First conquest in NYC

And I hadn’t even check into the hotel yet! We arrived too early for check-in, so waited at Bryant Park. I stopped by Kinokuniya Japanese book store, where I picked up Ryuichiro Shimazaki’s men’s coats book.

I’ve been tempted ever since Peter of Male Pattern Boldness gave us a peak inside. The pea coat he made from the included pattern looked fabulous & oh so professional. But as it’s men’s coats, and I only really do selfish sewing, I stalled.

Then earlier this year, after seeing my me-made trench, my brother joked about getting me to make him a Burberry Wannabe. So I checked out this book in store to see if it’ll help. The detail shots and the photo styling sold it to me. That and the fact that nothing else in the store was calling my name. (Could be jet-laggedness. Or could be that my taste changed. Or maybe Japanese fashion changed. Or all of the above.)

All I have to do next is to learn to read Japanese and figure out how to do transatlantic fittings. Or so I thought.

Well, it turned out I needn’t have worried my pretty little head. My brother was smart enough to know that he could be waiting a long time to get a trench out of me. So he went ahead and save up for the real McCoy. It was just as well since he’s obviously a Burberry snob, and probably wouldn’t have been gratified by my run of the mill trench without all the neat details that goes into a real Burberry. I manage to get some photos of these details. Some of them are actually shown in the book as well.

Burberry Men’s Trench Details!

Shimazaki’s men’s coats book Pattern No.1 details

Shimazaki-Mens-Coat-book-pattern-1-detailsFascinating innit! Not sure I’d bother with all of them details myself. But the sewing geek in me just can’t resist peaking.

The Burberry trench itself does look quite good on my brother. I’ve read elsewhere some complaints / concerns about them being a bit too big and baggy. But this one has a smart slim fit. Maybe those complaints apply to trenches from the yore years when baggy was in. As for personalized fit, the only alteration the store could offer was sleeve length. That’s where being able to sew a wannabe might come in handy. There is only so much that RTW could cater for. We’ll see. Maybe someday this book will come in handy. If not for my brother, maybe for MR – if I could ever convince him to dress up outside work!

Gem(s) from The Modern Tailor, Outfitter, and Clothier

As if I don’t have enough tangents leading me away from sewing productivity, I’ve started reading this book that’s highly recommended on the tailoring trade’s forum. Now “Modern” is a relative term here. The books (there are 3, I got the first 2) were originally published in 1928. The originals are astronomically priced in the used book section. But luckily affordable paperback reprints are now available.

Anyhoo, here’s the first gem I want to share, complete with some old fashion turn of phrase!…

From “Tailoring as a Vocation” in “The Modern Tailor Outfitter and Clothier – Vol 1“, by W.H. Hulme, Head Teacher, Clothing Trade Dept, Leeds Technical College, 1928

Every cutter [pattern-maker] should possess a sound knowledge of the principles which underlie his work. These principles, or laws of fitting, are as old and as well-established as the human form itself. Various good “Systems” have been propounded, embodying those principles of form-fitting, so far as they have been discovered and utilised. The student will master, in principle and in detail, one of these well-tried systems. Many systems have been laid down, tried — and then forgotten. Given a sufficiency of ink and foolscap, to invent a new system presents as little difficulty as to launch a new sect; to the system maker falling the less lucrative task. The tailoring trade has, for years, been the arena in which conflicting theories of cutting have been hotly contested; often the combatants themselves have been obscured by the dust they raised. And the end of this spirit is not yet.

However, the art of cutting successful garments is still based upon the work of the inquiring mind, on test and long experiment, on failure and eventual success. The shrieking of slogans has not helped much; indeed, the atmosphere of strife is inimical to progress. A right judgement, compounded of many qualities, with perhaps common sense and experience as the chief, is demanded of the modern craftsman. The world demands authority–and is willing to follow blindly. “This do…and the rest is easy,” says the quack. In our better moods we denounce dogma–yet we deal very gently with the dogmatist. The man who speaks as though he utters ultimate wisdom is always certain of a large audience. He saves us an immense amount of individual thought. There are numbers of men who put their thinking out to be done for them. Those who would spurn the idea of wearing second-hand clothes, have no difficulty, it would seem, about adopting second-hand opinions.

Sounds familiar? Ouch! 😉

The tailoring trade has had its full share of these dogmatist; some indeed are happily still with us. It is quite likely, however, that the “royal road” of the dogmatist is, after all, the wrong approach to success. Indeed, we may hazard the opinion that no royal road exists.

