A New Custom Cashmere Coat for Alison

A lovely woman named Alison has been cutting and colouring my hair for the past 8 years.  She has seen me through the last of my brunette days.  Through the stainless steel fresh head of incredibly short hair post-chemotherapy.  She also trimmed and styled my wig during ‘that’ time.  I now sport a shoulder length sort of platinum grey blond and I like it a lot!

She’s a marvelously stylish woman and it is always a pleasure to see her.   It is fun to catch up and as we share a similar sense of humour we laugh plenty.

Just before Christmas Alison commissioned a Cashmere Coat for herself and here is a closeup of some of the details.

Alison's Custom Cashmere Coatmere Coat

We started with a conversation and a sketch.  I made two mock-ups in order to get the collar ‘just so’.  It stands nicely and frames her face.  It is 3/4 length with an inverted pleat and slit at the center back.  The sleeve tapers at the forearm and slightly flares again over the hands.  She wanted a “really wearable” coat that would last.

Alison's Cashmere Coat 2

The stats:     ‘Best Quality’ Black Cashmere, Real Corozo (Tagua) Nut Buttons, Lambskin bound buttonholes, Black Patent Leather (real leather)  pinked trims set in,  fully lined in crepe back polyester satin.  Hair canvas and assorted fusibles, tapes, and lambswool used for the tailoring.

Alison has been wearing her new coat for the past month and still loves it.  Working with a custom client can be a real pleasure.  Thank you for the patronage Alison!


Posted in Buttons, Custom Clothing, Custom Sewing, Cutting, Fashion, Patternmaking, Patternmaking, Projects, Sewing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Happy Valentine’s Day

Valentine blog photo 2013_wm

This is my own version of a romantic heart pillow.  The red cashmere wool is a scrap left over from the Santa suit I made for a movie called The Search for Santa Paws and the buttons are all ‘real’ pearl buttons collected over the years. I have to give credit to the designer Patrick Kelly for the original inspiration of hearts and buttons. His whimsical fashion design motifs left a lasting impression.

May we all have our hearts desire come true.


Posted in Buttons, Crafts, Embellishment, Film Work, home decorating, Inspiration, Pillows, Sewing, Uncategorized, Valentine craft | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A wonderful blog about the loss of quality tools. I miss the day when ‘investing’ in the best quality tools you could afford was part of a craftperson’s stock in their trade.

buggy bag® blog

It used to be that you could buy something, and, if it was designed and manufactured with thoughtfulness, it would work for a very long time.  And the great thing about it was the fact that, if it did malfunction, you could either take it to someone to get it fixed, or you could fix it yourself. I have repaired many things myself or taken them to someone to be fixed. For instance, my watch… St. Moritz, made in Canada, I have had it since 1989, it is still stylin’. I’ve had many new batteries put in it, and I’ve had it serviced a few times… It’s great quality, built on the old style mentality of quality is best. Yes, this company has never sold me another watch, but, I think that the number of watches that I’ve sold for them by boasting about the quality of mine probably…

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When Character Meets Costume – The ‘Punk’ Union Jack Corset

What’s my Motivation????? (That’s me trying to sound like the great Marlon Brando.)

It is a great job and interesting work to produce fashion. But when we’re asked to make clothing that will be worn by a story character there is an element of that story that informs all of the choices made throughout the patterning, cutting, and sewing process. The elements of character turn garment production into Costume Making. It may seem like an odd question to ask when we’re hired for costume making – but really…..”What’s my motivation?” Knowing even a little about the story line and character traits makes a significant difference. Happy pocket? vs Sad pocket? ….or… Demure bow? vs Mean, Nasty, Imperious Bow!

See? – I knew you would understand.

Making clothing for story characters ranks up there as our most beloved part of all this cutting and sewing business. This is true whether we’re working on a historically correct Edwardian piece or on a Science Fiction item.

The question of adding character takes a fashion item and turns it into a Costume.

It is an honour to be commissioned to make a special occasion gown. Even though the outfit will be worn for a real life specific event there’s a story, a plot and a vision for the client. In that way wedding and formal reception gowns sit right next door to costumes. The client has a specific event site (the set), there is a story (getting married), and character traits (you name it – it’s been done) inform the entire dressmaking process. Making gowns for movies gets even more interesting.

Real life special occasion gowns rarely go through any sort of breakdown. They are pristine and new by definition. But once it becomes a dress for Miss Havisham…..well…..that’s more fun than ever for us as costume makers. A lovely perfect breakdown of the garment to suit the character. Wedding lace and silk tattered and shredded and made to look like years of wearing and dirt. OOOooohhh….shiver…….I’m getting goosebumps.

The challenge comes in making it look that old but not actually smell that old – actors still have to wear this costume after all. I take it as a personal challenge to be able to make something that looks quite ancient on the outside but next to the skin it is smooth and fresh. Add to that the question of multiples. What appears as one costume may in fact be many versions of one item in various stages of worn in, broken down, and disaster struck. Now the costuming process becomes even more soaked in complexity and glorious character.

