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Form │ Structure │ Design – EHC Couture

EHC trademark

EHC trademark

It is said that Balenciaga (couturier and designer) enjoyed traveling by train inspired by what he saw from the window, to generate ideas for new forms, silhouettes and creations. Pumpkins in the field inspired his balloon skirt, a canvas tent his tent dress, sunbeam pleated skirts from the rays of the sun. Inspiration came to me for the sculptural figure you will see displayed at the bottom of the stairway entrance to the School. One first recognizes its form or shape, then its structure and then the design of the fabric draped around it. These three elements are the basis of what Ecole Holt Couture teaches: form, structure and design.

As with any new language one must first learn to recognize its alphabet, in music for instance. Before writing music, not least a complex symphony, one must first learn to recognize the notes and their position on the staff lines, time signatures, and get a feel for rhythm. To perform music from written score, one must first learn how to play the instrument. And before any instrument can be played, it must indeed, first be created.

Before anyone can create couture, they must learn the basic stitches and their applications, details and combinations of details. Then how to use the tools, and also how to make certain tools. That is what the EHC Sampler resource library is for, so that each student can first learn professional couture sewing basics. In the process, students build their own personal resource library for future reference.

In Terms one and two, the 9 projects required must be wearable unlined garments of pure cotton and pure linen fibers, each project introduces increasing complexity. In Term three, students are already creating a four piece business suit including a blazer, skirt, trousers and vest, each fully lined. The suit must be made of 100% pure wool and natural fiber linings and interlinings.

Term 4, 5 and 6, the projects in the second year are all made of 100% pure wool, silk fabrics and including high quality lace. All these projects are fully lined and structured. Each project throughout the curriculum has been carefully selected as a classic garment with an identifiable origin. Students learn to recognize style from trend, and understand how styles cycle and recycle through time. They learn how to build a client-specific (which is not the same as a ‘targeted market’) wardrobe, and design a collection that is appropriate to a specific individual, thereby applying their own creativity.

In year three, Terms 7, 8 and 9, students learn the skills of hand knitting, and how to work with pliable leather. They learn how to tailor both ladies and men’s garments in the haute couture and bespoke methods traditional to each profession. The techniques for mens’ and ladies tailoring are not the same.

In the fourth year and final three Terms, students create a formal tailored tuxedo outfitting either a man or lady, complete with cummerbund, bow tie and tuxedo shirt. They learn how to work with fur, handle velvet, how to embroider, create cutwork and hollow work, bead work, and smocking techniques. Students create accessory items such as hats, and detachable collars. They practice different methods of pattern making to flat pattern drafting in the previous years, such as body draping and transformational pattern making.

At the end of four years, the graduating student must create a fully structured Ball gown or Wedding gown as their ‘master piece’ without the help from an instructor. When successfully completed, graduates are entitled to refer to themselves as professional couturiers and tailors with the skills to begin their career journey. Formally trained couturiers and tailors are artisans as well as craftsmen who continue to experiment and gain experience throughout their careers, each year becoming more proficient and more highly sought after.

Instruction time at Ecole Holt Couture

Ecole Holt Couture School of Sewing and Design is where students come to learn on a full-time basis earning an EHC Dressmaking Certificate and EHC Couturier/Tailor Diploma. Each student must maintain an 80% minimum grade level assessed every 10 weeks to continue on into the next term. There are three terms each school year. Each Program is two years in duration, totaling 12 terms or four years. Only successful graduates holding an EHC Certificate Dressmaking Award may enroll in the EHC Diploma program, having acquired the required skills to enter the Couturier/Tailor program.

At the beginning of each class day we assemble for a short meeting, after which the day is spent covering EHC course material relevant to the schedule. Rather than assigning reading material as homework, we engage the entire class (of six people maximum) so that questions that come up can be addressed immediately for everyone’s benefit. This normally consumes about 20 to 25 percent of the class day. The remaining 75 percent of the day is entirely supervised hands-on work.

