New Directions and Stuff – Musing on Couture

Spent the weekend working on what I now affectionately term the ‘shirt from hell’. It was definitely a learning experience; I learned that couture skills do not do well when left to moulder for a few years and picking them up again is not like riding a bicycle.

It seemed like such a simple idea: I’m have a new business, and I wanted to make myself a shirt to wear when I went to talk to people about it. After all, when people say ‘what do you do, it’s far better to be able to finger your sleeve and say ‘I design stuff like this’ then to hand-wave. One of the real take-away lessons I learned from developing digital content for virtual worlds is 99% of the world still doesn’t get it, the success of World of Warcraft not withstanding.

So with this in mind, I pulled some yardage of one of my favorite prints, Thoroughly Thoroughbreds in Cream from our new Faster collection and set out to make make myself a shirt. This may sound intimidating to some, but I spent thirty years doing couture and have a couple of degrees and certificates from FIT where they make you make tons of stuff in order to graduate. At the height of my couture practice, I could crank out a shirt in an afternoon and it would be done with a fully couture pattern that fit me perfectly. With this as my background, I perhaps had overly high expectations of myself starting my recent ‘make a shirt’ project.

I was too rushed to draft a pattern for myself. In hindsight, this was a callow decision. I have CAD pattern drafting software on my computer. I could easily have created a half-couture pattern that would have taken about the same flat adjustments as the commercial pattern I used. It would have fit far better at the end. But the commercial patterns were on sale, and yada yada. Armed with my commercial pattern I made my couple of simple pattern adjustments that worked in the past and proceeded with my fabulous textile print.

An aside here about the material itself – I bought the 100% basic cotton textile and once it was washed to remove the sizing and other chemicals it was a dream to work with. It has a wonderfully soft hand and I am really going to enjoy wearing this shirt.

Cutting out was no big deal. I adjusted on the fly as I went and while it took a little longer it wasn’t horrid. Even the pre-sewing stuff went pretty quickly.

But then it was time to sew, and even all of my time saving techniques (which I thankfully remembered) were not enough to save me from the fact that I had lost muscle memory. Somewhere in the past 7 years, my fingers had forgotten how to pat-press and gather to ease the fabric under the sewing machine foot, and I had lost the finer nuances of a good couteriere.

There are some things on this shirt that let’s just say I’m grateful that most people won’t understand if they see them. I made the decision to use a man-style closure (right over left instead of left over right) so that I could hide the less-than-perfect collar stand on the left side. And the thing that really offended me the most was that it took me 6 hours to make this shirt, including buttonholes and buttons. In the past, that would have been more like 2 1/2 hours. However, by the end, I was remembering some of my hard won muscle memory, so I have hopes I haven’t lost all of my couture skills.

I learned some good lessons here – I need to make more stuff so I don’t lose my exceptional body of skills. And I need to not have overly high expectations as I get back into the process of ‘making stuff’. Also, at the end of the day, I have a super cute, fitted shirt made from my very own textile design.

And that, dear reader, is priceless.

The shirt from hell, unpressed: