Preparing the Jacket Back: Old School

Readers,

I’ve done my pattern work, following Kenneth King’s “old school” methods in Smart Tailoring. I finally cut into my fashion fabric the other day.

My jacket back is done now. It was easy.

Jacket back, right side, with catch-stitched vent

Right side: chain-stitched gathering in armhole, catch-stitched vent

Wrong side: shoulder stays and back stay, reinforced vent

Wrong side: shoulder stays and back stay, reinforced vent

I made a couple of little beginner’s mistakes, easily recognized and remedied.

Here’s what I did, pretty much in the order on the video:

  • Tailor-tacked the hem and vent.
    The beginning of a tailor tack, shown on a plain scrap.

    The beginning of a tailor tack, shown on a plain scrap.

    Kenneth demos this with a double strand of basting thread.

    Creating the first loop.

    Creating the first loop.

    I’ve done tailor tacks before, but Kenneth shows a version using a loop, which was new to me. It’s pretty clever.

    One tailor tack done and the next one starting.

    One tailor tack done and the next one starting.

    The loop shows only on one side of the pattern piece and helps to distinguish the wrong side from the right side.

    A pleasing line of tailors' tacks.

    A pleasing line of tailors’ tacks.

    That’s helpful when your fabric looks virtually the same on both sides, like a wool flannel.

    Pulling the pieces apart slightly to cut the tacks.

    Pulling the pieces apart slightly to cut the tacks.

    Kenneth demonstrated tailors’ tacks facing the camera. Had the camera been placed so the viewer would be looking over his shoulder, I would have learned this hand stitch even faster.

  • Sewed the back seam down to the vent. Pressed the seam as sewn and then pressed the seam open over the seam roll. Kenneth showed using steam and then dry heat to set the press.
  • Drew in the armholes very slightly with a chain stitch.
    Chain stitch. My first attempt, I did flat on a table. That didn't create the ripple needed for shaping.

    Chain stitch. My first attempt, I did flat on a table. That didn’t create the ripple needed for shaping.

    The objective is to add a little shaping at the shoulder blades. Kenneth didn’t say exactly where to place the chainstitching or how long to make it, but it’s obvious from the demo that it’s midway. And I assume the stitching is inside the seam allowance a little bit. I wonder whether my tweed, which is relatively loosely woven, needs this refinement.

    I chain-stitched over my hand, pulling slightly to create tension and shaping. Then I steam pressed on the ham.

    I chain-stitched over my hand, pulling slightly to create tension and shaping. Then I steam pressed on the ham.

    Maybe a tightly woven suiting would benefit from this. I’ll ask Kenneth when I attend his class in July. Kenneth steamed and pressed the stitched area over a ham to build in more shaping.

  • Stayed the shoulder seams with muslin strips cut on the lengthwise grain, stitching 1/8 inch inside the seam allowance. Then I pressed.

    The shoulders are stayed.

    The shoulders are stayed.

Now that I have the shoulders stayed, I’m going to press again. Because, something to remember here: press. If you’re wondering about, Should I press or not? Press. More pressing is better than less.

  • Applied the back stay. I stitched 1/8 inch inside the seam line. That’s at 3/8 inch for my 1941 pattern, which has 1/2 inch seam allowances.
    My first back stay was too big.  (I put pink ribbon on my pinking shears to distinguish them from my other shears.)

    My first back stay was too big. (I put pink ribbon on my pinking shears to distinguish them from my other shears.)

    I noticed that Kenneth didn’t mention directionally stitching the stay. When he showed what to stitch (stitching was off-camera),  he indicated the starting point and pointed all the way to the other end in one continuous motion rather than pointing from each side and ending at the center back.   I’d like to know his opinion about when directional stitching matters.

    I had included a seam allowance in my back stay pattern. Now it's fixed.

    I had included a seam allowance in my back stay pattern. Now it’s fixed.

  • Reinforced the vent with muslin strips. They’re cut to cover from the raw edge to the fold line and from the fold of the hem to the bottom of the center back seam. Kenneth demonstrated a running stitch to attach the muslin, making invisible stitches where they might be seen from the right side.
    The underlap is interfaced with muslin.

    The underlap is interfaced. The pressed-in edge will be catch-stitched to the muslin. The seam allowance is clipped so the seam will lie flat.

    He pressed in about 1/4 inch on the underlap and catchstitched the fold to the muslin. He clipped diagonally into the seam allowance above the vent so the center back seam would lie open and flat.

So my jacket back is complete, and I’m ready for the jacket fronts.

The back is done for now.

The back is done for now.

Pattern Work: Old School

Readers,

I’ve gathered my materials and tools for making my 1941 McCall “Misses’ Mannish Jacket” following the “old school” method in Smart Tailoring with Kenneth King.IMG_6680 (460x386)

The next segment on the DVD covers pattern work, where Kenneth shows you how to generate lining and support pieces and a “hidden pocket” for your jacket.

For the most part I understood Kenneth’s directions and explanations. With some effort  I could see the different colored lines he used to distinguish neighboring or overlapping pieces drafted from the same main piece. He also pointed and explained clearly, so I had three ways to absorb the information.

The newly traced off front. My old front piece was pretty ragged from wear.

The newly traced off front. My old front piece was pretty ragged from wear.

However, the pattern I’m using is just different enough and my knowledge gaps are just wide enough that I didn’t know quite what to do in a few instances.

Part of tailoring is knowing when to follow an instruction exactly and when to make a judgment call depending on the characteristics of your particular pattern or materials. So I made my best guess.

Here are the pattern pieces I made:

From the front piece I made:

  • A front interfacing, or body canvas. Most of this is straightforward tracing–of the shoulder, gorge line, and opening edge. Then from about 3 inches below the armhole you draw in a curve toward the front edge that quickly goes straight down to the fold line of the hem.  This will be cut from tailor’s canvas.
    This piece will be cut from tailoring canvas to support the front. Is this the right width? Should I cut it narrower and skip the dart?

    This piece will be cut from tailoring canvas to support the front. Is this the right width? Should I cut it narrower and skip the dart?

    • Observations:
      • It took me a while to realize why my front pattern piece was larger than Kenneth’s. His jacket pattern has a side panel. Mine doesn’t: the front piece wraps around to the back.
      • I was curious how much interfacing I’d put on the fronts of the four jackets I’ve made from this pattern. For once, a hole in a lining served a purpose: I was able to peep inside and see that my green jacket front was fully interfaced with the fusible canvas–and it has worked just fine for nine years.
        Oops--a hole in my lining!

        Oops–a hole in my lining! No, it’s a piece of luck.

        Let's look inside. How much interfacing did I use? The whole front is fused with canvas.

        Let’s look inside. How much interfacing did I use? The whole front is fused with canvas.

        But on another jacket that much canvas would be too much.

    • Questions:
      • Is there a rule of thumb about how much canvas to use in the front? I wonder about a noticeable difference between the interfaced and uninterfaced areas.
  • A front facing.

    • Observations:
      • Kenneth’s jacket front doesn’t have a shoulder dart, so tracing off a facing piece off a flat front was quick. My jacket front does have a shoulder dart, so I had to fold it out before creating the facing piece. That meant the front wasn’t flat now, and I couldn’t remember how to make a guaranteed perfectly fitting facing off a distorted pattern piece.

        I closed the shoulder dart before drafting the facing.

        I closed the shoulder dart before drafting the facing. Now there is a ripple. How do I make an accurate facing when my pattern piece is distorted? (I know, this is basic patternmaking knowledge.)

      • Kenneth explains what favoring is, also referred to as turn of cloth. He shows where and how to add or subtract from the facing piece to have the lapel and front edge seam positioned correctly.
    • Questions:
      • How do I draft a facing for a pattern piece distorted by a dart, and how do I determine the grainline for the new piece?
      • I have allowed for turn of cloth in a facing before, but never where the facing and lining join opposite the lapel area. I don’t really get that.
  • A front lining piece.
    • Observations: Kenneth shows how the lining and facing are drafted in tandem. The front lining is 3/4′ shorter than the front, and the shoulder has a little extra room for the shoulder pad.