Every project initially begins as a working sketch drawn by hand within imaginary box outlines, according to a ‘client’s’ proportions, and later progress to freehand drawn realistic illustrations with student designed garments in contextual backgrounds, and finally to fashion magazine type figures with more artistic expression.

EHC’s goal is to train the mind, hands and eyes to work in harmonic synergy producing a finished product. Taking appropriate measurements, documenting them, and then applying those measurements creating an original pattern according to the design. First fittings on the client are performed with a ‘toile’ created from that pattern. Then the actual garment is prepared from the toile. More fittings and continuous structuring, with a 50/50% ratio of sewing/pressing. One secret of success to professional results lies in pressing at the right time using the right methods.

The entire couture process is 80% hand worked, sometimes more and sometimes a bit less.The final product must be as finished and as beautiful, on the inside, and in between the layers as on the outside.Couturier and tailoring students bring their designs to reality.

In professional practice, before the final owner of the garment takes possession of it, they must try it on one more time to make final inspection of themselves in the mirror. Only then can it be allowed to leave the couturier or tailors studio. It is the couturier’s ultimate level of gratification to see a client’s eyes light up. To hear them proclaim its true comfort and fit, beautiful finish and flattering style, is the true confirmation of success.

Many do try to ‘copy’ original (haute) couture creations, but they cannot ever be truly duplicated.

created by Elfriede

created by Elfriede

What struck me as a good comparison to this was inspired by a documentary shown on PBS TV about one Stradivari violin made in the 17th century and how truly unique it is. The “Stradivarius” has become associated with excellence; to be called “the Stradivari” of any field is to be deemed the finest there is. Looking deeper uncovered certain experts had analyzed the Stradivarius violin, along with one Guarneri violin also made in the 17th century. From the outside they both looked so similar, almost identical. Each one was of the highest quality and wonderfully crafted, but each had very distinct sounds. But what made them so distinctly different?

The wood used to make both violins had a very particular quality and density.The Stradivarius was crafted to perfection on the outside, inside, in every groove and chiseled stroke. The varnish recipe used for the finish, also believed to be part of the reason for its unique sound died with the maker at the end of his 70 year career, and is still a mystery to this day. The other violin was also crafted to perfection on the outside, but the inside – was left in a somewhat less state of perfection.

Expert comments suggested that the Guarneri violin was somewhat easier to play, more forgiving, and had a larger range of tone. But it didn’t have the fineness of tune of the Stradivarius. The Stradivarius was more difficult to play requiring a very precise touch of the bow. It is said to be very unforgiving, so that only the most accomplished violinists can bring life to it producing such an exquisite sound that has never yet been replicated. The Stradivarius is still being played today, 300 years later, sounding as excellent and as unique as was at its first debut.

Expertly made, well fitted haute couture and bespoke tailored garment cannot be identically copied. The secrets lay within the mind, the soul and in the skilled hands of the creator, and is proven by the workmanship on the outside, inside and in between layers of every piece.

Elfriede Holtkamp
Ecole Holt Couture, Founder

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Ecole Holt Couture 2014 Presents – Youtube video trailer

Watch Video

Watch Video

At EHC we are very fortunate to have talented students with varied skills. ‘You’re Invited’ was created by one such student, Amy Zia, as a light-hearted look at what we do as couturiers! But, don’t be fooled, what we do is highly professional whether for special occasions or to create a functional and personal business wardrobe.

This fashion event is created to help raise awareness and funds for Making Changes Association, who provides hundreds and hundreds of women with functional and appropriate work wardrobes each year. Their clients are all making the effort to re-enter the workforce, and perhaps have few resources to do so.

Making Changes programs include guidance on writing resumes, and networking to gain employment, to those who perhaps may never have had to provide these qualifications before.

The wardrobes that are provided are all donated, recycled, reused, and up-cycled from high quality garments that are either brand new or gently used, giving the garments a new life as well.

So although, EHC teaches the skills to create brand new custom couture made garments, we support, believe in what and how Making Changes not only uses perfectly good clothing as their main program resource, but

More importantly, we support and share their values in how they treat women and teens struggling to improve their life situations, by treating them like family. Almost all of the day to day operations are handled by wonderful volunteers who have time and expertise to share.

You are invited, to attend this event! Just click on ‘buy tickets‘, and join us in supporting this wonderful organization.
Ecole Holt Couture School will also have a booth at the event if you would like to know more about us, and become part of this wonderful highly skilled, hand-made and crafted market!

If you can’t start the video, please copy and paste the URL into your preferred browser! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=phgn-NzI-Ls
Enjoy and see you at the event on Sunday November 16th! – cheers J.

To get ahead you need to get started.

To get ahead you need to get started.

 

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Slow fashion – its your prerogative!

389x421To be happily successful in couture and tailoring you must become a master maker and this takes time as does developing your clientele. Gaining sufficient experience and always paying a great deal of attention to detail, wherein no element is compromised in a garment’s making, cannot be learned in a fast-track approach to learning, which is the reason why EHC’s programs are longer than typical career college programs.

Because the essence of couture and tailoring is to create a masterpiece every time, as with fine art, it is through making a multitude of discriminating choices. Understanding the intricacies of construction techniques and their application complexities is cultivated by experience. Pushing beyond your current level of creativity needs time to mature. In couture and tailoring a single garment is made to fit the client’s exacting requirements and style. As with an original work of art, cannot not be reproduced on mass and would defeat the whole purpose. In Couture and Tailoring, no garment is made on speculation; but by prearranged sale or by agreement.

Financial success at any level is basically what is left over after expenses and other related costs. In creating one item whatever profit is attained very quickly, which could either be acceptable or unacceptable. It is noteworthy to point out artists and artisans have a reputation for disliking putting themselves forward selling their expertise and generally do better in complementary business arrangements wherein they can entrust some time-consuming marketing duties into the hands of someone else. However, handing over this kind of content control to someone else is not easy – finding someone who understands your vision and can speak in your voice – is exceptional.

If profit margins turnout to be lower for ‘makers’, meaning artists, artisans, and crafts people the compensation is greater in career satisfaction (or high job satisfaction). We also have somewhat longer careers than usual, working well beyond retirement age because we love to be creative and productive at any age. To be a successful maker the secret is in being authentic. Staying creatively involved, having control over our work, maintaining high work ethics, keeping our natural and business environments healthy and sustaining our emotional and spiritual wellbeing is essential to and naturally high on our priority list in life.

A word about sustainability – defined as genuine attitudes and practices rather than ‘green-washed’ attempts or hyped up pitches to create an illusion of sustainability. More and more influential people in the industry are supporting what is called ‘slow fashion’, a term coined by Kate Fletcher (Centre for Sustainable Fashion, UK, 2007). The core of a movement dedicated to righteous ways of being fashionable. Slow fashion encompasses all initiatives taken towards using bio-degradable raw materials, recycled garments, buying from fair-trade organization and promoting slow consumption.

We all have choices, and no one way is right for everyone. But, being able to make conscious and informed choices shouldn’t be drudgery, it is a luxury, it should be our prerogative. This may also appeal to you! Cheers! J. IMG_3096

 

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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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Creating is exciting, mastering is satisfying.

70x76I love and need to do something creative with my hands, whether playing the piano, sewing, cooking, gardening, sketching or doodling. Using my hands and engaging my mind are perfect partners for what I do in couture sewing and bespoke tailoring. I’m never satisfied with good enough, I strive for perfection every time. And, learning continues long after you master the fundamental skills and techniques. Couture and tailoring as a career has never become dry and continues to evolve.

In fashion making, including alterations, businesses surveyed (2012) – 56% required expert hand sewing skills, 33% custom pattern making skills, 89% custom fitting skills, 56% customer service skills, 33% required design and styling skills, and only 22% need machinist skills. Clearly, machinist skills at the bottom of the list.

Wow, a whopping 89% could really use expertise in custom fitting skills!

