by Claire B. Shaeffer
4 part one
The Basics of Couture Sewing
6 C h a p t e r 1
Inside the World
of Haute Couture
24 C h a p t e r 2
The Art of
38 C h a p t e r 3
Shaping the Garment
66 C h a p t e r 4
86 C h a p t e r 5
106 part two
108 C h a p t e r 6
Skirts & Pants
124 C h a p t e r 7
Blouses & Dresses
144 C h a p t e r 8
158 C h a p t e r 9
172 C h a p t e r 1 0
Jackets & Coats
198 C h a p t e r 1 1
214 C h a p t e r 1 2
240 Selected Glossary of Terms
243 Metric Equivalency Chart
If you can sew, you can sew couture. Very few techniques are difficult, but they require time and patience. This edition, like the original, describes couture techniques as practiced in the ateliers of the haute couture. They are not adapted for homesewers because I feel strongly that grasping the principles used in the haute couture will help you better understand garment construction and fitting, and in turn, help you to solve many problems you encounter.
My focus is on the craftsmanship, even though elements like draping and design, proportion and balance, fit and fabric are equally important. I’ve concentrated on classic couture techniques that can be applied to a variety of designs and fabrics and also offer the most value to the greatest number of readers.
The book itself is divided into two sections. The first five chapters introduce you to the world of haute couture, how it differs from expensive ready-to-wear, basic couture skills, and essential techniques. My instincts as a teacher compel me to suggest that you read these chapters first.
The last seven chapters focus on the application of these techniques to garments. The new chapter —Chapter 11: Designing with Fabric—describes particular details I’ve seen on specific fabrics. Many of the photographs in the first edition were no longer available so I’ve selected new ones from various museums; and I’ve included photographs of some garments in my vintage collection.
The measurements used throughout the book are only guidelines; I suggest that you always purchase extra fabric so you can make samples before sewing the actual garment. This allows you to fine-tune the dimensions and practice your skills. No matter what your sewing expertise, this book will expand your horizons. Most importantly, it is a practical guide for learning the craft of haute couture, and it will also provide new ideas for applying the techniques that you already know.
While some techniques are less suitable for beginners, most will be of value to the average home-sewer; they are easy to duplicate and can be applied to many designs and fabrics. I find sewing by hand extremely rewarding. The pleasure of both making and wearing beautifully constructed garments far exceeds the time and effort required to complete them. I hope this book will help you develop these same skills and perfect old ones, and, in turn, reward you with years of pleasure—and a closet full of beautifully made garments.
A book of this kind cannot be written without much help and cooperation. I am greatly indebted to the couture industry, which helped me enormously with the research for the original edition of Couture Sewing Techniques. My thanks in particular go to the Chambre syndicale de la couture parisienne, the governing body in Paris of the couture industry, and to the couture houses, bespoke tailors, embroiderers, and custom shirtmakers in Paris, Rome, London, Florence, and New York.
Special thanks to the late Mme Marguérite Carré for her personal memories of the techniques used at Christian Dior, when she was the “première de premières,” and to the late Charles Kleibacker for sharing his knowledge of couture techniques. For the 2nd Edition of Couture Sewing Techniques, I thank Ralph Rucci and James Galanos for allowing me to visit their workrooms, observe the techniques which they used, and interview their employees. I am grateful to the Fondation Pierre Bergé and Yves Saint Laurent for arranging an interview with Jean-Pierre Derbord, the premier of the atelier du tailler, who shared his expertise and described the techniques used at Yves Saint Laurent.
I am very grateful to Phyllis Magidson, the curator at the Museum of the City of New York, with whom I worked on a research project that focused on Mainbocher and Charles Frederick Worth. This project expanded my knowledge while reminding me that many couture techniques which I had written about earlier had changed little, if at all.
A special thanks to Ken Howie and Sherill Taylor, who photographed the designs in my vintage collection, and to their staffs and the stylists who assisted them as well as the Phoenix Art Museum and Neil’s of Palm Desert, who loaned mannequins.
I also want to thank the museums that loaned photographs and sketches, their curators, and photographers: Dennita Sewell at Phoenix Art Museum, Phyllis Magidson at the Museum of the City of New York, Gayle Strege at The Ohio State University Historic Costume Collection, Valerie Steele at the Fashion Institute of Technology, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Kevin Jones at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles, Söjic Phaff at Christian Dior, John Wirchanski and the estate of Charles Kleibacker, and Lynn Cook at Australian Stitches.
I want to thank Sarah Benson who helped with so many things from typing and editing, making samples and photos, organizing, repairing, and pressing the garments to dressing mannequins.
I’m particularly grateful to The Taunton Press for undertaking such a challenging project and to its staff, especially my editor Erica Sanders-Foege, whose skills and enthusiasm helped to transform my dreams into reality.
And last, but not least, my thanks to my mother, the late Juanita Sumner Brightwell, who taught me that only my best was good enough, and to my husband, Charlie Shaeffer, MD, whose support and encouragement make it all possible.