As we have just passed the winter solstice and experienced the shortest day – here where we are it was 8hr and 39min in duration – we now still ourselves for about a week until the daylight hours increase once more.
It is also the season for many celebrations. Ours is Christmas time, for others Hanukkah, Las Posadas, Bodhi Day, Mawlid, Kwanzaa, Omisoka, and perhaps more not mentioned here. We’re mindfully aware that the true meaning of the season has been watered down in our time, but hopefully we can still remain connected with the true spirit of the season in-spite of the commercial exploitation influence.
As a child, my remembrance of Christmas was filled with so much anticipation that the hours seemed impossibly long, and the excitement so intense that my stomach revolted so I couldn’t keep any food down! These days, thankfully, my stomach is calm, as I wait for the intense stillness and peace to find its way into my being.
Of course, the celebrations also include festive meals, and dressing up in our finest. Decorations around the home and strings of light, and the Christmas tree still make the season intensely enjoyable.
Years ago, my Mother, Elfriede [founder of EHC] would chase me and my Father out of the house with strict instructions not to return for several hours. We would get into the the station wagon and drive through the city delivering gifts to friends and family, and look at all the brightly lit houses in the neighbourhood.
When we returned, Mom had magically prepared everything for Christmas Eve. The wonderful smell of pine, and decorated tree appeared out of nowhere. The dinner table was set with proper Irish linen, her best china, crystal, and engraved silverware. The aroma of German sausages and sauerkraut wafted from the kitchen. Bowls of mandarins, nuts and chocolates set out in the living room, and I was not to even peak at the tree until after dinner! We ate dinner, sang carols, and opened gifts on Christmas eve, so my anticipation was relieved somewhat for the night, and I could sleep soundly into Christmas day!
My Father dressed in a full suit and tie, Mom and I in our specially made dresses for the occasion. Each year, she made it a point to create a new special outfit at Christmas. In those days, we didn’t have nearly as many items in our wardrobe as we do now. These dresses were intended and designed for just special occasions. We dressed up for Christmas eve, Christmas day Service, and then for Boxing Day dinner at my grandmother’s, and then we dressed up again for New Year’s eve, and New Year’s day.
I didn’t realize as a child, that not everyone had the same traditions and experience as I did. Naively, I was convinced that everyone dressed up in beautiful handmade garments for Christmas. It wasn’t until I was much older, that I appreciated the enormous effort that Mom put into making Christmas so special, and her extreme talent for not only couture, but cooking as well. In fact she was pretty good at almost anything she put her mind to. Always with the same attention to detail and effort towards excellence.
These days our Christmas celebrations are much more casual, but I still long to wear something special – but with some extra room to expand from dinner. Before Covid pandemic restrictions we still treated ourselves to events like the opera or symphony, dressed up of course in our finest gowns. But even if we could not have afforded these luxuries, we would still have made the season special by dressing up at home.
We both still have almost all the garments she created from those days. Who else keeps these things!?! With so much love, care and attention put into them, their quality and craftsmanship means they are still almost as good as new and well worth keeping. They’ve not been discarded, given away, nor ended up in landfill. One day they will find a new home to be enjoyed again.
One of the many reasons Elfriede established the school, was so that she could share not only her skills by mentoring but her love and passion for creating personalized, beautifully hand-crafted garments which become meaningful beyond their physical form. They have become awesome memories as well.
My dear EHC followers. As you may have guessed we’ve taken some extended down-time during the summer months which has led into September and October is quickly coming to an end as well. After running on full blast for 13 years, I’ve realized that I’ve been burning my candle at both ends resulting in a little bit of burn out. Which is why I’ve taken more time off than first anticipated to attend to some long overdue self care.
Being so passionate about the art of couture sewing, and other priorities, has strongly motivated me to always be there for our students, and for my family and for my spiritual community. As you can imagine some things have suffered. I realize that a burned out candle can never shine a light on anything.
For good or bad, the pandemic was the catalyst for slowing down, allowing us time to analyze which pathways to keep following, or which to adjust direction, or which to abandon altogether. So even though I reproach myself for dropping the ball on many things, for what I feel is too long, the gifts that have been handed down to me are worth sharing and will not be kept under a rock.
