Tuesday, June 4, 2019

One size “does not” fit all

Over the past 2 decades, the cost of production of garments has gone down drastically. With brands like H&M and Zara offering clothing for less than $5 people are not really  keen on spending money to first buy fabric and then to pay tailors to sew it. One would argue about the economic prudence of getting a bespoke dress done when a mass produced product is available for a fraction of the cost.
Yes it's true that one can buy clothing at very low prices at these brand outlets or even on some China based online platforms but there are many reasons why tailor made clothes are superior to the store bought ones from the perspective of quality to environmental aspects, which I will touch upon in the coming chapters. But one of the most important reasons why tailor made clothing (whether you sew it yourself or get it stitched for you) will always stand way above the ready-made clothing is the “Size”. Customized clothing is based on your measurements. Let's face it, not all of us have a perfectly proportioned body, although the garment manufacturers would love to believe so  (we would love to believe that too!) They follow their standard measurement charts for different sizes. You see a small tag at the back the garment that says S M L or 6,8,10 along with the brand label?  Those are the size categories the brands have followed. So your upper body might be size 6 or 8 but lower body might be 10-12 or vice e versa. Many people struggle with this measurement mismatch and alter their store or online bought clothes which explains the sudden influx of alteration specialized shops.
Another way to combat the sizing issues is to work with fabrics that are stretchable in nature. Stretchable fabrics are quite forgiving when it comes to fitting and you can easily accommodate two sizes in one garment.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Visualizing your Design - The very start

More often than not, dress making is perceived as a complicated form of art that has too many technical aspects to it. Newbies, whether you are a first semester fashion design student or a self-learner, often get intimidated by these technicalities. If you are first semester Fashion student, you wouldn’t have much choice, however others conveniently resort to their friendly neighborhood  tailors for their sewing needs.
But honestly dress making is  a simple process as long as we keep the end result in perspective.

To make things simple I would like to divide the whole process of dress making in four parts —

Your ability to imagine an outfit on completion, in it’s full glory. And thereon your ability to work backwards and translate that three dimensional visual onto a two dimensional paper or fabric. This transition from concept to product gets better with every well executed project.

I started making my clothes early on  in life. It was more an act of survival. Being a middle child with an elder sister and a younger brother most of my clothes were hand me down. Now that I have two daughters, I understand the joy and pride the younger one feels in owing her sisters clothes. I felt the same joy when I received my sisters’ clothes. The only problem here was they were  over sized, and I literally swam in them. So, I would say my experience with clothes had more to do with alterations than making them from the scratch. I would put on those over sized clothes on my petite body and start putting the safety pins around the waist to create the darts, pull in the shoulders to settle the cloth  on it and even fold up the hem to reduce the length to match my height. My motivation was simple – I was getting something new to wear. It’s not that I did not have my share of new clothes, but I understood early in life that for a girl there’s never too many dresses.  Hence  the moment  my sister got her new dresses I would start imagining them on me, if I did not  like the design or the style I would imagine how I could rip open the seams and redesign it to my liking. That imagination is the key.

Before you even start taking the measurements for yourself or for someone you want to sew you have to imagine and visualize that garment on the body. For which its also important to understand the body, its shape and curves. Body is the platform where your dress will develop. Your measurement will help you understand the body but your visual will make you understand how the design will drape and fall on that  surface. Of course it would help if you belong to the same gender as the clothes you plan to make. for example women would find it easier to visualize women clothing than men but with time and after taking many measurements one starts to understand the body well.

Another important aspect to visualization is the communication of that visual. Its not just enough to be able to see the design in your mind, unless you are the one who is sewing that design one should be able to translate that design visual first on the paper and then on the fabric. 

 I firmly believe pattern drafting is the back bone of dress making and a good pattern leads to good fabric cutting. Sewing is just a matter of attaching pieces of fabric together that can be mastered by consistent practice. With the accurate body measurements and the instructions you can achieve the basic fit and design and with time can incorporate more creative and innovative patterns in your dress making.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

I am a Dress Designer not God

As a part of my job, I come across many kinds of customers. If I were to categorize them, I would put all of them into two categories. The first type would be those who completely trust me as a designer and give me the creative freedom to design and sew their outfits. Their design brief includes a few things like the occasion where the dress will be worn, color preferences and whether the occasion demands any theme or specific color to be followed. These days, almost everything has a theme, be it baby showers, birthday parties or weddings. But I must confess, I have not yet come across a funeral with a theme. Thankfully, these have not become a trend yet, and hopefully, will never become one.
The second type would be the ones who trust their own design instinct and abilities more than anyone else. They often come with an air brushed picture of the design worn by a 5 ft 8 inch tall model, and they want me to sew “that” design “exactly” as it appears in the picture. While that may sound like a perfectly reasonable ask, it does sound like a stretch when they demand that the dress should make them look exactly like the 5 ft 8 inch tall model!