It doesn’t help, I think,  that many young people are misinformed about the business of professional couture sewing. As a result are reluctant to get into a field of fashion design that they think is just monotonous and slavishly laborious such as seen in those factories exposed recently in overseas countries.  In fact, couture sewing and tailoring is really very creative and fulfilling. True, the hours are sometimes long, but each piece that you work on is different from the last, unlike production work.

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Glamour and sex appeal is continually portrayed in fashion media and gives a false impression of the reality of working in fashion. Fashion is exciting, but true career satisfaction from comes from within and from the recognition of a job well done, along with the financial rewards. And while haute couture appears quite sensational on the surface, it is just like any business that requires education, experience, dedication and investment to be successful. Did I forget to say, you need ‘Passion’.

If you are anything like me, you get excited about creating things yourself, find peace and tranquillity in stillness and quiet concentration, thrive on a balance of keeping your own company and sharing quality time with other creative people and have an eye for detail and beauty. Often I become inspired and find myself lost in imagination. You see a need and know deep down that you can succeed at something that you really love doing.

One of the most rewarding times is when you reach the stage in your career, when you no longer question your abilities or skills. When you know that even when you haven’t done something before, you can figure it out! Excitement builds within me with every new project, especially the challenging ones, and then to see the joy your clients express when they get what they dream about.

...working on a wedding gown early in my career...

…working on a wedding gown early in my career…

To see other people awaken to their passion, is always a thrill as an educator. Doing what I do is the cake, doing what I love doing is the icing on the cake. Sharing what I’ve learned is the eating of the cake. – J.

Pattern cutter, maker, engineer

 

Artist-hand-mind-maker

kelsey

Creative expression your living heritage

 

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EHC Back to School April 3rd

This ‘March break’ thing is passing by all too quickly! And I wonder when we will see some green buds on the trees here in Calgary? I understand that EHC students have been very busy during their time off and are preparing to return after the Easter long weekend.

New applications for the 2013-2014 Fall Term are arriving at the office, and so for registrants it will be quite busy  during the summer months, getting resources and home studios all lined up.

The last Term of the 2012-2013 school year, April to June, will be especially exciting for those who are graduating. A full day workshop is planned to develop their professional portfolios, led by Leela Jacobs experienced in producing and directing photo shoots across the country and down south of the border. Students will be working on Term 12 projects plus planning their final projects – which are entirely designed and created following a set of requirements – and will be involved in producing the EHC Fashion Show and Fundraiser Event held on November 17th, 2013, at the Calgary Winter Club.

As part of the curriculum we have been covering and reviewing the importance of creating your ‘business plan’ using Cultural Human Resources Council ‘the Art of Managing your Career’ manual, the only one developed for cultural workers in Canada, (specifically for artistic and creative types who work on their own or run their own businesses). As well, EHC incorporated much of what it takes to run an atelier with good customer service (and how that is defined), the typical paperwork that needs to be done in day to day operations, etc. as Ecole Holt Couture is a real couture and tailoring business as well as teaching facility.

Also, a workshop is planned in May at EHC School, led by a Business Accounts Manager from the Royal Bank of Canada, outlining what you should do in creating in your ‘business plan’, plus introducing resources for up and coming entrepreneurs and start-up businesses. This workshop will be open to all current and past EHC students, which is a unique opportunity to get information from ‘the horse’s mouth’ so to speak.

Looking forward to seeing everyone next week – Happy Easter! – J

working on the most comfortable shirt dress - 100% linen

working on the most comfortable shirt dress – 100% linen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

cashmere winter coat - in progress

cashmere winter coat – in progress

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working with fur and traditional tailoring methods

working with fur and traditional tailoring methods

 

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EHC 2012 – 2013 Year begins in 11 days!

We are all looking forward to the start of Term, welcoming our students back and our new students in 11 days from today!
The Blog will resume its normal schedule after the lazy summer break with a new series of themes.
See you then! J

 
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Posted by on August 30, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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