Carol Alayne

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Archive for the ‘Fabrics and materials’ Category

When less is more

Monday, March 20th, 2017

Utility dressIn 1940, with all-out war looming, the UK government Board of Trade decided to restrict the amount of clothing available in order to preserve resources. They called in the help of the Incorporated Society of London Fashion Designers, comprising the leading English couture houses, and asked them to design robust clothes using a minimum of material. These ‘utility’ clothes were created with simple (more…)

Highland flair

Monday, January 30th, 2017

TfW Highland coat collarI was working on four different Harris tweed garments last December when, by chance, I came across this article in The Guardian newspaper: Harris tweed sales soar. ‘Surely not just thanks to me’, I mused, but I was pleased with the closing remark from Lorna Macaulay, chief executive of the Harris Tweed Authority, who said: (more…)

Sensational Butterflies

Monday, June 27th, 2016

‘The caterpillar does all the work but the butterfly gets all the publicity’, supposedly said the comedian George Carlin.

I guess this is true in most cases.   The finished product is far more attractive to look at than the work in process.  But then, both can be equally amazing.  I am talking about the brilliant mosaic mess you can find on my cutting room floor after a job is done!

So let’s not discount the whole metamorphosis thing; what we think is an unremarkable worm is anything but.  It is part of a process that continues to be at the forefront of scientific research.  Aesthetic appeal and diverse opportunities in the sciences have kept butterflies at the centre of evolutionary and behavioural research.  And the more we learn about the way butterflies communicate, the better understanding we have of our own sensory world.

Butterflies have become synonymous with freedom.  Charles Dickens, Elton John and I all agree on this.  I set another garment free the other day.  A beautifully delicate tea dress made from 3 layers of fine silk.  The design was based around the middle layer – a bold jacquard print by Hanae Mori, the most honoured female designer from Japan and an icon to the liberated woman (she has also released a perfume called ‘Butterfly’).  You can all have one guess as to the theme in the print.

The challenge was how to place the pattern pieces on the fabric to capture the great swirls in the design while featuring the image of a sensational butterfly in full flight.  Like the mighty Monarch flying south for the winter!

To make the decision, I made the pattern pieces first out of translucent tissue and invited my client to come around to help with the placement.  I know that she was fascinated to be a part of the process of designing her own bespoke garment.  And she was thrilled to spot the opportunity to reserve a strip of cloth to make an optional neck scarf to add to the look. The result is bold but delicate, featherweight and free for almost any occasion.

‘Fly away, high away, bye bye….’

Harmonicas and birthday suits

Friday, December 31st, 2010

Grand CanyonI spend much of my time focusing on the close-up detail of cutting and sewing, so half way through a full-on year at TfW I decided to take a break and treat my eyes to a panoramic feast, thanks to the Grand Canyon. The trip of a lifetime – and I’m still feeling the benefits, months later.

TfW was created nearly three years ago to cater for the women’s business suit market, and these garments are certainly proving to be our staple fare. (more…)

DM Buttons

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

Nobody ever thinks of buttons unless they come off. But I can tell you there’s a whole technology that exists around buttons and buttonholes. I guess most people imagine that tailors know all there is to know about buttons, but it’s far from the case. When I need some special button feature, I pop along to the trade’s best-known button specialist (more…)

Singing suits

Monday, September 27th, 2010

Singing suitYou might think that bespoke tailoring inhabits a rather old-fashioned, fuddy duddy world where respect for tradition and convention is more important than innovation and fashion. Well it’s true that I’ve posted several articles celebrating the traditions of the tailoring craft and fabrics made of natural materials. Fine tailoring tends to have a single objective – to make the person look and feel good and to reflect their status in professional or social circles. We’re stuck with certain given factors: two arms, two legs, a head, a torso. And it seems unlikely that this will change much in the near future. So there’s little room for radical innovation, certainly not in terms of shape, structure or form.

