The House of Tatterdemalion


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On why I'm not sewing. . .

January 28th, 2007 by tatterdemalion

I have mentioned, in passing, my first attempt at sewing. I bought cheap cotton fabric, whose pattern I loved. I got a simply designed dress pattern. I took my measurements. I prepared to cut out my fabric–and I got cold feet. Suppose I had picked the wrong size? So I started to make a muslin. Size? What did size have to do with anything? It was simply the wrong shape. It was too loose and too tight at the same time. It pulled and twisted. I could not waste my wonderful fabric on that monstrosity.

I tried fitting advice from other people who sewed, and I tried fitting books. The more I looked into it, the more confused I became. Nothing made sense, and by this point it was a matter of principle. I knew if I sewed this pattern, it wouldn’t fit. Therefore, on principle, I oughtn’t sew it. You don’t just go around doing things wrong, deliberately. It’s okay if you make mistakes by accident, or if you learn as you go along. But if you know something is wrong, how can you just close your eyes and look the other way?

So I took up pattern drafting. I found it to be much easier to understand drafting to your own measurements than to take some randomly-generated measurement based pattern and change as many things as necessary to make it behave like it ought. I managed to complete the the sloper, and even went on to draft the dress pattern.

And then I cut out the muslin of it, and tweaked it a little. And then I cut out the muslin underlining for the dress. And then basted it together. By hand. And checked the fit again. (Hm, oddly, it still fit.) At this point, it began to get quite obvious that I was stalling. All I had to do was rip the seams of the underlining, lay it out on my precious cheap-cotton-with-a-nice-print, cut it out, and sew it together. Easy, easy, easy.

So why, why, why has it been weeks since I got to that point? Why am I stalling, what holds me back? The problem is, this has become much more than a dress. It is now a Dress. More than that, really. This is like my graduate thesis, or something. It shows that I’ve learned. And not only am I the student, I’m also the teacher, so I have twice the stress of proving I did a good job. For some reason, I’m determined to prove–whether to myself, or the world at large, it doesn’t really matter–that I did learn, and learn brilliantly. This is the culmination of years of work, and I can’t screw it up. I’m not worried about the fabric. And I’m not really worried about having all my clothes just so. Okay, so maybe I am. But that’s not what’s at stake here, not this time.

The problem is that it reflects so much work and thought and study, that I can’t bear to mess it up. It’s not the dress–it’s putting to shame so much effort. If I put that much of myself into something and it winds up disaster, it’s reflects me, and my inability to learn or to teach. I have to get it right! And as long as I don’t finish it, I still might. The horrible moment of truth is when I do finish it, and put it on.

In other words, pride.

But, not only am I rather proud, I’m also a pretty stubborn. And the stubborn part of me is getting pretty disgusted with the proud part of me.

So what if wasn’t perfect? I still learned a lot. So what if I decide I’d rather it looked different? I can make another. So what if I accidentally cut through two layers at once, and ruin all my fabric? There’s more fabric out there, and I’d like to have a good deal of it. Just sew, already, sew!


This week looks like it might be kind of busy.

Maybe I’ll do it next week.


Posted in Contemplations | No Comments »

Prada and Fashion Phobia

January 20th, 2007 by tatterdemalion

In the January 18th, 2007 edition of the Wall Street Journal, an artical was run in the Personal Journal section entitled Prada vs. Prada: Overcoming Fashion Phobia. I found it interesting. For one thing, I had no idea there even was something called Fashion Phobia, and I certainly didn’t know that Miuccia Prada, the grand ol’ designer herself, has had Fashion Phobia.

In a nutshell, the article describes Fashion Phobia when they say “. . .Many of us can’t seem to get over the bias that equates a love of fashion with a low I.Q.“. Some symptoms were described as “being hooked by the irrational allure that makes a Louis Vuitton handbag of cotton and polyurethane worth $1,500“, “buy[ing] Vogue [a fashion magazine] at the airport where no one sees them” and “claim[ing] they bought a Chloe handbag half-price, even if they paid the full $1,300“.

As for Miuccia Prada, she initially resisted the whole fashion industry, instead pursuing a degree in political science. The article quotes her as saying, “I thought fashion was stupid because I thought there were more intelligent and nobel professions, like politics, medicine or science.

I found the article frustrating, though, because they made no distiction between fashion and clothing design, and to me there is a huge, cavernous difference between the two.

Prada also said in the article “Some say it’s about seduction, but I think that’s limiting. . .what you wear is how you present yourself ot the world, especially today when human contacts are so quick. Fashion is instant language. ” Well. . .yes, and no. I think she is right that clothing design can express a whole lot more than seduction, but fashion? Educate me: Exactly why is $1,500 worth of cotton and polyurethane necessary for expression? That’s fashion, not clothing design.

