Embellishment project – machine embroidery with beading
The final project at MFI was to show skill in hand embellishment. I was all set to tambour embroider (chain stitch) a beautiful tiled design I’d sketched when I suddenly realised – “only 4 weeks till deadline and I have 10 days of Northern Territory holiday in there – yikes!”. I did the usual panic, started and stopped a whole slew of designing and then pounced on the idea of using the already tried and tested bustier from Princess’ formal Dress which would sit beautifully under the first assessment piece – her tuxedo jacket.
Panic #2 – how to ’embellish’ the bustier – get the feeling I panic a lot?! Our fabulous London based tambour beading teacher, Janet Timms, once said during our classes – “do whatever is quickest, if you have an embroidery machine, why wouldn’t you use it?”. I wouldn’t use it because I am an artisan snob and believe that handwork is a necessary self-flagellation demonstrating the superiority of man over machine which results in the legendary status of ‘art’. Then I wake up from this nightmare and get real!
The peacock feather embroidery was purchased from Urban Threads years ago. So I fiddled for about 3 days, positioning, flipping, trialling size and thread colours. The construction should have been easy because I’ve made this pattern before but the wool/spandex was a cow to work with; just as it was with the tux jacket. Allegedly 98% wool and 2% spandex, but I’d wager there’s more than 2% spandex in there. This stuff is way stretchier than 2% lycra should allow. Use steam and it changes from a smooth operator to a wrinkly elephant skin – an ageing process Hollywood make up artists can only envy!
After the feathers were machine embroidered using a silk organza base over the wool, frayed to give a ‘feathery’ effect, the embroidery was beaded. It seemed to need more of something, so more gold beads were added to the bodice area. Princess was travelling to a post school camping trip and I anticipated fitting problems – so straps! I wanted this baby to stay up should she fade away to nothing, but also to differentiate this design from the silk dress.
Bonus content – Shark Attack
Princess rang me from the camping ground saying there were police and ambulances – no idea why? I said, “could it be a shark attack?”, “nah, don’t think so”. We hung up. I opened my Ipad to a news flash on the screen “Man bitten by great white shark at Booti Booti NP”. Ummm, I called Princess straight back “don’t go in the water whatever you do”!! News report about the great white attack and some luvverly footage of sharks feeding (on salmon) here.
Fully canvassed tuxedo jacket
So travelling back in time… the tuxedo jacket was the first assessment for my Melbourne Fashion Institute Course, designed and drafted from an MFI jacket block. Princess was never going to fit into an average sized draft, it may have been quicket to start from scratch in hindsight. It took 3 toiles to ‘get good’. As well as her ‘natural assets’ there were the ups and downs of her final year 12 exams etc. Fitting was constantly changing and if you look closely, you’ll see that the pants I drafted and made the night before the final fashion parade in December no longer errrrm, fit. They are hiking upwards quite a bit to find extra space for the high hip, giving the illusion of a too short crotch curve. Forgive me then if I throw jacket photographs taken a few months ago into the mix. The jacket fit better then!
The trickiest part of the design for this jacket was fitting the underbust. Going from 100cm down to 71cm waist with a very short distance before rapid expansion in the high hip, this is a good amount of suppression over a short length! I found the answer to my suppression problem in Natalie Bray’s More Dress Pattern Designing, classic ed. 2015 but first pub 1964. You can preview the book on Scribd here. Waist shaping is covered at page 108.
By using Ms Bray’s suggested bias dart at the waist, the jacket fit a great deal better with less drag lines. For jacket construction I used Roberto Cabrera’s Classic Techniques for Menswear. Many well respected tailors recommend this book – superb. The step by step instructions with illustration are an excellent walk through for sewing a classically tailored jacket, it was consulted at every step. Cutter and Tailor Forums are excellent information hubs, you should begin here.There is of course no substitute for seeing something demonstrated with your own two eyes and if you cannot have Brita Hirsch at your side, then perhaps there is a tailoring school nearby with seasoned, experienced tailoring instructors?
