1880 walking suit in bluebells As a part of my incoming book, The Victorian Dressmaker, I have been making a lot of new frocks. This one is one of the 5 or so different frocks representing the Natural form – … Continue reading
Romantic era ( late 1820s and 30s) is a rather, well, ‘interesting ‘ period, fashion wise. Men’s garb is superb – nipped in waists, tailcoats, cravats, waistocats galore – very smart, very dashing. Women’s fashions are – a bit extreme. … Continue reading
Some things start unexpectedly…. last January I picked some lovely silk that just screamed Victorian Seaside Bustle frock… And so for the summer I put a few days aside to make it – and to nip somewhere on the coast for … Continue reading
You are a creative person and would like to run a creative business full time. You have read the success stories, you have chatted to friends, and everything looks peachy – so you are leaving your mundane day-job and are … Continue reading
A long overdue post on a rather splendid ball we attended in London, in December. The Buttercup Ball was organized by Stuart Marsden ( the dance master for our Victorian ball last year – and this year’s edition too!) … Continue reading
It is finished at last!!!! I have loved this plate from ‘Harper’s Bazaar’ for years, and planned to make the jacket almost 2 years ago – now am happy to say that it is complete (well, almost…) I got the … Continue reading
Over the last 20 years of sewing for other people this is one of the more often-asked questions – “Why is bespoke more expensive than ready to wear, off-the-peg garments?” And this request accounts for about 80% of the email I am getting nowadays too:
“I saw your off the peg riding habit/gown/corset and I love it – I would like it made bespoke for me, in a different fabric and colour and with more decoration – will the price be the same?”
The reason for the difference in price is simple – as already stated in one of my previous blogs, ( A Queen on a budget, please), nowadays ordering bespoke is very rare thing. People are used to all the cheap, ready made clothing they see in the shops, and even with specialised items such as corsetry and historical clothing, a lot of people do not realise the difference between the ‘off-the-peg’ and ‘bespoke’, especially when made by he same person or company.
So,to make things simpler let us have a look at what you are actually paying for – at least as far as my own merchandise is concerned..
Off the Peg items:
* Labour – a generically sized pattern is used to cut out the fabric, followed by assembly and decoration: the price will depend upon the complexity of the garment and time needed to execute it
*Notions – decorations, buttons, thread, embroidery, etc
*Packing/postage/delivery if required
*My professional expertise, knowledge and experience!
- Labour –
- initial measuring session with a client
- drafting their specific pattern
- making up a mock-up ( toile)
- fitting the mock up on the client (with second client visit)
- cutting out fabric based on final pattern from re-fitted toile
- assembling the garment proper,
- fitting session with a client – these stages may be repeated several times depending upon how many items are to be made or how complex the garments may be)
- final assembly of the garment(s)
- adding decoration, finishing touches, etc
- pick up session with finished garments – although rarely needed, there is usually time assigned for any last minute corrections, as well. In my case you are likely to get a free photoshoot with TimeLight Photographic too, if you wish 😉
- after-care – small repairs or minor adjustments are generally provided for free; bigger ones may be provided at a reduced hourly rate. People usually come back to resize a garment if they have lost or gained significant weight, or to add more decoration, reapply a hem guard if the original one is worn out, etc.
- time (apart from actual making of the garment)-
- fitting sessions, measuring sessions have to be scheduled in.
- consultation, either in person, on the phone or by email, giving advice on style, fabric choices, historical accuracy, etc. For a relatively simple garments emails and message exchange may take several hours to write, research, etc. In the most extreme case I received over 250 emails from one person in one week about her commission…
- research. Lots of research.
- sourcing the fabrics, embellishments and other providers for items we do not supply direct (blackwork, embroidery, shoes, etc)
- writing up contracts, quotes and invoices
- chasing up clients to settle on fitting dates, etc. Fortunately, a good contract means we don’t have to chase folks for the payment! (more on contracts for businesses running a business – contracts)
- notions – decorations, buttons, thread, etc
packing/postage/delivery if needed
my professional expertise, knowledge and experience.
- stress! I am an introvert and dealing with people, however lovely, and no matter how enjoyable it is for me, (and make no mistake, I love my work and so far all of my bespoke clients have been amazing – to such an extent that we often develop friendly relations afterwards and stay in touch socially), this stress still takes its toll. After a few ours of fittings I feel as if I have run a marathon and all I want to do is sleep:-)
See the difference? A riding habit that looks the same will take 3 times as long if made bespoke – and that is usually true for every other item.
