Dear ASDP Board
It may seem surprising, but not all organizations, associations, and businesses have a written code of ethics. If a code of ethics is even considered, it is generally intuited as part of the “culture.” While an organization’s culture can have a highly developed sense of ethics without a formal document, more often than not, an unwritten code is viewed “more like guidelines” (From Pirates of the Caribbean). Sometimes it is even worse: “It’s not wrong if you don’t get caught” or “Easier to seek forgiveness than permission.” Then there are the organizations that have a written code of ethics but it sits on a shelf or on someone’s computer and has very little impact on the organization’s culture.
A while back, to ensure that neither of the above scenarios applied to ASDP, the then-board decided to write various newsletter articles about our code of ethics and what it means. I drew Article 2.6.
2.6 Members shall act with fiscal responsibility in the best interest of their clients and shall maintain sound business relationships with suppliers and contractors to ensure the best possible outcome for the client.
What does this mean? It means that members pay their bills, taxes, insurance, etc. in a timely manner and keep any contractual obligations. In doing this, clients benefit when members are able to receive supplies and subcontract needed work to meet client deadlines and/or project requirements. Imagine not being able to purchase that perfect fabric because of a past due bill or an “Insufficient Funds” reputation! Or you needing to explain your eviction because you didn’t/couldn’t pay the rent? Or there was some disaster and the client’s project was destroyed and you couldn’t financially reimburse them because you didn’t carry sufficient insurance?
Additionally, members keep good financial records and pay all related taxes and fees. While some clients might prefer to work “under the table” this is not in their best interest. Basically, it is stealing from the larger community in which we all live and work. While it is good business practice to pay as little as legally possible in taxes or other fees, it is dishonest and lacking integrity to “work under the table.”
The business is located in the historic downtown district of Gresham, Oregon, a suburb of Portland. About 12 years ago on June 30th, my husband, having retired, had his last day at work. On July 1 of that same year, he helped me move the business out of the house. Since then I have been in four locations. This one is the best! It is about 6-8 minutes from home by car or 35-40 minutes walking. I am on the second floor of the building. Consequently, my hours can be very flexible as I am not tied to “retail” hours.
Like the name says, fine dressmaking and bridal couture. I don’t do alterations unless it is bridal or special occasion although that may change. Additionally, I am doing more teaching. Currently, I have a couple of repeat clients keeping me busy with jackets and very nice t-shirts.
I suppose my favorite part is my huge cutting surface, which is 5’ x 8’. The only drawback to this table is for especially large projects I have to climb onto the table to finish cutting a piece. A close second is my fitting room. It is nice having a dedicated area for fittings. When the business was at home, fittings were generally in the working studio area using a mirror hung on the back of a door. It worked but still …..
I work alone although I’ve often considered sharing the space.
In each of my locations, I’ve had to consider what needs to happen and what will be happening where. With the help of my husband, we drew a scale diagram of the space and to scale pieces of machinery and furniture. Once I had everything the way I liked/wanted it, Jim helped me move things into place. The price of my cheap labor was complying with his wishes to “move it only once.”
Good question! I should ask them. Still, from the reactions I occasionally get I suppose it might be “Oh, this is what you do!” meaning “it’s a business.” The other comment I hear is “You have a lot of machines.”
I’m not sure about “unique” but I know many who covet my lighting. First, the artificial lighting is pretty good in itself. Additionally, the sewing area has four west facing windows. In the mid to late afternoon, I have to drop the blinds but that is a minor inconvenience for such great light.
Business Promotion by Denise Severson, Wisconsin
About 3-4 months ago, I happened to see a post on Facebook from Janesville’s (WI) Rotary Botanical Gardens looking for local businesses or private individuals/groups to sponsor a giant fish for display in the gardens during the summer season. They provided the fish; the sponsor had to decorate it any way you want. Designs needed to be weather resistant since they'll be outside. Another local business had agreed to seal/clear-coated the fish.
The fish is 1/2-inch thick plywood, and came with one coat of primer. It’s pretty large, about 3-1/2 feet wide x 3 feet tall. I added another primer coat, and 2 coats of the blue exterior house paint. My first thought was to use giant sequins for the embellishment, since somewhere I heard sequins were originally inspired by fish scales. But all the sequin vendors said the large sequins are pretty much all plastic, and would not hold up to summer sun, wind, rain, humidity, or heat. Then I posted a question about it on the ASDP discuss list, and included some of my ideas. I decided to use faux flowers because they are fabric, are quite colorful, and usually can withstand the elements reasonably well.
I found the tiger lily flowers at Hobby Lobby (and they were 50% off which certainly worked for me). The flowers were deconstructed and soaked to remove a lot of the sizing and starch in order for them to get as flat as possible. After drying they were steam pressed. They were applied to the prepared fish with water-proof glues and Heat-n-Bond Ultra Hold, the heavy duty kind that is guaranteed to be machine washable and dryable.
Rotary Botanical Garden is a huge garden in Janesville which draws in thousands of visitors every year, especially in the summer. The name of the business sponsor is displayed with the fish and also will be included on the garden’s website. The fish are scheduled to go on display Mother's Day Weekend and will be on display until September 8th, 2017. On the 8th, there will be a fundraiser event at RGB for the benefit of the gardens, and the fish will be included in the auction.
Decorating a fish was a business promotion. The sponsorship cost me a whopping $35; supplies to decorate, about $60. Pretty reasonable for thousands of people to see your name and creativity on display, plus it goes to support a great resource in my local community.
The April/May 2017 interval here in Colorado included Clara Dittli’s three six-hour sessions entitled Couture Blouse Building Blocks, a field trip, and a business presentation.
During the first of Clara’s three sessions we used couture techniques to mark the pattern on the fabric and cut it out. Because Clara had given us our patterns in advance, some of us had made muslins to test the fit and others decided to start with the muslin and practice all the techniques on the muslin. For homework, we followed Clara’s instructions for stabilizing the facing and making the fabric loops.
Our second session covered several more topics. We spent much of our time practicing Clara’s techniques for installing the fabric loops for various sized buttons. We also learned how to properly face, trim, and press a jewel neckline, and how to easily prepare the sleeve and garment hems.
Blind hems and how to properly install a set-in sleeve were the primary focus of the final session. We used Clara’s techniques and practiced easing a set-in sleeve (without gathering stitches) for different fabrics for a perfect fit. Clara also showed us how to hold the fabric so it wouldn’t crease while doing the hand hemming stitches. At the end, Clara helped us improve how we held the fabric in our laps so we wouldn’t tire so easily.
Our field trip was a return to the Avenir Museum in Ft. Collins, CO, followed by a visit to the Zipper Lady. The museum, which is part of the University, has a huge collection of textiles. Although the museum is small (5 rooms), the exhibits are changed regularly to show the wide variety of garments. During this visit we saw turn-of-the-last-century garments from the time when people often held semi-formal garden parties. Another exhibit displayed the evolution of wedding dresses from the 1860’s through the 1940’s. The final exhibit displayed garments from a student challenge in which the students produced garments using recycled materials. Some garments used playing cards, bubble wrap, or even plastic construction fence material. One striking dress was a flapper-style, steam-punk inspired dress decorated with beer tabs.
At the Zipper Lady’s warehouse we heard many fascinating stories from owner Alicia Werner. She told us about specialized zippers that are made to survive the high heat needed to kill bedbugs, zippers that keep fish in their section of a pond, and water-proof zippers for scuba gear. We also toured the well-organized warehouse and saw thousands of zippers of all colors, sizes, and styles.
And at our regular meeting in May, our guest speaker gave us a new perspective on getting started on a business plan. Marcia McGilley, from the Colorado Small Business Development Center (SBDC) presented the Business Model Canvas. We looked at the who, what, where, why, how, and with whom aspects of our businesses. This involved asking ourselves many questions. Who are the customers? Why do we want a relationship with them and where can we reach them? What are our special contributions? How do we create what we offer and with whom can we partner? All this led to our income streams, how to weather changes in economic conditions, and the need for plans to shift focus when necessary to maintain income.