The older virtues of work and patient experiment will take the young student some distance. Ability to weigh and to appraise the theories apparently conflicting, to have such a grasp of the known principles of sartorial art that he can trust himself to do his own thinking, these will carry him further than the credulous swallowing of nostrums. “We have seen it in a book…” or “A great man once said…” cannot be accepted without reserve by the young man seriously facing his future. The world is full of people who long for a certain and safe specific for success. The proprietors of certain patent medicines, and quacks in other walks of life, do rather well out of their understanding and exploitation of this very human trait.

The final resolution of sartorial problems, however, tarries. Nothing is static, everything is in a condition of flux. Our conclusions are tentative, and much of our knowledge is empirical. The profession of medicine has used empirical remedies for many centuries. “It works…but how?” The candid tailor will admit as much of many points in his own practice. In common with more learned professions, we have not yet fully emerged from the misty realm of “rock-of-eye.” The putting into systematic form, however, of the ever-increasing mass of trade knowledge proceeds apace. Each method of obtaining results has its devotees, but it is significant that the practitioner so often infuses features of his own into his adopted system. The keynotes of success are test and experiment. The hugging of pet theories and preconceived ideas is fatal. The young tailor must dare to think and to back his conclusions.

The body he seeks to clothe will be his starting-point: just another way of saying that a knowledge of the science of anatomy must lie at the roots of all his work. He knows, for instance, that the seams of various garments follow certain curves. Why? Because the body demands that its contours shall be followed. But this merely touches the question. The last word on human proportion, too has yet to be uttered. Of girth we know something; but what of height and its relation to girth? The limitations of knowledge in many other directions are sufficiently obvious to need further words. The tested results of the experience of others will be accepted–but as a starting point. One of the most successful cutters of the present day, when in his twenties, lived in systems by day and dreamt of them at night. Now he says, “Systems? Scaffolding! necessary…but still scaffolding and as such must conform to the exigencies of the building!” Every teacher makes his contribution–and passes; the trade is always moving on. The one who arises and says, “Behold, I show you a mystery” is not to be understood as uttering finality. He is merely making a personal and tentative contribution to an age-long controversy.

Granted, most of us aren’t setting out to be Saville Row tailors. We just want to make good looking clothing for ourselves and maybe loved ones. There is nothing wrong with farming out the mental hard work. But just be careful how you pass on any tips and advice, and how you judge techniques that perhaps didn’t quite work out for you. Sometimes we don’t follow instruction correctly (maybe the instruction wasn’t written clearly or comprehensively enough). Sometimes the technique simply isn’t appropriate for our body shape/size/posture, skills, equipments, sewing and/or wearing context. There may be a grain of truth in the technique, but is it universal truth?

Another gem from Vol 1, this time from “Some Problems of the Tailoring Trade”, by F. Chitham, Director, Harrods, Ltd. (high end London dept. store).

Sizes are the very lifeblood of the ready-to-wear…Bad sizes means slow-moving stock. It is no part of the ready-to-wear trade to cater for freaks[!!!]: that is the province of the bespoke.

He would so not get away with that today! LOL.

More Piles

A job that leaves one brain dead after work, how lucky am I! Then pick a project that calls for non-standard seam and hem decisions, how smart is that! Not very obviously. So to console myself for lack of progress on the sewing front I went on a sewing related book shopping spree – I can always dream about sewing even if I don’t actually manage to do it!

The first two were prompted by sleeve pattern alteration I was doing on the Burda Moto jacket. I decided to try tips from Jeffery Diduch’s article on tailored sleeve alterations in Threads July 2013 (he of Made by Hand blog, a professional tailor & patternmaker).

But there are a lot more reference points in his armscye diagram than on the Burda pattern, even more than the Big Four (which is just one more than Burda). (E is missing from this web illustration.)  So I thought I’d check The Cutter and Tailor for recommendation on pattern books that might illuminate how to locate these reference points. I settled on these supposedly oldies but goodies:

The Modern Tailor Outfitter And Clothier – Vol I
The Modern Tailor Outfitter And Clothier – Vol II

Maybe they’re not so aptly titled anymore as they are ‘1928 Modern’ rather than ‘2014 Modern’. But then menswear tailoring probably hasn’t changed as much as womenswear. The whole emphasis on fit as measure of quality over ostentation sounds promising. Volume I & II both have 3-4 chapters on womenswear tailoring including pattern drafting instruction. I haven’t read these in depth yet, but quick glance shows the instruction is the old fashion procedural type with little explanation of how to adapt to different measurements. Oh boy. Hopefully there’ll be gems buried in the other paragraphs.

