Last semester I took AP 242, Couture Sewing Techniques, with Professor Lombardi as part of FIT’s continuing education program. I signed up for this class after finishing Adam’s jacket because I realized I really wanted to revisit some sewing fundamentals at a really high level. This class is a technique class. You don’t finish a garment at any point. Most of the projects are on 9×6″ fabric squares and are designed to showcase one couture-specific technique, which means a lot of hand finishing, a lot of very classical concepts which are not really seen in clothing any more because many of them require a lot of handwork.

Despite its rarity, couture is still created for the evening and events market and is sold to very private collectors. It is a very small, very niche market governed by the Fédération française de la couture, which currently only recognizes 16 grands couturiers (who produce haute couture and show in Paris), as well as a few other “guests” who produce couture (not haute) and some foreign couturiers who do not show in Paris but also create couture. According to the Fédération couture requires a minimum of 2 fittings per client per look, for the approximately 4,000 couture buyers in the world. Each garment sells for between $50,000 and $200,000. In the 50s, which was the height of couture, there were around 20,000 couture buyers and they bought daywear as well as evening wear. Times change!

I didn’t go into the class planning on doing anything with my couture work aside from informing my regular old sewing, but it is nice to have this knowledge and to pick up new tricks or styles. Taking the class remotely was a huge relief since it took out a lot of the time pressure of getting to midtown Monday nights from 6 to 10. Below, some of my favorite pieces:

Zig zag hem facing (for garment interior or decorative outer), hand applied. The trick is… to do it by hand. Also to baste everything before sewing the facing to the self fabric (and then to carefully clip the corners).

Coverstitch lace insertion by hand, one of my favorite things I learned and probably the one I am most excited to try on a garment. Pretty self evident but just requires small stitches in matching thread. It was nice to learn a lot of different kinds of stitches which I never considered before as I only knew how to do a running stitch and a backtack by hand.

Welt pocket I added to a pair of shorts. This process is extremely time consuming but so pretty in the end. Lots of hand tacking but the most helpful part of learning how to do this was learning exactly how to slash the pocket opening because when I’ve done this in the past it’s always come out wrong. Hard to explain but you basically cut a line in the center that leaves a V-shaped slice on both ends by cutting diagonally to the corners of the welt.

Hong Kong bias binding on a curved wool edge. I love this fabric so much. Not much to say here but nice bias binding (1″) makes for a neat curve although I wasn’t able to entirely avoid the roping through the center. Working with extremely high quality wool like this one, which is so soft and pliable, really made wool my new favorite fabric (rayon has been demoted).

Corded buttonhole, most perfect thing I did in the class especially considering how bad I was at cording/welts before I took this course. Another wool fabric. I can’t express how happy this thing makes me. With buttons there has to be a facing “window” on the other side for the button to slide through. I tried these just before signing up for this class when I made a YSL Baby dress and it was so hard for me. I just needed to learn the correct technique.

Zippered skirt back (half size) with interfaced hem, 4 darts and Hong Kong binding. This was kind of the doozy of the semester but I finally learned how to put in a zipper and waistband correctly, at least once. The finishing on the zipper is all done by hand as well and was a major stress for me, doing this like a day before the due date of course. It looks cute though.

This class was so worth it, I am so glad I took the time. I’m considering taking more classes but it was a major time commitment and I’m not quite sure what I want to take next, maybe menswear unless I do more couture (embellishments, the skirt techniques class with Kenneth King which is highly regarded). Back to swimsuits for now, more later on a bridesmaid’s dress alteration I did a few weeks ago, I also am planning an extremely special Kabuki remake and possibly a collaboration with a friend of mine who is a printmaker.

Posted by:Patricia Torvalds

2 replies on “Couture Sewing Techniques at FIT

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