      The lining and facing drafts. No seam allowance where they join has been added yet.

      The lining and facing drafts. No seam allowance where they join has been added yet.

    • Questions: I didn’t see or hear any reminder to include seam allowances where the lining and facing join. Did I miss something? The lining pieces are 3/4″ shorter. Is that assuming a seam allowance of 5/8″? My seam allowance is 1/2″. Should I shorten my lining pattern pieces less than 3/4″?

From the back piece I made:

  • A back lining piece. Like the front lining, it’s 3/4″ shorter and has a little extra room for the shoulder pad.

    Back lining, with allowance for a pleat, and the back stay.

    Back lining, with allowance for a pleat, and the back stay.

  • A back stay. The stay, which will be cut from muslin, will support the upper back.
    This back piece is curved a little, so it can't be cut on the fold. However, I straightened out the curve for the stay. Is that okay?

    This back piece is curved a little, so it can’t be cut on the fold. However, I straightened out the curve for the stay. Is that okay?

    • Question: The jacket Kenneth is using has a straight seam in the upper back, so he can go ahead and draft a back stay that can be cut on the fold. My jacket back piece has a little curvature in the upper back.  To draft my back stay I pretty much split the difference so I could have a back stay piece I could cut on the fold. Is that okay, or is there a better way?

From the upper and under sleeves I made:

  • Upper and under sleeve lining pieces.

    The upper sleeve lining pattern is cut without the little vent thing. Both sleeve linings will be cut shorter than the sleeves.

    The upper sleeve lining pattern is cut without the little vent thing. Both sleeve linings will be cut shorter than the sleeves.

From the front lining piece created earlier I drafted:

  • A hidden pocket piece. The “hidden pocket” is inserted between the facing and front lining. Kenneth shows where to position this pocket and what size to make it. (Big enough for the wearer’s hand, of course.)
    The "hidden pocket" is drafted off the front lining piece.

    The “hidden pocket” is drafted off the front lining piece.

    • Questions: I didn’t hear anything about adding a seam allowance at the opening or around the edge. Did I miss something? Also, the hidden pocket is drafted so that it crosses the seam of the side panel. The pocket can be anchored to that seam allowance so it doesn’t get bunched up inside the jacket. My jacket has no side seam. What can I anchor the pocket to?

What remains to be drafted is the upper collar from the under collar. I’m holding off till I watch more of Smart Tailoring and understand the reasoning.

Kenneth shows the finished dimensions of the under collar.

For the upper collar, since we’re essentially upholstering the upper collar to the under collar, we just want a piece that’s bigger. So as you can see, I’ve added 5/8″ all around these edges and traced this off. So this puts the center back on the fold and the lengthwise grain goes this way.

  • Questions:
    • I already have under and upper collar pieces, so I wonder what’s the reason for doing this. Does it have to do with accuracy and control later on?
    • No mention was made at this point about adding for turn of cloth in the upper collar. Will the upper collar favor the under collar?

Kenneth ends this segment reassuringly:

Now we have all our pattern pieces done. It bears repeating that if you have a well-fitting jacket, you’ve gone through all of the effort to make the muslins to make this jacket beautifully fitting, put your old pattern pieces away. Use the pieces you’ve generated your well-fitting muslin with, and do these steps to that. These will fit any pattern from any company. This is formula. This will ensure that all of the parts and pieces fit together and you don’t have to worry about adjusting any of the other pattern pieces.

This is formula. You don’t have to worry.

When Kenneth said that, my point of view shifted.

I really began to see my jacket and coat patterns as fundamentally alike. What differentiates them are style details much more than construction techniques.

Making all the jackets and coats I want is beginning to sound lots more doable.

Formula. My new favorite word.

I like vintage patterns with stamps or stickers from the store. Stark Dry Goods was in Canton, Ohio.

I like vintage patterns with stamps or stickers from the store where they were bought. Stark Dry Goods was in Canton, Ohio.

Getting Things Sewn Turns 2

Readers,

Yesterday, February 16, meant that another year has gone by and Getting Things Sewn is 2.Two_candles_Happy_bday_0267 (460x386)

In Getting Things Sewn’s second year, the grand total of things I got sewn was…

Zero!

You heard right. Zero.

I did make progress, however.

Let’s take a walk down Sewing Blog Memory Lane and see what has happened since last February 16:

After Jack and I decided to sell our house in Minneapolis, Minnesota and move to Columbus, Ohio I planned my new sewing-space-to-be by zones instead of defaulting to one big storage space.

I got ready for packing and moving by reading a stack of books on decluttering,IMG_5147 (460x345) and learned how to plan my wardrobe reading the newly published Looking Good…Every Day.IMG_5148 (345x460)

I got a good start on a 1959 Vogue jacket, taming ravelly fabric and testing the collar piece

I trimmed closely to the zigzagging without trimming it away.

I trimmed closely to the zigzagging without trimming it away.

and making samples of bound buttonholes

Will it fit comfortably?

Will it fit comfortably?

and the pocket

The pocket is pinned to the front, aligning the stitching box with the one I traced onto the front.

The pocket is pinned to the front, aligning the stitching box with the one I traced onto the front.

before I closed down my basement sewing domain.

I learned about a fabulous trade journal, American Fabrics, that was the highlight of my field trip to the American Craft Council’s library

The hope and optimism of postwar America.

The hope and optimism of postwar America.

(although the corgis did steal my heart).

Penny and Loretta, office dogs and unofficial mascots of the American Craft Council, greeted me.

Penny and Loretta, office dogs and unofficial mascots of the American Craft Council, greeted me.

Our advice columnist, Miss GTS, told a desperate reader how to pack up her UFO to finish later.

Miss GTS says "An UnFinished Object doesn't have to be an UnFun Object!"

Miss GTS says “An UnFinished Object doesn’t have to be an UnFun Object!”

Inventing an intuitive, easy, and painless system, I edited my pattern stash

Duplicates other patterns. ditto, too much design ease, not my style.

Duplicates other patterns. ditto, too much design ease, not my style.

and reported the results.

Weighing in at a slender 5 lbs 4 oz

Weighing in at a slender 5 lbs 4 oz

I went to the Textile Center’s Fabric Garage Sale and bought gorgeous yardage

This was only the beginning.

This was only the beginning.

to pair with my growing collection of vintage buttons.

These translucent buttons seem right for this lighter-weight linen.

These translucent buttons seem right for this lighter-weight linen.

Jack and I bought a house in Columbus

With Kelly, our great real estate agent.

With Kelly, our great real estate agent.

and put our house in Minneapolis on the market.

The cottage is for sale!

The cottage is for sale!

I made a field trip to Lancaster, Ohio to see a show of costumes designed by Edith Head,

A clip from The Big Clock showing Maureen O'Sullivan in her suit with the fetching faux bow.

A clip from The Big Clock showing Maureen O’Sullivan in her suit with the fetching faux bow.

and returned to meet the old girl herself.

Who would have thought?

Who would have thought?

I made a field trip to New York to participate in Peter Lappin’s annual Male Pattern Boldness Day. Peter gets the credit (or blame?) for inspiring me to start my own blog.

I set up my sewing room in our new home, making a floor plan with zones.

Moving paper is easier than moving tables!

Moving paper is easier than moving tables!

With a sewing room, but no sewing community developed yet, I wondered what it would take for me to make progress.

A sewing blogger must wear many hats.

A sewing blogger must wear many hats.

It continued to be clear that I need fitting and pattern-altering help from an expert, and I found one teaching classes at Columbus’s Cultural Arts Center.

Columbus, Ohio's Cultural Arts Center offers classes in painting, metal work, and much more.

Columbus, Ohio’s Cultural Arts Center offers classes in painting, metal work, and much more.

As a bonus, I’ve gotten to meet wonderful classmates who are fast becoming sewing friends.