We’re used to fabrics which have many different properties – heat resistant, cold resistant, porous, impermeable, light, heavy, rigid, flexible, contour-hugging, loose. And of course man-made fibres have been around for almost a century already. But if you look at those, especially nylon, polyester, acrylic and polyolefin used in clothing textiles, their main purpose has been to imitate or improve on natural fibres. They weren’t invented to fulfil new functions.

On the other hand, the world of fashion has always had a weakness for the extravagant or the bizarre, such as garments made of glass, feathers,  paper, or decorated with Swarovski crystals. Clothing materials can consist of almost anything, but the end result is still a piece of clothing – that’s all it does.

The best garments respond sensitively to movement and change of shape. And of course the secret of the tailor’s craft is to design garments which can anticipate many different postures and gestures using materials which will maintain a basic look no matter how contorted.

But recently I came across an article in The Economist and it made me realise that there could be a real open door to innovation after all. If textiles can respond to movement and manipulation why not also to other stimuli, such as changes in temperature, light levels – or sound? Why not a singing suit? The Economist report outlines some recent research by Dr. Yoel Fink and colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who have managed to create a fibre which can respond to acoustic or electrical waves, rather like a microphone or loudspeaker. Imagine a microphone in the shape of a length of thread.

The science is mind-bogglingly complex, but the idea is simple. Now we have the possibility of a textile which can not only respond to changes of shape and position, but which can ‘hear’ vibrations and sound waves. So far the fibres produced are rather too large to be able to weave into a wearable textile, but that’s only a matter of time. And the open doors? Imagine hosiery which could detect obstructions in blood flow in critical areas of the leg by ‘listening’ to the blood circulation, like a permanent stethoscope.

Sadly, TfW is not yet geared up to working with ‘intelligent’ textiles, but you can be sure that when they arrive, we’ll be the first to offer bespoke services with the intelligent fibres you can trust!

Funga Safari!

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

TfW Safari DressFunga Safari… was just what someone needed to tell me last week. Summer was beginning to sink in at last, not just in terms of the weather, but also the shift in colours and textures you can see in clothes shops everywhere as safari collections sprout into view. So after a particularly busy week, I was looking forward to funga safari – literally, ‘halting the march’. In Swahili.

Of course I needed to do a little bit of research to discover that, not being a fluent Swahili speaker. And not surprisingly it was sparked off by my own personal safari (literally, journey) with a commission for a cotton drill dress – with a hint of allure.

TfW Safari dress collarSo naturally, the world of safari clothing sprang to mind. Khaki colours, bush jackets, belted shirts, pith helmets and slouch hats.

But I was aiming for something which would capture the mood of the safari look without losing its urban elegance; something earthy, sunny and breezy. TfW Safari dress profileWearing it should make you feel light and summery.

It has a two-way zip closure – fingertip temperature control – and the sleeves can be rolled up to reveal the contrast in the facing fabric. TfW Safari dress zipI chose leather detail for highlights to mark the centre back yoke and the zipper pulls on the front and pockets. Just a hint of earthiness there. It’s a bespoke garment of course, but now I’ve finished it, I feel sure the concept will appeal to many others.

TfW Safari dress To round off my modest foray into safari research, I discovered that the Regimental March of the King’s African Rifles was ‘Funga Safari’, presumably a welcome sound after a long day marching through the bush. So I’ll stop here and let you admire the pictures.TfW Safari dress sleeve

Waistcoats with warmth and personality: TfW’s new Limited Edition Gilet. Scroll down to order.

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

TfW GiletSo, why are we always talking about the weather!  I’m not one for making rash statements, but I’m willing to stick my neck out and predict that over the next few months the weather everywhere is going to be unpredictable. So the question of what to wear if, like me, you have an active outdoor and indoor life, starts to get tedious. A coat or not? A warm jacket? Will it rain? It’s sunny but it’s cold and windy… How to minimise having to shed layers every time you arrive in a building or jump in the car?

It’s a dilemma I’ve been pondering for some years and I’ve recently realised that our changing weather patterns are making it worse. So I got to work.