She continues, “Why aren’t people embarrassed to buy beautiful furniture or art for your house? what you wear says more about you than what you put in your home.” Very true. If I changed my house decor and furniture everytime a new issue of Vogue came out, I would be endlessly embarrassed. If I bought dinner plates simply because of the designer’s name etched in the back, I would be embarrassed. Why should it be any different with clothes?

She would seem to agree with me. “That’s why she scoffs at those who fall victim to logos instead of developing their own styles. “Buying a $5,000 handbag just because it’s a status symbol is a sign of weakness,” Ms. Prada said. “Daring to wear something different takes effort. And being elegant isn’t easy. You have to study it, like cuisine, music and art.”” But that, my dear, is not fashion–that is clothing design. Fasion is all about status and seduction and high price tags for nothing more than names and logos. The pursuit of fleeting clothing trends is frivolous. You have made no argument at all to embrace fashion, but rather to flee it. Has anyone even looked up the word “fashion” lately?

Do you mean to be a fashion designer, or a clothes designer? Consider carefully; those goals are much further apart than they can appear.

Posted in Articles, Design, Fashion | 1 Comment »

Vionnet Bias

January 14th, 2007 by tatterdemalion

Everybody loves Madeline Vionnet.

Most people will tell you this is because she created the bias.

Some people will be technical enough to say that she was the first to work with fabric cut on the bias, but even that I must confess I am too jaded to believe in it’s entirety. Certainly that is what Vionnet is famous for, though, and the word “Vionnet” and “bias” are sometimes almost interchangeable. If you wish to study clothing that has been made by being cut on the bias, you of course will be studying Vionnet.

In a large part, this is due to the fact that most people don’t do work on the bias. I’ve yet to try it myself, so I don’t know if there is a good reason for that, or just because there are too many rumors that it is scary and difficult, best left for experts, geniuses, and other people of human-surpassing ability. I’ve never been one to be put off by scary rumors, and from what I’ve seen of working on the bias, the hardest part is that it can unpredictable, and many people find unpredictablity scary. Since in this method the fabric hangs without either the support of the grain or the cross-grain, the fabric is very unstable, and much more susceptable to the whims of gravity.

Most of my study of bias hasn’t really been in conjunction with Vionnet, however. It’s actually been in conjunction with Charles Kleibacker. Since I find working on the bias to be intriguing, I also find Vionnet to be intriguing. I have sadly managed to see very little of Vionnet’s work so far, though everyone I’ve ever heard say anything about Vionnet pours out effusive praise until my eyes glaze over. Some day I will either dredge a copy of Madeline Vionnet by Betty Kirke out of the library by means of out-of-system inter-library-loan, or break down and spend the heart-skipping amount of money on buying the book.In the mean time, I did read the short (very short, even by the book’s standard) little piece in Secrets of the Couturiers by Frances Kennett. Sadly, it had very little to say, and certainly not even about the bias, or designing by draping (the other thing Vionnet is famous for). In fact, in reference to draping, it even goes so far as to hand out the stiff warning that “Modelling a toile [that is, draping a design right on a dressform or model] is a very complicated business. It takes many years of practice (besides a great measure of natural aptitude) to perfect, and is not something that can be learnt from a book, but only through experience.”

I suspect this is nothing but more scary rumors, which if nothing else certainly serves to heighten the fame and glory of Madeline Vionnet, who happened, then, to be twice brilliant: once at the terrifying bias, and secondly and the heart-freezing draping. Perhaps her chief trait was simply being brave, and not listening to nasty rumors. I believe that draping is simply a different way of thinking: those who like mathematical precision will always be scared by it, but those who are visual learners could quite possibly find it easier.

At any rate, Kennet spews the usual amount of superlatives, and assures that no matter how you cut the word “couturier” Vionnet made the cut: Supporting the Chambre Syndical de la Couture Parisienne, high class clientele, suitably innovative and original, shocking yet classic, a great technician in construction, and a right good old business woman.

On page 39, Vionnet is quoted as saying, “One must examine the anatomy of every customer. The dress must not hang on the body but follow it’s lines. It must accomapany its wearer and when a woman smiles the dress must smile with her. The direction of the material, the weave, and the cross lines on the one hand; precision, cut, proportion and balance on the other–that is what I oppose to the term fashion, which is an empty word and completely meaningless to a real dressmaker.

I am sorry to say I don’t think she held too fiercely to that sentiment. Later in that same page, it goes on to say “When stiffer, wider-skirted styles seemed to be returning in the autumn of 1934, she had the courage to scrap an entire collection in time to start again, producing clothes that captured the mood of the moment to perfection, including not soft-draped satins but wide-skirted taffetas.” I should like to think I would have designed what I wanted to and never mind what anyone elses mood might be, but then, I probably would have wound up eating out of dustbins. One cannot overly begrudge one for wanting to keep a bit of padding in the bank account. Nonetheless, the virtue of “being sensitive to the mood of the moment” is often and loudly brought up throughout the book, so I suppose it ought to be added to the list of couturier requirements (and yet another reason why I fail).

Posted in Books, Couture, Vionnet | 2 Comments »