Suggestions on Vivian's Fashion Journal 1
Pauline Weston Thomas for Fashion-Era.com
Suggestions on Vivian's Fashion Journal 1, in an Open Letter to
A few months ago, earlier in 2004, Vivian wrote and told me of
her dream to pursue a fashion career. Vivian's letter was one that sparked
my interest to seek more information about her. She elaborated that
she was a doctor, but her dream was to become a fashion designer and with
that aim in mind she was for the time being abandoning medicine and starting
a fashion course this autumn 2004.
Perceiving her to be a very sincere and
articulate person, well able to explain herself I invited her to keep a
journal of her experience of attending a fashion course. We both
realised how useful it would be for anyone embarking on a new fashion design
course and a career change. I also felt Vivian would benefit from
writing down her thoughts on this experience to later look back on them with
a measure of comprehension.
I felt an empathy with Vivian because I was
27 when I went to study Dress and Design at university. I too had a nine
year career previous to that in a large banking organization so I knew what a
challenge she was setting herself, putting herself on the line to her amazed
friends and being desperate to succeed and satisfy her creative expression. I know she will succeed
already, because she is committed to improving and learning skills very
different from those used in medicine and yet not so very different.
Skills that demand patience to get things right, trial and error and seeing
a job through. Skills that will make her feel creative and fulfilled
and a head bursting with imaginative ideas she cannot get out fast enough.
To help her and you reader, I shall sometimes comment on her journal
entries. To read the full web page of her first 4 weeks go
An Open Letter to Vivian
Vivian wrote - <<Today I went to pay the fees at the
institute of fashion study. This is a branch of the main institute,
which is based in Cairo. I live in Alexandria ...I just started my first steps towards a
career in fashion design, and to tell you the truth I feel somewhat
anxious........one of my school friends, whom was a fashion consultant, told
her daughter that I have a talent for fashion design.....>>
- Vivian, follow your dreams with the passion
that is so obvious to anyone who reads how thrilled you are to be at last
doing this course. I hope it lives up to your expectations. But as in
most things in life what we put in ourselves, we get back threefold. So you have
hard work ahead and hopefully lots of satisfaction. Apprehension is
normal when you start something new and unfamiliar. It will soon pass. Already by the end of your first 3 weeks I notice a certain confidence that
you will do this and see it through. To be told you have a talent for
fashion design by various people must encourage you to know you can succeed.
Vivian wrote - <<The study has 2 main courses. One is the
"fashion design", and it is the artistic part of the study.
At the end of this course I will be able to find my own design style, and
know how to design for all ages and body forms. We will also know how to
design seasonal collections. We will also know about various drawing and
colouring techniques....the other is the pattern study and execution of
clothes, and this is the technical part. The pattern study
course will enable me to produce a plan for the garment on paper, and
execute it onto fabric.....>>
Pauline replies - Pattern drafting or at least an understanding
of how the principles work is an essential tool for anyone who tries their
hand at designing clothing. Many think it is only about making pretty
fashion drawings of wistful girls in flimsy ball gowns, but in reality it
involves being able to produce working drawings and also production drawings
which are far duller to make, but are needed to explain ideas to the end
manufacturer. Modern design studios use a lot of Computer Aided Design
systems such as the
Lectra system to produce artwork and cutting edge patterns and layouts.
The skills you are learning are a great foundation, particularly for bespoke
Vivian wrote - <<At the
end of the diploma, I will also be able to design other fashion apparel as
shoes and bags, jewellery and accessories. We will also study about
the history of fashion, market research, tailoring and sewing, fabrics and
Pauline replies - Sounds just my cup of tea!
Vivian wrote - <<The institute in Egypt is under the
supervision of a famous Italian institute, which teaches fashion, and
the examiners will also be Italians. However, the teachers are Egyptians,
but are very qualified and are chosen by the Italian administration.>>
Pauline replies - Sounds very impressive when you think that
only a decade ago you write you could not find a course of this type in Egypt.
Vivian wrote - <<Today was my first lesson at the
institute. I have never been so excited at doing something in my whole life.
