Design choices – How far would you go?

posted in: Designing, Style advice | 8

In June I started to learn a new skill – draping, or modelling, on the stand. The summer term covered dresses; this term it is skirts.

In case you don’t know what I am talking about we are making patterns for garments using the draping method. We take fabric, work with a stand or mannequin, and create a shape that we can turn into a dress, or a skirt. It is a completely different technique to the other way of making patterns for clothes with a piece of paper, a set square, a set of measurements and a pencil. It is quite freeing, and less constrained. It has lots of rules but there is plenty of opportunity to create unique designs and styles.

Draping a peg skirt at Morley College
Draping a peg skirt at Morley College

I have been sharing my thinking and some pictures of skirts that could be created this way. And I have had lots of interesting feedback to share.

When I posted some of my inspiration pictures Jay asked me a very good question:

My favourites are the last three in the small illustrations, of which the final two would probably be most practical or wearable for me. I’m sure you will come up with something ‘less predictable’ than variations on the classic – are you looking to end up with something you can fit into your wardrobe, or treating it as a design experiment?

Mrs Mole put the same thing another way

It is all well and good to wrap fabric around a body or mannequin and do clever pleats and such but does it say anything about the wearer other than, “Look at my big hips/butt”? I find most of these very shapeless and awkward…sorry…my mind will not climb that mountain.

Finally a very honest comment from Anne, who is also learning about Japanese design at an evening class.

These (Japanese style) garments don’t fit into my style.

Here is my take on this.

Draping encourages creativity as it doesn’t have to start with a sketch or a clear idea. You can let the fabric do the creating, and test things out in practice. I wear skirts for work, most days, and many of the styles I currently wear – variations on a straight skirt, or an A line, can easily be created with flat pattern cutting. So the draping allows me to go much further with design and fabric than I can easily envisage. I am still working within my relatively novice skills, and in a class with a set of projects.

So to answer the three commenters.

  • Yes, I am trying to make something I can wear. This is the whole point of sewing for me.
  • I want a garment that fits well, looks attractive, that is “wearable”, and “flattering”.
  • I also want a bit of fizz, a little incitement – a small rebellion in my rather conservative world, perhaps?

So in summary I want to make something a little different, but not too outlandish, or ridiculous.

And there is one more point, from Mary.

But if you remotely think you would have an opportunity to wear a full length skirt with a sheer overlay and embroidery I would love to see it!

I think she is saying that while the design might not be outlandish, when might we have an occasion to wear something “special”? I remember when I first started making clothes in the 1980s. My teacher encouraged me to make stunning  OTT garments – using beautiful fabrics, surface embellishment, colour and detail. She made me push the boundaries of my own skills and design choices. If I said “I could never wear a satin, patchwork jacket” she suggested wearing it with jeans. Or a T shirt. Or trainers.

Draped on the stand maxi dress
Circle dress

In my view Avant Garde pattern cutting is not an “occasion” issue. You can wear draped or creative patterns every day. It is how you wear them.

My circle dress might look amazing on Michelle Obama at a state banquet in heavy weight crepe backed satin. But I like it in cheap, market-stall fabric, on a Saturday afternoon, with trainers. I went to the park with the grandchildren and felt just great in this dress.

What do you think? How far would you go? Would you wear something that made your “hips/butt” look enormous? Would you have a design experiment that you would never be able to wear? Do you stick to boring classics? Or do you make things that are “out there” but never actually wear them.


8 Responses

  1. Linde

    Always wear something that pleases you and not everyone else. If you feel good then you look good. Whatever you wear there will always be someone who has a negative comment so wear what makes you happy.

  2. Sam

    I agree with Anne, your desire for wearable, attractive and well fitting items with a bit of fizz sounds perfect!

    I am just learning flat pattern drafting and at the moment I don’t think I’d ever be tempted to design and make something I’d never wear, just to see how it works/comes together, but in time, who knows!

  3. Jay

    You can and should wear what you feel comfortable in, and wearable, attractive but with a special something sounds perfect. I like way out, very experimental design for its own sake, but much of it wouldn’t be wearable or attractive on me, which is limiting. When I want to work through an idea I wouldn’t be able to wear, I use my half scale stand. That gets it out of the way.

  4. Stephanie

    I agree with the others that one should wear what one likes and feels good in! I sometimes branch out into unusual colour combinations or more unusual/random combinations of shapes. When I was younger I used to buy much more experimental design from a couple of little ateliers in Montreal and I loved the feeling of being a little bit different, of exposing different facets of myself.

    That said, I don’t think classics are at all “boring.” I get a secret thrill when I see someone wearing an exceptionally well-tailored pair of trousers, for example. The small details and perfect construction sing out in such a garment, and it’s beautiful to see how the garment fits and moves with the wearer. I get a little thrill in Florence when I see someone who clearly has chosen something made beautifully and combines it in a personal and elegant way with different accents and textures, etc. Often they are wearing what you might label “classics” but the careful way that the wearer has combined fabrics, textures and details make the wearer stand out in a crowd.

    I have more experience with experimental design in knitwear. Something I’ve found with more experimental construction techniques and shapes is that they frequently don’t hold up as well to natural patterns of wear and use, etc. I’d like to become more creative again in my knitting, although on the other hand when I make something I want it to be something that will be used to an extent commensurate with the time I put into making it.

  5. Maggie

    I am still at the boring classics stage because I am building my wardrobe and just hoping a new pattern fits and looks decent is risky enough right now. LOL I keep telling my husband I am wearing “experimental pants”- first test wear of a new pattern, I am sure he wonders what would happen in the case of catastrophic failure. Anyway, I think when I want to experiment with things of a more artistic nature I tend to do it with decorative items and not garments.

  6. Kim Hood

    I do tend toward a classic wardrobe style but I would like to wear more adventurous clothing. I shy away because of my location (small Midlands Georgian town), and age (mid fifties) but I tend to get more compliments when I do push the boundaries. Bravery is obviously to be recommended as long as you wear the clothes rather than them wearing you.

  7. Jennifer Miller

    I liked Kim’s comment about bravery, that is something that’s been lacking in my choices – for years! Had financial limitations for a long time, body issues for ever, and now am trying (not always successfully) to climb out of the old routine of cheap and frumpy. Frumpy! Yuck. I’m constantly inspired by the experienced sewists who can push boundaries and make the most simple design look magnificent!

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