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French Seams

June 28, 2013

I often get asked by my sewing students, “do you sew for yourself?”,  “How long would it take you to make this?”. And I sadly answer something to the effect that I’m too busy sewing and creating for the boutique that I rarely sew for myself or my family anymore.  When my daughter was little I made several special dresses for the holidays for her, but then she hit those “middle years” with ideas about her own style and what she wanted to wear (think Abercrombie & Fitch).  I also got very busy with my business and the years have flown by!   Well, I got another opportunity to sew for her recently and I want to share the joy of doing so.

Draping on the body!

Draping on the body!

My daughter graduated from Oak Park River Forest High School a couple of weeks ago.  They have a tradition of girls wearing white gowns (now they can wear pantsuits if they desire) and the boys wear dark suits rather than the graduation gowns and mortar boards.  So, Audrey asked if I would make her dress (ok, I may have suggested and begged that she let me).  She picked out a style from an on-line source (the price tag on the original dress was around $900) and I went to designing a pattern.   She and I also got to spend an afternoon together shopping for the fabric (we get few mother/daughter days and in the fall she will be off to college, so I treasure the minutes with her this summer).  First, we headed to Vogue Fabric on Roosevelt in Chicago and selected a gauzy, linen, just slightly off white fabric with a slight machine embroidered texture and a plain lining fabric.  Then we headed to 2121 21st Street to the Textile Discount Outlet in the Pilsen neighborhood to find the perfect lace for the ruffle around the shoulders.  The dress she liked had a 70’s bohemian style with a deep ruffle off the shoulders.  We selected a french lace that was $150.00/yard.  I decided to indulge in it based upon needing only 3/4 of a yard and the consideration of the price tag of the original dress that she liked on-line.

Trying the bodice on for fit!

Trying the bodice on for fit!

Then Audrey came to the studio to help create the dress!  She doesn’t have much time for sewing anymore, so this was a nice opportunity to share some more sewing secrets with her before she heads off into the future called “LIFE”.  Between the lining and outer layers of the skirt which had a deep ruffle there were a lot of long straight seams to sew.  Sew what sewing secrets did I share?  First of all you can modify a pattern that is close to what you want and not start from scratch on the design.  We modified New Look pattern # 6046.  Secondly, be sure to measure yourself when choosing the size to cut out.  Pattern sizes have very little to do with ready-to-wear sizes.  We cut out a size 8 and off the rack Audrey probably wears a size 2.

image borrowed from "New Look" pattern instructions

image borrowed from “New Look” pattern instructions

Next, I showed Audrey how to sew a french seam.  With my sewing students the mantra is always “right sides together” to sew a seam.  But in the case of a french seam you first sew a narrow seam at 1/4 inch with the wrong sides of the fabric together, then you fold over and press the seam with the ride sides together and stitch it again at 1/4 inch to 3/8 inch using up the 5/8 inch seam allowance and encasing the raw edges of the fabric inside the seam.  This creates a lovely finished seam!

Tailors Tacks mark your fabric temporarily when assembling the garment and can be easily removed.

Tailors Tacks mark your fabric temporarily when assembling the garment and can be easily removed.

I also shared the use of “tailors tacks” for marking your fabric when you don’t want to make a mark with chalk or a disappearing ink pen because you are working with a delicate fabric.  Stitching a little loop of thread through the fabric will show you the spot you are trying to keep track of.  It is easily removed by pulling the threads out when you are finished assembling your garment.

My children under the tree of knowledgeSo, the dress got done in less than a week!  Yes, when I have the opportunity I can still sew for myself and my family and with a little help from my daughter can get it done in time!  And I can enjoy the process.

I also wanted to share a little note about the mother/daughter date I had this week.  On Wednesday Audrey and I visited the Art Insitute of Chicago to see the Impressionism, Fashion & Modernity Exhibit.  I saw this exhibit in Paris last October at the Musee D’Orsay and was so amazed by the details of the vintage gowns as well as the impressionist paintings they inspired, I couldn’t

finishing off a perfect mother/daughter day with a cup of coffee and a view of the Art Institute - Black Hawk Lions!

finishing off a perfect mother/daughter day with a cup of coffee and a view of the Art Institute – Black Hawk Lions!

wait to share this with someone when it traveled to Chicago.  I would highly recommend spending a few hours looking over the covered buttons, Chantilly lace, ruffles, pleating and beadwork on the gowns exhibited and throw in a glance or two at the Monet’s, Caillebotte’s and Renoir’s too!  Add to it that the Art Institute Lions were wearing the Black Hawk Hockey helmets from the recent Stanley Cup Championship and it was a perfect day to play tourist in our own town!

chemise from designer Ken Okada - Paris

chemise from designer Ken Okada – Paris

And finally, another note regarding my trip to Paris last fall and some contemporary inspiration.  I stumbled upon what we would call a “Pop-Up” shop for a designer named Ken Okada.  Talk about french seams!  The crisp, gauzy and beautiful chemise’ of Okada highlight the use of unusual seams, visible darts, pleating and asymmetry.  I loved the space they had transformed for the temporary display and sale and I loved their garments.  I purchased a sheer top for myself and now I receive the emails regarding their currents sales.  I’m saving up my clothing budget to invest in another of his beautiful garments.  I hope you find them inspiring too!

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