Many people think it must just kill us to see a lovely and new garment go-through-the-wringer of breakdown and distressing but it isn’t so. For us it brings personality to the piece. Now this otherwise ordinary item (even in the case of fabulous period gowns) really has a story to tell. And we love a good story!

That was just the preamble for what I’m really trying to show you.

We thought it would be fun to experiment with adding a ‘punk‘ element to our Union Jack Corset.

So after a little photo research here and here and here, and given that this is the year of both the Queen’s Jubilee and the 2012 Olympics there was inspiration in the air.

Here’s the result (the 360 degree review)

Here’s a list of the basic changes made from the original pattern making, cutting and making. (see previous blog posts.)

Size altered to leave a larger gap between the center back lacings – it gives the back of the garment extra texture.

Waist nipped in to push the bust/waist/hip contour lines to small fetish (but not quite full fetish) waist shaping.

small changes at center back and waist shown in coloured pencil

The exterior coutil layer has been replaced with a beat up firm plain weave cotton. It is in fact a scrap that was left from when I made the winter parkas worn by James Coburn playing the character of Thunder Jack in Snow Dogs . Those parkas were made from a thoroughly scoured cloth that started out as oiled Australian Outback Coat material. (By-The-Way – I am not a hoarder. Have I asserted that before?)

White coutil for the lining and Oiled Cloth (scoured) for the exterior panels. Flag colour chips sit on top of the exterior layer.

Almost all of the piecing seams are pieced with the seam allowance to the outside – more textural.

Piecing seams to the exterior, construction seams to the interior. Messy (but still accurate for fit) is okay for this one.

The busk is replaced with a salvaged zipper and two leather belt straps.

The edge bindings are replaced with a stabilizing twill tape triple stitched on the inside and then the top and hem edges are left raw.

Embellishments of studs, grommets, chain, graffiti of acrylic paint and ink.

Selective bleach splash and wash/tumble dry.

The exterior is pieced together and basted at center front – now is when most of the “wash down” happens.

Before bleach, TSP (tri-sodium phosphate), and detergent.

After the distressing wash, tumble dry and press. Most of the studs and graffiti embellishment were added at this stage – before putting in the lining or bones.

Ohhh la la la – It was so much fun to make – Let loose the sewing restraints and let fly! That much fun at work?…..and it’s legal!…..I have the best job ever. 🙂 🙂


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Ready, Set, Sew!! – The Union Jack Corset

I’m not really sure what’s the best way to show/discuss the sewing of the Union Jack Corset.  I’m going to say again that most of you already know how to sew including most of the steps so I think I may just stick to pictures and steps and leave the ball in your court to send us a note and ask about anything that seems confusing or even if you just want a bit of advice.

Just a few photos to review progress.

All of the materials are assembled and cutting is complete.

The sorting of all of those coloured chippets prior to assembly.

Leslie and I both agree that the ‘work’ of a new design happens mostly in the pattern making and cutting stages.  Once it comes time to sew the pieces together both of us turn on the tunes or an audio book and ‘rock-on’.  When I worked with the lovely Barbara (so sadly now gone) she laughed long and hard when she first saw me sewing.  I had been concentrating deeply on drafting, planning and cutting and had been so quietly immersed for so long that it was a complete surprise and shock to her that once I started the stitching process the tunes were blasting and the machine was blasting through the stacks of cut pieces.  She said my cutting vs sewing style was like Hyde and Jekyll!….or is that Jekyll and Hyde?

I think that much of this approach (careful careful cutting – then just SEW!) stems from the fact that both Leslie and I come from a background of industrial techniques – and have adapted our costume making production to make the most of the speedy and deliberate style of sewing associated with commercial garment production.

But – I digress……..well this is a blog and digressions are a part of the process….yes?…No?

What follows is by no means an exhaustive description of corset making for the novice.  We’re currently working on that book – or should I say OPUS!  But the steps here will give you a sense of the “order of operations” that were used for this particular corset project.

The Union Jack Corset is based on two layers of coutil – with the flag colour pieces  attached to the outside layer.  The corset hardware will then sit (sandwiched) between  these two layers.  There are many other ways to construct a corset – this is just one of the many.

(Note please – a corset is no loosey, goosey garment – accuracy in both cutting, and sewing really makes a difference when putting together those 130 cut fabric pieces, 22 bones, a busk and 28 grommets!)

marking pivot points with pencil

Step 1– Sew all the piecing seams of the coloured chips.  The chips for each of the 13 panels (12 body and 1 facing) are joined to each other.  Each chip was marked with a pencil dot at the crucial attachment points in order to achieve a degree of accuracy.

connecting pivot points with pin at the machine

Step 2– Press all of those seams open.  In quilting I usually lay both seams to one side but for this corset I wanted to distribute the thicknesses evenly.  The only exception is with the pieces that have insets.

Inset Pieces

A side panel – marker, exterior coutil, pieced exterior

Pieced and waiting for a press.

After a gentle press.

Step 3 – Flat mount each coloured panel onto the corresponding exterior coutil backing piece.

The pieced exterior will be sewn onto the coutil exterior.

The marker is excellent to assist in lining up all of the jointed pieces.

Stitch inside the seam allowances using the marker as a guide for positioning.