I continued to want to make beautiful jackets and coats, but more than ever I wanted to make the process enjoyable and not only the result. When I learned about a brand new DVD set about tailoring, I ordered it right away.IMG_6704 (288x460)

Watching Smart Tailoring, I thought it would be both instructive and fun to sew jackets following Kenneth King’s “old school” and “new school methods.” I am gathering my materials

Tailoring canvas and a June Tailor board for jacket-making

Tailoring canvas and a June Tailor board for jacket-making

and tools

 These tailor point scissors are indispensable.

These tailor point scissors are indispensable.

and am about to do the pattern work for my first “old school” jacket.

As I look back over Getting Things Sewn’s second year, I see the predictable disruptions of househunting, house-selling, packing, moving, and settling in. But I also see a very promising beginning to my new local sewing community. I am finding people to say “Wow!” to where I live and online. I’ve come to see that’s essential to building and maintaining my momentum.

I am also finding people to say “How?” to–experts who can inform and nudge me to build my fund of knowledge and experience.

Zero things sewn wasn’t exactly what I had in mind for year 2.

But as for year 3 I’m off to a great start. IMG_6373 (460x308) (2)

If you ask me, there’s nowhere to go but up.

In the elevator of Columbus's great LeVeque Tower, built 1927.

In the elevator of Columbus’s great LeVeque Tower, built 1927.

(Thanks to Cynthia DeGrand for candles photo.)

Gathering My Tailoring Tools

Readers,

After covering tailoring materials in disc 1 of Smart Tailoring, Kenneth King moves on to tailoring tools.

“In tailoring, as in all sewing,” he says emphatically, “pressing is the most important thing. You can save bad sewing with good pressing, and you can ruin good sewing with bad pressing. So the most important tool in the whole pressing pantheon, as we say, is the steam iron.”

At this point Kenneth picks up his iron, which gives a satisfying shoosh! as he releases a cloud of steam for the camera.

“This particular iron is called a Reliable; it’s a steam-generator iron; it produces a lot of steam.”

Does it ever. It’s a Reliable i300. Now I want an iron that makes that shoosh! The sound alone would make me a better sewer, wouldn’t it?

“You don’t necessarily have to have this particular iron–it’s the deluxe version. But you want a good iron that gives good, reliable steam, and good pressing tools.

I recall Kenneth in his post “My New Iron!” on the Threads website delightedly reporting being able to shoot steam a distance of four feet with his Reliable i500.

My Rowenta’s steam production is nothing like that. But maybe it’s up to the task of steam-pressing my jacket pieces from a distance of zero feet.

If I clean it more regularly maybe my iron will put out enough steam.

If I clean it more regularly maybe my iron will put out enough steam.

When you’re pressing there are two things that happen: you need steam and heat to make the fibers malleable.

Yes, got it.

Then you need to draw the steam and heat away from the fabric to set the press. It’s kind of like setting your hair.

Setting hair I know nothing about, but drawing steam and heat away from the fabric? Somehow I’ve never paid attention to this vital information. How do I do that?

Kenneth moves on to a couple of wood pressing tools:

  • the point presser (commonly called the June Tailor Board), which is great for pressing open seams along its straight and curved edges, and

    I find my June Tailor Board indispensable for pressing open seams.

    I find my June Tailor Board indispensable for pressing open seams.

  • the clapper, which can press and draw away moisture from a lapel that’s been steamed.

    My combination point presser and clapper, which I bought secondhand.

    My combination point presser and clapper, which I bought secondhand.

Drawing moisture away is very important in your pressing tools. That’s why these tools are made of hardwood. Hardwood is really important. Don’t use softwood.

Your pressing surface, ideally, should be wood. If it’s not wood, it could be like an ironing board. You want a wool or cotton bat over the surface, then you want a canvas or muslin on top of that.

Whatever my ironing board cover's made of, it's definitely not cotton.

Whatever my ironing board cover’s made of, it’s definitely not cotton.

I begin to wonder, What is my ironing board cover made of?

When I removed the cover, I found a layer of foam.

When I removed the cover, I found a layer of foam.

Avoid the Teflon covers, because what happens with a Teflon cover is that instead of pulling this steam and heat away from the fabric it just bounces it right back. You won’t ever get a satisfactory press with a Teflon cover.

Surely I don’t have a Teflon cover! How could I not know?

What's the pad made of? Who knows?

What’s the pad made of? Who knows?

One thing is certain: that cover is not an absorbent natural fiber. Now I wonder how much the cover is to blame for cotton shirts and linen tablecloths never getting as good a press as they should have had. Goodbye, ironing board cover!IMG_6748 (345x460)

Hello Bed, Bath and Beyond. In my debate over whether to make or buy, buy won this time. Scanning the ironing board cover choices I went for the cotton cover with polyester padding that came with an iron rest.

This is not a giant, oddly shaped shower cap.

This is not a giant, oddly shaped shower cap.

My first iron rest.

My first iron rest.

The old cover came off, revealing a foam layer covering a pad of unknown material. Yuck.

Surely the new cover is an improvement over what I had, isn’t it?

The new--temporary--cover is cotton, with a polyester pad.

The new–temporary–cover is cotton, with a polyester pad.

But I just searched “ironing board cover” on the PatternReview.com forums and found all the advice I could ever want about making my own. Make or buy? Make–soon.

But back to tools. On to seam rolls. Mine is standard issue. Kenneth has made several of his own from plowed rail (like the wooden handrail on a staircase) and covered them. They’re flat on the bottom so they don’t roll, and they’re high enough to elevate the seam above the pressing surface and not wrinkle the surrounding fabric.

This seam roll has been flattened from so much pressing over the years.

This seam roll has been flattened from so much pressing over the years.

Next is a thick pad–Kenneth shows a piece of thick tapestry fabric, but a dishtowel or bath towel would do as well–as a pressing surface to elevate a lapel a little so it isn’t flattened too much when pressed.

Then, a silk organza press cloth, which is sheer enough to see what you’re pressing. And if you want extra moisture, he says, “when you  lay it down, you take your spritzer and you can spritz over the organza and press, and that way you get the moisture into the fabric.”

Then Kenneth covers sleeve boards. Mine is smallish, fine for my sleeves but not so much for the shirts I sew for Jack. Kenneth’s is a commercial one.

My sleeve board.

My sleeve board.

On the topic of cutting tools Kenneth says “Cutting tools are very important. They should be sharp, they should be sharp, they should be sharp.”

My Gingher tailor point scissors are wonderful!

My Gingher tailor point scissors are wonderful!

His favorite is a scissor called a tailor point, with a 5 1/2 inch blade. It can cut through many layers of fabric without strain. One scissor blade has a knife edge, which can start the cut to open a welt pocket.

I guess this is the knife edge...

I guess this is the knife edge…

The other blade has a bevel edge which you can use to grade seams.

and this must be the bevel edge.

and this must be the bevel edge.

I never heard or noticed that the blades were different.

“This is like the sports car of scissors. I can’t live without them,” he says.

I agree–they are wonderful. Just be super careful not to cut yourself. (I haven’t, so far.)

Next is a tailor’s brush, made with stiff bristle and very fine brass wire, which can brush out unwanted shine on a fabric that’s been touched by an iron for too long.

Finally, Kenneth shows a shaving brush whose rounded form he trimmed flat. He swears by it for effectively whisking away chalk marks on wools.

I think of the shaving brush I gave Jack 30-some years ago that has long been waiting to see the light of day again. How about repurposing it as a tailoring tool?

Will this shaving brush get a new job assignment?

Will this shaving brush get a new job assignment?

I like the idea. But how best to cut the bristles evenly, I don’t know. I think I’ll bring the brush to Cleveland in July and ask Kenneth King himself.

Next comes pattern work!

Next comes pattern work!

Gathering My Tailoring Materials

Readers,

I’ve started watching Smart Tailoring all over again, pausing the video every couple of minutes to jot down notes. This DVD set is packed with information and I don’t want to miss a thing.

Kenneth King is showing a sleeve with a vent made with "old school" techniques.

Kenneth King is showing a sleeve with a vent made with “old school” techniques.

Kenneth King starts Smart Tailoring by saying

“I’m going to be talking about ‘old school’ and ‘new school’. ‘Old school’ as I define it, is the classic tailoring techniques of the European tailors and a lot of the old American tailors. ‘New school’ is a method that I developed myself because I needed to be able to make a really well constructed garment that was beautifully shaped and held its line indefinitely.”

Last year I got quite a good look at the ultimate in “old school” techniques: the bespoke tailoring of London’s Savile Row. It’s understated, elegant–and with so much fitting and hand stitching, incredibly labor-intensive to produce and expensive to buy.

The home of bespoke tailoring.

The home of bespoke tailoring.

Thankfully, Kenneth King’s version of “old school” doesn’t require a seven-year apprenticeship.

At Henry Poole, one of Savile Row's most prestigious tailors.

On my visit to Henry Poole, one of Savile Row’s most prestigious establishments, I got to see tailors in action.

And his “new school” version is not of the “make a jacket in a day” variety. In both cases he employs techniques that give great and long-lasting results.

Kenneth goes on to say

The benefit of tailoring is that you can have it exactly as you wish. You can combine the ‘new school’ and ‘old school’ techniques; you can change fabrics; you can change styles to reflect the trends and to reflect your taste–so you can have it your own way.

The techniques of this most staid and tradition-bound area of garment-making can be the springboard for great freedom and originality. Isn’t that interesting?

After the introduction we move on to the section on materials.

“The success of the ‘old school’ and ‘new school’ methods is dependent on the understructure,” says Kenneth, so a description of tailoring canvases is in order.

The purpose of the canvas is to give an idealized shape over which the fabric drapes. Now, some people say when they hear ‘tailoring’ they think tailoring is always hard and stiff, but you can start with a very, very light canvas.

Interfacings, underlinings, linings--decisions, decisions! Samples I made for the jacket on this home page.

Interfacings, underlinings, linings–decisions, decisions! Samples I made for the jacket on this home page.

He shows five canvases ranging from very light to very heavy. What I found especially interesting was that a canvas might be supple or stiff in all directions, or it might be supple lengthwise but stiff crosswise. There has to be a reason, and a right application, for each of these canvases. I still have a lot to learn about which canvas to use when.

Two tailoring canvases carried by Treadle Yard Goods, in St. Paul, Minnesota. I'm glad they do mail order!

Two tailoring canvases carried by Treadle Yard Goods, in St. Paul, Minnesota. Stores in Columbus, Ohio don’t carry canvas. I will mail order it.

I have a bolt of fusible tailoring canvas, but I think it wouldn’t meet with Kenneth’s approval. He describes the fashion fabric as draping over the understructure, not being fused to it, which would likely change the fabric’s hand, and not in a good way.

It so happens that today I’m wearing a jacket I made using this fusible canvas. It’s worked great for ten years, but I assumed the risk of its possibly coming loose from the fashion fabric.

I used fusible canvas in the fronts of this jacket. This is the 1941 pattern I will sew again for this Smart Tailoring project.

I used fusible canvas in the fronts of this jacket. This is the 1941 pattern I will sew again for this Smart Tailoring project.

If I had a tailoring business I would worry about using this fusible for a customer because I couldn’t be sure the garment would keep its shape indefinitely. I’ll stick with sew-in canvas.

I won't be using fusible canvas in my Smart Tailoring projects. (Could I possibly remove the adhesive? It could be worth trying.)

I won’t be using fusible canvas in my Smart Tailoring projects. (Could the adhesive be removed so I could use this as a sew-in canvas? Has someone already tried this?)

Kenneth doesn’t give sources for the tailoring supplies he describes, so I asked members on the PatternReview.com forum. They enthusiastically recommended B. Black & Sons in Los Angeles.

Next are materials for collars:

  • Collar canvas, which is malleable when steam-pressed but stiff when it cools, used in “old school” tailoring to interface the under collar.
  • Collar felt, used for the under collar in the old school. Since felt is a nonwoven and so has no grain, an under collar can be cut from it in one piece, avoiding the bulk of a center back seam. Collar felt comes in just a few, neutral colors.

    I bought this collar felt, with collar canvas already attached,  about ten years ago for my UFO, the dreaded sport coat project.

    I bought this collar felt, with collar canvas already attached, about ten years ago for my UFO, the dreaded sport coat project. Should I take out the stitching and remove the canvas?

  • Collar melton, a thick coating that can substitute for collar felt. It has a grain, so the under collar must be cut in two pieces on the bias and sewn at the center back. So you do get a seam, which means dealing with the bulk. But unlike collar felt, collar melton comes in great colors. And it can be fun to turn up your collar and reveal the surprising contrast of a cheery red under collar. In an aside, Kenneth adds “I think it looks fabulous.” I find myself smiling back and agreeing.

Next come

  • pocketing, which is glazed on one side so it doesn’t stick to the fashion fabric
  • silk organza, for staying armholes and edges in “new school” tailoring, and
  • cotton muslin, for various old and new school applications like back stays.

Kenneth weighs in on the debate over how to treat your fashion fabric before cutting out the pieces. I’ve read (and followed) some elaborate directions for wetting wool fabrics and drying with towels, pressing with lots of steam, and all but saying a prayer to the patron saint of tailors to prepare yardage. I always wondered whether taking this much trouble was necessary or even effective.

The fabric I'm going to use has a few flaws, but I can work around them.

The fabric I’m going to use has a few flaws, but I can work around them.

Kenneth’s advice is simply to leave pretreatments to the pros. When he buys fabrics he takes them straight to the dry cleaners. “I have them steamed before I put them in my stash so they’re what’s called ‘needle ready’ when I need them.”

Now that’s being prepared. That’s also being committed to using your fabric rather than having it languish in the land of sewing dreams. Dry cleaning ain’t cheap.

I had steam-pressed the wool tweed for my practice run with my little Rowenta iron and called it a day.

Full steam ahead!

Full steam ahead!

Then I had two thoughts:

  • I said I was going to follow Smart Tailoring. Smart Tailoring says to have a dry cleaner steam press this.
  • My fabric didn’t come to me from a store but from the Textile Center of Minnesota’s annual fundraiser (“the world’s largest textile garage sale”) from somebody else’s stash.

The colors in this tweed say “vintage” to me–like actual 1950s shades. The fabric had been folded and exposed to light for so long (decades?) that a fade line ran lengthwise down the middle. (In the warehouse lighting and the frenzy of the sale I didn’t notice or care.) Then I began to wonder how clean this fabric was. Okay. I surrendered.

Like a faint jet trail, a fade line marks the center of my vintage tweed. Luckily, I have an extra yard.

Like a faint jet trail, a fade line marks the center of my vintage tweed. Luckily, I have an extra yard.

Tuesday I brought my yardage to the dry cleaner for both cleaning and steam-pressing. For the three yards the bill was an eyebrow-raising $34.39.

Or was I naive?

For the equivalent of a dozen such dry cleaners’ bills I could buy a Reliable i300 ironing station and happily steam press my own yardage. I foresee well over a dozen tailoring projects in my future. Two dozen, easy.

Three dozen?

Hmm.

Continuing the roundup Kenneth describes the supporting roles of

  • the cuff interfacing called wigan
  • shoulder pads
  • double-fold bias tape, and
  • stay tape or twill tape.

    An abundance of twill tape in my stash.

    An abundance of twill tape in my stash.

  • He concludes with advice about basting thread.

I find myself mulling over a 750-yard spool of white basting thread on the B. Black & Sons website. How long would it take me before I said to myself–“Whoops, I’m running low! Better buy another one soon!”

I wonder. Maybe not as long as I think.

Because Kenneth wraps up this section by saying,

For those who really don’t like hand-stitching, once you appreciate the value that hand-stitching in the form of thread-basting gives to new school and old school tailoring, you’ll change your mind. When you’re basting the layers together, everything stays exactly where you need it so you can do the different operations.

To me that’s just another way of saying that thread-basting will give me more control over my work.

It is not fun when you’re deep in a tailoring project to lose control and make an irreversible mistake.

A sample I sewed. Luckily, I made the mistake here--not on my jacket.

