Hands-On With Kleibacker: Lessons for Working with a Bias
In honor of the late Charles Kleibacker, here is another article from the pages of Threads about this masterful designer.
by David Page Coffin
excerpted from Threads #99, p. 71
Last summer, I spent a fascinating weekend in Columbus, Ohio, visiting designer, educator, and costume collector Charles Kleibacker. On the second floor of his garment- and memorabilia-packed townhouse, we cleared a small work space, and I settled in behind the camera to record an extraordinary and all-too-fleeting demonstration: the distillation of more than 30 years of professional experience in the creation of couture-quality, bias-cut garments. Drawing from an apparently endless series of overstuffed garment racks, Charles led me through the discoveries and techniques that formed the cornerstones of his technical career, encompassing both the behavior of fabric cut on the bias and the core procedures that he and his workroom staff employed to control and exploit it to such expressive and practical ends. In the following collection of photos and commentary, I'll share with you what I learned.
Lesson 1 - Fabric cut on the bias is not symmetrical.
No matter how balanced or similar the vertical and horizontal threads look on any fabric, they always drape differently because they were each subjected to different tensions during the weaving process. To demonstrate the effect of this difference on bias draping, Charles pins a single piece of muslin on true bias (the 45-degree diagonal) to the center front of a dress form. As a result, one side hangs from the lengthwise grain, and the other hangs from the crosswise grain. You can see how the folds on each side of center front fall differently. For Kleibacker, if the object is symmetrical bias draping, a center-front seam is needed to create identical draped folds on both halves (he omits a center-front seam only if he wants to create an asymmetrical bias garment). The process starts with draping in muslin on one side of the form only, up to the central seam. This half-muslin is traced and duplicated to create a wearable muslin for fine-tuning on a live model before creating a pattern. The pattern is then laid out and marked on two layers of fashion fabric, pinned face to face, and thus mirrored for perfect symmetry.
Lesson 2 - Pin and slip-baste from the garment's right side.
Right-side pinning ensures absolute accuracy, as all seams are prepared and can hang just as they will when worn. Careful pinning distributes ease and allows precise matching of design lines. Once pinned, Kleibacker slip-bastes seams by hand and then permanently machine-stitches them from the wrong side. Slip-bastings are removed before the seam is pressed.
In the sleeveless muslin prototype for this garment, you can clearly see the painstakingly pinned easing typical of a draped, bias-cut Kleibacker garment beneath the bustline seam and the neckline, which has been simply pinched on the right-hand side to show the exact amount of excess length. The eased fabric is not steamed flat in the muslin but will be carefully steamed and pressed to lie perfectly smooth in the fashion fabric.
Kleibacker is particularly fastidious about easing away any hint of gaping in a neckline. He recommends that this be done to improve patterns that don't include it. Here, on his 1970s designer pattern for a wrapped dress, he has added both a seam and easing to the left-hand bodice to eliminate the gaping in the unaltered right-hand neckline.