Above – a bespoke habit worth over £1000 in quality cloth, fittings, handmade and hand applied braiding and an off the peg habit from our online shop – £370
Another thing to consider is the fact that I make off-the-peg garments largely to satisfy my own insane desire to create pretty things – I make them in the size I want, in a fabric I like and have available currently and in a style I feel inclined to – I don’t have to consult a client on what they would like. If I change my mind half way through – that is fine. If I feel tired and don’t fancy pushing myself to finish by a certain deadline – that is fine too. Full creative freedom.
Bespoke work is much more complex, since I have to adhere to the client’s ideas, body type, etc, so it provides quite a different feeling. Taking someone else’s ideas and making a fully functional garment, looking the way they want it too look, and fitting them well is immensely satisfying. All the hours of research, fittings, handstitching etc are worth it not only in terms of the financial reward- the look on the client’s faces when they see themselves in the mirror wearing their new clothing for the first time is a great reward too – and, I won’t lie, I love to see my work worn and admired. The last session when a final outfit is tried on is always stressful – no matter how experienced you are, you are always worried that maybe this button is a tad too tight, or maybe the skirt is 0.5″ too big. Paltry things, easy to sort out within minutes, but irrationally, I still always worry!
But when it all comes together – well, the moment is magic. And I don’t charge for that! 😉
There is a Georgian Festival in Stamford every other year – and this year we were contracted for a couple of jobs there ( thanks to Black Knight Historical).
The festivities lasted 3 full days with lots of lectures, meetings, Georgian market and living history – but our adventure started on Friday night – at the Georgian ball!
We arrived in plenty of time , and were led to a proper theatre style dressing room – and it turned out we were sharing it with Dr. Lucy Worsley, who dropped in for a moment of respite between her talks, book signing and other public duties. We have met before as worked for the Worsley/Starkey documentary in Hampton court the year before, so it wasn’t too awkward. Still, not often do we get to share a dressing room with a celebrity – and I felt a bit overdressed on the occasion 🙂
At the ball we danced, we chatted – and then provided some entertaining background during the buffet break as the folks were queuing for some lovely food – there was chatting, playing cards and some sketching taking place….
After the break ( and after eating rather a lot of left over cake) there was more dancing and frivolities – until it was time to drive back home….
Saturday was a day off, and Sunday we were taking part in the fashion show, so with a day off in between, I decided to make myself a new outfit – just because I have always wanted a jacket, and because i had the fabric for ages!
I made the skirt in a lovely quilted cotton, with a fringe, and then worked the rest of the day on a 1790 pierrot jacket.
I quickly drafted the pattern and then fitted it – mock up first and then playing with the real thing, in silk and linen
Sunday morning saw the jacket finished – but i had a few hours left before we had to make a move. so time to make a new hat! a gigantic one! Not the best of my creations, admittedly, but it did the job.
Then it was packing the gear and setting off.
The fashion show went down a treat – there was a huge variety of costumes, from different decades and different walks of life, and the commentary was super as well… a few behind the scenes shots..
some unspeakable and unmentionable things happened too….
After the show, I could change into my new bits and have a stroll around Stamford – and take a few pictures
But I was not exactly happy – I felt the wig did not work very well with the colours of the walking outfit. So when we got back home, I changed wigs and we went on to snatch some autumnal pictures at the local Nature Reserve…. much happier with these!
we even had a go at some heavy machinery….
all together, a cracking weekend was had!
photography – Lucas from Timelight Photographic
costuming – Prior Attire ( the walking outfit is now available for sale – here)
shoes – American Duchess, naturellment!
This point has come up recently, but in quite a few places, and so I though it was worth discussing it here. I have mentioned ‘constant learning’ and pointed out how important it is if you want your business to succeed, but I neglected to mention one important thing:
…and believe me, ladies and gentlemen, mistakes are your friend. They show you clearly in which areas you need to improve, they make you aware that there is yet more research todo/ techniques to study, and as a result, you get better! The thing is, everybody makes mistakes- but not everybody learns from them.
I am often asked by folks for an opinion on their creations – and they all ask me for an honest opinion. And an honest opinion I give, highlighting both the points of excellency, and stating what areas could do with some improvement (as a college teacher I have had decades of practice on how to do this, at least now it comes handy for my own business too!); and guessed what? A few folks are happy, a few take the comments on board and apply in their future work, a few listen, thank me and ignore whatever was suggested – and that is all fine. However, quite a significant percentage are angry and actually resort to abuse, (“how dare you criticise my gown! I spent months working on it!” ; “You are just jealous, you must hate my work – all my friends are saying this piece is perfect!”; and even “go fuck yourself, you ‘know- it-all’, my work is faultless; afraid of competition, huh?”). They do make for an interesting read sometimes, and sometimes they leave me puzzled – so after some thinking and a few discussions with friends, I realised an important thing:
Very few people are able to view their work objectively.
It works in both directions. Some people create amazing things but in their own eyes they are nothing special, just ‘something I made’ . The are the perfectionists, never satisfied with the end result, and sometimes suffering from ‘impostor syndrome’. As a result they do put their own work down, and either under-price it or, if making things for themselves, they get disappointed with the lack of perfection. Usually they just need a bit of a boost, usually from another person whose opinion they feel they can trust, to start looking at their creations in a different light. Sometimes their sense of underachievement may come from comparing their own work to other artists to whom they look up – and that issue can be dealt with as well.
If you think you might be one of these folks, there are a few things you may do, to try to look at your own work in a more realistic light:
- Read up on the Impostor Syndrome and ways to overcome it; (a good start here)
- Set yourself realistic goals. Aim high, yes – but in small steps rather than one huge leap. Take small steps, each bringing you closer to your ideal.
- Identify the issues that you think your work has, write them down and then discuss – ideally with a specialist in the area, an outsider who will be objective, but if you have friends who are able to tell you what they really think, that can work, too. Seek out a few good, informed opinions – if none of them perceive the same issues as yourself, there is a high probability that the issue is really only in your own head! If they agree and state that there is something upon which you can improve, don’t despair. Simply note the advice and plan for how to deal with it. This is one of your targets, and gives you something tangible to work on, whilst on your way to ‘perfection’.
- Talking about perfection – well, it means something different to everybody. I usually assume absolute perfection is unattainable, but one can damn well try to get as close as possible! Do not over-obsess though – that one, tiny, skipped stitch you found on the inside or that one buttonhole 0.2mm out of alignment? It will most likely not be noticed by 99.9% of the population…
- Know your limits: everybody has different strengths and different weaknesses – use your strengths to your advantage. You can make a great piece of clothing with a commercial pattern, but when trying to pattern things yourself you end up in a mess?- either take lessons or a course in patterning, or just concentrate on doing what you are good at! Or, if you cannot follow a pattern at all and get lost in calculations, but can free-hand them with ease and the end result is amazing – well, ditch the patterns! There are may ways leading to the same result, all of them equally good.
- Don’t always compare yourself to the top of your profession. Yes, look up to them and learn from them, but also take time to compare yourself to your peers, and also to those who are just starting out. This is crucial – and works for many walks of life. I had a similar experience in Mixed Martial Arts quite recently – for the last year or so I have been trying to spar with the best fighters, thinking that these guys are the ones to learn from. I was right, but only partially. I was learning, but couldn’t see it, and the fact that I was having my arse handed to me again, and again, and again, wasn’t particularly motivating. I did some sparring with the beginners, and enjoyed the teaching and coaching part, but it was only when I came across somebody who was my peer, more or less, when I understood how much I had learnt. These guys were not the cage fighters I usually worked with, but blokes who had been coming for the last year or so – fit, young and looking quite formidable. I sparred with them a few times half a year ago or so and was just about able to handle it. So now I expected something similar – but it turned out much better. Suddenly all the moves that I wasn’t able to pull with the ‘pros’ now worked! I seemed faster and more agile – although obviously I wasn’t – they were just a bit slower than my usual sparring partners. My ego soared! At least until the next round when I was ground to dust by one of our pros… it is a lengthy example but I hope it shows how working with all, levels, higher and lower can help you understand your own capabilities: Working with the best can provide you with inspiration and will make you learn; working with peers will help you assess your own work better and you learn from each other a lot too; working with beginners will help you realise how far you have come – and will help them to improve as well.
* Take photos of you work and if you are feeling particularly low, have a look at the old ones. more often than not, you will see how far you have come!
*and a final note – Do not use the Impostor Syndrome as an excuse for sloppy work – if one sleeve is longer than another, if the collar doesn’t align or the hem buckles it is not you telling yourself you are trying too hard to be too perfect and most people wont notice it anyway. Grab that seam ripper and set too work, it will be worth it!
Now, let us have a look at the other end of the scale.