Our plan was to seamlessly transition EHC from full-time onsite classes to a combination of online instruction and onsite workshops within a few months. This schedule, as all schedules go are destined to change, and has been extended somewhat.
Not necessarily a bad thing, this time of resetting focus has clarified a lot in terms of what is most important and more sustainable in terms of ‘long run’ goals. So, I am taking some of my own advice in taking the longer view. I had seemed to assume that everyone else had already got a handle on the affects of the pandemic which we have all been forced to adapt to. Relieved to be very wrong about that, I feel going forward from here will be with a better perspective.
Let me leave you with this to ponder upon…
Traditional or ‘granny’ skills are making a comeback. I prefer that we place this term at one end of the couture sewing spectrum.
I’ve just read an article, from a healthy living and lifestyle magazine, about skill building for a sustainable and resilient life. Fortunately, my mother and father were great mentors from whom I learned many skills which resulted in me trusting myself in the knowledge that I am deeply connected to an ancestral place of knowing about things without much extra deliberation.
Sewing and pattern-making are two of them. There are so many applications to practical living that have been employed with these two alone. Sewing skills means that I have reattached buttons and snap closures since I was in grade school, made simple clothing in high school, sewn home furnishings like cushions, slipcovers, drapery, roman shades, and lampshades for my own home as well as for designer clientele. More complex projects like creating suits and evening gowns for couture clientele didn’t come until my late 20’s onward. Pattern making skills were formalized with training from my mother at Ecole Holt Couture, but I used the basics early on for crafting my own doll house and dolls clothing. Later I created form fitted slip covers for sofas and easy chairs that were in rough shape but not bad enough to be reupholstered saving thousands of dollars.
Being self-sufficient in many areas has helped me to live more sumptuously than my budget otherwise would allow. Honestly, I didn’t give it a second thought about how on earth to get the job done, I just did it. One of the best parts of that was I got what I wanted, not what was on offer.
Don’t become discouraged if you haven’t had these early advantages early on. I firmly believe it is rarely ever too late to learn! These so called ‘granny skills’ are making a comeback. The other best part of these traditional hand skills is that they are fulfilling and extremely satisfying.
Thank you again everyone, very sincerely, for continuing to follow Ecole Holt Couture school of couture sewing and design. We will do our very best to post updates as they happen. They will not come thick and fast but be paced sensibly and mindfully. Hmmm… just like sustainable fashion. Cheers! J
This photo shoot image was taken by Calgary photographer Aaron McCullough for our 2015 annual fashion event. All the garments you see on the model, draped over the sewing machine, and hung on the rack are created by Elfriede vintage couture except for one. I’ll leave you guessing which one for the moment.
Our philosophy at Ecole Holt Couture follows the founder’s principles of creating couture that is lasting. This means more than one wearing, more than on season, more than one year, and likely to last for several to many years. The way to do that is to put the best quality workmanship into it, using the best available quality natural fibre fabrics, and not least applying designs that last. We call this ‘classic’ design style.
How do you achieve this? The founder’s professional career in the fashion industry has lasted for over 60 years and what Elfriede noted were the styles that kept reoccurring in everyday fashion over several decades, or repeated over many decades since 1900, that included aesthetic appeal and functionality. Although slight differences in detail, material, and uses have changed, the basic garment remained authentic in design.
Elfriede used those historic, vintage, and trendy fashion garment commonalities to demonstrate and teach applied sewing methods and techniques from the simple to the highly complex in Ecole Holt Couture’s Dressmaking, Couture and Tailoring programs. Students learn how to apply design elements, how to incorporate functionality, suitability and personal style, for each prescribed project employing relevant work sketches, appropriate fabrics and materials, custom measurement taking, original pattern drafting, cutting, assembling, fitting, appropriate construction, pressing methods, sewing, and detailing. That is a lot of information applied to each project.
Even though the way we live today and fashion is different than even 20 years ago, the same principles still apply, and perhaps even more so, to garments as we go forward and return to more sustainable fashion in 2020’s.
