Carol Alayne

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Archive for April, 2009

Welcoming back an old friend

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

I think it was the blues singer Corey Harris who said,  “in order to know where you’re going, you have to know where you’ve been”.  Last week I spent some time re-visiting an old friend with a view to making a new one.

This knee length dress in wool crepe was commissioned last year.  It came from the first client via our TfW blog who wanted a simple elegant piece to make an impact during a special viewing at Christies; the international auctioneers of fine art.

As an inspiration she suggested looking at the French designer André Courrèges,  famous for producing immaculately tailored sporting clothes in the mid 60’s.  He became known as the socialites’ couturier, and his clients included the Begum Aga Khan, Princess Lee Radziwill, and the Duchess of Windsor.  His signature silhouette for a dress was an “A” shape that bypassed and concealed the waist.

This rich red dress is made from double wool crepe selected at Joel & Sons. The fabric has a deep texture that can be indented by topstitching, a technique similar to quilting that was favoured by Courrèges.

Wool crepe has a characteristic crinkled granular appearance produced both by the special type of yarn used, and the distinctive way in which it is woven.  It also dyes well in any range of deep jewel or soft pastel colours, with the texture of the fabric enhancing its hue.

This cloth has many attractive properties for a tailor or couturier.  From a design and construction perspective the relaxed weave allows a slight “give” in all directions, making it possible to shape and mold the cloth into sculptural lines that follow the contours of the body.  Newly developed stretch linings are compatable with an outer crepe layer to accommodate any movement.

For the wearer it creates a garment that is comforatable all year round.  It will also be durable, perfect for travel, easy to care for, and equally suitable for boardroom, day or evening wear.

There is a re-emerging trend for dresses as they seem to offer the ideal solution as an alternative to the more conventional skirt and jacket combination.  They are easy to accesorize and to wear with other separates.

Returning to our crimson friend above, in a short while it will return to the closet with a new companion to share the rail.

Revisiting the fuller figure

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

In a UK market where we are told the average women’s size is 16, for the Sunday Times Style magazine to feature the fuller figure (“The Triumph of Curves“) seems timely.  We have covered this topic before, however I think in the case of this article it does need something of a reality check.

It is interesting that all the models photographed look beautifully proportioned.  In my experience such perfection is not always apparent and the fuller figure does present a number of challenges that are not always equally distributed.  Something else worth mentioning is how the body shape will change when one is active.  Even the simple act of sitting down can put stresses on a garment that require a tolerance not obvious in some of the featured samples.

I first started to look closer at the moulding of the female form when I worked with the designer Georgina Godley in the recreation of her 80’s “Lumps and Bumps” collection for  “Addressing the Century: 100 years of Art and Fashion” at London’s Hayward Gallery in 1999.  I spent many hours with a mannequin, chunks of foam rubber glued together, and an electric carving knife, exploring different body shapes.

It is interesting to notice, when ready-made garments are graded up to larger sizes how these can look somehow out of balance on a larger frame.  This is particularly noticeable at the shoulder line which often appears to “grow” too wide.  If a garment fits neatly to the span of the shoulder it is much more flattering for a woman (the fit for men is different).

Without being too technical, when drafting a pattern for a bespoke piece the trick is to merge an accurate shoulder measure into the proportionally larger bust and waist.  A neat armhole must marry up to a darting system for the bustline.  If this is styled well the garment will fit the main points on the figure and trick the eye into seeing a smaller size.  Of course this is not so easy to reproduce for the mass market.

If you have a larger frame it helps if you are tall;  with an ample bust, balanced hips and shoulders, and a well defined waist – certainly when it comes to dressing from the high street.  Otherwise one has to look at a combination of solutions.

It is interesting also to note how some fuller figures work better with fitted clothing, whereas others need a looser fit, or even a combination of the two. Balance is everything, and not always easy to achieve from hunting through racks of clothes.

This is why we are here!

A serious topic for Easter

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

Cancer and chocolatesI wonder how many of you were able to view the moving testament by Jenni Murray on the Newsnight programme recently on BBC Television.  This highly regarded presenter of the long running Woman’s Hour Programme (BBC Radio) spoke with great openness and pragmatism about the moment she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

It made me think about some of my past clients who had contracted the same disease and how they came to terms with the physical changes that they were faced with.  The medical profession tells us that surgical techniques and recovery processes have changed radically over the years and the procedures are not perhaps quite as brutalising as they were once considered.  The lingerie industry has given us products that are sufficiently advanced to help disguise any changes in body shape,  however there remains still the psychological trauma linked to a perceived loss of one’s femininity.

It made me realise that as a tailor one is privy to some extremely personal moments in a client’s life,  and the role one can play professionally  in supporting the journey back to full confidence is certainly a privileged position to be invited to fulfil.

I was advised by one of my clients, a medical specialist, that should you need any information about this subject this is by far the most helpful website for research,  run by Macmillan; CancerBackup

Cancer Bacup

Briefing for Bespoke: The Inside Story

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

Inner workings“Show me where you work; show me how you do it”.

I am thrilled by the way my clients want to collaborate in the design of their garments.  Their curiosity seems to be twofold: a desire to learn more about the practical details; cloth, techniques, tools.  Secondly, an intrigue with the more artistic side of things such as proportion, colour balance, placement of detail etc.

I have been thinking about some of the parallels with architecture.

A building is made from both rigid and flexible elements.  The final structure has to be strong enough to maintain its form, but possess a degree of flexibility as the climate, inside and out, affects the physics of the materials from which it is made.  So, the constituent components all influence each other.

Garments crafted in the art of bespoke are created in a similar way – with a unique layering of materials and methods of combining them.  The art lies in achieving a finished product that is soft on the body but at the same time accentuates the natural attributes of the materials used.

Some materials making up the inner architecture of a bespoke suit are:

  • chest canvas – short, coarse fibres in the weave provide foundation and allow flexibility
  • laptair – long, rigid fibres supporting the weft of a fabric help preserve its width.
  • domette – soft, supple cloth secured over the coarser fibres of the laptair preventing their intrusion past the inner linings.
  • silesia – a strong, densely woven fabric that adds a stable foundation in the fixing of other materials
  • pocketings – robust enough to hold an array of objects yet retain its shape, and be comfortable on the skin

These materials are layered and secured with a matrix of different types of stitches, each backing the other up.

  • basting cotton – soft thread for loose stitching such as padding and basting which can be easily removed
  • poly-cotton blend – used for machining and some hand sewing
  • silk – because of its lustre and strength it is used for the final topstitching and buttonholes
  • polyester – strongest, the thickest grades are used for backstitching

“The sewing machine is used for almost all seams and darts, but 75% of all stitches in a bespoke made suit are still done by hand, to ensure the most accurate shaping of the fabric.  Today’s tailors continue to practice their art almost exactly as it was practiced a century ago.  Not because slower is necessarily better, but because these methods produce body and form, detail and durability which newer faster methods of tailoring are simply unable to equal.”
(Classic Tailoring Techniques.  Roberto Cabrera/Patricia Flaherty Meyers.)

With modern, mass produced clothing, many of these details are eliminated.  One example is the way in which many layers are secured by one line of machine stitching.  If this line breaks, then it all breaks.

We spend our lives wrapped up in our clothes – we might as well know something about them!


Recognised as a pioneer of bespoke tailoring for women, Carol Alayne has over 25 years experience of creating striking garments for arts, sports and media personalities and business wear for professionals and executives.



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