May 15, 2009

Where do we get our patterns?

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One of the most common questions we are asked is: “where do you get your patterns?” And the answer is: “we make them ourselves.” As all of you costume-makers know, commercial patterns are relatively “modern”, coming into use in the mid- to late-nineteenth century. For earlier time periods, there are few if any records of what pattern shapes for period garments looked like. What do remain are some garments, primarily belonging to the wealthy; the further back in time you go, the fewer extant pieces there are.

Luckily for those of us with a passion for costume history, historic garments in museum collections have been documented beautifully in photographs (the Taschen “Fashion” book of the Kyoto Costume Institute collection). Other garments have had their style lines and details drawn out in a scale fashion (Janet Arnold’s wonderful series of books, for example). There are also paintings in museums and art books--portraits and group tableaus from various time periods. All of these sources serve as our inspirations when we are developing the historic-inspired undergarments in our line.

There is no one source that we draw from, but rather a combination of inspirations, as well as our background as theatre costume technicians. (In the case of late 19th century corset styles—like the c. 1890 Theo and c. 1905 Mae--we also own a small collection of period corsets that have inspired us.)

Once we’ve gathered our visual inspirations, Susan creates a pattern for the first sample. Our goal is not to recreate any one specific garment (although we can, and have, for clients requesting a very particular custom garment)—our goal rather is to capture the essence and flavor of a time period. As we study the first sample garment, we are looking at both the shape the garment created on the woman’s form, as well as the seam placement, comparing them with our inspiration material. We work and re-work the seams, fine-tuning the fit and shape, often making three and four samples, before arriving at the final pattern for a style. We know we have succeeded when you, our customers, look at a shape and respond: “the Gibson Girl!” or “it’s Marie Antoinette!”


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