.......Today was my first two pattern lessons.....I never knew how to put a needle on a thread,
nor sew a button, nor shorten pants. ....I never knew how important
tailoring and pattern design was for fashion designers, until recently.... I
just had found out that tailoring, sewing and pattern study are an integral
part of most of the fashion school courses. ....Well my first pattern
lesson was tough....... I was overwhelmed by numbers, letters, and
equations. It was like an algebra lesson, joined with technical drawing.>>
Pauline replies - I think it's great to be so excited about
this. It is harder for those who have never used commercial dress
patterns to grasp the flat method of pattern drafting. Basically it is
technical drawing or a bit like constructing a geometric shape in a
mathematics class. Pattern drafting is classified in the Dewey Library
system under engineering. That engineering just happens to involve the three
dimensional form called the human body.
had used for example a Butterick or Vogue or Simplicity or McCall's or Burda dress pattern before you would have been
more aware of the symmetry involved and the end product you were attempting
to achieve. From my point of view I always found students learnt this
skill better if they had a) used dress patterns before and b) started with
skirt block and made half a dozen adaptations of the skirt block before
advancing to the bodice block.
For web visitors the type of block Vivian
made was probably similar to this picture below and was labelled by her as
she went along. There are quite a few different methods of making a
bodice block using the flat drafting method and the picture below is just
one of them, so Vivian needs to be aware that once she has tackled the block
at the institute and got the drift of how these things work that she could
try drafting another variation of a bodice block from a modern or even an
older book and seeing which methods she likes best. Many block instructions
use a compass at the armscye. Such blocks and instructions are usually
worked out first by being downsized on plain exercise paper to see the
method and use either a 1/4, 1/5 or 1/6 scale.
Vivian mentioned the ruler with a reduced scale.
Full Draft of Bodice to Hipline
Fitted Bodice to Waist Block
The above is my block for a bodice.
Vivian wrote - <<That evening I went to buy all the
equipment needed for the pattern course......I bought a large art bag to contain all
these materials, ....I think this will be the start of a somewhat
expensive and a very demanding course, not mentioning the fabric that I will
buy later on for my projects and exam modules!>>>
Pauline replies - Practical courses are always demanding of
cash!!! But equipment I bought years ago lasts a long time. I
think I may have owned only 1 French curves in 25 years.
Pattern paper though gets eaten up by nett drafting and redrafting to gross
patterns and can be costly. A
good source for it is MacCulloch and Wallis in Dering Street, London who
have a web site and where you can buy it by the ream or on a huge roll.
You can buy plain pattern drafting paper, centimetre squared paper in large
sheets or inch spot paper.
If you get to having the huge roll stage I advise buying a dispenser stand
which makes handling the heavy roll so much easier.
sell a catalogue and do mail order of goods from the catalogue.
Vivian wrote - <<At home, I went over what I took for the
basic bodice pattern design, and I drew one for myself as my pattern
tutor gave me for homework. Everything made sense....It took me the whole evening to draw my
real-size basic bodice pattern. ...The sample bodice seemed O.K.
...I did the real size basic bodice pattern
on the draft paper. It took a long time to produce, and a tremendous
effort of concentration, but it looks good at the end. I hope that I will be
quicker and more efficient as I get used at drawing the pattern...>>
Pauline replies - The more you do this the easier it gets.
You'll soon speed up.
Vivian wrote - <<Last time at the centre I couldn't
speak to both of the students that were there. 'There were several
students, and some of them are taking the stylist diploma, and some are
taking the design diploma. Some of the students are graduates of textile
engineering, and some were fine art students. One was a pharmacist, who owns
her own pharmacy, and another is a physician, whom was older than me. They
have the same designing talent as I am, and they were eager to pursue it, as
they heard about the institute. ….....>>
Pauline replies - I bet that made you feel so good that you
were not alone in wishing to pursue a different career. The old
saying that life is not a rehearsal and is about achieving what you want to
do than pursuing what someone else thinks is best for you.
Vivian wrote - <<....It was about drawing the female nude body
standing in the upright position...However, the most annoying part of the
grid is that it constricts me to draw in a specific size for every part of
the body.......But drawing this female body in the grid is very time
consuming, and very frustrating for the first few times. ....>>
Pauline replies - With your knack for drawing you'll soon
Vivian wrote - <<Today it is time for more shopping.
The design tutor told us to buy the tools we will be using for the design.