For asks like this, I humbly present my point of view. A couple of issues with these type of requests:
Firstly, the physical characteristics of the model in question could possibly be different  from the client. Height, complexion and body measurements of the model, who looks fabulous in that dress is also likely to be different.  Every design needs to be seen in context. What looks good on one body type need not necessarily look good on another.  I do not subscribe to the concept of mass producing some designs for people of different physical characteristics to buy, just because it looks good on a fashion model. A classic example of this would be “Anarkalis” (a long, frock-styled Indian outfit that is usually paired with a slim fitted bottom). How I have prayed for this fad to pass and common sense become more common. There was a point of time when I wanted to put a banner in front of my shop saying – “If you want to get an Anarkali stitched, the seamstress is on vacation.”

Secondly, even if I succeed in convincing the customer about the design of the dress and offer to change the design to suit their body type, in some semi stitched or precut garments there isn't much scope for modifying the dress. The design is already predetermined.

My point here is that whether you tailor makes your outfit or you buy off the rack not every design should or can be worn by everyone. Just because it's in vogue doesn't mean everyone  should have it. When we are young and exploring our style by experimenting with different type of garments, if some days our style doesn't hit the key it's still understandable but after a certain age one should know what looks good on them and there is no excuse to look disastrous.

My view is that it is always ok to stick to classics and minimalistic designs that can't go wrong, irrespective of who wears them. But if you want to look fashionable then it is advisable that you know which fashion and style works for you. The other option of course is to let your designer do their job. While designing a dress, one should keep the body type, complexion and height in context before deciding on the design. That's where the visualization plays an important role. Spending some time visualising yourself wearing a dress may help you make the right decision.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

How to draw fashion figures - Faces

Fashion drawing unlike any other ‘realistic fine art genre’ is quite achievable as it does not demand to be very detail oriented. As long as you get your proportions right (which I will talk about in another blog soon) you can pretty much qualify as a fashion illustrator. Firstly one needs to understand the basic idea behind making fashion drawings. Primarily fashion drawings are done to depict your design ideas on paper so that before you actually make an effort to sew them you can have a fair enough idea how they are going to look. Hence the emphasis is more on the Garments fall, draping, the fabric used and the details rather than the details of the fashion figure itself. It’s not meant to be very realistic in terms of the body details but as far as garment goes you can be as realistic as you want to be. I have also seen illustrations that have real pieces of fabric.

One of the most challenging part of a figure drawing however is the face. You can still get away with body not being perfect or looking a bit disproportionate but faces have expressions, they need to look balanced and human (and not aliens!) 
Having said that faces too need not be very detailed, for example you can get away with not drawing eyes or facial features all together but do get the positions and poses of the face right. It should be in sync with the body pose. You cannot have head looking backward when body is facing front (unless you are working on Gothic collection!) 

In order to achieve accurate and appropriate position of the head and face the best technique that I followed when and I initially started drawing fashion figures was by keeping a medium size ball with lines drawn as half and quarter circle. Though human face isn’t perfectly round, it’s more like an oval shape but that elongation could be added later on. Once you master making these round shapes you could easily fill in the lower jaw part. 

Here are some of the potential shapes that you can make. Try to figure out as many positions by turning the ball. 

Once you are confident making these round circles with the lines starts adding the lower part of the face, which would be slightly longer, turning this round shape into an oval one. Try to keep eye level line, nose line, lip line and chine line parallel to each other.  

Let’s try few poses - 

Once you are happy with the shapes, one of the best way to practice them and get a hang of them is by highlighting them with a black  marker pen and tracing these figures as many times as possible. Very soon you will be drawing them without any difficulty. 

Like any other art form these too require a lot of patience and practice so do keep a note pad handy and soon you will get a hang of it. 

All the best !

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Tailoring Baju Kurung, Cheongsam and Sari Blouse

When I started sewing at the age of 11, without my even realizing I was actually using the draping method to sew my own clothes. For those who are new to pattern drafting terms, Fashion draping is an important part of fashion design. Draping for fashion design is the process of positioning and pinning fabric on a dress form (in my case it was my own body using safety pins) to develop the structure of a garment design. After draping, the fabric is removed from the dress form and used to create the sewing pattern for the garment. 
Until I joined a proper fashion degree college I was quite happy and pleased by the results and had actually started considering myself a self –taught- genius- fashion designer! To my surprise and dismay all my beliefs were shaken to the core when I was introduced to the world of systematic and calculative pattern drafting. That’s when I realized that pattern drafting of any product is no joke. It’s a combination of science, math and loads of logics. I soon was humbled enough to adapt this new method and since then I have never taken my patterns lightly no matter how simple the design was. 
Now that I’m a professional dressmaker and a teacher more often than less I am confronted with this question - “how do Tailors make clothes with only few measurements and why does a particular tradition garment (sari blouse, cheongsam, Baju kurungs etc) are cut directly on fabric without having to make patterns!?”