The next goal for the board of the ASDP Foundation is to come up with a case for support. To start us off in the right direction towards this goal, we polled the board members to see why they felt the Foundation was important. You may find their individual answers interesting:
I think the Foundation is an important adjunct to ASDP. ASDP, by its nature as a trade association, is quite member-centric with services, benefits, and educational programs designed to support members in their sewing and design related businesses. The Foundation's reach will eventually be wider, as we become able to aid people starting out in business. It's helpful to have an entity that can accept tax-deductible donations, as this is often enough of an incentive to sway someone to donate.
I like the thought that the Foundation can reach out to both members and non-members of ASDP by sponsoring a speaker at the ASDP conference. Inviting the public will help generate interest in sewing and design, while also increasing awareness about ASDP. I think that's a better return on investment than giving student scholarships to conference and not gaining long-term members as a result. It would be great if we had enough money to give out grants to small business start-ups, award design school scholarships, etc. Hopefully one day we will, but for now we must start small and aim for the maximum bang for our buck.
I also think it's important for the Foundation to build relationships with businesses in the industry. With ASDP, this often consists of looking for conference sponsorships, which again yield publicity in front of a relatively limited number of people. I hope we find that the sewing and design industry is willing to support our mission of education and assistance for anyone who needs it, not just for ASDP members.
I have had the good fortune of receiving an education through grants and special funding. Therefore, I am eager to ensure others can receive any bit of assistance. Although I did not pursue a sewing career early in life, it has always been one of my dreams. In the spirit of giving back I really want to assist others getting a start regardless of their age or circumstance.
The importance of the foundation to me are first to support the education necessary for the new technologies being introduced into the fabric and design fields. Second to help develop the skills needed to manufacture garments and sewn goods locally.
Throughout my undergraduate and graduate studies, I was always appreciative of every scholarship I received no matter how small. Being able to give back in terms of time and service is the right thing to do as a small payback for my successes. Serving on the Foundation board is particularly special in that I can work with generous and empowering individuals who share a passion for sewing and design.
My answer to why I think the Foundation is important would be that helping others in the sewing and design profession get a "leg up" via scholarship or grants matters greatly to me.
When I was the president of ASDP I answered at least one call a month from a person hoping that the MSDP program was a place they could receive training to start their own business. Each time I had to tell them that while our focus was on education and support for individuals in sewing related business, they had to be able to pay for our conferences and memberships. We had no money available to help those in need gain skills and build a business. As a former social worker, this broke my heart and I vowed that when I had more time I would work towards establishing a funding source that could provide opportunities for people who were not as fortunate as I was.
A charitable foundation is a large task, but all the board members have held leadership positions for the ASDP National Board and some have served in chapter leadership as well. We all agree that there is little, if any, charitable funding for sewing-related causes and it will elevate our association to add this non-profit arm. We hope to keep sewing and sewing professionals thriving as we move toward the future. It also gives members opportunities to honor sewing friends who have passed with their tax-deductible contributions and honorary scholarships.
You can see by the answers given that the Board has strong feelings on the importance of the Foundation. We will be reporting more in the future regarding the case for support, which will help the Foundation board refine the Mission and Vision statements in more detail. These two documents address our interests in fair pay and education for sewing pros, grants to support eligible sewing entrepreneurs, educators, and student scholarships. This in turn will help us further our cause as we begin to expand our reach to industry-related companies, leaders, and other interested parties in our efforts to increase funding. Contributions to the foundation are always optional and the board will continue to offer a variety of ways for interested parties to contribute their ideas, time, and dollars.
February was a busy month for the Colorado chapter. First, a group of us went to the Denver Art Museum to see an exhibit of Japanese textiles and the Star Wars costume exhibit. The Japanese exhibit, entitled Shockwave: Japanese Fashion Design, 1980s-90s was very beautiful and creative. Included designers were Issey Miyake and Rei Kawakubo (Comme des Garcons). The Star Wars and the Power of Costume Exhibit was incredible. The exhibit included a design studio showing the process of design, but the stars of the show were the finished garments with unbelievable detail work. Both exhibits were exceptional and very educational. The following week was our annual Sewing Retreat in the mountains north of Denver. We were treated to excellent food and plenty of space to sew for as long as we wished each day. Each participant brought her own projects and machines, and several members brought pressing equipment to share. Projects included pants and shirts, quilting, a quilt-like basket, repair work, children’s clothes, stuffed animals, and even a small billfold. We anticipate returning again next year, as we have for many years. In March our presentation was by member Carol Phillips was about making and using Moulage, which is like a sloper, but closer fitting. So close, in fact that it has no ease. Hence the name Moulage, which is French for “casing” (as in sausage). Carol demonstrated the difference in fit by modeling her custom Moulage and her sloper. March also brought the annual Rocky Mountain Sewing Expo to Denver (http://quiltcraftsew.com), and we again had a booth to exhibit samples of the work done by the Colorado Chapter of the ASDP. We met with many curious sewers; some were interested in connecting with a sewing professional and others were interested in our group and what they might learn if they attended some of our meetings or special classes. (It also gave us a chance to display the beautiful ASDP Chapter of the Year Award that we won for our work in 2016.)
The New England chapter proudly launched its new website in early March, thanks to the dedicated efforts of Joyce DeLoca (VP/Business Communications) and Sue Bennett (President). Replacing an outside-managed site that needed an expensive update, our new site will be managed in-house and has been streamlined to meet the current needs of the chapter. The site lists our mission, our members with contact information and their specialties, upcoming chapter events, and members in the news.
The web address is: www.newenglandsewingpros.org
Picture from the documentary website.
Members of the chapter met in Natick, Massachusetts on March 18 to view Men of the Cloth, by Vicki Vasilopoulos. A full-length film, this award-winning 2013 documentary follows three Italian master tailors as they work in their separate businesses and express their concerns about the future of their profession. The movie is touching, informative, and well made. We paid a voluntary fee to the filmmaker for permission to show her film to our Chapter members. Following the show we enjoyed light refreshments and a lively conversation about its content, a subject near and dear to all of us.
The film trailer and further information about Men of the Cloth can be found at: http://menoftheclothfilm. com.
For her outstanding body of work in the field of design, style, and color the Association of Sewing and Design Professionals has chosen Carla Mathis as the 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient.
In 1994 Carla Mathis published, The Triumph of Individual Style, co-written with Helen Villa Connor. In this seminal text, Carla applied the universal language of art to the human body in a way that had never before been explored. For centuries works of art had been appraised using the design elements of line, shape, proportion, scale, color and texture, but for the first time, Carla and Helen identified a unique body’s design pattern for every individual. We are works of art! Carla and Helen showed us where to look on our bodies and how to appreciate how we are made in a new way. Their simple 3-step progression: 1. From art… 2. To our body… 3. To clothes and accessories transformed the image industry and introduced women and men everywhere a new level of self-acceptance and selectivity when getting dressed.
The Triumph of Individual Style is known as the "bible" of the image industry and used as a textbook at Cornell, the Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC, and design schools across the country. When ASDP wrote the requirements for the Design Module of the Master Sewing and Design Professional Certification Program, The Triumph of Individual Style was deemed so important the entire module was based on the text.
Carla states, “Connecting my personal history with the beauty of what makes each of us special is what I live for. We all need more encouragement than we receive from mom and dad. It’s a constant and pervasive need. We must be affirmed to become all we can be. We are relational creatures. Words of affirmation, and identifying what makes each of us unique, is a passion I carry with me everyday as a stylist, mentor, grandmother, mother, wife and friend. For God’s glory we have been made, for love we have been created.