And so far no references to these armscye reference points that set me on this wild goose chase yet. The hunt continues. Maybe a thorough troll through Mr Diduch’s blog is in order. (Actually, Nancy K had already asked Mr Diduch the very same question. His answer is on Threads website. Doh!)

Next up is another book on principles of pattern drafting.

How Patterns Work: The Fundamental Principles of Pattern Making and Sewing in Fashion Design

I briefly considered this book when I was looking for books on principles of how anatomy & human motions impact fit & pattern design. But the table of content didn’t seem promising. So I got Theory of Garment-Pattern Making instead on recommendation by Kathleen Fasanella. (That was another old fashion anemic book and sadly didn’t quite answer the enormity of my questions.) So when someone mentions this book again in response to Marina von Koenig‘s tutorials on pencil skirt drafting, I gave it a second chance. I’m still on the fence with this one, but that’s just from flipping through the book and reading the author / publisher ‘bio’: Too many illustrations of dress forms and too little evidence of credentials. Manifesto is all fine, but I feel more reassured if Assembil Books had listed where they got their experience and insights from. I will reassess when I’ve finally read the book cover to cover.

But not now. Because I have three more fun & inspirational books in my box!

I wanted to get some books on McQueen ever since I saw the Isabella Blow exhibit at Somerset House. (Wouldn’t have minded one on John Galliano either, but seems like now that he has fallen from grace there’s no book to be had. Not unless you fork out a fortune for rare second hand ones.)

Savage Beauty is as close as I’m going to get to examining McQueen garments without getting told off by museum guards. Lots of great pieces modeled by neutral mannequins if the theatrical fashion show presentations weren’t quite your cup of tea.

Vogue one has mostly editorial photos, many quite beautiful and not as aggressive as the runway presentations.

But at the moment I’m savoring the Life and Legacy bio. There are less inspiring photos here – mostly runway photos and only used to illustrate the collection summaries. Instead, the inspiration comes from the words. I love the details about McQueen’s Savile Row apprenticeship, the stints with various 80s designers as a cutter afterward (didn’t know he worked for Romeo Gigli – a 80s/90s Italian designer I also like), the Central St Martin training, the early struggles (so glamorous yet so impoverished). I’m inspired by how he turned out cutting edge collections on shoe-string budget while living off state benefits. (Galliano supposedly did the same when he first showed in Paris, having to resort to cheapo lining fabric for his geishaish collection.) I love that iconic garments can be created from seemingly uninspiring materials (where as sometimes the most expensive and exquisite fabrics get turned into frump).

Yes, some of his designs are a bit offish even to me – really not sure about the bumster trousers. No one’s perfect. But I love his mix of tailoring and gothic romantic cutting edge.

Here’s a quote from Savage Beauty worth considering:

“[I design from the side,] that way I get the worst angle of the body. You’ve got all the lumps and bumps, the S-bend of the back, the bum. That way I get a cut and proportion and silhouette that works all the way round the body.”

It really resonate with me because I find a few of my makes less than flattering from the side view. Love the front and back. But not the side.

While I have no ambition to be a designer (nor a professional tailor), sewing for myself (and styling the outfits) are about the only creative outlet I allowed myself. So these little gems of insights from the professionals are real threats. If only they all design for non-model bodies!

Christmas came early! More books…

Look what came in the post today: These lovelies to keep me motivated on finishing Q, my new home-made dress form.


I haven’t read them in-depth yet. So no review. Just first impressions / why I bought them.

I already own Draping for Fashion Design, so don’t really need another draping book. But come on, who can resist all those luscious photos. Drool.

The art of draping

This one is quite different from the usual draping text books. It does not cover all the basics. Rather, the author, who worked for the Parisian couturiers Patou and Pierre Cardin, focused on six kinds of draping that he feels demonstrate the art of draping. There’s a sample dress design for each and step-by-step photos of the draping process…

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Not every design is my cup of tea, but they’re look more high fashion than in a lot of draping and pattern-drafting books. Well, most of these books don’t even have photo illustrations. So no competition there.

There are also plenty of other high fashion runway photos illustration the application of these different draping methods. These aren’t illustrated with step-by-step draping guide. But I don’t feel cheated like I do with some of the other books. The sample designs that he does go through in details make me feel that he knows what he’s talking about and those runway photos aren’t just to lend an air of authority to an otherwise unexceptional book.


So not really your starter draping book, but certainly compliments those more basic books. I really like it because I’m mostly inspired by fashion photos & clippings I collect, and the draping projects in this book look much more inspiring than the mundane examples in most other draping books. You almost feel like you’ll be able to create one of those fabulous couture dresses one of these days. Now the only problem is where to wear it to!