Have you decided which garment you think is the most recent one in the photo? The green linen safari style dress on the rack is the newest created by one of our students during their time at Ecole Holt Couture as one of the 50 garments created during four years of full-time instruction. And yes, the safari style is just one which has come in and out of fashion since around 1910 morphing from sport hunting jackets to casual dresses to men’s shirts to quite formal ladies suits. The details identify the general style, the designer or client [ultimate consumer] defines the current colour and occasion, but the creator ensures the appropriate fabric, the most functional with the best fit, and the appropriate sewing construction methods that make it come to life.
As we ended our full-time on-campus instruction and slowly transition to home-study and guided study-at-your-own-pace online instruction, combined with on-site workshops, Ecole Holt Couture’s original teaching methods endure. We will post some free introductory videos to our YouTube channel so you can get an insight to our teaching methods and decide whether you’d like to take up this craft as a career or as a valuable life skill-set.
Hi everyone! Hope you are all doing well in this almost ‘post’ pandemic period. I say almost, because with all my fingers crossed we won’t be experiencing a fourth wave of Covid19 or its variants. Please do take any precautions you feel comfortable with wherever you go!
Looking at this lovely sampler, embroidered on quite possibly hand-woven linen, you can see the care and precision of the work that has been put into these buttonholes with the finely stitched decoration surrounding the hole. This embroidery was created to enhance a purely functional detail such as a buttonhole.
As with all hand stitching, it requires experience to be done well. Not only that, but it also creates a signature upon the project being done. Let me refer you to the practice used in Men’s tailoring.
In Men’s tailoring there are divisions of labour in the making of bespoke items or suit of items. One person will be the cutter, another will work on jackets [coats], another the trousers, and another will be creating the vests and another the shirts. The detailing work is also divided into another division of labour where one crafts-person will do nothing else but hand-stitch buttonholes. One can see that each crafts-person will have a particular style which you can visually recognize. This means that even though there may be many people creating buttonholes, there will never be two project pieces that are ‘identical. They will be ‘identifiable’, in effect, creating that crafts-person’s signature. So, when inspecting a piece that has been handmade in the past, you can identify, whether more than one person has been working on the same piece.
It is the same with all handwork, and in the piece pictured below. Even if two highly skilled people were to embroider the same pattern, they would not look exactly the same. They would be identifiably different.
In couture and tailoring, this is also true. Even though, two or more people will have been trained by one master, all work that is created will be identifiably different. This means, that although one designer may try to copy someone else’s garment, it will never be exactly the same. However, at Ecole Holt Couture we teach our students to never copy any garment. Each garment in couture [and bespoke tailoring] must be one of a kind. In effect, just creating a piece by single maker makes it unique because no one can exactly copy your exact methodology or your exact techniques. This is encouraging because it is tangible proof of your own unique work, if any doubts should arise.
This buttonhole sampler was made many years ago, but today our clothing is much simpler in style, and much less detailed. However even on simple clothing or a simple design, one can still add some detailing method either on the surface or on the inside of the garment which creates a signature or a style either of the creator, or the wearer, or both. This will identify a garment as uniquely yours.
At Ecole Holt Couture we emphasize the unique nature of ‘hand-made’ or creating things by hand. Beginning with the thought process that goes into creating a garment which is unique to each individual. From the intake of information, the planning, sketching, the drafting of a new pattern, the creation of a toile for the first fitting, the unique layout of the pattern pieces on the final fabric, each construction stage, to the finishing and the detailing will all be unique to the creator. And each designer/creator will in fact, be leaving their signature upon each garment. This is one of the most exciting aspects of couture and tailoring. Each and every piece is unique, not only in style but in its execution.
My sincere apology for dropping the ball and not posting any new videos for the last 2 months! As life would have it sometimes curve balls get thrown at you that need your full attention. So that’s the reason. But also, we are committed to completing our full-time studies program with our amazing students. They’ll be graduating this spring, and with the pandemic restrictions we are about 2 months behind and catching up slowly. We will run overtime for a few weeks in the best case scenario, but we want to make sure every student receives the program full instruction.