Carla Mathis, AICI CIM, has been changing lives one body at a time for 30 years. By pioneering and teaching the use of design as a powerful therapeutic tool, Carla has helped thousands of people worldwide learn to appreciate their bodies and achieve new levels of self-acceptance.
Note: You may learn more about Carla Mathis by visiting her website at www.thestylecore.com
Carla was nominated for this award by long standing member Joyce Simons Murphy and we are happy to share with you the reason why Joyce nominated Carla.
Before I met Carla through reading her book the Triumph of Individual Style I knew how to sew. I made most of my clothes while in high school and college, but they didn’t always please me. I just didn’t know why. I didn’t understand that knowing how to sew without knowing how to design was risky business. This hit home when I began sewing for others!
I shed many a tear over my failed projects early on because the color was wrong, the fabric was not the best choice for the project, the garment didn’t fit properly, or the style was not flattering. The stakes became higher as I sewed more for others. There were so many ways to fail and only one way to succeed. And that way was to learn how to consider the person when designing for self or others.
“But wait a minute!” I said. “I can’t do that!!! My sister is the artist! Not me!!! I don’t know how to draw, and I know nothing about design.” I had it in my head that design talent is something you are born knowing. If you are artistic or talented in design, you automatically know how to draw things to make them appear beautiful. If you don’t have this talent, you can’t learn it. Or so I thought back then. FALSE
It turns out I was wrong. Carla Mathis set me straight. She showed me through her Triumph of Individual Style that every woman is beautiful (beauty comes from within) and that with practice I could learn how to bring out this beauty by paying attention to design when altering garments or making garments. Carla awakened my artistic side. I found out that design is a skill that can be studied and learned. Sewing and design go together. You can’t have one without the other.
But Carla didn’t leave us there in her “Triumph of Individual Style” book. Instead, she took us from A to Z through a 4-step process for dressmakers and sewing hobbyists from choosing the pattern to choosing the fabric to adjusting the pattern and applying the finishing touches all with our clients in mind.
Studying Triumph changed my approach to dressmaking and tailoring and gave me the confidence to practice design. So many members have told me her book empowered them by equipping them with personal design tools that they have used again and again in their businesses. Carla has truly had an impact on professionals who sew AND DESIGN for a living.
I nominated Carla because I wanted her to know that we look up to her and that we continue to use her teachings to guide us and to guide the next generation of dressmakers.
Joyce Simons Murphy
ASDP member Debby Spence was the ‘Best Overall’ winner of 2016 Threads/ASDP Quilted Garment Challenge
You know how you have fabric in your stash that is just too precious to use? Well, a number of years ago, I had bought two coordinating fabrics from Susan McCauley of Mekong River Textiles, one of which was a gorgeous Shibori-dyed silk dupioni; the other a solid that matched it. I had also acquired some silk charmeuse in a couple of colors that coordinated with the dyed piece, not really knowing exactly how I would use them. I could never quite put my finger on what this fabric should become, so when I heard what this challenge was, I knew this would be the perfect project for it. I had often pictured it as some sort of jacket, but it had not occurred to me to make a quilted one until this challenge came along.
I sketched a couple of ideas and finally settled on one I liked. I feel that garments that are not too boxy and are nipped in at the waist are most flattering for me, and I have a purchased jacket that has the lines that I really liked, so I used that as a basis for my jacket design. I had to scale it down a bit to fit my limited amount of fabric, but the scaled-down version ended up looking better too. Of course, you have to ‘fussy cut’ the pieces before you quilt, so it was a bit nerve-racking trying to figure out if I would have enough fabric to do what I wanted to. Because I wanted the jacket to have a lot of drape to it, I decided to line the garment with silk charmeuse and use a drapey polyester knit I had in my stash as the ‘batting’. I tailor-basted all three layers together so they would not slip around while I was doing the quilting.
