{case study} from making curtains to crafting clothing

summary

Allison started with only very basic sewing skills
and after a week in my studio, left wearing a hand-crafted skirt
that she had made herself, under my direction.

backstory

I live in a school.

See, there’s this wonderful private school
that is housed in two big 100-year-old houses.
The third floor of one of them
isn’t usable for classroom space,
but it makes for a nice little studio and apartment.
My studio and apartment.

I’m sort of an artist-in-residence,
so when one of the students
decided to do her senior project on fashion and sewing,
I became a part of her education.

Every afternoon for about a week,
Allison climbed the stairs to my studio
and worked on a project that was, quite frankly,
too big for her.

At least, it would have been too big for her
if I had handed it to her all at once.

I’ve taught people before
and I am not usually content
to hand them a project they can handle.
If I did that, why would they need me?

I want to push the limits of my students’ ability
and I want to show them that they can do more than they think.

I present my students with one step at a time,
sometimes even breaking down a single step into micro-steps.
As they focus on making each step firm and confident,
they find at the end that they’ve climbed a mountain.

This was my goal for Allison:
that she would accomplish something too big for her
and that she would learn to do it well.

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problem

I had a basic working knowledge of hand stitching and how to use a sewing machine, but I had never made anything that required more than stitching one straight line.
— Allison

I had a limited amount of time with Allison;
by the time we were able to get together,
her graduation was fast-approaching.

She had been working on her senior project all year,
learning the basics of sewing,
and had accomplished a simple project:
curtains for her bedroom.

Allison was planning to go to college to study fashion design
in the coming year,
so although the skills she learned while making curtains
would be helpful,
what she really needed to learn was how to make clothes.

She thought this was out of her reach,
but I knew it wasn’t.

solution

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I had been developing the {classic wrap skirt}
in the time leading up to my meetings with Allison,
and I was confident that this was the sort of project
that would allow me to teach her
the skills she would need.

I didn’t allow her to be overwhelmed
by describing the entire process of making the skirt
or all the skills she would need to learn.

Instead, I simply explained the first step,
and then the next,
and then the next.

Each one taken alone was simple,
even if it was something she’d never done before.

Beyond teaching Allison to sew,
I wanted to share some of my knowledge of design with her
and help her to develop her own design process.

After all, she was planning to study fashion design,
and this senior project was supposed to be preparation for that.

This is another reason the {classic wrap skirt}
was a perfect choice for this project.

She would have to make design decisions,
like what length of skirt she wanted,
and which techniques to use.
She would also be making this skirt
from her measurements,
not using a pattern created by someone else,
but drawing the shape of her skirt directly onto the fabric,
so she got a taste of what it’s like to create her own pattern.
(This is the method I teach in the {classic wrap skirt} book.)

outcome

Jordan’s teaching style was clear and enthusiastic. It is evident that she has a passion for what she does and for teaching. When I made a mistake she didn’t just tell me how to fix it, she explained why it would cause problems in the finished project.
— Allison

In working with Allison,
my focus was not so much on the finished product -
the skirt she would be able to wear at the end of it.
My focus was on using the skirt as a tool
to make Allison into a skilled artisan.

At the end of our meetings,
Allison had a skirt,
but more than that,
she is now someone who can hand-craft beautiful clothing.

This skirt that she created is evidence of this!

Her skirt doesn’t so much look “homemade,” as "hand-crafted,"
partially because of the care that Allison took in creating it,
and partially because of the materials and techniques that she used.

Instead of looking for a cheap fabric,
I guided Allison in selecting something she would love to wear.
Instead of taking the quickest, easiest route to making a skirt,
I guided her through a professional process.

Because of our attention to detail,
Allison now has a beautiful, hand-crafted garment
that reflects her new identity as an artisan-in-the-making.

reflection

Allison was a joy to work with.
She was diligent, and worked hard to accomplish her goals
both while she was in my studio,
and as she did “homework” between visits.

It was wonderful to dive back into the world of teaching sewing.
I’m looking forward to teaching more students,
whether in person, through blog articles,
or through my book!

I would not change a thing about my experience. The steps were easy to follow and I always knew exactly what I was supposed to be doing. ...If you have any desire to learn to sew at all, just do it. You will learn so much in a short amount of time and reaching the end goal is so rewarding.
— Allison

{case study} an invitation to play like a child again

summary

An older friend of mine
gave me a doll
and invited me to play again.

This dress and apron is the result.

backstory

Some of the first things I ever sewed were doll clothes.

But then I grew up
and left the dollies to my sisters.
Until I met Kathy, that is.