Thank you so much for continuing to follow us, we appreciate every one of you and hope to get on with our new delivery system soon, albeit a little later than what we had hoped.
Being an ardent admirer of authentic haute couture and while you attend vintage haute couture exhibits, the displays make your mouth water and your heart leap to just witness the artform with its high level of craftsmanship, ‘they look so perfect, no one can do that anymore!’ You crave everything about haute couture garments and are drawn to their glamour, elegance and fine craftsmanship.
As a devoted fan of high-end designer work; in awe you wonder who makes up their amazing clothes! You wish you knew how to do that too. Disappointingly, you are not aware of any master couturiers taking on new apprentices in your locale. ‘Are apprentices even a thing anymore? Who teaches sewing at that level anyway?’
Determined to make-up that design idea you’ve played with in your head for months now, maybe years. In fact, you have a load of great ideas pinned to your peg board or sketched in your journal. You want to create them, and you know you could do it, if only you had the right skills. But you are stuck. ‘They all said it is easy, anyone can do it. So, why can I not do it! And, I have watched hundreds of how-to videos! What are they not telling me?’
Searching everywhere for a commercial sewing pattern that closely resembles what you have in mind, you finally found one, looked at it again but saw some issues that you cannot resolve. Confused now, ‘what point are all those bits and pieces, how to they attach and where do they go, and why are they that odd shape? I could do better starting from scratch!’
Seriously, you would be happy to just sew everyday clothes that you love wearing. Like at least one decent winter coat that really would keep you warm and the wind out, has right size pockets in the right places, and looks like it literally leapt right off a fashion runway stage. To sew a pair of comfortable trousers that fit properly making you look a bit taller, thighs smaller, making your booty look totally awesome, but at the same time obscures your slightly embarrassing love handles. Or a jacket, with sleeves that reach right down to your wrists even when you bend your arms, and buttons-up easily over around your bust-line. ‘These are not unrealistic fairy-tale expectations, they really aren’t! Why can’t I get it to fit right?’
What materials should I use? I don’t even know what it’s called but, ‘it is really soft and feels like’… ‘But I’m afraid to mess it up, and I really don’t want to waste more fabric and money, again. What does ‘good quality’ fabric mean anyway, and how much in reality would it cost to make? What is the problem with cheap fabric anyway?’ Now your conscience bites; ‘what about all the mountains of tossed garments that will never decay’ (and you’re already feeling rotten about the environmental burden). ‘How can anyone justify having anything new at all! What about re purposing stuff in my wardrobe, how do I do that? I just want something new that will last for a long time!’
You’ve collected a lot of ‘time saving’ sewing gadgets you realize haven’t lived up to their claims, but they look pretty neat on the shelf. You loaded your credit card up again by purchasing that dream sewing machine [yup, another one that you don’t have room for] that promises to do everything you fantasized about. And you will use them all some day once you figured out how they work. ‘Does everyone have trouble getting the stitches to look straight? Aren’t sewing machines supposed to miraculously sew things together at lightening speed? Why would anyone sew anything by hand anymore? But then, why can’t we sew and put together things by hand? I’m not sure I could do that, it seems complicated.’
You never have owned an iron and are ‘darned proud of it!’ You are not going to slave over anything that needs pressing. Ever. That was over decades ago. Although, you do admire how well clothes stand out when they are brand new. You recognize some clothing seems to stay so much neater looking than others, and wonder why some look totally rubbish after they’ve been worn a few times? ‘How did they ever manage to keep clothing wearable for so long years ago? Why don’t mine look smart and stay like that?’
Miserable and defeated, your hands up, incapable of instantaneously turning out a decent garment like the neighbourhood seamstress who claims to sew up a suit in a few days! Or maybe, you have misunderstood, convinced that is the amount of time it should take, shouldn’t it? In any case, ‘I wish some one would actually say the words – it doesn’t magically happen at the snap of your fingers!’
Discouraged with the results that you are getting, nothing looks perfectly right, and some things are most definitely ‘off’ about your creation. You followed all the instructions condensed and distilled from the mountain of ‘how to’ sewing guides. You are continually frustrated because there is no one that has the knowledge or experience to guide you along. ‘Why can’t I just find an expert to ask and show me how! Where is everyone!?!’