PENCILS and more pencils…....We will need later all kinds of colours as
markers, crayons, charcoals, water colours and fabric colours ......The problem is that the most used for
colouring are the Pantone colour markers. I don't believe it. These
aren’t sold in Egypt at all. These markers must either be bought at the
institute or ordered via the net. I guess I have to try the net, maybe I can
get cheaper deals than what they offer in the institute.. >>
Pauline replies - I highly recommend Pantone markers to you.
They are the Crème de la Crème of art markers and do not flood outside specific boundaries
like cheaper markers do. The flow of the Pantone marker ink is even,
not patchy nor does it blot outside the area you place it once you get used
to the ink and its flow boundary.
Pantone markers create professional effects
with ease and have great flesh tones for limbs and faces. Push the
boat out to get some. Ask your tutor for advice on a selection of the
best basic colour Pantone numbers to make a start with say just 6 markers.
As you are in Egypt you may select different skin tones than say I would in
Even so when cost is a factor consider asking
in art shops if you can test their markers. As they now have to
compete with internet sales they are often very happy to help you and many
are art students with a genuine interest in art materials. Take a
piece of cartridge and layout paper with you on which you have sketched a
few circles and other simple outlines and see how the sample pen ink flows
on your papers, the papers you will actually use. Of course sometimes
it's easier and cheaper to purchase from the internet rather than lug heavy
art material home. Paper and card goods can weigh a ton!
- <<I bought different rubbers; Sanford's art
gum .... Staedtler's Mars Rasor rubber .....There is also what we call mix pencils.
....Buying the colours made me feel good. >>
Pauline replies - Hmmm I love art shops too! I'm always
wiling to listen to them tell me about their new products or kits or
Vivian wrote - <<<It is time for my two pattern lessons
today.......Well, today I learned how to add ease
allowance on the basic pattern bodice. ...Ease allowance also depends on the
person's body faults,.....The second of today's lessons was
cutting the basic bodice pattern into fabric....Seam allowance is the extra centimetres
which surround the whole nett pattern, so that it will be used
for sewing...The bodice pattern which was drawn on the
draft paper is a quarter of the front and the back of the body.....>>
Pauline replies - <<Already you have learnt the difference
between nett and gross patterns a basic principle in pattern drafting.>>
Vivian wrote - <<Today it was my excited moment ever.
I was allowed to use the sewing machine to sew my basic bodice that I
prepared on fabric and had cut last lesson.... I still considered it to
be a monster, and it's time to tame it. ......What can go wrong? I began to sew, and everything went wrong....After
sewing a whole line, I found out that there was nothing sewn....Sometimes it tangled into a mess underneath
the fabric ....My tutor told me to concentrate at how I control the fabric
movement... Finally I finished sewing, and my crusade
at the machine was over for now. I ironed it and turned it inside out
..It was great...Back at home, I was very
pleased with it, and I kept wearing it. What I need is to practice sewing at home,
and to buy a sewing machine. >>
Pauline replies -
Getting a good fit on a toile or muslin is very satisfying. This
really is something that is better done in a room with a tutor or helper
than over the internet
Yes this area needs work.
MACHINE CONTROL IS EASY TO ACHIEVE, BUT YOU WILL NEED TO KEEP TRYING UNTIL
YOU FEEL YOU MASTER IT.
This is an old suggestion I have for you to get sewing machine
control. Take all the thread out of the machine and also remove the
bobbin case or bobbin if that is the type. Next I suggest you get some
pieces of long paper about a metre or so or more, take the thread and bobbin
out of the sewing machine. NOW press the pedal and machine threadless
straight lines, right angles, curves both convex and concave etc., all
without thread. Do this on a smaller square of paper too and actually
machine squares on the paper.
To turn a corner sharply make sure the needle
is in the paper when you try to go around the corner. If you cannot do
it with foot control then take your foot off the machine pedal and then turn
the balance wheel toward you by hand until the needles is in the paper.
Now turn the paper a full right angle and begin to machine again. This
gives control over the angle which does not have to be a right angle, but
can be. Experienced sewers frequently get extra control by
manipulating the balance wheel a half or quarter or full turn.
Also try turning the corner by leaving the
needle in the paper, and turn the wheel just one movement to make one stitch
hole and then turn the needle corner again and machine again. This gives a
softer corner for certain fabrics, which would develop a bubble when you
machine them and turn them through. Try it and see.