You would think someone living in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and being a sewer/designer who had made and sold patchwork clothing for 10 years would have done some quilting in her life, but the only quilting I ever did was just straight stitching to hold layers together on some of the patchwork garments. I had never hand quilted anything or done free motion quilting, so this was going to be a learning experience for sure. It helped that in April the Baltimore Chapter sponsored a workshop on Sashiko stitching. Sashiko is done only through one layer, though, so is not the same as quilting, but it is a similar technique to big stitch quilting. I looked at Youtube videos of people doing big stitch quilting and free motion quilting to get inspired. However, some of them were so amazing that I was almost too intimidated to even try! I also bought a book by one well-known free motion quilter that had lots of patterns and graphs, etc. included to help you plan your work. I researched thread and talked with some quilter friends about thread recommendations and decided on using Aurifil cotton thread in a couple of sizes and some silk thread for the free motion quilting. I chose colors that were close to the colors of my fabric because I didn’t want the quilting thread to obscure the dyed pattern of the silk.
After coming up with some quilting patterns that I liked, I drew the designs onto some tracing paper so I could lay it over a photo of the cut garment pieces to see how I liked it. Then I drew some of the major lines on the fabric with chalk and basted along those lines with a long running stitch so I would have a guideline for doing the big stitch quilting. I found the big stitch quilting that is done by hand to be very relaxing, sort of like knitting or crocheting is. I had originally thought I would do a lot of free motion quilting in between the rows of big stitch, but I really liked how drapey the pieces were with just the big stitch, so I decided to do just a bit of the machine sewing. (Plus, it took a lot less time!) In the shoulder area of the jacket, however, I did the free motion quilting a lot more densely to give it more support in that area.
From the videos I watched, I saw that there were some things I would need in order to do a respectable job of free motion quilting. There are special gloves you can buy that help you grip the fabric as you are sewing, but a quilter friend told me that gardening gloves (which are less expensive) can work just as well. Another piece of advice was to make a slippery work surface, so I found some kind of plastic that I think is used for stencils or something and cut a hole in the middle of it for the needle and put scotch tape donuts under it to make it stick to my machine. These things all seemed to work pretty well for me. The thing with free motion quilting is that you just have to practice and practice and practice. My sewing machine does not have a stitch regulator foot, so I knew it wouldn’t be perfect. It was really a lot of fun doing it, though, and unless you get up really close, you don’t notice the imperfections. With something like this, it’s the overall effect that matters. I ended up doing 4 different types of quilting stitches – the big stitch quilting, free motion, traditional hand quilting and regular machine sewing (with the presser foot down and feed dogs engaged.)
I considered a couple of ways of finishing off the inside of the jacket and decided to do a Hong Kong finish on the facing edges and the pressed-open shoulder seams and sleeve seams. I lined the side inset pieces so that they would have a bit more bulk and to hide the seams. Several years ago, I had also purchased a piece of hand-dyed silk kimono that coordinated nicely with my jacket fabric, so I used it for the binding around the edges. At one point, I had toyed with the idea of turning all the raw edges around the jacket in between the layers and then sewing those edges together, like on Kantha quilts. But this didn’t seem really feasible or all that easy to do. I really like the colors in the binding and how it all looked when it was finished.
I used the coordinating solid dupioni to make a pair of pants. I thought a slim-leg pant would look best with the jacket silhouette, and to visually tie the design together, I did some quilting on the contour waistband, the pocket edges and the hem. It’s pretty subtle since I used matching thread for the quilting, but I didn’t want it to stand out.
The design of the charmeuse top I made was inspired by a Style Arc pattern that I drafted using my sloper. I wanted to do some quilting on it too, but was worried about doing the free motion sewing on charmeuse as it had a tendency to pucker easily from not using the presser foot or feed dogs. I ended up taking a piece of medical exam paper and using it as a tear-away stabilizer which worked really great on the double layer of charmeuse.
I went into this challenge thinking that if nothing else, I would finally have an outfit from this fabric, so even if I didn’t win anything, I would be happy. Quilting this fabric was probably the best thing I could have done with it, and honestly, I probably would not have gone to all that trouble and work, or even had the idea, if it had not been for this challenge.