A word of caution though. The book is in English & French. I find it a bit jarring to spot the English instructions amongst the French.

Draping: The Complete Course

I’ve wanted this one ever since Peter of Male Pattern Boldness reviewed it, but couldn’t justify it without a working dress form.

This one is more like the standard draping books. It does the some basics, but isn’t as comprehensive in the variations of designs covered as my Draping for Fashion Design. But it most definitely is more inspiring. I mean, it even has a recreation of a Vivienne Westwood dress. Yum!


Celebrity junkie are you? How about recreating the train of Kate Middleton’s Alexander McQueen wedding dress…


Or the Oscar de la Renta dress that Gwyneth Paltrow wore the year she won the Oscar!


More inspired by history? There’s this Grecian dress and this corset with Georgian shape for you…


Want classy & smart? Can’t beat a well-shaped trench!


OK, maybe it’s just me. But this home sewer just can’t mentally stretch from illustrations of your typical draping book to fabulous garments of the fashion mags. This coffee table style book hits the sweet spot and get my dough. Let’s just hope it won’t feel be horribly dated in a decade or two!

And last but not least, and not a draping book…

Vintage Couture Tailoring

I saw this in a brick & mortar bookstore and was hooked by these photos:


I mean what the… LOL. I’ve never seen back pad & bust pad mentioned in any other tailoring books.

OK, if it was just this it wouldn’t justify the purchase. But the book is full of lots of step-by-step photo-illustrations. And you know I like my photo illustrations!

tailoring-bk-4 Granted, it’s just one jacket all the way through. And it doesn’t cover fitting.

But I’m sure I’ll learn something new. Something in addition to the padding in weird places, which I may very well make use of now I know how lopsided I am. I mean, just look at the innards of that jacket…


I feel like if I practice these techniques for long enough, they may let me through the back door of Savile Row!

And again, attractive example of the author’s handiwork really help sells the book to me. Here’s a remake of a 1951 Balmain suit he made…


The only complaint I have is that like other reviewers, I also find the text very difficult to read because the text colors weren’t dark enough. A magnifying glass helps though.

OK, better get back to that dress form so I can justify these purchases…

LA Shopping Spree…Part 2

Next up on my shopping list are books. London used to have a bookshop aimed at fashion students with hard to find text books etc. But it seem to have closed down. Last time I was in LA, I come across one such book store in the Fashion District. So this time I decided to stock up on unusual finds to keep me busy on that sleepless flight back home.

An Eye-Opening Education

First up is the Fashion Book Store in California Market Center building on E 9th St between S Main St & S Los Angeles St. Here I took the plunge and got a couple of specialist books. They cost an arm and a couple of legs. But I figured that I can’t get the same info easily elsewhere. Plus they’ll last me a lifetime (or what’s left of it anyway). Besides, someone took the trouble to collect, collate, and share all these insights (rather than regurgitate what others have already written loads about). And they deserved to earn some money for their effort.

The Bra-Maker Manual, vol 1 & 2

By Beverly Johnson. It’s not just a book about sewing bras. It actually has lots of discussion and pattern diagrams for different types of bras. Some shows the different grainlines required for different pieces. There are also info on pattern alterations for different bra fitting problems. Very interesting.

Designing and Patternmaking For Stretch Fabrics

By Keith Richardson. This one is very timely for me. I’ve been compulsively shopping a bunch of stretch knits at Tia Knight’s Tissu online fabric store, and trying to devise a basic knit pattern block.

This book has just what I need: Instructions for creating slopers for different types of stretch fabrics. It also has a stretch terms and jargon buster, and simple flat pattern design instructions for stretch garments.

It even has the answer to a question that has been bugging me for ages: What does bias on knit do? The answer: Not a whole lot. It says “bias garments are never created with knit fabrics. Knit bias does not have any of the stretch and drape characteristics that woven bias would impart to garments.”

v1282-layoutWhich begs the question: Why does the cutting instruction for V1282 top recommends a bias layout. For 2-way stretch fabrics no less!!!???

Speaking of 2-way vs 4-way stretch – another question that has been bugging me for a while – this book again has the answer: 4-way stretch is essentially 2-way stretch with spandex added to help with recovery. Stretch outward sideways and up & down without spandex = ‘2-way stretch’. Without the spandex this eventually sags or stretch out of shape. With  spandex added to aid recovery, it becomes ‘4-way stretch’. Presumably the additional ‘2-way’ refer to the fabric ‘stretching’ back into shape – ie inward sideways and up & down.