A sample I sewed. Luckily, I made the mistake here–not on my jacket.

Control would be very nice. So would fun.

Imagine that.

Maybe I’ll go ahead and buy two spools of that basting thread.

I have a feeling I’m going to need it.

Let's turn this frown into a smile!

Let’s turn this frown into a smile!

Tailoring with Kenneth King

Readers,

A couple of weeks ago–okay, it was January 15–I was searching the Threads magazine website for a clever technique of Kenneth King’s that I’d used for cutting ravelly fabric when I stopped dead in my tracks. I read the announcement, probably just minutes old, of the release of his new DVD set, Smart Tailoring.

IMG_6704 (288x460)

Following “old school” and “new school” techniques from Kenneth King, I hope to fulfill my ambitions to tailor jackets and coats from fabrics in my stash like…

Forget ravelly fabric! Five-plus hours of instruction by Kenneth King on the topic that most haunts my sewing dreams? I had to learn more right away.

these, and...

these, and…

I must have watched the 36-second video of him in that dapper bow tie describing his “old school” and “new school” approaches to tailoring half a dozen times. The thought that I could produce more consistently well constructed jackets and coats under his tutelage sent my heart soaring.

these, and...

these, and…

I had recently looked into taking a tailoring course at the local college of art and design, but the $3600 price tag was a little hard to swallow. So when Taunton’s advertising copy compared this set to a professional course, taught by someone with a long record of caring about quality, seeking to understand the “why” behind the “how” of construction techniques, and explaining processes clearly to ambitious amateurs like me, my decision was made.

these, and...

these, and…

So the morning of January 15 I ordered Smart Tailoring. The afternoon of January 17 I came home from errands to find the set in the day’s mail. After dinner I started watching Disc 1.

Over the next several days I watched the 331 minutes of Smart Tailoring with rapt attention. I understood almost everything Kenneth explained and demonstrated, which was very encouraging.

these, and...

these, and…

Even more encouraging was something I could not have predicted. While watching Kenneth hand-basting or manipulating the fabric, I was absentmindedly rubbing my fingers and right thumb together as if I were plying that needle or handling that wool along with him! If that wasn’t a sign that I should get cracking on a tailoring project, I don’t know what is.

these, too.

these, too.

In my optimistic mood I asked myself, “Wouldn’t it be interesting to make one jacket trying Kenneth King’s “old school” tailoring techniques and another jacket trying his “new school” techniques?

It certainly would, I answered.

So what pattern would I use for the “old school” jacket?

Since Kenneth demos sleeve vents and a back vent, that suggested McCall 4065, from 1941, the “Misses’ Mannish Jacket.” I’ve sewn four jackets from this pattern, and they fit and are very comfortable.

I have sewn four versions of this "Misses' Mannish Jacket" from 1941.

I have sewn four versions of this “Misses’ Mannish Jacket” from 1941.

For the “new school” jacket, I have a number of contenders that have the required notched collar. I love them all but have been intimidated by the prospect of the usual suspects:

  • fitting and altering the pattern
  • choosing the right interfacings
  • construction
  • …have I left anything out?

    Shall I choose one of these patterns to build my tailoring skills?

    Shall I choose one of these patterns to build my tailoring skills?

Because, although I have taken classes and private lessons, laid in a supply of excellent tailoring books and DVDs (once a librarian always a librarian), and diligently worked on my own with occasional very good results…

IMG_6684 (355x460)

I took copious notes and made numerous samples making the jacket that graces my home page. Threads magazine featured it, too. Good training for becoming a sewing blogger.

 

I remain a tailoring scaredy cat. True.

I continue to look longingly at my jacket and coat patterns and think I just don’t know enough yet to turn them into real, living garments on my own. A well made, well fitting jacket or coat is no fluke–it takes skill, and a lot of judgment calls that the books never say enough about for my taste.

When I didn't find detailed enough instructions or diagrams for my sleeve vent, I made them for myself.

When I didn’t find detailed enough instructions or diagrams for my sleeve vent, I made them for myself.

I know, I have myself to blame, too. Even though I sewed three of the “mannish jackets” in one big project, (two of them plaids, all of them with different pocket types), and the jacket on this home page, which appeared in the Reader’s Closet feature in the July-August 2012 Threads magazine I didn’t go on to practice my budding skills regularly. I was too exhausted.

Reader's Closet, Threads magazine, July-August 2012.

Reader’s Closet, Threads magazine, July-August 2012.

However, the flames of my jacket- and coat-making desires seem to be inextinguishable. They may smoulder for a while, but the embers flare up again when I see an announcement of a class (Tailoring With Savile Row Tailors, anyone?) or–a DVD set by a really good teacher like Kenneth King. When I find my hands holding and pinning an imaginary jacket front along with a video, it’s time to give tailoring–and myself–another chance.

My first jacket I made from this 1936 pattern, and my introduction to vintage sewing. I haven't been the same since.

My first jacket I made from this 1936 pattern, and my introduction to vintage sewing. I haven’t been the same since.

And this time, I promise myself, it will be different. I have a different goal this time.

I like that the back is as interesting as the front.

I like that the back is as interesting as the front.

This time, my goal is not to produce jackets–or, what I really mean is, not only jackets.

Basically, the message in my tailoring notes here is "Avoid compounding errors!"

Basically, the message in my tailoring notes here is “Avoid compounding errors!” (And fusible interfacings.)

My ultimate goal is to make tailoring Not A Big Deal.

Oh, tailoring will continue to require time, attention, and effort. But I want the way I look at making a jacket to be the way I look at making Thanksgiving dinner, which I happen do pretty well. (Thank you, cooking school.) Homemade stock, homemade bread for the stuffing, homemade gravy, homemade pie crust and pie, homemade ice cream, a turkey roasted to perfection, vegetable sides…all of which turned out fine last time, according to my guests.

I simply planned and executed. A good Thanksgiving dinner was well within my capabilities. It took effort, but it wasn’t a struggle.

It was not a big deal.

Building a solid tailoring knowledge would help me make jackets with these nifty buttons.

Building a solid tailoring knowledge would help me make jackets with these nifty buttons.

A couple of days after I received Smart Tailoring, I wandered over to Kenneth King’s website. I knew he occasionally taught a class or two in the Midwest, my part of the country. Indianapolis, was it?

I stopped dead in my tracks–again–when I saw that Kenneth will be visiting Cleveland this summer to teach his tailoring techniques in a two-day class. Janie’s Sewing Corner, where the class will take place, is just a 15-minute drive from in-laws with an open invitation to stay.

Working my way toward breaking this pattern out of its 1930s envelope.

Working my way toward breaking this pattern out of its 1930s envelope.

You can guess what I did. July 25 and 26 will find me in a sewing classroom in Cleveland, Ohio, with either a heap of jackets or a heap of tailoring questions for Kenneth King. Preferably both.

IMG_6680 (460x386)

Coming up: a “mannish” jacket using “old school” tailoring techniques.

And that will be a big deal.

Getting Back Into the Sewing Game

Readers,

The illustrations for a post about taking a pattern-drafting class are not exciting.

The tools for pattern-drafting may be simple and dull, but the results can be spectacular.

The tools for pattern-drafting may be simple and dull, but the results can be spectacular.

The tools–a 2-inch clear ruler, a fashion ruler, a measuring tape, mechanical pencil, and paper–aren’t the most interesting things to photograph.

The instruction sheets are dull, too.

Great pants start with accurate measuring.

Great pants start with accurate measuring.

What is exciting about pattern-drafting, in my experience, is the fervor of patternmaking teachers.

Edith, my fairy godmother sewing and patternmaking teacher in Minneapolis; Steve, who worked with me on a shirt pattern for Jack in St. Paul; and Victoria, the bespoke tailor who taught the Savile Row class in London last year, all preached discipline and mastery and had boatloads of patience for their uncomprehending student: me. I did not reward their efforts. My spirit is willing, but my aptitude is weak.

I was so pessimistic that I could learn one jot about patternmaking that I passed up a class by Nina Bagley offered by the City of Columbus Recreation and Parks Department last fall about how to alter commercial patterns to suit your taste and figure.

