designing and constructing her wedding gown… that will be easy tee hee… assuming she wears white.

almost finished - yah right - hand sewing rolled hems on sleeves, and six panels of chiffon skirt is quite time consuming!!

almost finished – yah right – hand sewing rolled hems on sleeves, and six panels of chiffon skirt is quite time consuming!!

Although unplanned – as I used the various sewing paraphernalia that I have on hand my beloved mom and grandma were foremost in my mind, as many of the items I was using I inherited from them. My mom’s “ham” (a special pressing aid that helps when pressing curves)… her pressing cloth… one of her silver thimbles from her collection…and some of my grandma’s vintage needles from her sewing box.   I feel like they are having a hand in this process which is a comfort.

I think both of these must be verging on antiquity status - given my own age

I think both of these must be verging on antiquity status – given my own age

hey lady - inside the needle package!

hey lady – inside the needle package!

We had a Skype session following delivery of the ‘muslin’ or test run of the dress – to review the fit of the muslin – good to go except for the shoulder position and neckline. I had to redraft the bodice  as the neckline was too angled, not a deep enough plunge, and it did not sit correctly at the shoulders – plus the sleeve opening was a little snug. I redrafted the bodce based on what I could see and some additional measurements. Skirt length should be good for her 4 inch high heels… yikes.

ah to be young again

ah to be young again

Toddled off to Dressew – our local fantabulous notions and fabric store here in Vancouver. Here is an interesting link about this ‘go to’ store – I do remember the shocking revelation (not that long ago) that they now take interact: http://students.bcitwebdev.com/stephanepj/finalproject/history.php

I purchased new needles for my machine that are nice and sharp for the silk (Schmetz size 65/9 universal)…and also ended up getting a fairly good match for the lining – and a few other things. I went with an acetate lining which is the next best thing to silk. It would have been ideal to use silk but I felt that was too costly given the yardage factor. The acetate will still breath well (acetate is somewhat ‘natural’ being made out of wood pulp) – and the colour was a good match. I washed it to get rid of the somewhat ‘chemical’ smell before cutting.

Cutting -and marking took me hours and hours (and hours) as I cut on single layers to ensure the cut was clean. I like having clean sharp edges – it makes it so much nicer and easier to construct. . So… 3 sets of cuts – 6 panels each for the complete ball gown + bodice. A set for the silk dupioni, a set for the silk chiffon, a set for the acetate lining. Marked all darts with chalk and a little loop of thread to identify which side was my right side. It’s hard to decide with both the silks…either side is gorgeous… you can’t really make a mistake in choosing.

Rotary cutter perfect tool for cutting the smaller pieces on the cutting mat - highly recommended for the chiffon as the mat keeps it perfectly stable

Rotary cutter perfect tool for cutting the smaller pieces on the cutting mat – highly recommended for the chiffon as the mat keeps it perfectly stable – with or without tissue paper under it

After looking at my Vogue book and trolling the web – a few recommendations came up that were consistent for cutting out the chiffon. To avoid slipping lay down cotton with the chiffon over it… or tissue paper. I used a triple layer of cotton (that I had in my stash) and it was perfect for the large pieces for the skirt. As for the chiffon back, sleeves and overlay for the front – the cutting mat with a clear sewing ruler (also my mom’s) worked well. I used a very thin strip of Iron on Stitchery (if you can believe this it’s also my mom’s from way back) to lightly adhere the chiffon over the dupioni – just at the edges so it was easier to sew as one. I had tested out this technique successfully on my muslin with the sheer cotton and cotton mull.

Quite a few garden breaks were partaken during construction of the gown.  My community garden provided some much needed vitamin D, and lovely spring flowers. My dye plant garden awaits (see next post).

pretty little violets next to my garden plot

pretty little violets next to my garden plot

arugula... skinny coffee stir sticks in the upper left (for scale)

arugula… skinny coffee stir sticks in the upper left (for scale)

Basting and construction – lots. Other techniques I used – doublestitch on the machine when constructing the ball gown skirt – where you stitch the 5/8th seam… then stitch another row just inside the seam allowance – and then trim.

wah, looking at how the sun highlights the dupioni silk - I don't wanna cover it up with the chiffon!!

wah, looking at how the sun highlights the dupioni silk – I don’t wanna cover it up with the chiffon!!

The rotary cutter and mat is coming in very handy for trimming the seams cleanly- in particular for the french seams on the chiffon.

Pressing and steaming. Important. Dupioni is a breeze to press. Same with the acetate. Silk Chiffon? Not so much because it’s really about carefully steaming it and then manipulating it with your hands. Although I was being extra careful with the chiffon I still managed to ‘wrinkle’ it in spots which was really annoying. There is one spot right on the front of the bodice and I think I must have used a little too much steam and changed the composition of the fabric. Maybe stretched it a bit? So beware when pressing chiffon.

Red Breasted robin at the garden - taking flight with a fat juicy worm

Red Breasted robin at the garden – taking flight with a fat juicy worm

Decided not to make a slit in the chiffon... have to be ok with the dupioni being a subtle influence underneath!

Decided not to make a slit in the chiffon… have to be ok with the dupioni being a subtle influence underneath!

Couture hand sewing creates soft edges especially on the silk chiffon which you have to be ok with. It was interesting to use the horse hair braid for the hem on the dupioni. It’s the first time I have used it. It creates a light but slightly stiffened quality to the hem – perfect for the ball gown style. Will post some better pictures when my client is wearing it – as I rushed to get it to the Fedex peeps for delivery.  Fingers crossed the intercity design process worked – and the dress actually fits her.

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