Category Archives: sewing

December 2021 – Ecole Holt Couture

Seasons Greetings to you all!

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.

Fur cuffs for boucle wool suit.
Hand beaded embroidery on silk dress
Pleated silk insert for sleeves


October 2021 – Ecole Holt Couture

Pentagon shaped lampshade I created from scratch – yes the frame too!

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

Roman Blind – 35 years old now and still in great condition!
Piano Bench cushion I made from a hand loomed table cover from my grandmother.

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September 21/2021 – Ecole Holt Couture

Ecole Holt Couture

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.

Until next time, cheers! J


July 2021 post – Ecole Holt Couture

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!

It seems fitting, to expand on my thoughts inspired by this photo shared on Facebook by the Embroiderers Guild of Victoria – sourced from about the exquisite  handmade button holes  decorated around the edges, dated back to 1828.

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.

Photo source: click on image.


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Why you haven’t heard from EHC for 2 months!

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.

cheers J


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The Perfect Couture Size, is it a ‘thing’?

The perfect Couture size is a follow up from the EHC video: ‘This Thing About the Perfect Size‘. It explains what standard sizing is, why it was invented, and when it is required.

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!


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Indicators for success at Ecole Holt Couture

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.


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Ecole Holt Couture COVID-19

COVID-19 has certainly changed how we presented our final term for year one of the Certificate and Diploma program. Interactive online classes replaced on-campus classes for 10 weeks. We necessarily compressed two terms of theory into one term online instruction, deferring all practical instruction for the same two terms until the fall when we plan to resume on-campus classes. This process was a huge learning curve for all of us – and not without its losses, but certainly not without space for creating new opportunities for online instruction in the future.

The experience has shunted us towards a clearer vision of the future for Ecole Holt Couture. The notion of migrating a selection of instruction modules to an online version has been in the planning for over a year. But now we have real time practical experience to create an educational experience that can potentially reach a further reaching audience. Although, still in the early stages of development, we do have a grasp on what works and what does not work in our specialisation, for an online format.

Thanks to my assistant and our current students who have stayed the course with us through this difficult time, even though only temporary, we were able to discover the strengths and weaknesses of online learning firsthand. We are much enlightened with the experience.

COVID-19 and the mandatory isolation regulations imposed on us all, has changed our world. Along with everything else that has impacted us, even a little bit, in the last 12 months, it seems there is not a week that goes by without news of another natural disaster or global movement affecting everything we thought we knew to be normal. It also feels like now is the time to be taking a firmer stand on issues that affect how humanity is being treated, as well as how we ought to be treating our unique planet earth.

At Ecole Holt Couture, we took a stand on using natural fibres in regard to minimising long-term negative effects on the environment, years ago. Natural fibres are by a long shot, the best in comfort and function to be wearing next to your skin, have the most long-lasting desirable characteristics, and the longest useful lifetime, and the safest decomposition properties, than any synthetic fibres to date. Yes, synthetics have their place in fashion and in utility, but should be used minimally and only for their ideal or optimum purpose.

We also believe that every human being, as well as all other beings in our natural world, has a valuable valid place and room for potential on our precious planet earth and should be treated with respect, understanding and with genuine kindness.

The problem is with our collective definition of value. The most contentious issue in society seems to be how we decide upon and prescribe value, and what characteristics we deem to be of value, which has changed and continues to change over time.

What we in truth value is tangibly reflected in how we live and treat other human beings, treat all creatures, and treat our natural environment. Why is our Earth continually mistreated and then also regarded as an unlimited provider of resources? What makes one human being more valuable than another? Who decides which skill is more important than another? What makes one creature’s existence worth more than another’s? Well, one thing that has been proven is in recent months, is that people on the ground keeping all essential services going are now invaluable where before they were disregarded as being insignificant.  

We still, however, face severe injustices of poverty & violence, and persistent resistance to human rights equality for women, indigenous peoples, LGBTQ communities, people of colour, and immigrants even after all the protests and riots around the world bringing it to everyone’s attention. We still face climate crises around the globe.

How then can we as individuals improve and change these unjust situations? It begins with each of us doing our part. Without that grounding no organisation, corporate or charitable, nor any level of government, is able gain any forward momentum for positive and equitable change.