(I just checked the Amazon reviews for this book. I was surprised to see the low score. This seems to be because of numerous typos in the book. But considering the scarcity of pattern drafting books for knits, I still think the book is worth it. As Kathleen Fasanella aka the Fashion Incubator says in her review of the book: “no book is perfect”. I will just keep an eye out for those typos.)

I almost got “Professional Sewing Techniques for Designers” as well. But I decided it was too similar to other sewing technique books. And I already have too many of those and not enough room to store them. Besides, the tips for working with difficult fabrics don’t cover the type of temperamental fabrics I’m currently wrestling with – stretch fabrics.

I also visited Kinokuniya the Japanese book store in Weller Court, Little Tokyo. Surprisingly it also has a good selection of fashion and sewing books. I was a bit tempted by the Pattern Magic & Drape Drape series and others like them. But my days of weird boxy Japanese garment aesthetics is really behind me. There was a time decades ago when I was a big fan of COMME des GARÇONS. But now I’m making the most of what figure I still have. Maybe one day I’ll get back into hiding the body again! For now I got this:

Fundamentals of Garment Design

By Bunka Fashion College in Japan. This is the first in a series of textbooks. Thankfully they have all been translated into English. I only got this one because the other focus on specific types of garments like dresses and jackets, and again, they’re a bit too boxy for my liking.

Unlike western fashion textbooks, this intro book covers a wider range of topics. The bits I find particularly interesting are the overview of how anatomy, different body proportions, and movements affect garment design; measurements insights; Bunka-style sloper instruction; and examples of sloper fitting adjustments shown on Asian women, some with combinations of fitting issues.

Then there’s the answer to my other pestering question: What happens to that back shoulder dart in designs without a dart in that area? It seems like the dart is pivoted to the armhole and/or neckline as eased volume (presumably held in check by sleeves and collars). But it’s never pivoted to the waist dart. So that’s this sloper axed then!


There’s also a curious mention of a “Half Bias Tape”. The photo illustration shows a tape with grainline that doesn’t look like true bias grainline. But there’s no mention of “Bias Tape” at all!!!??? It’s described as having “moderated stretch and to some degree controls stretching. Front edges, shoulders, necklines, etc.” So I’m assuming it’s used instead of true bias tape. But why?

Last but not least are a series of Fabric Dictionary & Swatch Books I ordered directly from Rain City Publishing:


Thanks La Karibane for suggesting this series. It’s great to have nice fabric samples illustrating the different types of fabrics. Descriptions alone are no good as most are so generic as to be pointless for identifying fabrics.

And that was it…Or was it?

Well, not quite. There are always those bits and pieces that are  invisible in the results, but absolutely essential in the making. Like…

patternsA bunch of Vogue, McCall, Butterick patterns bought during the recent online sale.

interfacingA bunch of highly recommended interfacing from Fashion Sewing Supply of Pam’s Off-The-Cuff sewing blog.

threadsFrom Wawak, formerly Atlantic Thread Supply, more MaxiLock overlocker threads than I have storage space for.

Plus a small velvet pressing board at the cheapest price I can find. Everywhere else I looked it’s over $100. It’s pictured here with my sleeve board for size comparison.

zippersI also got a bunch of zippers to catch up with the wilder color fabrics I started collecting. These are from Mood Fabrics and B. Black & Sons. Zip Up Zippers has a wider selection of zippers and notions.
But it was too chaotic to find what I want and I can’t just help myself. I don’t like getting a sales person involved unless I’m desperate. I always feel too much pressure to buy.

rulersFinally, there are these C-thru rulers which I got from Golden Cutting & Sewing Supplies. You can also get them at art stores like Pearl Paint. I’ve tried lots of different rulers, but always come back to these. They’re thin, so don’t cast shadows that make it hard to align the ruler edge with lines. I’m a imperial measure girl, and I like the handy 1/8” grid which make pattern work easy.

Unfortunately the # 1 item on my wishlist was nowhere to be found in LA. It’s loose sheets of large 26” x 19.5” dressmaker’s carbon paper that I used to get from Steinlauf & Stoller in NYC. (It’s not listed on their site, but I swear they carry it. Or used to anyway.) All I can find in Downtown LA were pre-packaged small sheets. I guess I will just have to stick to Burda Carbon Paper for now. Or plan a trip to NYC soon!

As you can imagine, it was a bit of a struggle fitting all these into my luggage. In the end it was like 13 lb overweight. And at $200 surcharge you bet I was frantically transferring stuff into my carry-on’s at the airport check-in desk.

Now I better get back down my rabbit hole and churn out some more garments, so I don’t feel so guilty for spending a small fortune and taking over so much space in our tinsy winsy London apartment!