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Hands-On With Kleibacker: Lessons for Working with a Bias

Charles Kleibacker
Lesson 1 - a muslin square pinned to show the drape of a true bias
Lesson 1 - a center-front seam on bias allows identical drape
Charles Kleibacker

Charles Kleibacker

Photo: David Page Coffin

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.

A muslin square pinned to a dress form shows the drape of a true bias.


A center-front seam on bias-cut fabric allows identical drape.

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.

Garments are pinned from the right side to ensure accuracy.

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.

Typical easing on a Kleibacker neckline is painstakingly pinned.

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.

A seam and easing eliminates gaping on the left side of the dress.

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Comments (20)

elkhornkate elkhornkate writes: Regarding #4 - where can you GET rayon seam tape? it seems to be no longer available. Is there a substitute??

Posted: 10:39 pm on September 13th

LauraBolcina LauraBolcina writes: Very interesting. Anyway, there's something I don't clearly understand. What are those yellow dots on picture two on page 3? I suppose it's not the running stitch - it should be pink. Where is the running stitch then? Thank you for help!
Posted: 1:22 pm on August 5th

truffie258 truffie258 writes: What an amazing designer! I wish I had knew more about him while he was alive...his work is so beautiful and timeless. Simply elegant!
Posted: 11:27 am on August 31st

fabricmaven fabricmaven writes: Thank you to the universe that there was a Charles Kliebacker, how fortunate are we that he would share his genius before his passing? I have a passion for cloth cut on the bias. Hope I can acomplish half his contribution. Thank You Threads.
Posted: 11:55 pm on January 18th

Lady_Jaydee Lady_Jaydee writes: Fan-dan-tastic! Enjoyed reading about this intuitive, textual (no pun intended) man. You just "know" his fingers can do this automatically, without thinking. How gifted is that? Speaking of gifts, if we remember not to shoot the messenger, we can all appreciate some pretty great "message gifts". If we get bogged down in semantics and pickiyune stuff, we may discourage others from contributing for our benefit as this article does. Some of us are more into "the doing" of it than the writing of it, and, darn it, some of us, it seems can do it ALL! I guess there's room for all of us. If it shrieks at you, try to calm down and see what it's SAYING. When you write your own book or article, you can make it perfect and we'll all cheer for you! /j/
Posted: 5:58 pm on January 17th

trishapat trishapat writes: The attention to detail in the construction process, figuring out what works and why and then taking the extra time to do it in the way that will produce the best results is one of the things that sets people like Charles Kleibacker apart.

it also shows us how the masters approach things ... they care! A LOT. They pay attention – close attention.

This is fantastically helpful information for all of us so that when we want to make something cut on the bias we can do a better job of it. And, if we apply those same high standards to everything we sew we'll aways get better results.

Vicki, thanks for putting this up and for the time you spend editing and re-editing ... paying attention to all those details for all of us picky peop ... er... detail oriented people. I bet ol' Charles K. would approve.
Posted: 2:36 pm on January 13th

azbarbara azbarbara writes: David, What a blessing it is that you share the experiences that you had with Mr. Kleibacker. Thank you!
Posted: 11:36 am on January 13th

glogee3 glogee3 writes: I had a class with Mr. Kleibacker in the late 1980's at Wayne State University in Detroit. We drape his famous bias skirt. He always encouraged you when you thought you couldn't get your running stitch any smaller. He will sorely be missed.
Posted: 3:49 pm on January 12th

Clarasita Clarasita writes: Whoops, I think I created a dangling something or other. I am the former Occupational Therapist, not the bodice or picture of it. Guess there should have been a "to me to be" between "appear" and "backwards". Oh wait, that's not correct, either. Now I'm nervous about the grammar police. Hope they're not "coming to take me away, ha ha!".
Posted: 3:42 pm on January 12th

Clarasita Clarasita writes: The typos re spelling may be corrected, but as a former Occupational Therapist the references to right side vs left side of bodice appear backwards. I'm looking for the right side of the bodice, not the right hand side of the picture. Loved this article when originally published, but it seems more precious now.
Posted: 3:37 pm on January 12th

nljbrown nljbrown writes: Sorry, ladies, but the typos drive me nuts... :) I was a proofreader for Harcourt Brace in my college days, and they literally jump off the page and assault me!

The article and photos are wonderful. These are the kinds of articles that make me wish I could sit at the sewer's feet and learn in person. Sometimes it's hard to understand exactly what's being done unless you actually see it done.

Thanks for sharing!
Posted: 12:36 pm on January 12th

Muppet Muppet writes: What a wonderful article!! I too would love to have a book on Mr. Kleibacker's work. I so enjoy these type of articles.
Posted: 10:55 am on January 12th

maryguanay maryguanay writes: Trabajar al sesgo requiere de sierta pericia y mucha paciencia, para obtener un trabajo de alta calidad. Los vestidos, blusas y faldas cortadas con esta técnica garantizan una figura esbelta y delicada. Este tutorial constituye un elemento fundamental en el aprendizaje de los diseñadores de moda, modistos y costureras. Muchas gracias por permitirnos tener al alcance estos conocimientos.
Posted: 9:44 am on January 12th

JanetNVa JanetNVa writes: Wow! I love it. I might be able to sew if I can do it by pin and baste-by-hand. I have never been able to do the machine part even though I can spin a fine thread and weave a fine cloth. I may just need "permission" to pin & baste my way through a garment.

"Bad Spellers of the World, Untie!" I don't recognize typos, so they never bother me. ;o)
Posted: 8:30 am on January 12th

Katielynne Katielynne writes: I agree that this is a lovely way to pay tribute to such an innovative and vital person in the fashion industry. I'm so happy to read (in part) how he achieved such wonderfully crafted garments. (Side note to Vicky: there are still a handful of typos in the article after editing, but I could still understand what was intended. If you need copy editing help, I'd love the job! Just let me know! Seriously! :o) )
Posted: 2:57 am on January 12th

UrbanGoddess UrbanGoddess writes: Wow. What a privlege to be able to learn some of his secrets. I didn't notice any typos... I was enthralled with imagining how his fingers just "knew" what to do. I would love to have a whole book of what he knew!!
Posted: 10:44 pm on January 11th

Linda_in_Florida Linda_in_Florida writes: I loved this article. Thank you so much for posting it. What a knowledgeable and talented man . . . The posting of this article in his honor was a very nice gestsure to Mr. Kleibacker's memory.
Posted: 9:53 pm on January 11th

pattyv pattyv writes: This is a very fascinating article to read. I did also find some typos, but I honestly cant get enough of this kind of information. Thank YOU.

Posted: 8:19 pm on January 11th

VictoriaNorth VictoriaNorth writes: Thanks for letting us know about the error. I believe all of the edits have been made now.
Posted: 2:41 pm on January 9th

Parb Parb writes: This article is very helpful, but sometimes difficult to read. There are many typos and it was obviously not edited.
Posted: 11:54 am on January 9th

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