Columbus, Ohio's Cultural Arts Center offers classes in painting, metal work, and much more.

Columbus, Ohio’s Cultural Arts Center offers classes in painting, metal work, and much more.

(I ask you–how many city governments would offer such a class–and for only a nominal fee–taught by a master patternmaker who worked in New York and Italy? I love Columbus!)

No, I would only be frustrated again. And surely I could find a teacher to work with me individually. I had just set up my new sewing room and could get back to getting things sewn again in a few weeks. Couldn’t I?

Apparently not. Call it bad luck, call it inertia, but I found myself in early December with a sewing room but no sewing community–and no desire to sew. I had scared off a couple of sewing teachers local fabric stores had referred me to. One called me and the other wrote back to say, regretfully but firmly, No. Another teacher responded positively to my e-mail, asking me for dates I could meet her for lunch, but never followed up on my response.

The measurements you took become lines on your big piece of paper.

The measurements you took become lines on your big piece of paper.

I did ponder registering for a tailoring or clothing construction course at the Columbus College of Art and Design, but blanched at the $1200 per credit hour. $3600 for one course! Surely there was another way to enter or create a local sewing community to rekindle my enthusiasm for sewing.

This was the state of affairs in early December when, as I always eventually do, I rallied.  Ever the librarian, I delved into researching my burning question again. I Googled the name of the teacher of that class I spurned in the fall, and found an interview with her on a little Columbus website.

Eventually, the lines turn into pattern pieces.

Eventually, the lines turn into pattern pieces.

I liked what I read. I dug around some more and found contact information for her. I decided to take a chance and write her. Here’s what I wrote:

Hello Nina,
This morning I read what you said in the “Locals” piece at http://thelocalsstory.com/2012/10/24/nina-bagley/ and said to myself, “That does it—I’ve got to meet this person.” What you said about being a patternmaker and doing quality work struck a chord.
Since moving from Minnesota back to Ohio six months ago I have really missed my sewing teacher-patternmaker Edith Gazzuolo, who worked with me on challenging vintage-pattern sewing projects. She pushed me to accomplish more and at a higher level than I had before, and changed my life.
I am now looking to hire an expert or two here in Columbus to work with me one-on-one when I have questions about fitting, pattern alterations, and construction. I started a blog, Getting Things Sewn, a little over a year and a half ago partly to chronicle my projects and processes and partly to challenge myself to sew the patterns I couldn’t stop dreaming about. I have a small but growing and widespread audience around the world that’s interested in what I’m doing.
A very large part of what I do is to clarify what’s stopping me—whether a technical question, aesthetic question, or something else—and define and test processes that work for me. Right now I feel quite stopped—my projects and the blog are stalled out—and the main reason is I need some local experts on my team to answer questions that are tough for me. I am a writer first and a sewer a distant second. My spatial aptitudes are only average, and it’s hard for me to grasp fitting and patternmaking. But with the help of experts I can do good work. (Threads magazine has featured a couple of my jackets made from a 1936 pattern. One of those jackets is on my home page.)
I want to get back to sewing great stuff and writing about how I’m overcoming obstacles that frustrate so many sewers today.
I am writing you with the hope that we will meet soon and that a creative partnership will be in the offing. Edith was so important to my life that I wrote a tribute about the lasting lessons she taught me that will give you an idea of the kind of student I am and what I want to achieve. It can be seen here: http://gettingthingssewn.com/all-i-really-need-to-know-i-learned-from-my-sewing-teacher/
Thank you, Nina,
Paula DeGrand
www.gettingthingssewn.com

Darts in the front pattern piece.

Darts in the front pattern piece.

As I paused before hitting Send I thought, She’ll be either intrigued and want to know more, or a little stunned and say no or not even reply. Having just spent 25 years dealing with phlegmatic Minnesotans, I’d gotten used to being perceived as histrionic at times. But now that I’d returned to the battleground state of Ohio, where people are not taken aback by enthusiasm (Go Bucks!), I hoped I would be seen as–normal.

I took a breath and hit Send.

Ten days later, Nina Bagley replied: Here’s my number–call me. I did. She had a pants patternmaking class at the Cultural Arts Center coming up in January; it could fill quickly; I should think about taking it. She understood how confusing patternmaking can be for novices: “I kind of go through the back door and explain so the light bulb goes off.”

Going through the back door sounded good, as well as the prospect of light being shed on this arcane art.

IMG_6625 (460x195)

Once again, that fervor peculiar to patternmakers trumped any doubts in my mind. I registered for Pants: Block Pattern Making for $100 plus a $5.25 processing fee. If I could actually make patterns for pants that fit and flatter me, how great would that be? And if I could connect with a great teacher, and make a sewing friend, or several? This could be the best $105.25 investment I’d ever made.

Yes! I'm in!

Yes! I’m in!

Tuesday at 6:30 I entered the classroom, met my seven congenial classmates, and started following Nina’s directions for turning measurements into a pattern draft. Three hours never went by so fast. And I actually kept up!

At the end of class we were all smiling as we gathered our tools and paper and bundled up to go back out into the bitter cold night. For homework we will sew muslins from our drafts to be analyzed and fine-tuned in our second class.

No one was more enthusiastic than Nina. “I can’t wait till next week! I can’t wait till next week!” she declared.

And you know what? Neither can I.

Yes!

Yes!

Setting Up My New Sewing Room

Readers,

My sewing room, occupying the largest bedroom in Jack’s and my new home in Columbus, Ohio, is about 90 percent set up now.  It was fairly easy to plan the layout, and fun, as well.

With my mannequin, Ginger, in our new home.

With my mannequin, Ginger, in our new home.

From my little desk I merely have to turn around to bask in the morning light streaming in from two directions. This morning I’m enjoying a clear blue sky and the last bright leaves of fall.

From my second-floor perch I have been enjoying a spectacular fall in our neighborhood.

From my second-floor perch I have been enjoying a spectacular fall in our neighborhood.

Then, without leaving my chair, I can roll a short distance to my sewing library and survey titles without bending or squinting.

To retrieve a book or magazine I can just roll to my right.

To retrieve a book or magazine I can just roll to my right.

Pulling my pattern catalog from the shelf, I can swivel half a turn to a work table to page through it.

From pattern illustration...

From pattern illustration…

If I think, “Hmm–what fabrics would look great with that pattern?” in no more than an instant I’m unfurling yardage and scattering buttons over it.

...to fabric and buttons pulled from the shelves in the blink of an eye.

…to fabric and buttons pulled from the shelves in the blink of an eye.

From my other chair I can stitch and then swivel to the ironing board to press open a seam–or stand and use my new steamer.

I can lower the ironing board to press while sitting. More often, I press standing.

I can lower the ironing board to press while sitting. More often, I press standing.

As you can tell, I’m thoroughly enjoying the new headquarters of Getting Things Sewn. I am really glad we made a sizeable sewing space a high priority in our house hunt.

However, it took imagination, a leap of faith, and lots of work to transform this into a room I love being in.

Like the rest of the house, my future sewing room was dingy, drab, and smelled like an ashtray.

Like the rest of the house, my future sewing room was dingy, drab, and smelled like an ashtray.

At first, the entire house smelled like a giant ashtray. Everything was in desperate need of freshening up.

The imitation wood-grain Contact paper dated from the 1960s or '70s, probably. Out!

The imitation wood-grain Contact paper in the closet dated from the 1960s or ’70s, probably. Out!

Much of the oak flooring was covered with decades-old carpet underlaid with disintegrating padding.

Pulling up carpet released fibers into the air.

Pulling up carpet released fibers into the air.

Rolling up the last of the carpet, which was at least 30 years old, I think.

Rolling up the last of the carpet, which was at least 30 years old, I think.

Goodbye carpet, and good riddance!

Goodbye carpet, and good riddance!

Removing the crumbling padding revealed oak flooring in decent shape.

Removing the crumbling padding revealed oak flooring in decent shape.

The windows were covered with cheap, unattractive blinds and valances. All the walls were dingy.

