A year ago I attended patten-cutting classes at Morley College, London to brush up my skills, and to meet new friends. It was a fun class and I met Galina (in red, centre). She is a talented craftswoman and I commissioned her to make a necklace for me, which I treasure. Recently she treated me to the Colour exhibition (with commentary) at the National Gallery, after which I asked her to tell us more about herself and her sewing.
I first got into making clothes in 1987 when I was 12 years old. This was the year when Burda Moden started publishing their Russian edition in the Soviet Union.
It was the time of Gorbachev’s perestroika and Burda was the first western periodical to get onto the Soviet market. The popularity of this magazine was enormous. It was bright, colourful, modern, hard-to-get, and oh, sooo desirable. I don’t know whether it was the mere fact that those garments were designed in the “west”, or the absence of alternative fashion magazines, but the looks offered by Burda were unanimously accepted as stylish, modern, and different. Indeed, they were so different from anything the Soviet fashion industry had to offer. The photograph below was kindly supplied by Ludmila Zapletuka. It shows me in a culotte-dress and red velvet jacket, an outfit I entered (but didn’t win) into a Burda competition.
Preparing a pattern was not an easy job – you had to identify the style and size by a specific coloured line, and trace off all the pieces.
Luckily we subscribed to Burda throughout my teenage years and this was when I learned to sew. The clear and well structured instructions for each pattern were my text-book. And my mum was a great help too. She, in her turn, had studied sewing and pattern cutting with a private teacher and when we were growing up she enjoyed making clothes in her free time. My elder sister also made her clothes and at times our flat resembled a sewing studio, where the kitchen table was used for cutting fabric and constructing the garments.
I made my own clothes for about ten years, and that included everything from bikini to outwear. For a long time this was a cheap and easy way to create the looks I wanted. I certainly enjoyed making clothes a lot. There are many things I forgot about those days but I still remember very vividly every piece I made. I considered dressmaking as a future career, but my parents talked me out of it and I became a teacher of English instead. I stopped making clothes as soon as I started working. I guess I believed that, as a sign of maturity, I would now buy pret-a-porter with my own salary.
My revived interest in dressmaking, and more precisely pattern cutting, is fairly recent. After about a fifteen-year break I have decided to take my sewing skills to the next level and start sewing to my own patterns. I have now done two years at Morley College studying pattern cutting.
Between classes I work part-time. About a year ago I became a seamstress for a Mayfair alterations studio. We mainly focus on luxury menswear for a number of local shops, but also do alterations for private female clients. Doing alterations is a very challenging job. In a way it is similar to surgery. You usually work on a small part of the garment and have to be very precise. Your stitching has to blend in with original seams and the altered garment should look like it hadn’t been played around with at all.
My most recent finished project (there are a few unfinished ones!) is a bolero jacket. Our client was going to a Christening in a strapless dress, and wanted something to cover her shoulders in church. I designed a bolero jacket with raglan sleeves. I made up a pattern based on my bodice block, and produced a toile first.
Making a garment in lace requires patient matching of the pattern, for example to make both sleeves and front work together. I used French seams all around for a neat look inside. Even on the armholes, which is quite challenging as the seams are very curved. I cut out a long strip of the lace along one of the selvages and sewed it on the edge around the whole jacket.
And here is the finished jacket. I was pleased with it, and thankfully so was our client.
I’m a bit nostalgic about twentieth century fashion and try to recreate some of the retro looks. At the same time I feel that many commercial patterns leave me rather disappointed – never quite living up to their promise. This is why I’m so keen on working with my own patterns, having full control over the design lines I want to create. I have tried several pattern cutting books for drafting my basic blocks, and my favourite one is Natalie Bray’s Dress Pattern Designing. It is a classic pattern cutting book that gives a most thorough analysis of pattern construction and fit. At the moment, sewing is more a part-time hobby than a full-time job. However, I would like to do more full cycle projects like the bolero jacket in the future and perhaps start my own business.