Constructing Clothes

Any Fashion Design Degree worth its salt includes instruction on how to make clothes.  There are a lot more people making clothes in the fashion industry than designing them.  I don’t know how many people are employed at Chanel and I am sure that Karl Lagerfeld does no make any the outfits the models wear on the catwalk!  It also helps to know how to make the designs to have an idea of how to go about transferring the 1D concept to a 2D sketch, a 2D pattern and then a 3D garment. The foundation course for the Fashion Design Degree at HCC is called ‘Ready-to-Wear Construction’.  During the course of the semester, we learn the basic tools and skills which we will be drawing on for the remainder of our degree and our subsequent careers.

Before we start sewing, we need to learn how to operate the sewing machines and sergers.  We all had to be able to thread one of the industrial sewing machines in college within 30 seconds.  Our professor stood in the centre of the sewing lab with a stopwatch; each student needed to raise their hand once they had threaded the machine; he came and checked the threading which had been completed in the 30 seconds and if it was correct the student was ‘released’ to start on their next task.

Through the semester a basic portfolio is put together demonstrating the skills learned in class which consists of a notebook of samples, a skirt, a dress and a jacket.  The samples in the notebook are of different types of stitches and seams such as a Taped Seam, Stayed Seam, French Seam and a Mock French Seam and others.  We are allowed to make as many samples of each seam as we want to select the best one to put into our notebooks for grading.  Not surprisingly, the more practice I get at using the industrial machine and each type of seam, the better and more controlled I am getting.

Ripping out a seam
Ripping out a seam

The first main project is the pencil skirt.  Our professor has shown us all the steps to make the skirt, from creating our own paper pattern from the school oak-tag, laying out the pattern on the fabric with the grain, how to tell which side is the right side of the fabric, cutting out the pieces, which edges to serge, which edges to stay stitch and the order in which to sew the necessary seams (darts, side seams, insert zip and rear seam, concentric lines on the waistband, attach waistband and blind hemstitch to hand finish the hem).  In between all of these of course the pressing, busting, trimming and grading of seams as relevant.  As was inevitably necessary he also demonstrated how to use a stitch-ripper effectively to remove seams which were not quite up to standard…

Unfortunately all the garments we are making are a US size 8 and will therefore not fit me now, nor will they ever.  I’m just not prepared to diet that much.  I am therefore not being particular about the fabrics I am using, apart from their weight.  Thin gingham does not fall well even when darted, so is not that suitable for a skirt, although useful for the samples to guide straight line sewing.  The bulk of my raw material is made up of remnants, either from previous projects of mine, or bought at a 50% discount from Jo-Ann‘s.  Curtains are a bit of a running theme in my work, the first skirt was made from remnants of my dining room curtains, my dress will be made from my sister’s old bedroom curtains.  If anyone wants to donate their curtains for the jacket, let me know!  My ‘practice’ skirt, made without any time pressure in class when we were able to ask for advice and guidance on how to deal with calamities or what to do next is finished.  Things I learnt on this project include:

  • consider the pattern on the fabric a bit more when laying out.  I could definitely have positioned the pieces so that the pattern moves upwards rather than downwards and it may have been possible to centre it across the front of the skirt
  • black fabric is difficult to work with, in particular if you are unpicking seams
  • darts in heavy fabrics take a lot of effort to iron flat
  • a stitch-in-the-ditch is a quite easy on a heavy fabric
  • not using all of the seam allowance in the hope the skirt may fit me means it doesn’t fit the mannequin
If I sewed the waistband on evenly, the teeth on the right wouldn't be visible.  Unpick and do again.
If I sewed the waistband on evenly, the teeth on the right wouldn’t be visible. Unpick and do again.

Before Spring Break, we had a mid-term exam.  It was another skirt, this time to be made in 2 hours.  We were allowed to lay out the fabric and pattern, but not start cutting the fabric until after the starting pistol.  Apart from hemming, three people managed to finish their skirts, one even managed to press up the hem although she didn’t stitch it.  Unfortunately I didn’t get that far.  I had only managed to pin the second seam attaching the waistband and it was not straight across the top of the zip.  I will need to practice attaching waistbands and speed up a bit before the final exam.

We have now moved on to the dress (mine is nearly finished) and will be starting the jacket next week.  The first steps have already been taken, the pattern is traced and cut onto paper, fabric selection and cutting is next!Jacket pattern



  1. I love the timing issue in this class. Believe me when you are sewing the LAST thing you need is a stopwatch! I’ve been sewing clothes for 50 years and LOL it can take me forever to get something just right. So good going – just relax, breathe and you will sew beautifully!

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