The sting is real! We get it.
That overwhelming extremely frustrating feeling, of resignation that it might be too late, my expectations are too high and unachievable, and that I will never get there.
But, what if the solution to relieve those feelings of frustration, helplessness and creative despair was available.
What if your skills deficit was fill-able and your knowledge barrier were removed?
What if it became possible and accessible to you?
What if, you had found an experienced guide who would [take you by the hand figuratively speaking] lead you through the wilderness of information, clear cutting a path of learning for you.
If at the end of your journey [by the way this is not just a casual stroll] the result would be a transformation from ‘unknowing’ to ‘confidence’ in your skills and knowledge that would enable you to become the master of your creations.
And you could also then visualize many more routes of opportunity that you never knew existed before.
This is who we are and what we do.
Ecole Holt Couture was designed to be that kind of professional guide.
To help you prepare for the hike (up the learning curve), first we begin by assuming that you are a complete novice.
With simple explanations and demonstrations, we teach you the basics that you can learn and practice on your own before you commit to the amazing journey of transformation ahead.
We will have our foundation instruction videos posted on our YouTube channel. You can follow and practice the basic modules in the privacy of your own internet space for free. No one ever needs to know that you didn’t know how to accomplish them all along.
After you have completed the basic modules, perhaps you discovered that you hate sewing by hand, it is a nightmare, and don’t want to do this after all. That is good! Because then you haven’t wasted any money or invested more time than necessary! There will be another way for you to realize your dreams, just need to keep searching.
But on the other hand, if you discover you love how satisfying [and seriously FUN] it is to be able to be a little bit self-sufficient to know how to sew buttons back on, sew up a loose hem, mend a broken seam, feel inspired to sew something completely by hand, then you may have also discovered the key. The relatedness between your eyes, hands, mind and your soul.
If you discover being in your own head-space alone with your thoughts is enjoyable and stimulating (and a little piece of heaven) then read on.
And along the way, you’ll have discovered a way that you can be instrumental in keeping our precious earth safer from suffocating under the ever-increasing mountains of tossed clothing, just by fixing [aka recycling, up-cycling, re-purposing] clothing up again!
This is how we can help you!
Whenever you are ready to take the next step, we will guide you through the secret world of couture sewing. We will help you understand the connections and relationship between unique body measurements, shapes and postures, and your design, to be able to draft your own original patterns – drawn by hand.
We will unravel the mystery about fibres and materials, and why they do what they do best. You will discover that you can do most everything you need to without a sewing machine, and when you do use one, it doesn’t need to be of the spacecraft variety.
Pressing irons are just tools, just like any other tool. Once you know how, you will be astonished at the professional looking results that are achieved by pressing properly. And perish the thought that it will end your reputation as an ‘iron free’ independent human being with rights, who protested and fought for women’s liberty and equality in the home.
Many myths will be exposed. Yup, they lied to us. Turning out top end couture and tailoring does take more time, more attention to detail, lots of patience, and happens with purposeful intensity that turns into a project into a masterpiece. This is not training for speed sewing!
We will unearth the beauty of clothing that fits you well, and what that will become to mean for you (another thing that standardized sizing lied about). Once you have worn a couture garment made just for you with its corresponding virtues, you will understand why the challenges of mass producing ‘ready-made’ garments can never be overcome.
Inspired to refine your design ideas, you will begin balancing designs with functionality, using appropriate materials and construction methods, achieving a more perfect fit, adding interesting details, all with synchronous harmony for aesthetically satisfying results.
The best part is that in time you will gain the confidence to try things you’ve never attempted before with a reasonable but predictable expectation of success by applying what you now know and pushing beyond those limits (we call this calculated risk).
Great couture, like great Art, can be achieved in a few days or weeks, but only after years of previous practice and experimentation.
There is always a next idea to try out, to explore without having to relearn the skills to reinvent yourself as a creator. It never gets dull!
Like you, we count ourselves among the few who still believe in the importance of nurturing this artform and high level of sewing skills that fills our need to create from the soul as well as our minds.