Classic/traditional tailoring vs. modern tailoring
At this point we should discuss the various definitions of tailoring. As I understand it, TRADITIONAL tailoring in it’s truest sense is a method of applying canvas, horsehair or their equivalent modern (synthetic) substrates to wool or wool blend cloth by hand and sometimes by speciality machinery which mimics hand sewing. Once you introduce machines into the mix it gets muddy. Is it still traditionally tailored if you use a blindstitch machine to padstitch the canvas? Maybe yes, maybe no, I’d think it depends on the person doing the machining to a great degree. The fabric is manipulated with steam, heat and stitches to shrink and expand the garment as necessary. I was most concerned about the rippling on the satin lapel and am pleased to report that Brita Hirsch – Master Tailor, reassured me that classic tailoring will never be as smooth as it’s modern fused counterpart – phew, thought it was just me!! So why use classic tailoring? Fit is in the hands of a master – exceptional. The wool has been shrunk and stretched to fit the curves of the body beautifully and this method has great longevity, it can be unpicked and let out or taken in whereas the presence of fusibles may inhibit that…plus they have less life since over time most fusibles will delaminate. Then there’s that artisanal flavour that you can’t achieve any other way!
So I add a caveat to the above paragraph. If you want an ultra smooth finish and are using ‘modern’ fabrics with a close to very close fitting design, you may be best advised to use a combination of modern fusibles and sew-in interfacings in preference to a full or half canvassed method. As you can see in these photographs, in a classic tailoring method there will be some lumpiness. Mine is by no means perfect, and there are definitely some things I’d do differently next time, a fully canvassed method may not have been ideal in this situation. 98% wool 2% lycra fabric was ridiculously unforgiving, it snagged, it crept, it wrinkled. Do yourself a favour and use a nice light wool melton or something a bit tweedy for your first traditionally tailored jacket, the hand stitches will melt into it and disappear while your pressing efforts will not go to waste. I’m not crazy about how the collar is sitting away from the garment in the photo above and I notice the lapel points are curling weirdly!
The buttonholes were machine made at a buttonholer in Melbourne. I was not at all happy with the result and praise the gods I will be going back to Sydney where my buttonhole man does an excellent keyhole buttonhole. I saved the look by hand sewing bartacks at the end of every. single. one. A task I hadn’t anticipated taking so much time and boy was I powering through the bartacks minutes before the project was to be handed in.
Well worth it though, the buttonholes looked 500% better! Whoever does keyholes without a bartack anyway? And yes, they all open!
Love the melton undercollar and will use this method again. I would not however, ever handstitch the upper collar at the neck edge again. Unless I’m shown how to do it tighter/better. Sorry no pic of that, but its loosey goosey and thankfully is rarely seen! The padstitching is a bit too visible and is evidence of why you should hon your skills on a meatier fabric before attempting something smooth!
Design wise I was delighted with my efforts, not sure there is anything I’d change and I have to thank my teachers for their input. The head teacher – Karen, who is herself an excellent patternmaker/designer encouraged me to tilt the hip pockets more and more and yet more which gives the jacket a more feminine look and accentuates the waist. Also, lower the break point more, more, more! I designed the breast pocket to be assymetric. The italian tailor I visited thought that was hilarious, he said he recalled he did things like that all those years ago! Unfortunately despite being suitably stabilised the breast pocket kept stretching because by making it large at one end and small at the other it introduces a degree of bias. After trying everything I finally p(r)ickstitched the upper edge to stabilise. Love the bartacks though, aren’t they pretty?!
I am also very pleased with the shape of the lapels, they turn upwards just a little and despite being a complete pain in the bum to sew, lots of fabric in such a small space, I think once again, the curves look more feminine and curvaceous. I was tempted to create a flower buttonhole on the lapel but after watching the buttonhole guy do the others, I stopped him short! The lining was supposed to be 100% silver, but the MFI iron spat all over the lining permanently water staining it. I am not sure why a triacetate lining should be so unforgiving? Surely blokes are going to sweat in their lined jackets, then what happens? There was no replacement silver to be had and so I opted for red – pretty! And it was hand applied, the only person in the class to go to the trouble – Cabrera to the rescue again!
Thank you for getting to the bottom of this post, apologies for the length, there was so much to say! This has been a mammoth year and in 2 weeks we will pack up our house and return to Sydney after an almost 3 week holiday in Canada. Princess will start Architecture and Environments at Syd. Uni. while #1 son starts his 4th year of law and the next chapter of our lives begins. Hopefully we’ll be selling our inner city home ASAP and moving to Sydney’s Northern Beaches more permanently – taking 2018 bookings now 😉
Finally, a huge thank you to the Princess, my fave model who was one of only 2 non professional models in the MFI parade of about 15 professional models. Unfortunately in my photos of the parade Princess’ make up makes her look like C3PO from Star Wars with a cameo by the guys head in front. But here she is, as I’ve said before, one of the 2 best things I’ve ever made and #1 son is the other!