One thing I really like about sewing my own clothes is that it has almost completely replaced clothes shopping. I like looking, but I’m so glad I’ve not had to see the inside of a fitting room for a couple of years now. It also gives me a new appreciation for what’s involved in making some of the things I do see in shops (both real and online). But while there’s a lot of things that provoke the ‘I can make that’ response there are still some things that I wouldn’t know where to start on.
Take this amazing Pucci dress for example (not that I could ever have actually bought anything from Pucci, but it’s fun to browse). The embroidery is what makes it and it’s clearly been done around the design of the dress. I used to do a bit of embroidery but I’m not kidding myself I could produce anything like this.
Then there’s this Alexander McQueen dress which is all about the fabric. (This is another designer whose work I can only admire from afar). This dress is in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and is usually out on display somewhere around the building. I usually go and have a quick drool over it when I’m at the V&A! The design of the dress is fascinating, but the fabric is the real star. If you look carefully you can see there is more than one type of fabric in the dress. There’s a glossy silk which makes up the body of the dress and a more chiffony one forming the side drapes. The prints are the same on both. If you can’t have your own fabric printed it’s hard enough to find one perfect fabric, never mind two.
Image copyright Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Then there’s a whole category of knitted things that you’d probably need an industrial knitting machine to produce. This dress is another Alexander McQueen, from this season’s collection. The design is knitted into the fabric. Amazing stuff. You might be able to do something like it with a home knitting machine, perhaps, but I don’t know how fine a knit they can produce.
I have heard that fashion designers are increasingly concentrating on difficult-to-reproduce techniques because the high street copies designs so quickly these days. Whatever the reason, it produces plenty of eye-candy. And plenty of sewing techniques to aspire to. I think if I could pick one it would be the ability to produce patterned knitted fabric.
Here’s my finished version of Vogue 1240. This was a pattern with all sorts of fit problems, but thanks to some good advice from Pattern Review (not sure if that link will work for non-members but it’s free to sign up) I managed to produce something wearable. The trouble is I can’t find shoes to wear with it.
I made the dress to wear to a wedding. I’m therefore going to have to have shoes I can walk around in all day – which pretty much rules out the ones in the picture above.
I didn’t think I owned all that many shoes. And then when trying to find something to go with the dress I discovered I have five pairs of black heels. (This doesn’t include the ones I took to the charity shop after trying them on with this dress and realising I can’t even stand in them. Those are now out of the house so Do Not Count.)
All of the above look much too heavy with this dress apart from the very strappy pair – which as I said I have trouble walking in. I can do wedges or very chunky heels but not stilettos. What to do? Are kitten heels more wearable than they look? Can I learn to walk in the stilettos in the next month? What about dancing? Right now I’m wavering towards the Dolcis pair with the flared heels on the grounds that being able to dance is what counts!
It’s not just that the clothes are fascinating – and they are – but the way they are displayed is so much better for the viewer than most exhibitions. Normally the light level is kept low and everything is up on stands or inside glass cases to protect it from damage. This exhibition hall is brilliantly lit like a stage show. The clothes are presented on dress forms dotted around the floor. You can walk all the way round each one and get close enough to see all the details of the garment. You get so much more out of it than most fashion retrospectives. You can’t touch anything of course, but I was able to take a peek at the inside construction of the skirt of one of the more unusual dresses by sitting on the floor, and no one seemed to mind.
The clothes themselves are great. The exhibition has both mens and womenswear. The womens’ clothes vary from the clever but rather unwearable – for example a long black evening dress with an integrated sequinned handbag on the backside – to things I immediately wanted to reproduce. There’s a lot of unusual construction and structure to admire. Plenty of black and some wonderful bright orangey reds. There’s also a small group of coloured dresses where the fabric has very fine patterns produced by unusual dyeing techniques. The techniques had names I didn’t know but they looked like variants of tie-dye and batik to me. The fabrics in general were beautiful, although apparently they are all specially made for the designer so that’s not so surprising.
The menswear is not as wearable in general but I do like the suits with attached oversized tartan wraps and the colours. There were also videos of many of the collections to watch.
The exhibition spills out into the rest of the museum with five or six groups of garments placed outside the exhibition hall in various parts of the building. The V&A is huge so it took a while to track them all down, and in the process I saw parts of the collections I’d never gone into before.
Anyway, do go if you get the chance. I’ve certainly come back with some new ideas, and it’s not often you get the chance to look at this sort of clothing so closely. I hope the V&A does more of these.