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Tag Archives: craftsman

Tools of the trade

389x421We all love the latest in gadgetry or digital technology which most of us want to possess even if we don’t actually use! If you’ve ever observed an artist or trades person using their tools at work, you’ll have noticed that the tools are very simple or very special but, very well used. Painters use the same brushes over and over until the bristles have all fallen out or have broken off. Cabinet makers use the same planes, chisels and mallets that perhaps they’ve inherited or started out with. Hair stylists use their favorite scissors and combs. You get the picture.It is no different with dressmakers, tailors and couturiers. Once we’ve invested in the best tools we can afford, we use them constantly, and stay with us forever if we can help it.

A few examples of tools I mean are scissors, thimbles, sewing needles, yard sticks and tape measures. Tape measures drape around your neck, get rolled up and unrolled, the printed markings become worn, and they gain a few nicks along the edges, but getting a new one is one is just one big hassle after breaking-in the one you’ve been using properly. Yard sticks are good for setting hems, marking lines, and swatting flies when necessary.
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Sewing needles sometimes become visibly plate bare in spots along the shafts, and eventually do get replaced. But to lose one is irritating bordering on disaster and finding one that became lost is a near-on victory! Using cheap needles is total waste of time because they only bend and break.
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Thimbles actually become a comfortable extension of your middle finger. I’ve used very few in my career, only replacing two that acquired punctures in the tops from repeated needle pressure, and it takes a long time to warm up to a new one so I guard mine closely. They need not be pretty, but good quality metal is essential. In the studio, holding up your middle finger is not a rude gesture – it means ‘have you seen where I left my thimble?’ without speaking.
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Scissors and shears become your pride and joy when you’ve invested in high quality tempered steal. Purchasing them really hurts at the time, as they’re rather expensive items – which no one else will understand the value of, and hard to justify when you’re just starting out. Good ones will last 40 to 50 years and longer if you take good care of them!
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We don’t use special pattern drafting tools either, just the basics. Straight edge or T-square, triangle, pencil and eraser. We go through proper tailors chalk like crazy. Pens are banned from the studio. We use ordinary un-waxed wide width white butchers paper for drafting, only using tailors card for patterns we plan to keep and reuse – this 92lb card stock is sold in rolls and is extremely heavy and somewhat expensive.

Wonderful gadgets, fancy sewing aids and swanky drafting tools are a boon for sewing hobbyists. DIY stores offer a specialized tool for every conceivable do-it or fix-it job you might ever do at home. As appealing or impressive as they might look they’re not necessarily manufactured for the professionals. However, it seems everyone wants them and they do look terrific on the collector’s shelf!
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Artist: Hand-Mind-Heart Maker

“He who works with his hands is a laborer.

He who works with his hands and his head, is a craftsman.

He who works with his hands and his head and his heart, is an ARTIST”.

– St. Francis of Assisi  ***

As an Artisan, your personal philosophy and way of making a living, and everything you do makes you and how you do it totally unique.

Professional high or ‘haute’ couture and bespoke tailoring are careers more akin to siblings than to cousins, both are born from the same roots, require years of training and experience, are extremely creative, hand-mind skills based, and are clientele specific, but neither profession is given much attention within the fashion industry, or the crafts or arts disciplines, which makes it extremely difficult to find statistics on, or to find applicable practical business marketing plans for and both are very difficult to find training facilities or mentors for.

Human Resources and Skills Development Canada lists these collective industry skills separately under several reference NOC headings: Couturier, Fashion designer 5243,  Tailor, Dressmaker, Furrier, Milliner 6342, Artisan and Craftsperson 5244, and Patternmakers textiles, leather and fur 5245, Theatre, fashion, exhibit and other creative designers 5243, Inspectors and graders, textile, fabric, fur and leather products manufacturing 9447 (listed under ‘fitters’). Each of these descriptions combined covers much of what couturiers and tailors do as self-employed and small business owners, but they also actively manage their independent business. HRSD says the National Occupation Classification should be updated next by 2016.

Couturiers and Tailors serve a ‘niche market’, a focused, targetable portion of a market addressing a need for a product or service that is not being addressed by mainstream providers. Marketing activity is perhaps more important for niche market businesses than for any other kind, because the niche market business is by definition, unknown and succeeds or fails on making the connection with exactly the right kind of customer/client, and today couturiers and tailors need to devote time to marketing as well as their craft.

They are of the few highly skilled disciplines in the fashion garment industry which still is and always will be a ‘time consuming creative mind-hand making process’or what the industry generally terms ‘labour intensive’. Let’s be clear about when technology becomes involved, it is for the specific purpose of speeding up very mundane repetitive tasks that does not detract from the final outcome (consider an electrical steam iron or sewing machine as technology versus tools of the trade being primarily your hands, and scissors, needles etc.). Extremely useful technology tools useful for today are the computer, the internet and social media.

However, humans will never be separated from and always will do the more interesting tasks in any discipline or industry, no matter how much mechanisation and technology has replaced mundane labour to speed up processes – they will never replace the work only humans can and love to do. This includes making contacts and the very special aspect of personal service.

Couture and bespoke tailoring entail the continuous assessment of the best approach and technique to use to attain the creative vision of the maker using a great variety of fabrics, colours, textures, layering of materials, draping effects, pleating, easing, structuring, detailing, to make a perfectly fitting unique and lasting garment, and every piece is different.

Decisions are not each dictated by miniscule savings on the unit cost of materials, quickest methods, or worse yet – shortcuts, as they are in manufacturing where profit margins only become lucrative in the thousands of units sold.  In couture and tailoring the fabrics and the methods, must each serve and protect the design, the client, and ultimately the environment (natural and economical).

Personal inventiveness and creative exploration are often the most distinguishing features of successful crafts practitioners. Career craftspeople constantly “play” with ideas, materials or processes, forms, images, functions, even markets, and indulge in a path of life-long learning.

How you think about your world, your philosophy, your way of being and living is expressed in how you do your work, and in everything you do – which makes what you do totally unique – and there is nothing ambiguous or vague about the garments couturiers and tailors create.

Some craftspeople talk about the meditative or entrancing aspect of their work and how important that is to them. Most importantly, they love being part of a world that explores the meaning and values of society. Creativity, originality and distinctiveness are probably the most important long term factors in developing a successful couture and tailoring career. This concept of individuality is the root of both personal satisfaction and market recognition — whatever and wherever those might be.

***Quote share thanks to Sunil Joshi

Ecole Holt Couture Fashion Event Fundraiser- "ONE"

Ecole Holt Couture Fashion Event Fundraiser- “ONE”

 

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