You can also try machining a large scallop
shape or repeated half circle shapes or the kind of curves you might have on
a rounded collar or pocket or cuff.
You will need to replace the machine needles
you used as
paper blunts the tip of the needle making it unusable for someone else. If you are using the college machine do that immediately so
the next person has a fair chance with the sewing machine, but it will
give you greater control. This way you will get a feel for the movement of
the needle under the paper and how your hands would eventually manipulate
Vivian wrote - <<I think this course is really stretching
the budget. I was told that we will do monthly projects, which will be a
reflection on what we took all along the month, and this means higher
quality fabrics, buttons or zippers and other apparel depending on what will
the style be. This is nothing compared to the designs I will do and execute
for the final examinations. Well medicine wasn't cheap too!
Pauline replies - Quality training is not cheap, but the sense
of satisfaction in achieving your ambition will be worth it in the long run.
Think carefully when choosing a sewing machine. Perhaps for now it
will be best for you to try out a few models at the institute to see which
type your prefer. You could also do some internet research on
this using keywords such as choosing a sewing machine or which is best
sewing machine or computerised sewing machines comparison or consumer
reports sewing machines etc. Investigating the various computer
elements within sewing machines can be useful too. Consider if you
want embroidery features which can be built in, additional add ons or a sole
motif making machine in addition to a utility machine.
Another Google type search might involve your
searching the sites of Bernina, Newhome or Janome, Viking, Toyota, Brother,
Riccar Necchi, Bernette, Frister and Rossman, Pfaff and Elna all leading
names (and in no particular order here) in the domestic sewing machine
market. Some company names no longer belong to the originator of the
machine brand and have been sold on, but the brand names are used on
machines by other famous manufacturers.
Consider also researching a (fast) industrial
machine against a domestic machine with several speeds. Bernina
domestic machines always used to have speed controls for those who disliked
fast machining. Check with your tutor if they can be slowed down a
little. Bernina also used to do a sewing machine with a knee control
which is very good for those without full control over their upper limbs.
I have to say the faster the sewing machine goes, the more I
prefer it, but times does that to you - you get more impatient - a bit like
waiting at an ATM cash card machine telling it to hurry up when the
whole transaction takes less than a minute!
You could also add the word forum to certain
phrases you think of, as that sometimes leads to negative and positive
feedback on items like sewing machines. You might also consider
asking this question on a forum where sewing is a feature and where you can
state exactly what you need the machine for. Surfers love telling
others why their machine is best.
The briefest simplest advice I can give on
this page is make sure it is a free arm model to make sleeve insertion and
children's wear easier; ensure it will take a twin needle and do an
automatic stage buttonhole; and lift it to see how easy it is to move around
work surfaces. You want it neither too light nor too heavy.
A fair size bed as is, or as an add on can be useful. I also like to
be sure I can switch the light off - those bulbs can get mighty hot and
cheaper models don't always have a light off switch.
Finally when you choose the machine take a
selection of different squares of fabric with you in double layers ranging
from silk chiffon to tweed to slippery satin to bias cut crepe to denim to
thick velvet and see how they sew under the test models. Don't be
convinced just by a demonstrator using calico or crisp cotton. Any old
machine can sew tough old calico or felt without damaging it, but fine lawn
is another matter, although of course the size of needle does play a very
important part. But a good demonstrator should be happy to change to a
heavy upholstery needle if you present her with furnishing brocade and say
'will it sew that.' It will also make you feel a bit more
confident when making the choice as she will know you are serious about
purchasing in the near future and may suggest reasons and questions you have
And with Xmas coming maybe that husband of
yours could turn into Santa if you drop enough hints. Although a word
of warning be very specific about several machine brands you prefer and type
out a list of must have features or best of all take him with you, just let
him think he is taking you with him! I currently use a Viking machine,
but I have owned Newhomes, Berninas and Pfaffs.
My sincere thanks to Vivian Mikhail for
account to date of her fashion design experience. The account is Viv's
description of her course and feelings of excitement, jubilation and despair
to date. Viv forms part of Fashion-era.com's new section where
Visitor's contribute to the fashion-era site. This first account is of
the Autumn 2004 session.
For more information on Visitor's Contributions to pages on
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