This is what the judges had to say about my entry –
Absolutely gorgeous on every level. Use of different versions of quilting on each piece was especially appreciated. The choice and handling of textiles is truly expert. Use of drapey knit as “batting” was a brilliant choice. Exceptional construction paired with masterful design—it’s so well-made that the jacket could almost be worn reversed. There is much happening in this ensemble, and yet it is perfectly harmonious—that’s a real accomplishment. We loved the artistry and skill displayed here.
[Added: This looked fantastic on the runway. What a flattering ensemble. Hope you get to wear it often.]
Artist statement: Excellent description and photography
In case you missed this book review when it was posted to the Discuss list and/or are looking for a new book to read. Thanks to member Abby Riba for bringing this review to our attention
'How To Read A Dress' Connects Centuries Of Women Through Fashion
How to Read a Dress
A Guide to Changing Fashion from the 16th to the 20th Century
by Lydia Edwards
Clothing is communication; it's a language we unconsciously absorb. And as with any language, the finer points bring the vocabulary together. When Janelle Monae walked the red carpet at the Oscars, we recognized the 18th-century influence in her dress. But that's not just for geometric effect. Wide French panniers indicated aristocracy; the neck ruff was an Elizabethan signal of leisure; the embroidered net suggests Empire gowns that ditched dress architecture in favor of gauzy embellishments. Through this lens, Monae's gown becomes a statement of luxury and celebration that deliberately reclaims and challenges a predominantly-white historical narrative and draws on three centuries of fashion history. It's just the sort of garment How to Read a Dress would love.
There are endless resources for costume historians, including Janet Arnold's exhaustively detailed Patterns of Fashion and Ingrid Mida and Alexandra Kim's The Dress Detective, which outlines academic methods for interpreting clothing as artifact. But those can be overwhelming to a novice — perhaps someone who has turned the TV to a period piece and seen something hilariously out of place, and just wants to know why it doesn't belong. For a knowledgeable introduction that has plenty of eye candy alongside its scholarship, Lydia Edwards' How to Read a Dress hits the spot.
A key word there is "introduction." Given that it covers nearly five centuries, the book makes quick work of some complex sartorial times. Edwards keeps a narrow focus on Western European styles and extant garments, and the overviews at the head of individual chapters — which cover anywhere from a decade to a century at a time — are brisk and brief. You'll likely be tempted to fill in the blanks with more research, such as when Edwards notes the significant shift from the relatively forgiving dresses of the 1830s to restrictive bodices and corsets in the 1840s, with only hints of what may have spurred such a dramatic change. (Maybe we're meant to end up dress detectives after all.)
But How to Read a Dress can't be an exhaustive history, and it's just as well it doesn't try. Instead, it neatly splits the difference between an art book and a glossary — a guided tour of a costume collection by a docent in the know. Each garment gets a page of point-by-point notes, with handy asides to show contemporary sketches of a pleating technique or give a closer look at the details of a print. And though few of the dresses perfectly conform to an ideal, the idiosyncrasies of style and construction in each gown end up being more interesting than textbook cases might be: they're reminders that while it works as historical artifact, a dress is also a reflection of something personal. A monochrome Victorian afternoon dress or a reworked bodice on an outdated Regency gown can hint at social class and regional differences, but they also tell us something about the women who wore them.
That sense of clothing as a living thing is at the heart of Edwards' work. The curated collection, featuring everything from funeral finery to department-store finds, offers an uneven but fascinating fashion primer that invites you to make connections across centuries, to wonder about the ways huge social shifts are reflected in everyday life, and tips you off about the placement of shoulder seams. Whether you're a costume nerd or just casually curious, How to Read a Dress will give you some insights into the language of dress. Period-piece TV will never look the same.
2885 Sanford Ave SW #19588, Grandville, MI 49418 ~ Toll-Free (877) 755-0303