In mid May, my sister and I attended a five day class in Palm Springs with sewing expert and historian of couture fashion, Claire Shaeffer. It was our second Sewfari Workshop. Since we have relatives in the area, we combined it with a big family get-together.
The topic of this class was couture tailoring. In the course of five days, we learned techniques to make Claire’s new Vogue pattern, 9099, based on an Yves Saint Laurent jacket in her collection. The purpose was not to make a finished garment. Instead, we received a scaled down pattern and all the supplies necessary to make half a jacket, complete with interfacing, pad stitching, and lining. Although five days sounds like a long time, I did not manage to finish.
Claire’s classes are part sewing lessons, part history lessons. She uses her large collection of couture garments as examples, removing jacket linings to illustrate different construction techniques and design details. We learned how the highly structured Yves Saint Laurent jackets, modeled closely on menswear, differ from those by Valentino, Chanel, and Balenciaga. I was especially intrigued by a tailoring technique called “iron work,” in which steam and pressing are used to change the direction of the fabric’s grain. In the photo above, the grain on left facing has been altered so that the edge is no longer on the bias. That simultaneously strengthens the edge and gives the jacket a more elegant look.
Part of the fun of these workshops is meeting other people who share your passions. The other ten women in the group included three sewing professionals, who really raised the level of discussion. Two from Boise, Erin Retelle and Barbie McCormick, run an inventive sewing school. My table mate was the former state auditor of Hawaii, Marian Higa, famous for her financial rigor and excellent sewing skills. Ingrid Bee, who took detailed videos and photos, came all the way from Germany.
In this phase of my life I don’t make many tailored jackets, so what did I learn that I will use in my everyday sewing life? Here are three things I’ve already put to use. I’m paying much more attention to pressing, a magic construction tool. Sleeve heads have always been a weak area on my garments, and I learned ways to make them look more professional. But most of all, I have become a convert to hand basting. Getting out needle and thread is a sure fire method to make seams match and tricky parts come together where they should. I’m sure Claire would be pleased. After all, she jokes, her full name is Claire B. Shaeffer—and the B. stands for baste.
Although Claire keeps threatening to retire, more Sewfari workshops are planned. Take a look at her updated website here.