Thanks to my experience in the tailoring of country pursuits garments I was already aware of the extremely practical nature of the gilet – a sleeveless jacket often seen worn by ‘county women’ everywhere. Practical yes, but fashionable – very questionable.

Yet why not, I thought? Why not take the perfect answer to unpredictable weather and transform it into something that will look striking in almost any indoor or outdoor situation, without losing its practicality?

TfW Gilet collarIntroducing TfW’s Limited Edition Gilet. An all-season, comfortable, light, multi-use, warm, feminine garment which will eliminate cumbersome multi-weather dress problems for good. The gilet is sleeveless, which means freedom of movement. It can be worn over a business suit or under a topcoat. And its two-way zip enables you to adjust the front closure to suit almost any circumstances, whether driving or walking, sitting in a train or cycling indeed.

But crucially, I’ve hand-crafted the TfW Gilet to look good anywhere – at work, evenings out, walking the dog, shopping… TfW Gilet liningThere’s a selection of classic William Morris cotton print linings …

The garment is made from boiled wool, a fabric shrunk during manufacture so that it will retain its posture whatever the circumstances for the life of the garment.

And something else I learned from my country pursuits experience – handbags can be bad news when coping with windy or rainy conditions. So the TfW Gilet contains carefully crafted, fully lined pockets – for coins, mobile, travel documents, spectacles. And two secure internal zip pockets for credit cards, passes, etc.

An entirely original limited edition – but with unlimited style.

All photos: Keith Hern

Is tailoring eco-friendly?

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

One of the things I find most satisfying about tailoring is the opportunity to create practical but aesthetic garments. The perfect combination of usefulness and artistry! And of course these days we all benefit from hi-tech scientific developments both in the processing of fabrics and in the development of new materials.

These thoughts occurred to me as I came across a whole flurry of articles linking fashion and sustainable development: ‘green’ fashion, fashion and the environment, ‘organic’ fashion even. But wait a minute, I thought… (more…)

Button up your overcoat, when the wind is free…

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

It’s time to sing that chorus again.  With the evenings drawing in and the temperature  falling,  we will need to think of bundling up in a few more layers when we go out.  For those who plan ahead, the ever reliable overcoat waiting in the back of the wardrobe can be taken out for an airing and a good brush…an old friend with lots of memories, here again to keep you snug.

Overcoats come in all sorts of styles; topcoats, peacoats, cover coats, crombie etc.  They are as wonderful a garment as they are essential, and can give real authority to a wardrobe.  Like a piece of sculpture, they help make you look smart and poised. I feel they are the epitome of style and good taste when the weather begins to turn.  Worn over a business suit or daywear, they come in a range of weights and fabrics.  Camel hair, cashmeres, wools or the luxurious vicuna can be styled into any design from above knee to ankle length.  The longer the length the better the protection.

Coats often have an interesting history.  For example, the polo coat originally started out as a simple camel-hair wrap coat, like a large blanket.  It was something the riders threw over their shoulders, like a bathrobe, while waiting to resume play. Originally it was called a ‘wait’ coat but in the 1920s, when English polo players were first invited to play in matches on Long Island (NY), the swagger of these coats didn’t go unnoticed, and they soon appeared on East coast campuses. By 1930, polo coats had supplanted the raccoon coats at the Yale-Princeton football game; a decided stamp of approval.

This coat for one of my women clients has a ‘button-tab’ collar.  It’s an unusual design that evolved as a means of keeping out the chill wind.  The lapel and top collar roll-line open and cross over at the center front fully covering and protecting the upper chest and neck area.  With an under collar from matching cloth, instead of the melton collar one sees in most men’s tailoring, it looks equally smart whether open or closed.

To emphasise the accents in this colourful Donegal tweed, and to add an eye-catching finish I  hand-worked each button hole in a different colour silk twist.

My own worsted wool overcoat, inspired by the ‘swing’ style of the 40’s, has a magnificent autumnal check and finishes just 3″ above the ankle.  It covers all skirt lengths and is one of my cosiest items.  Real weather…..bring it on!


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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