… my condensed list of 2019/2020 events, disasters, catastrophes – the aftermath of what we are dealing with:

  • Major flooding, land slides, and melting of polar ice-cap disasters
  • SA Amazon rain-forest fires, and Australian bush-fire catastrophes
  • Global climate change denial and climate action demonstrations
  • Mass migration, and immigration conflicts,
  • #MMIWG movement, #MeToo movement, #BlackLivesMatter movement
  • Truth and Reconciliation reparation stalls for Indigenous peoples in Canada
  • Indigenous land-rights disputes and demonstrations,  
  • Acts of violence, mass shooting tragedies, and police brutality
  • Human rights demonstrations
  • Brexit and Megxit  fallout,
  • USA impeachment hearings and trial,
  • Rise of populism, return of fascism,
  • Major retailer bankruptcies, foreign trade-relation wars
  • Global deficiencies from COVID-19 Pandemic
  • And with 7 months of 2020 left to go…

I hope things will improve, and am doing what I can. I know you will too…

Cheers, J


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2019 Ecole Holt Couture Showcase Event!

Sunday November 3rd is showtime! Every year Ecole Holt Couture supports and promotes is students by hosting a fashion event that includes a Student Exhibit with Reception and a Runway Show all within the price of the ticket.

All this so that students can invite their family and friends to view and participate in their achievments. The showcase event is open to the public as well! Would be couture and tailoring students want to see what the school is all about and what the students have created. 

EHC also opens its doors once or twice each year, so that those interested in enroling have the opportunity to visit the school. Information seminars are designed to answer the miriad of questions that future applicants have about what they can expect from the program and what is expected of them.

The showcase this year is at cSpace King Edward, a collaborative creative space for all types of artisans. The venue is a sandstone building that was once a school, now completely preserved with a ultra modern theatre space added to the west end of the structure.

Our event features live music by local artists, Joshua Sung Park Trio. Who will play and perform through the afternoon.  We offer great tasting treats by Cornerstone Cafe – another unique Calgary eatery that combines good food, good company with live music, and music lessons, during the reception and while guests chat with the students at the exhibit.

Later guests make themselves comfortable in all-front-row seating for the runway show part of the event. Everyone gets a good view and nice long look at the models with commentary by the owner and instructor of the school.

If you are in the Calgary area on November 3rd, come and join us! Tickets are available through Eventbrite: look for 2019 Ecole Holt Couture Student Showcase .



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Couture and Watermelon salad…

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One of the greatest pleasures at Ecole Holt Couture is celebrating well deserved credit for the tremendous effort and progress that EHC students have made since beginning in September 2017. This year we are between Graduation goal posts, so we decided that a class luncheon date would be very welcome.

Bonterra Trattoria in Calgary’s belt line district was the restaurant of choice on this sunny Friday afternoon. Of particular enjoyment for me, as lead instructor of this class, was the luxury of just hanging out with 6 amazing talented individuals whom I normally don’t have the opportunity to relax and chat with.

Our teaching intern, an EHC Diploma graduate, is an invaluable asset to the group contributing many hours of advice and support to each of the students. Having plans to travel the world in the future, will do very well combining her couture training and experience, cultural background plus a university education under her belt. We are very glad to have her on staff while we can!

We are interested in our students beyond their training and performance at Ecole Holt Couture. Their range of ambitions is wide and far reaching from further developing a career in Indigenous Fashion [see also ], or taking control of unique design ideas by introducing them fully developed to the market, and transitioning from or combining Eco rehabilitation with fashion, or offering truly appealing and well fitting fashion for the not-so-common shape or size, to a career based on theatrical fashion culture.

Whatever, their plans and aspirations are, the students will acquire the tools and skills to begin traveling upon their life-long creative journey which will certainly evolve from one form to the next, and I’m enthusiastic for each one of them.

In the meantime, required term projects must be completed and submitted and another school year will commence after a well-deserved summer break – or is it a longed-for period of uninterrupted sewing time! (Hm-mm, perhaps that may be my own aspiration for this summer).

Cheers! J


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