A place where a wee Scot can talk about the stuff she bores other folk with. Sewing, The Beatles, cats, and zumba may feature...

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Dressmaking class: week one

The day of my dressmaking class finally arrived yesterday (I had planned to write a blog post last night but a kitty emergency dash to hospital came up! All is good now though). I got to The Makehouse nice and early and had the unexpected pleasure of running into the founders and designers of the menswear pattern company, Thread Theory, who had been teaching a workshop on their Newcastle Cardigan in the morning. I've read about their patterns, and seen lots of bloggers worldwide making their garments, so it was really cool to meet them and have a wee chinwag before they headed off home.

They are based up island in Courtney, which is a good few hours drive from Victoria. I've actually visited there once and stayed in a little beach lodge on Kye Beach near Courtney, which was the first time I encountered the phenomena of sand dollars!
Sand dollars are made from the dried out husks of wee beasties (or molluscs, if you want to get all scientific)

We had a wee chat about the resurgence of home sewing and garment-making (with special mention to The Great British Sewing Bee and one of my favourite bloggers Tilly and the Buttons, who was on the first series of GBSB) and the rise of blogs and independent pattern makers. I think it's really cool that they are focussing on menswear as it's an area that seems to be pretty much forgotten about (especially amongst independent pattern companies).

Being clever business people as well as talented creatives, they are garnering a toehold in a niche market with a growing range of comfy outdoor and indoor wear, and good for them! I love their packaging design and they seemed like a really nice and modest couple.
The lovely Matt and Morgan of Thread Theory. I loved Morgan's jacket and meant to ask her if it was one of her own designs. The pattern kit for their Comox Trunks is carefully wrapped up in brown string and beeswax paper.
As we gabbed away, Jenny who owns the Makehouse was busy sewing away on a Newcastle for herself, which goes to show it's not just a pattern for the boys (I wish I had snapped a photo of her work in progress...but I can tell you it was a bold turquoise bamboo fleece and looked like the cosiest jacket ever. It was great to have a feel of the fabric as I've never came across bamboo fleece before).

I definitely want to try a Thread Theory pattern for myself or boyfriend (have my eye on the Peacoat or Newcastle Cardigan - which would also make a great gift for my dad, having seen a pic of Morgan's dad on her Pinterest page). To attend a class taught by the actual designers of the pattern would be a special and unique opportunity! Maybe next time...
And so onto the portion of the afternoon I'd been counting the days till...Dressmaking! Jenny introduced us to the wonderfully talented Alexandria, our teacher for the next four Saturday afternoons. Alexandria has degrees in both Home Economics and Fashion Design and has lived in several different Canadian cities. As she has also designed patterns herself, her insights and approach had lots of focus on our printed patterns (well, that was only natural I suppose, as this was what we covered in our first afternoon). I can see she has a fantastic wealth of knowledge which I am so excited to be getting the benefit of already!
Just a small sample of the collection of patterns in The Makehouse archive
Our class was a small but perfectly formed group of 3 (meaning we are getting practically one-on-one tuition, what a bonus!), and of the other two girls, one had a Vintage Vogue pattern - which was a style not too dissimilar to my Betty, but looked much more couture (having just done a wee google, I think it's actually this one) - and the other had a Burda little girl's tunic dress which she was making into a halloween costume for her three little daughters. We all had varying experience of sewing, but were pretty much novices at dressmaking so seems like we'll all be learning together.
We put on our best poker faces when asked if we had sneaked in choccy biccies to the class. Thankfully, Jenny positively encourages chocolate consumption. Another reason I love her studio!
I've bought a few independent dress patterns already, and have some sewing books with patterns in them, but I had never seen what a 'proper' pattern (ie one belonging to the Big Four established sewing pattern companies of McCalls, Simplicity, Vogue, and Butterick) looks like. Alexandria took us through the meaning of the symbols, marks, sizes, and instructions (which seemed to be much more extensive on the Vogue pattern than the Burda).
Loving the fabric from this cushion sample in the studio, I must find out where I can get it
Alexandria then helped us to take our own measurements (urgh, my least favourite part of any day, but has to be done to get a well-fitted garment which I will want to wear with pride and joy). Again, I learned lots just from this small section of the class, not least of which is that I am actually a size 0. Erm, not really, but I can dream!
My pattern pieces
With scissors in hand we got down to rough-cutting out the individual pieces of our patterns in readiness for tracing our chosen sizes, those tracings will then be what we pin to fabric. You never want to cut out the actual size you'll be using from your original paper pattern, as you might want to remake your dress in a different size next time.

After rough-cutting round our pieces (I only have 6 pieces, which is a nice manageable number for producing a finished dress during the time of the course), Alexandria got us to take the measurements from the paper pieces and compare them to our body measurements. All patterns provide key body measurement sizes (usually bust, waist, and hips) and which size to choose for the closest fit when making the pattern . Some patterns also provide the measurements of the finished garment (bust, waist, hips, skirt or dress length, and back length. This last is very useful for ensuring you get a good fit on your torso), which gives you a better guide as to what size to choose.

But Alexandria showed us that by taking the time to measure the actual pattern pieces when laid out (taking into account seam allowances and darts), you will be even closer to getting that perfect fit. There's a fair amount of arithmetic involved (especially adding and taking away fractions of inches), so the old brain was getting a right good workout, something I had not anticipated at all.

And of course not everyone's bodies conform to the proportion sizes offered on the pattern - hello all you apple/pear/hourglass/badly drawn dolphin shaped women out there. In the end, I was one size for the bodice (which was a size smaller than we had initially settled on when we looked at the size guide on the pattern booklet - I can already see why it's so important to measure the flat pattern piece), and a different size for the waist (an inbetween size at that!) so we 'graded', ie drew new cutting lines, between bust and waist. All very technical, but so interesting to learn about it properly. Once all that hard work has been done for your pattern, you will never have to do it again, unless you do actually succeed in that diet you're always talking about going on...(for you, read me).
So much thought has gone into everything in Jenny's studio, you notice something different every time you visit
The afternoon came to an end with us 3 girls getting close to finishing tracing out our pattern pieces, so next week we'll get to pinning our traced pattern pieces onto our fabric, cutting fabric, and maybe even start some sewing. I imagine that the actual sewing won't take as long as this foundation work, and again that challenges my misconceptions of what is involved in dressmaking.
Lots of working space and plenty tables to layout your fabric and patterns, but still feels like a cosy living room
Just before I left, I showed my Kitty Chronicle fabric to Alexandria and she confirmed what I suspected, that it is a strong one direction print and therefore, with the skirt portion of my dress basically being a squat kind of rainbow, the print will look all upside down and sideways when the skirt drapes from my waist. So back to the drawing board, and more fabric shopping...music to my ears, and cue for a song I think!
Up above the streets and houses,
Rainbow climbing high.
Everyone can see it climbing
Through the sky.

Paint the whole world with a rainbow!