These valances and blinds must go!

These valances and blinds must go!

A month and a half before the moving van came, Cynthia (my sister, photographer and now neighbor) and I pulled out the ratty old carpet and padding and pried out hundreds of carpet staples . Jack flew down from Minnesota for a long weekend to paint the whole upstairs, plus the living room, with a potent primer called Kilz.

In one long weekend Jack primed the whole upstairs plus living room. Then he flew back to Minnesota to finish teaching and sell our house.

In one long weekend Jack primed the whole upstairs plus living room. Then he flew back to Minnesota to finish teaching and sell our house.

We had the floors refinished, and they turned out gorgeous!

We had the floors professionally refinished.

We had the floors professionally refinished.

The final coat: wet...

The final coat: wet…

...and then dry and lustrous. The room was beginning to be beautiful.

…and then dry and lustrous. The room was beginning to be beautiful.

July 10, Jack and the moving van both arrived from Minneapolis. Reunited at last!

July 10: the moving van arrived.

July 10: the moving van arrived.

And then we opened lots and lots of boxes.

All our possessions arrived safe and sound, including my fabrics, which had been in the garage for 3 months.

All our possessions arrived safe and sound, including my fabrics, which had been in the garage for 3 months.

Messy!

Messy!

And before we got settled in, we had the exterior walls insulated to save on energy costs in the years to come. There was never going to be a better time to have this done, but waiting for the insulation guys to finish the job required a boatload of patience.

Holes were cut into the exterior walls and insulation blown in.

Holes were cut into the exterior walls and insulation blown in. Then the holes were filled.

All the filled holes had to be sanded and primed. Lots of fun!

All the filled holes had to be sanded and primed. Lots of fun!

As soon as the insulation job was done, Jack set immediately to work painting the sewing room so I could execute my grand plan. It was a fun puzzle to solve. I had learned so much from planning the basement sewing domain in our previous home in Minneapolis, creating a zone for each activity.

Before: an unsightly closet.

Before: an unsightly closet.

After: neat and clean!

After: neat and clean!

The room measurements were 17 feet by 13 feet. I measured my bookcases, metal shelving units, work tables, desk and printer stand, rolling chairs, the ironing board, steamer, and even the base of my mannequin, Ginger–anything that would take up space. On a large sheet of graph paper from Cynthia I laid out the locations of doors, electrical outlets, and windows.

The floor plan.

The floor plan.

From a colorful old file folder I cut out scale representations of all these sewing furnishings and started moving them around my graphed-out room. It was immensely satisfying to do this.

I imagined how much more I would enjoy my sewing room if only I positioned my fabrics to be easily seen from the hallway.  So that decided where I would put my metal shelving units for storing fabrics and buttons.

We set up the metal shelves where we could enjoy seeing the fabrics whenever passing through the hallway.

We set up the metal shelves where we could enjoy seeing the fabrics whenever passing through the hallway. The rest of the arrangement fell into place.

I cut heavy adhesive felt to size to protect our new floors from being damaged by the metal shelves.

I cut heavy adhesive felt to size to protect our new floors from being damaged by the metal shelves.

Then I assigned the rest of the zones I needed: places for writing and planning; consulting my sewing library; cutting and stitching, pressing and steaming; photographing garments on the mannequin, and closet storage.

Writing, planning, and sewing reference along this wall.

Writing, planning, and sewing reference along this wall.

When I first saw how close together my work tables, shelves, chairs and pressing equipment were on my graph, my heart sank. I thought I wouldn’t have enough room to do my work. Then I realized that 90 percent of the time I’d be in here by myself and wouldn’t need much clearance. Plus, I could find this smaller space to be  more efficient than my other, larger space.

In my previous sewing space my most frequently used tools were hung on pegboard or stored in a wide, shallow box on a work table. They were easy to see but often just out of reach, on the other side of a table. Over the years the minutes I spent walking around a table to reach for a hemming gauge or pair of shears resulted not only in lost hours but lost concentration.

I repurposed Elfa file carts to hold frequently used sewing tools, my patterns, and pressing equipment. They fit right under the work tables.

I repurposed Elfa file carts to hold frequently used sewing tools, my patterns, and pressing equipment. They fit right under the work tables.

In a moment of inspiration I saw using our Elfa file carts more profitably to store my sewing tools than our papers. I have filled one with pressing tools and the other with sewing gadgets and my patterns. The carts roll to wherever I need them and stow handily under the work tables.

The Ikea file cart has three drawers, space for hanging files, and enough surface to open a book. It’s awaiting its work assignment.

Someday I'll go through the clippings in that box and organize them in this Ikea file cart.

Someday I’ll go through the clippings in that box and organize them in this Ikea file cart.

My baker’s cart, which holds unfinished projects (and anything else, these days), fits perfectly in the closet. That was lucky. I also use the closet for interfacings, wearable-test fabrics, muslins, threads, notions, rolls of paper, and the serger.

The rolling baker's rack, which holds unfinished projects, fits perfectly into the closet.

The rolling baker’s rack, which holds unfinished projects, fits perfectly into the closet.

The baker's rack rolls out for easy access.

The baker’s rack rolls out for easy access.

The closet stores muslins, sewing project problems, interfacings, fabrics for wearable tests...

The closet stores muslins, sewing project problems, interfacings, fabrics for wearable tests…

...notions, rolls of paper, the tripod, the sewing machine cover, a couple of pillows to recover, and the serger.

…notions, rolls of paper, the tripod, the sewing machine cover, a couple of pillows to recover, and the serger.

What’s left to do?

  • Improving the lighting. I’m making do with a couple of clip-on utility lamps and a five-headed goose-neck floor lamp from Home Depot until I make a plan.
  • Decorating! This room is functional, but it needs personality! Fashion clippings! Swatches! I used a neutral paint color for photography, but I want color, pattern, texture on my bulletin boards.
  • After a seven month hiatus, SEWING!

    The stage is set.

    The stage is set.

How Do I Proceed?

Readers,

I don’t know whether you’ve noticed, but this blog is not all that much about completed projects. It’s about process–my process, at any rate. That’s why this blog is called “Getting Things Sewn” rather than “Things Gotten Sewn.”

William Alexander's new book poses with my 17 berets.

William Alexander’s new book poses with my 17 berets.

Since I’m in process mode (aka The Slough of Despond) a lot more than in finish and celebrate mode, I am very interested in others’ accounts of their quests and processes. Sometimes I learn a thing or two.

The beginning of a baguette, from Cooks Illustrated's excellent new recipe.

The beginning of a baguette, from Cooks Illustrated’s excellent new recipe.

I recently read Chris Guillebeau’s new book, The Happiness of Pursuit: Finding the Quest That Will Bring Purpose to Your Life. Guillebeau’s quest was to visit every country in the world (193, from the list he was working from), which took him a decade, most of which seemed to be spent waiting for planes. My takeaway: avoid goals involving airports or turbulence.

And last night I finished another book about a quest, Flirting with French: How a Language Charmed Me, Seduced Me and Nearly Broke My Heart by William Alexander. This morning I found myself writing him a letter.

The baguettes rising.

The baguettes rising.

Dear Mr. Alexander:

I just finished reading Flirting with French, in which you describe your quixotic desire to be French, which apparently has nothing to do with studying for the citizenship exam and everything to do with drinking absinthe (but not smoking) in dark cafes. The goal of becoming French naturally means your having to learn and speak the language, a situation overripe with comic possibilities.

Everybody knows that an American trying to be French is a doomed cause. Actually, though, I think your secret desire is to look French, whatever that means to you or to other people.

Fully risen, the baguettes await slashing.

Fully risen, the baguettes await slashing.


At the risk of  incurring a massive case of envy in you, I admit that I myself have achieved this goal–no, it’s not even a goal–without trying.

Countless times strangers have come up to me on the street, or in hallways (in public buildings, not at home) and exclaimed, “You look French!” This has happened so often that I can sometimes sense the comment coming the way some pets are said to sense impending temblors, and brace for impact.

When I'm dressed like this, strangers run up to me on the street making a wild claim.