To my understanding a dress maker should be able to make any design irrespective of their cultural background or expertise in a garment belonging to that particular culture. I believe the basics and fundamentals should and will remain the same no matter what. Your method can be different from mine but as long as it gives the same end result it shouldn’t matter. 
To answer this question I selected a sari blouse design and cut the pattern using my professional dress making basics the end result was fantastic but it took me twice as time as any local Tailor would take. So here’s my answer - yes it’s a fact that local Tailors take way too less measurements and often don’t  require to draft their patterns on paper before cutting the fabric but it is also a fact that besides their own traditional garments seldom they can sew any other designs. Try giving your local sari blouse or Punjabi suit tailor a western evening gown or boot cut pants! You’ll know what I mean. No offense to them they are by all means very skilled individuals with years of precious experience but the fact remains the same - their method of learning and practice is restricted to a particular design and is often learnt from a senior master tailor who passes on their own short cuts that they figured out during their own sewing journeys. These methods and tricks are learnt and absorbed without asking the “whys” behind them and hence although they give great results they often fail to display creativity and innovation in designs. 
As a dress maker you yourself will develop many tricks and short cuts of your own but when you teach someone your skill make sure you hand them down the full extensive methods and let them make their own mistakes and find their own tricks :)   

Happy Sewing !

Friday, May 6, 2016

Seam Allowance - why not !

Seam allowance  (sometimes called inlays) as Wikipedia defines it is the area between the edge and the stitching line on two (or more) pieces of material being stitched together. Seam allowances can range from 14inch (6.4 mm) wide to as much as several inches.

Now it is but obvious that creating a seam allowance is a bit of a lengthy work especially when you are trying to create a uniform seam allowance i.e. Making extra effort by measuring the seam and marking accurately. We do sometime get tempted to skip this step and directly go ahead with cutting the fabric by assuming the allowance ( I myself have been guilty of doing the same! ) But if you can actually do an eye measurement and gauge the allowance just by assuming ( which obviously mean you have been sewing for quite some  time and can tell the measurement by just merely looking at it ) I would say go ahead and cut the damn fabric!! But if by any chance you are a beginner , which means either this is your first garment or you have sewn 2-3 garments already then please do take the pains of measuring the seam allowance , mark accurately and then only cut the fabric. Here is the reason why - as a beginner your sewing on the machine becomes much easier if you have your lines drawn clearly on your fabric. But as you get experience you might not spend so much time and effort drawing your lines on each and every piece  of the fabric cut hence your straight stitches can only be ensured if you align your edge of the fabric to the lines marked next to the machine foot. 

If the seam allowance itself is not uniform your sewing on the machine too will not be straight. The logic I often give for  spending a little extra time and effort on uniform seam allowance is - "the amount of time spent on removing your stitches is much more than the amount of time spent on marking uniform seam allowance !!" Hence do mark the seam accurately and equally.
Happy sewing !

Friday, August 2, 2013


 A hem in sewing is a garment finishing method, where the edge of a piece of cloth is folded narrowly and sewn to prevent unraveling of the fabric.
During my teaching sessions I often see students (beginner level) struggling to keep the hem folded while they can sew it and for obvious reasons they do get stressed. So here are few tips and techniques that can help you hem comfortably making the whole process enjoyable and relaxing.

1. Pinning: fold the edges using the pins and then hem.

2. Tacking: fold the edges and do a long distant running stitch on it with a single thread. Once you are done with the hem simply remove the running stitch by pulling the end thread!

3. Ironing: you can fold the edges and iron on it. But this technique is more useful if you are dealing with a cotton fabric.

4. Fabric glue: there are lots of brands in the market like Sewing box, Quick sew etc. that would easily hem folded while you sew them.

Here is a simple recipe to make fabric glue right in your kitchen. All u need is some white flour and warm water. Just mix 1/2 teaspoon of flour in 4 tea spoon of warm or hot water. Mix it nicely and thoroughly to avoid any lumps . Once the paste is smooth apply it on the edges with a thin brush and press fold the hem.

Hope you found the information useful!
Happy sewing!
Kalpana Singh