She was a doll collector,
and when she saw what I had designed and sewed for people
she invited me to try making doll clothes again.

She gave me and my sisters
dolls from her collection
and told us to have fun.

The first outfit I designed, I gave to Kathy.

problem

There are many things about sewing doll clothes
that are the same as sewing people clothes,
but there are also things that are different.

For example, some areas get bulky easily.
(Like where seams come together
at the neckline or underarm.)

And since doll clothes are small
and the pieces you’re sewing together are even smaller,
things can get fiddly rather quickly.

My main goal for this project
was to remember what it was like to play
and have fun creating something beautiful.

solution

My initial concept for the apron
didn’t work out quite the way I envisioned,
so I tried again.

Because I was working at a small scale,
starting over didn’t take up much time,
and I didn’t waste much fabric either.

The small scale also gave me freedom
to give the dress a full circle skirt
without needing to use a lot of fabric.

I used narrow bias tape
to finish the dress neckline, sleeves, and hem,
and made a matching sash to pull everything together.

One way that I “played”
as I designed this outfit
was to use a lot of color.

Usually I like to use
straightforward and subtle color combinations,
but I stepped out of that comfort zone for this project.

Not only did I use multiple colors,
I also used multiple patterns
and a variety of buttons!

It took some experimentation to get it right, but it was worth it.
I maintained a tranquil pallet while still infusing color.
Almost like a beautiful watercolor painting.

outcome

This outfit is still my favorite
of all the things I’ve made for our dolls.

Kathy’s red-headed doll wore it for a while,
but then Kathy passed away
and the outfit was given back to me.

Now my doll wears it,
and when I see her I think of the whole story
of my friendship with Kathy.

The colorful dress and apron represent
an invitation to play again,
to approach life like a little child.

To explore - stepping out of my comfort zone
in order to create something beautiful.

reflection

This outfit
and the story it carries
bring me so much joy.

I wouldn’t change a thing about it,
even the trial-and-error process
and the fact that Kathy was only able
to enjoy it for a little while.

Because she was able to enjoy it,
I was able to enjoy it with her,
and I am still able to enjoy it.

{case study} the best of both worlds: a modern ensemble inspired by historical fashion

Steampunk fashion has been described as “an appreciation for the ornamentation of the gilded age.”

I don’t have much use for a stereotypical Steampunk ensemble
(I don’t like to be stereotypical anyway),
but I do love a modern ensemble with a good dose of old-fashioned inspiration.

The first piece a lady would don
in the Victorian and Edwardian eras
is a chemise - a comfortable, next-to-the-skin layer
that provides a nice foundation for everything else.

The brown bamboo jersey dress fulfills this same purpose in my ensemble.
I cut the pattern using my basic princess-seamed bodice,
overlapping the seams to create a one-piece front and one-piece back
with negative ease where seams would usually provide shaping.
The skirt is a half-circle, and the neckline is finished with a simple folded strip of self fabric.
Once again, I used negative ease in the neckline area,
so it clings and doesn’t gape when I bend over.

On top of the chemise, a lady would wear a corset.
My hand-spun, hand-knit shell is anything but constricting,
but the fit and the lacing up the back are reminiscent of this old-fashioned garment.

On top of everything else is the red wool coat.

One of my favorite Victorian details is the shoulder seam that slants toward the back,
creating a smooth, easy-to-fit shoulder line.
I based the shoulder shape of my coat off of a pattern with a c. 1870 style
and drafted the skirt of the coat with pleats in the back,
mimicking the feminine silhouette of coats like this sketch from a Victorian-era ladies' magazine.

Embroidery can be a forgotten detail when it comes to our modern era.
I drew the designs featured on the back belt and sleeve cuffs,
then stitched them with a sewing machine.
I did not computerize the design,
but rather used a straight stitch and manipulated the fabric by hand.

I stitched all of the buttonholes by hand with silk thread
after stabilizing the slits with machine-stitches.
(The best of both worlds!)

I used hand-finishing elsewhere as well.
Anywhere understitching was necessary, I used pick-stiches.
After binding the lower edge, I folded up the hem and catch-stitched it in place.
I also handmade thread chains to attach the lining hem to the coat hem.

The test of any good design is marketability,
so I put my outfit to the test at the 2013 National Make It With Wool competition,
which includes marketability as part of the judging criteria.
I was the fourth-runner-up over all, and received special recognition for the shell,
which led to my being featured in THREADS magazine.

This is quite possibly my favorite creation to date.

There’s something about its history…
the design process itself…
the details from yesteryear…
the decorative elements often overlooked…

…something that makes this ensemble special to me.