When I tell people that I am teaching adults how to sew using their own designs and their own patterns, their eyes get big. Whoa… seems so mysterious…. so advanced… so ambitious…
When I tell people the course is designed for beginners to garment sewing, frankly no one believes me. Pattern making seems like it would be really hard; something that only people who already have a lot of experience making clothes should even attempt. I have a confession to make, though: I have never graded a pattern and I do not know how to do an FBA. To me, that is what sounds hard.
I have, however, created hundreds of garments worth thousands of dollars to perfectly fit individuals of all shapes and sizes. Well, “sizes” might not be the right word. I also don’t use sizes.
Sound liberating? It is.
My name is Brooks Ann Camper and, though I am now a 40-year-old professional designer and dressmaker of couture-quality one-of-a-kind bridal wear, I learned to sew relatively recently. I got bit by the sewing bug as an adult, while working in professional theatrical costume shops. In that setting, you have to make all kinds of clothes, for all kinds of bodies, based on a sketch. An envelope full of tissue paper is rarely helpful, with such unique, specific creations.
Yet, I am now learning that this is the way that most people are taught to sew clothes: via an envelope full of lines that represent someone else’s style and someone else’s size(s) with an instruction booklet. Personally, I’ve never been able to complete a garment following a commercial pattern. It’s just not the way I learn. Here’s the thing, though. That’s alright. There are, in fact, other ways!
Many people learn to sew when they are young, but I think many adults have a desire to learn in a different way than kids. Some of us actually thrive when we are able to start off in a way that is little more in-depth and a little more nerdy. We like to investigate, problem-solve, get personal, and grasp larger concepts. We appreciate (and even demand) quality. We cherish the occasional epiphany.
It is my opinion that beginning adult sewists are not given enough credit. They are often only taught the short-cuts in order to get projects done that are “quick and easy.” This not only makes for less-than-stunning results, it also makes it harder to grasp the larger concepts later. This is why I think there are so few who make it to the “advanced level.” Designing and drafting your own patterns can be simple and fun. And bonus: A custom drafted pattern fits you and nobody else, rather than the “it fits everyone, yet no one” approach of patterns that you buy. I believe that taking a slower more-comprehensive “whole picture” approach can be very rewarding and can get you better results from the start. Learning how patterns work, helps inform fit, helps inform sewing and fabric choices, helps you look and feel great.
I believe that your ability to express your unique personality through clothing should not be heavily dictated by the fashion industry or what is included in a size-range. You should not have to depend on someone else’s work in order to create your own! Yes, creating custom-made clothing has a different process than both home sewing and sewing for the fashion industry. It is certainly not profitable for anyone who manufactures clothing or patterns to create something that fits individuals. They have to base their products on an average of those who might possibly purchase their products, in order to make a profit. Unfortunately, that leaves a lot of us out.
But the process of creating custom-made clothing is one that I absolutely adore as it opens up a world of design and fit opportunities for individuals. My only fear is that if individuals don’t start learning these skills soon, the art might die completely. People are beginning to lose sight of the individual, lured by the desire to have something that works for the masses.
So, what is the process for custom sewing? Asking that question is a little like asking What is the process for woodworking? I can’t explain it in one post, but it all starts with an individual, rather than a standard. The design has the individual in mind, the sketch is created on the person’s actual silhouette, the patterns are created via a set of personalized measurements that goes well beyond the circumferences of Bust/Waist/Hips, the marking and cutting process is designed for accuracy of fit, and so on… Developing a foundation of knowledge for the whole picture makes all the difference, creating fun puzzles rather than frustrating alterations.
Unfortunately, it seemed that interning at a professional costume shop, shadowing a custom dressmaker or tailor, or going through a specialized degree program was the only way to gain these skills. This is why I’ve been researching and creating ways to share these “secrets” in a fun and logical way. In my Intro to Custom Sewing eCourse: Skirt Skills, I break the whole process down into simple components for women who don’t want a career in the subject, they just want clothes that fit!
So if any of you are thinking you’d like to skip the whole commercial pattern thing and learn to sew by designing and creating your own patterns, don’t immediately assume it something that is “too advanced.” In my opinion, it is not any harder. It is just different. And different is not a bad word. Different is something to celebrate. That is my confession, as a couturier.
Brooks Ann Camper is a custom designer and couture dressmaker of one-of-a-kind bridal wear located in Hillsborough, NC. She has a professional theatrical background that includes sewing for Broadway creating unique costume pieces for the likes of Bernadette Peters, Kristin Chenoweth, the Muppets, and the Rockettes.
Brooks Ann recently began teaching her custom sewing methods both in-person and online. Visit her bridal site and follow her blog at: www.BrooksAnn.com and check out her interactive Intro to Custom Sewing eCourse at www.SkirtSkills.com.