When I dress like this, strangers run up to me on the street. Why is that? (photo by Cynthia DeGrand)

The speaker always has an air of triumphant discovery–of what, I do not know. Meanwhile, I have an air of confusion.

Assuming the remark is meant as a compliment, though, most of the time I remember to say “Thank you.”

“You look French!” falls from people’s lips without their (the people’s, not the lips’) knowing I have a French last name, have studied French, or can make pretty good baguettes.

The baguettes have been slashed. Ready for the oven!

The baguettes have been slashed. Ready for the oven!

Approximately 100 percent of the time I have been so identified as “looking French” I have been wearing a beret.

So, mon ami, if you want to look French–at least in America–my advice is simply to plant a beret on your head,  go for a stroll, and wait for the “You look French!” exclamations to roll in.  If this experiment becomes the subject of your next book, remember to put my name on the acknowledgments page.

Perhaps risking even more envy on your part, I have gotten as close to being perceived as French as most Americans ever will, again without trying. Once, at the train station in Dijon, the man selling me my ticket to Lyon told me “Vous êtes presque française.”

You are almost French.

Done!

Done!

Although it was possibly seeing my name on my passport or credit card and not hearing my French pronunciation that drew this observation from him, I chose to assume in any case that he meant this as a compliment.

He may have meant, “Nice try. Keep it up.” Then again, he may have meant, “Don’t kid yourself: you will never reach that exalted state.”

I was not wearing a beret at the time. When I’m at that train station in Dijon next time I’ll be sure to wear one and see what that ticket seller says.

Cooling.

Cooling.


But actually, Mr. Alexander, the real reason I’m writing you is not to incur envy but to express my admiration. You dedicated hundreds of hours to tackling the study of French in lots of different ways–Rosetta Stone, corresponding with an online native speaker pen pal, attending a weekend immersion course in the US and a two-week immersion course in France–with varying levels of success. During those thirteen months you had major surgeries and, I infer, a full-time job as distractions.

At the end of that period you weren’t as proficient in the language as you’d hoped to be, although you did reap other wonderful, unexpected rewards.

But, back to the beginning of your learning adventure, when you attended that Second Language Research Forum. You know, when you sat down with Heidi Byrnes and asked, pleadingly, “How do I proceed? How do I learn French?”

A good crumb. (Tasty, too.)

A good crumb. (Tasty, too.)

In other words, how could you translate this perhaps unreasonable but certainly powerful desire into a practical plan to achieve your goal?

Bingo. Exactly what I want to know, too!

She answered, “The difficulty you’re going to have is you will essentially find no materials out there.” 

Well, yes and no. My experience in getting things sewn is there are only too many learning materials and methods out there. The secret is knowing which ones are going to work for you. That’s a very individual thing, and it takes time to figure that out. At least thirteen months, I would guess.

What I’m trying to say is, during year 1 of a venture like yours, maybe all you really learn is–how you learn. You begin building a foundation of resources and practices. Maybe it will be in year 2 that you’ll pick up more understanding. With more practice, in year 3 you may increase accuracy, and in year 4, speed.

Learning enterprises like yours are so inspiring, but then the book project comes to an end, and with it, many a learning project. I hope your learning project continues, however, for your sake, and for us many readers who are also perpetually trying to figure out, “How do I proceed?”

Sincerely,

Paula DeGrand

If one beret has people saying "You look French!" how about 17?

If one beret has people saying “You look French!” how about 17?

Meeting Edith Head

Readers,

As Cynthia and I were walking toward the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio late Sunday afternoon, I overheard a woman exclaim to her companions, “I had no idea it would be so awesome!”

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Both fabulous–and both designed by Edith Head.

Oh sure, she’d just seen three dozen or so costumes from Paramount Pictures’ vaults that curator Randall Thropp had rescued from utter ruin, so awe was in order. Sequins, beading, soutache braid, fringe, lace…they all tend to prompt such a response.

What surprised that visitor to “Designing Woman: Edith Head at Paramount, 1924-1967″ had to be Edith Head herself. Spanning her six decades in the public eye as a costume designer, Edith Head was, let us say, singular-looking.

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Edith Head (1897-1981) with her amazing 8 Oscars for costume design.

Okay, she looked rather…odd. Those round, usually tinted, glasses. That sphinx-like expression that kept you guessing.

That hairstyle.

How did such a person ever hold sway in the most looks-conscious place–and industry–on the planet? That’s what I, and maybe the woman I overheard, wondered.

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Pinch me! I’m in the same room as Edith Head!

That question’s ripe for debate. But there’s no denying, that girl had grit.

When actress Susan Claassen’s Edith Head strode into the room, we the audience completely and happily deferred to her as top dog. And it wasn’t only because she’d had 35 Oscar nominations and eight wins.

There was just something in Edith Head’s demeanor that told you she would prevail. She would work 15-hour days, six days a week for 44 years at Paramount, and then move to Universal Studios in 1967 for another 14 years.

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As portrayed by Susan Claassen, Edith Head was animated…

Whatever she might lack in originality she would make up for in sheer stamina. And that’s nothing to sneeze at.

Although Edith Head’s still photos made her seem humorless–and, let’s face it, designing costumes on deadline for major stars is serious business–Susan Claassen’s portrayal showed the costumier to have had a very dry wit. “People say to me, ‘Edith, what makes you different from other designers?’ I tell them, ‘I’m not different. [Pause.] I’m just the best.'”

...and droll.

…and droll.

This Edith was not aloof. She would glance at individual audience members with a just-between-you-and-me expression before delivering a tart comment about the difficult Claudette Colbert.

She would chop the air making a point,Edith_Head_6014 (270x460)

and walk stiffly, convincingly like someone in her 80s who’d spent decades in awkward postures hunched over sketches at drafting tables.Edith_Head_6017 (317x460)

And when Edith had finished telling us about her trials and triumphs in Hollywood, we all trooped out to have our pictures taken with her as she gave us her seal of approval.  I was beside myself.

Edith Head gives me her seal of approval.

Edith Head gives me her seal of approval.

Can this be really happening?

Can this be really happening?

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I met Edith Head!

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After we all had our moment with Edith, we followed Randall Thropp from one gallery to the next. He told us not only about the significance of each costume in the film it appeared in but also about how it was saved from almost certain oblivion through the conservation talents of Betsey Potter.

This cloak was discovered in tatters and was at first thought to be only yardage, not a garment. Betsey Potter restored it to a thing of beauty.

This cloak was discovered in tatters and was at first thought to be only yardage, not a garment. Betsey Potter painstakingly restored it to a thing of beauty.

Randall told us the granddaughter of an employee of Paramount’s costume department donated quilt squares her grandmother had made from scraps saved from films she’d worked on. Those quilt squares helped him identify costumes, the movies they’d appeared in, and who had worn them.

This blouse was identified from a scrap worked into a quilt square.

This blouse was identified from a scrap worked into a quilt square.

In the last room of the show Randall told us that the everyday tools and supplies the costumers used to carry out Edith Head’s designs were going to be scrapped but that he had managed to salvage and identify some of them. There is such value in these mundane items if they can be kept together as a collection. We were all glad he’d done this, partly to recognize the labor of hundreds of studio employees over the decades and partly to illuminate a bit of that past for us today.

Archivist Randall Thropp has rescued spools of thread, trims, and tools of the costumer's art as well as their final products.

Archivist Randall Thropp has rescued spools of thread, trims, and tools of the costumer’s art as well as their final products.

Both Susan Claassen’s portrayal of Edith Head and Randall Thropp’s enthralling stories about the costumes gave me a far greater appreciation of a museum costume show than I’ve ever had before. Plans are being discussed for this collection to be shown at other small museums in the US in the coming years. If I read about its opening at another location, I’ll be sure to mention that news in this blog.

I will also be watching Susan Claassen’s website for news of her show, A Conversation with Edith Head, being booked at theaters around the country. Her presentation at the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio was really fun. I’d love to see her full show. You can see excerpts of her show here.

(Thanks to Cynthia DeGrand for all photos except the one of the seal of approval.)