One piece done – do the same for the other 12 panels.

Right ‘body’ all pieced, pressed, and flat-mounted.

Same for the left.

Step 4 – Join all the left and right – both exterior and lining pieces to each other leaving the center back and center front open.

Right body

Left body.  This is the time when I usually pause to rejoice that every single cut piece has been attached to at least some other cut piece. Well it isn’t done yet but we take our victories whenever we can get them.

Step 5 – Press the exterior body seams open (again to distribute any thickness) – Press the interior body seams toward the front.   This makes for a very strong inner layer.  Normally I press the outside body seams one way and the inside body seams the other way.  Strong, strong STRONG construction techniques are needed to keep a corset from breaking at the seams.  At this point adding a strip of buckram to the eyelet section of the center back piece helps prevent eyelet tear-out. ( I usually do this prior to panels being sewn together as shown.)

Buckram strip prepped for center back reinforcement.

A little over-construction can’t hurt in this. Straight sewing and big zig-zag too! Really really NOT going anywhere.

More over-construction…top and edge stitching on both layers.  It does help to keep all of the seam allowances organized. This will come in handy when the bones are sliding into their channels and NOT getting hung up on errant seam allowances. At least that is the plan.

Step 6 – Join outside (coloured) center front to center front lining  and make busk insertion allowances for the left and right.  Join center back to center back (each outside center back to each corresponding lining center back.  Turn the pieces so that all the seam allowances are now on the inside – There is now a left corset sandwich and a right corset sandwich.

It’s really starting to look kinda cool. The ‘home stretch’…..laminate, bone channel, bind, bone, bind again and grommets. Sounds quite quick doesn’t it?

Step 7 – ‘Laminate’ (best word I can think of) the outside bodies to the lining bodies by stitching in the ditch of each seamline.  Careful that there is no creeping of the pieces.  Top raw edges and bottom raw edges should align perfectly.

Watch out for the dreaded “creeping” of the panels. And watch out for the pins that you may use to position the panels. Ouchy!

Step 8 – Make the boning channels.  This first sample has 22 bone channels stuffed with 5mm polyester bones as follows for each side:  2 channels adjacent to the busk,  2 channels centered on piece 2, 2 channels centered on piece 3, one channel for each seam between pieces 3-4, 4-5, and 5-6, and then the last two channels at the center back leaving a 1cm space for the grommets that will go in last.

Step 9 – Stitch top edges together, trim off seam allowance and bind in navy.  (I used straight grain bindings – it’s just one of many options.)

Step 10 – Measure, cut, and file the bone ends.  Stuff the bone channels.

Bones, cutter and file or rasp.

Cut boning to length and then file down the sharp end cuts.

The bones start out all curly and confused………

But a little (a lot) of heat……..

And a time to cool with ‘weights’ will make those bones behave!

Step 11 – Stitch lower edges together, trim off seam allowance and bind in navy.

Stitch hem edges together. That’s the sewing foot I call ‘skinny foot’ and it will leave just a little wiggle room for the bones inside their channels.

I need a manicure!

Yep – out of focus – It’s really difficult to hold a camera and operate the 9″ shears at the same time.

Final edge stitch on the hem binding.

Step 12 – Make the facing – if you haven’t got your own label – make one! and attach it – this may be the only credit you ever get for making this garment!…..Own It.

Step 13 – Insert the grommets at the center back.  Attach the facing to one side of the center back (yeah yeah – this time I will remember to leave the grommets free at the back)

14 grommets down each side of the back. The two at the waist are slightly closer together where the ‘loop’ in the lacings will go.

Step 14 – Put the lacings in and try that pretty thing on! – ’cause you are DONE!  🙂


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Cutting the Union Jack Corset

Hey, if you’ve been following along on this group of posts about the building of the Union Jack Corset, then I’m guessing you probably know how to cut out a pattern!

Take the pattern pieces, lay them on the fabric and cut around them…. think I’ll keep this one simple by just posting a whole bunch of pics of the process.

But first, I have to go BBQ a spicy Italian sausage! BRB

ok… I’m back, with my glass of wine and my sausage.

Thought I’d start out with a shot of the inner centre back panel which will be between the lacing and the wearers back.  It’s got our blog address, Deb’s label and the size.

We didn’t get a lot of shots of the pattern pieces on the fabrics, but here’s one of the blue markers laid out ready to cut. All you need is a pattern, pins, fabric and a pair of sharp scissors!

Blue marker ready to cut.

Check out this piece… the pin will help you get a sense of the scale!

Smallest piece in the Union Jack Corset.

Once they’re all cut out…..

The huge pile of cut pieces.

….then Deb set to work organizing them onto the original pattern pieces so she’d have a road map…a bit confusing otherwise…lol

First the blue….

…then the red….

…and the white….


We’ll be back soon with the sewing installment!

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Union Jack Corset – Sneak Peek

All the details of cutting, making and trimming will come soon in full blogging glory……..but really!…………how could I possibly wait to reveal it?
Union Jack Corset Center Front

I Like It !

I’ve got a number of ideas on improvements and changes that I’ll make for the next one.  More information will be up soon.  For now, it’s time to say –  G’night.


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