Friday, January 10, 2014

My Definition of Couture

Couture.  Words that bring to mind incredible fashion houses such as Chanel and Dior. Most people associate this word with expensive and seemingly unattainable garments and jewelry, but what does it all really mean?  How can I create something couture?

Let's start with some definitions that Google has been so generous as to provide.

Couture - defined as the design and manufacture of fashionable clothes to a client's specific requirements and measurements.

So according to this definition, most of us sewists pretty much are couture sewists.  We make clothing specifically to fit one client, either another or ourselves, to certain requirements and measurements.  But there is more to this story than just sewing to order.  Let's look at an industry many people can relate to, food.

In restaurants we have many types of chefs and many types of food.  The chef making food in the back at Applebee's is a chef, they make food to order and make changes per a customer request (e.x.: no onions on that salad).  But is that chef really making something spectacular.  What methods of cooking does the chef use? Is there frozen sauces just being warmed up and things mixed together?

Now move up to a local chef making their own recipes at their own restaurant using traditional or special techniques.  Truly creating something new and delicious.  Paying strict detail to how everything tastes and each and every plate that leaves that kitchen.  That chef may not be Michelin award winning or even well known, but if they make spectacular food created with love and attention to detail.  A chef that chops fresh vegetables every morning by hand and makes everything from scratch.  That is my alteration of couture.

Couture is the finest of sewing.  To me couture is about accuracy, technique, attention to detail, and effort.  It is about getting the perfect fit and always striving for perfection in my garment.  It is not using the serger or other special machines, but creating everything possible with the highest of accuracy using my own two hands for the ultimate in perfection, or as close as I can get.

For me couture is alive inside of me.  When I decide to create a couture garment, it means I start with careful planning.  I will cut the pattern on the seamlines and make a muslin designed to be altered and keep working it for the perfect fit.  I will then select fabric, sometimes many layers of fabric.  I will have at lease an outer fashion fabric, an underlining, and a lining.  I spend as much money as I can budget for the best materials - I love silk and wool.  This is a garment I will be touching a lot, so I want to enjoy the experience of hand stitching it.

After I have the perfect fit and cut my fabrics, I will hand baste everything.  I will check the fit over and over at each step, making minute adjustments during the entire process.  Once the basted pieces are perfect, I will sew the seams using a straight stitch and press out as I go.  The edges will be hand overcast when needed and all seams that will not be lined will be finished for beauty both inside and out of the garment.

The linings will be attached by hand so they are just exactly as I want them.  Each and every stitch made by hand will add to beauty and experience of creating the garment.

In my family, the women have been seamstresses for generations, out of necessity and the love of sewing.  My grandma taught me to sew and told me stories of her childhood dresses my great grandma created for her, often with only a sloper to work from, with exquisite finishes like French seams and fashion fabric bindings from the leftover bits of the outside garment.  

In so many ways, couture for me reminds me of the way people created garments many years ago - with fine craftsmanship and love.  I believe all sewists can become couture sewists.  

I do admit, I do not sew couture all of time.  We all have times we just want to make something fast and feel the rush of a completed piece.  But next time you have something special to create, think about using couture techniques.  I will be making tutorials on cutting, sewing and other couture techniques as the year moves forward.

So, what is your definition of couture?  I would love to hear your thoughts on the much debated topic.

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