To not only move towards a future by just clothing our own bodies, but to support a more sustainable fashion industry that puts an end to needless waste and reliance on the exploitation of industry workers. Together we can support our local economies.
But we need to make it more accessible to those who share our vision and are working on it now. For more information and updates on our courses please visit:
But is has also become a marketing lure directed at label conscious or size snob buyers. For example, a size 0 suggests that it is made for slim top model types. Whereas for size 4 individuals, it perhaps suggests ‘beyond the scope of being considered’ for a magazine cover, but in fact they could be the very same body shape.
If you suddenly find that you’ve jumped from a size 10 to a size 14, you may wonder where all of a sudden you’ve gained all that extra weight, but it may just be two different brand’s set of sizing. It has become ‘all about the implications of size. In any case, it causes unnecessary stress.
However, ‘Couture made’ or ‘Bespoke’ has very little in common with size standards, or sizing units, and is uniquely assigned to one, or each individual. If we all had a choice, we too would choose couture made!
It is important to know beforehand if the career you’ve chosen to invest the time and money in is the best one for you. This short video may help you to decide whether a career in Couture, Tailoring or Dressmaking is appealing to you and whether Ecole Holt Couture is the right school for you.
Ecole Holt Couture School of Couture Sewing and Design is specifically aimed toward people who are dedicated and passionate about 1) sewing, 2) love the notion of working solo, or at least in your own space, 3) are concerned about the sustainability of fashion in our natural environment and how to do our part to protect our environment, 4) want to earn a sustainable living, and see a need in your local economy, 5) are not drawn to running as part of the pack, but thrives on standing out, and have the courage to swim upstream, 6) consider yourself an artist or artisan, 7) looking to develop a fulfilling, life long career – one in which you can always learn something new. This is not a dead end job. And finally, 8) you love working with your hands, your mind and your soul.
Is Ecole Holt Couture School of Couture Sewing and Design for you? I’ve been there, you know that point where you are frustrated because there is some piece of information you are missing, some skill that isn’t up to the standard you want it to be. You’ve got the ideas, the creativity, but you don’t have everything in place to make that idea come to life, from start to finish. I know, totally disheartening right!?! My story, how the program blew my mind and profoundly changed me…
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Watch this video I share a little bit about what I learned and how I came to be an instructor at Ecole Holt Couture.
Graduates at EHC receive their final awards for attending and completing 600 hours of instruction and 1800 [2400hrs] hours of practical [projects] lab-work for each of the Dressmaking and Couturier/Tailoring awards.
EHC awards are printed with the graduate’s name, two official signatures, an EHC embossed seal, the date of issue, and possesses a unique serial number registered with the school. You can check the authenticity of our awards if you see one, and want to make sure it is real!
The award costs $40 for paper and graphic work, but is worth more than $60,000 and its value is truly priceless for the recipient. Most importantly, the recipient has the skills to work as a professional dressmaker, couturier and tailor!
The knowledge and curriculum are not copied or borrowed from any other institution, and is original to EHC. We have retained all of the original hard copies of work notes, sketches, and documentation, by the Founder from its inception, and development, to now, and and all of it is copyright protected.
We still create original patterns drafted by hand using 60+ measurements taken from each individual client.
That it took 16 years to develop the innovative curriculum based on the Founder’s 60 years of professional experience in couture and tailoring. It all added up to a life time achievement award and recognition by the Universal Womens Network in 2019 for Elfriede Holtkamp [who now is retired but is still available for sage advice].
These skills are as much an Art as a Craft, and impossible to exactly duplicate the work from one artisan to another. Experienced crafts-person or artisan’s work is unique and cannot be convincingly reproduced, which is awesome!
We continue to be committed to preserving authentic couture sewing and tailoring skills by sharing, teaching, and mentoring. And we really do connect with and love our students!
New* – EHC is developing online instruction to reach further reaching geographic locations, for those who it is impossible to attend in person. We are continuing on-campus workshops and masterclasses launching in the fall of 2021. Who knows, we may even do traveling workshops in the future!
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