Some people are not able to see their own mistakes – and the reasons may be numerous, ranging from a case of Dunning- Kruger Syndrome to the fact that your family and friends may be pumping you full lies so that you stay happy. Or maybe you are starting on a long road and are so ecstatic about the first step as a whole, that you cannot see the details which could be improved (been there, done that, got the tee shirt. I now cringe when I look at those ‘masterpieces’ I used to be so proud of!)
Most often, the apparent confidence in one’s own brilliance comes not from an over-abundance of self esteem – but rather a lack of it. Often, people are bought up in the belief that mistakes are bad and to be avoided at all cost – and that admitting to one is just as bad. Years of self delusion, denying all possibility of any fault, usually re-enforced by the white lies that family and friends feed you, and you somehow loose the ability to see your mistakes – and most importantly, to learn from them.
Now, if you are making things for yourself, and love what you doing – that is really all that matters – especially when you are happy about your results. You are happy and that’s the end of it – enjoy it, and what everybody else is thinking does not matter at all.
However, if your professional career depends upon it, and you are making things for other people, this can be detrimental to the development of your business and indeed can stop you from fully realising your creative potential. It will also make you very unhappy – you are producing fantastic things, but nobody wants to buy them – why? If you want to succeed, you need to understand how to adjust your perception – even though your mind is telling you clearly that there is no fault with the product, it is just that all of those other people are wrong, and being awkward! ;-0).
There are a few techniques that may help:
- It is very difficult to judge your own work accurately – so seek the opinions of outsiders, just as mentioned above. Try not to get upset when critical advice is offered, but do take notes and decide which parts need more work. Make sure the ‘experts’ you are asking for advice are indeed knowledgeable folks with experience and not just a friend of a friend who once made a hankie….
- Assume from the start that what you have just made may have faults. Although lots of art is deeply subjective, at least in costuming things can be made easy – you cannot ‘objectively’ state how pretty something is, but there are measurable quantities and aspects – below are two of my check-lists, for corsetry and off-the-peg Victorian dresses. Lists like that are great, and you will soon find that in time they become mental check-lists, and that you are noticing a mistake as you work along and correcting it as you go – much easier than doing so after the garment is finished!
- Seam ripper is your best friend – it is frustrating, dull and infuriating, but it is really worth it to rip and redo a wonky seam!
- …as is the tape measure. You may not see that the collar is uneven, but you cannot argue with the tape informing you kindly that one edge is half an inch higher than the other…. These may be details – but oh, so often they do make a difference between a mediocre dress and a superb outfit!
- Get some distance – after you make a garment, put it away overnight, or at least for a few hours and go for a walk, or do something different. Then look at it with fresh eyes and try to asses it as somebody else’s work. I once spent a whole day working on a replica bolero jacket for a museum. I was battling with a lurgy and not feeling great, but decided to soldier through. I shouldn’t have. I felt better the next day and one look at the garment made me go: “Oh, crap, I need to do the blasted thing again”. There was nothing inherently wrong with it, but it just did not seem right, I went through my checks with a tape measure etc, and realised what was the problem : the bias bits were not done well enough, the trim was a bit uneven, buttons just a notch out of alignment… I spent the whole day remaking it from scratch. As it turned out, the client liked both – but I felt better knowing that I had made an item better suited for public viewing
- As in the opposite spectrum, perform frequent ‘reality checks’. Seek advice from people you admire, compare your work to your peers’ and study together, help beginners – a few times, I have realised my own mistakes only after seeing them on a student’s work. And the occasional bitch-and-stitch sessions can be not only educational, but fun 🙂
- As before, do take pictures. Compare your old work with new pieces; if you are learning and improving, there will be clear evidence of it, and it will sharpen your ‘mistake hunting’ senses. By the same token, if you look at the skirts you made over the last 3 years and they all feature an uneven hem – well, you know precisely your next personal improvement goal!
- Having said all that, don’t go over the top trying to find out the slightest faults in every single item. Improving is one thing – loosing your joy in making things is quite another, and it is never a good thing trying to make a living doing things you don’t enjoy any more…
Well, that is it – I believe my first blog ever with more text than pictures, a rarity! I hope my musings were not too hard a read and that they may help some people. If you have any ideas on other techniques people can use to learn how to assess their own work (more or less objectively), please share in the comments!
Welcome to another of our tutorials aimed at the folk getting their gear ready for the Victorian Ball. In this one I am going to provide a step by step guide on how to make the iconic round crinoline cage, perfect … Continue reading