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.
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.
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!
Please subscribe to EHC’s Youtube channel, Facebook page, and follow our WordPress blog for up-to-date information:
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 http://ifwtoronto.com/ ], 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).
Our version of ‘string theory’, tells the story of how being successful in couture and tailoring doesn’t just rely on prevailing external factors, but rather on the resources you own and engage – such as your trained mind and your hands.
To explain why EHC’s teaching and mentoring method is focused on more than just skills training, and why we feel it’s important to share and promote our love and passion for couture and tailoring is another little story illustrating the difference between a fully trained professional sewer and one that truly has passion for the craft.
‘When asked by her daughter what she was working on, her mother replied, “Oh, well, I’m stitching these tailored buttonholes by hand”. Daughter, “Really, why by hand?” Mother, “Because, this is the ‘couture’ standard, and that’s what my clients expect”.
But, stated by a truly passionate couturier, the same question.
Daughter, “What are you working on, mom?” She replied, “I’m helping someone to feel very special! With all the hand stitched details, creating this suit just for her – which no one else in the world has – she will look amazing and everyone will remember her!” Daughter, “Wow, you mean just like for a celebrity or royalty?”
Mother, “Exactly, my dear!”
This difference is important, because this could be meant for you! Cheers! J
If you are like me, considered a petite size, then your proportions are slightly shorter from the shoulders to the waist than a standard size, and you all know what I think about ‘standard’ sizes. But being ‘petite’ may also reflect that you may perhaps be relatively shorter in stature than most of your contemporaries in North America. Not at all if you are in most parts of Asia and in some parts of Europe.
Wearing off-the-rack and ready-made garments always seem to appear slightly ‘off’ because, petite manufactured garments are mostly only adjusted for the above mentioned variance, or worse – adjusted for shorter arm and leg length as well which may not apply at all to you (or to me). These adjusted variances may greatly reduce the choice in ready-made or off-the-rack for you to look amazing.
If you want to look your perfect-size ‘perfect’, then every component needs to be made in proportion to the whole. That doesn’t mean a petite cannot wear a large pattern print, or conversely that being tall you cannot wear small prints. Only that the proportions must be adjusted accordingly as is true to haute couture and bespoke tailoring.
In this example, notice that in her riding jacket all the components – lapel size and stance, buttoning, pockets, sleeve length (and armhole circumference), waist cinch, and jacket length are all relative to proportion. The trousers again are the right length and leg width. Any one of these elements out of proportion will throw the whole look ‘off’.
A petite can look positively overwhelmed or underwhelmed because of the lack of choice. Remember that in garment manufacturing, realistically it can only serve a small section of the market offering a limited range of ‘sizes’ to be profitable. That pretty much excludes the other 90% of the population. It is not you, you are a perfect size.
Does a ‘great fit’ or ‘perfect fit’ leave you wondering what that really means in terms of your clothes? These days with most everything being ‘off the rack’ ‘ready to wear’ or ‘prêt-à-porter’ you may not be aware that your clothes don’t actually fit well at all. Even when special items are ‘custom made’ ‘made to measure’ or dressmaker made you could still be left wanting a great fit or perfect fit. So here are a few tips for things to watch out for. This isn’t a comprehensive list, but let’s start with these.
Example – Let’s assume that you don’t fit the typical fashion model profile or standard size. Actually most people don’t fit into a standard size perfectly, because sizes are determined by averaging a set of statistics by manufacturers. (By the way, you are the perfect size and shape you were meant to be, so celebrate your curves! Go ahead and look the fabulous person you are.)
These 6 tips are for dresses, tops and skirts.
Enough fabric and ease across the bust line. No straining of fabric here.
Waistline is cinched in at the right level. Notice that the waistline of the dress doesn’t present any horizontal buckling of superfluous fabric or diagonal wrinkling in the front, side, or back.
Ease of fabric draping or flowing over the hip line, no stress or stretched out fabric here.
The hemline is horizontally even from the floor front and back, even in stilettos.
Sleeves are set in at the right directional angle. No two people’s arms hang the same way! Enough room at the sleeve cap, or top of the sleeve, no straining of fabric here either with ample room for freedom of movement.
Fit across the shoulders from sleeve to sleeve is wide enough, ending just at the shoulder joint. The problem is usually too wide (too much material) or too narrow (not enough material).
Again, these 6 tips are true for any figure, and true for dresses, tops and skirts. Next time we’ll look at some other examples of well fitting points. Cheers! J