I’ll admit it. When I first picked up a book on couture sewing techniques I oohed and aahed at the pictures of the gorgeous couture garments. Then when I turned to the pages that laid out the steps that go into achieving those looks and the seemingly endless amount of hand sewing involved, I placed the book on a shelf next to my “coffee table” books. But as my sewing improved and some of my more ambitious projects started to seem within the reach of my skills, I ventured back to the world of couture to see what it might have to offer me. Boy, am I glad I did!
That was two years ago, when I was fortunate enough to attend a trunk show and workshop taught by Susan Khaljie. As Susan talked about her introduction to couture sewing as a young woman working at a custom clothing business on New York’s Madison Avenue, I could feel the deep connection she has to her art. I identified with what she was describing. In the early days of my own (very different) career, I felt that I had landed in exactly the right spot and was doing what I was meant to do. I believe that anyone who feels that way about what they do for a living is going to excel at it.
Susan’s personal style is utterly charming. Her love of teaching couture is every bit as deep as her love of the art itself. As Susan showed each of her sample garments–many of which had been worn only once by a client who then told Susan she could have them back to show to students–she told the story of the challenges presented by the fabric or the design and the thought process involved in finding the right solution. When you think about it, it’s only natural that each garment should have its own story to tell. During the class breaks, we were invited to touch the samples and some lucky students were asked to model evening dresses that couldn’t be appreciated fully on a hanger.
Susan had loads of tips and a list of recommended resources to share. Even though there were more than fifty of us in that classroom, she walked us through the steps of several essential hand stitches and made her way through the entire room to help those of us who were struggling. I’ve always felt my hand stitches were clumsy and I have an especially difficult time following written instructions for hand sewing because (a) I’m not a spatial thinker, and (b) I’m left-handed, so all the illustrations are backwards for me. Susan deftly picked up my sample and started sewing left-handed to show me exactly what to do, even though she is right-handed. It’s one of the many things she does to go the extra mile to connect with her students.
It was that experience that made me jump at the chance to have Susan teach a class and give her trunk show to the ASG Chicago Chapter on June 26th. If you haven’t registered for the class yet, what are you waiting for? There’s not much time left! Follow this link to the ASG Chicago web site, download the registration form and send it in. We’re having afternoon tea and Maili Powell of Soutache will be there to tempt us with ribbons, trims, buttons and other delights. It is going to be a delightful day.
Now, I’m not going to tell you that right after my class with Susan I immediately perfected my hand sewing and now everything I do is strictly haute couture. My sewing is much too slow as it is, and if I attempted to make everything according to the strictest couture practices, I’d never finish anything. I use shortcuts when they make sense, but I’ve been developing a repertoire of couture techniques I can turn to when they will make an impact on the finished project. I’m happy to report that my hand sewing is improving steadily. My hooks and eyes are sewn with lovely blanket stitching that I learned from Susan and my hems are improving with every project. On two current projects, I’ve been very glad I know what a fell stitch is and how to use it, because I needed to join two pieces invisibly and the fell stitch is the only way to do it. I’m even embracing thread tracing in certain situations. And it’s time we all got over our “allergy” to basting. Sometimes, there is just no good substitute. Besides, the time we spend trying to figure out whether we can avoid basting and the aggravation we encounter when something we didn’t baste ends up slipping or puckering or doing some other ugly thing, we could have basted that puppy, sewn it on permanently, removed the basting and poured a celebratory glass of wine.
Do I have resources for couture sewing to recommend? Of course. A sampling of them will be posted on the Educational Resources page of the ASG Chicago blog very soon. Meanwhile, I hope to see you at the Susan Khaljie trunk show, workshop and tea.