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The Other Side of Couture!

My sewing friend Mary Ellen Velky and I spent time together recently in San Diego, and we got started talking about the clothes she wears when she’s riding (more specifically, the clothes she wears when she’s in competition).

She’s a Reserve World Champion in the American Quarter Horse Association competitions – and trust me, that’s a very big deal. And in addition to riding beautifully, she looks great, and for the most part, sews her own competition wear. I thought you’d like to get a closer look at what Mary Ellen laughingly calls “the other side of couture!”

The discussion all started when she mentioned an upcoming fabric show in Los Angeles. The LA International Textile Show is held twice a year, and last year Mary Ellen visited it with our mutual friend, professional dressmaker Cindy Dahlin, whose wholesale license got them into the show. This year’s spring show is at the California Market Center from March 28-30.

Here’s the fabric that started it all, her find from the Textile show.

Clearly, how a rider looks is a key part of the competition, and I was fascinated, as always, by the melding of form and function. So I asked Mary Ellen what she looks for in an outfit. The rules require boots, jeans, a shirt and a hat – but as you’ll see, it’s expanded to encompass very ornately-embellished garments, which have to appeal both close-up and from a distance. And they’re even color-coordinated with the horse, which, if you think about it, makes sense.

“Everybody is so good with their riding,” says Mary Ellen, “that the right clothes can add something extra. You’re showing – you’re showing what you and your horse can do, and it’s about the team. And when I’m…

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  1. Rufflife1603 | | #1

    I've been sewing since I was 3 and riding for the last 7 or 8 years. I ride English (eventing) but you make me want to ride Western, what fun! Beautiful garments! My sewing/riding friends and I have often discussed what we can do to make show clothes that fit perfectly, look good, and are comfortable in the Texas heat.

  2. gansettgal | | #2

    Oh my!!! Absolutely beautiful. I have friends in NE who raise and train quarter horses. I am going to forward this article to them. This clothing is absolutely gorgeous---not only in appearance but in construction. Kudos on all counts!

  3. User avater
    ShowClothes | | #3

    Finally! An article about Equestrian Couture!!!! As an equestrian wear seamstress, former competitor, horse show mom, Equestrian Team coach and 4-H leader, it has been very hard to locate the fabrics, patterns and rhinestones required to create the gorgeous outfits.

    That is why I started my own company to service that very need. So glad to see our culture included in couture!

  4. User avater
    SeriousSewing | | #4

    What beautiful fabric! Any time you can wear sequins is a good time in my book. Nice job.

  5. txdrling | | #5

    Living in Fort Worth, Texas since I was born, every year I attended the Southwest Exposition and Live Stock Show, a very big deal here. It is always thrilling to see the women dressed for show and ready to ride. I think every child wants to grow up and be that impressive. What a beautiful horsewoman in this article and her outfits are so well done. Beautiful. Here on the grounds of the Will Rogers Coliseum complex, where the stock show is held every January we now have the Cowgirls Museum. It is a must see. And this type of outfit is a thrill to view for generations to come. Thanks for this article. It is outstanding.

  6. sewmafrani | | #6

    I have horse loving sisters and several acquaintances who do also. I've seen Arabian competition with the horse and rider adorned to match. Quite spectacular. You chose a beautiful, fun and confident indivisual to showcase competition riding outfits. Beautiful design and execution. More successes to her and her horse!

  7. jazzyjj | | #7

    This is simply beautiful....some years ago I was barrel racer and barrel racers and queen contestants wore this type of clothing and lame pants. I live in the Houston area and on Houston Livestock Show Committee - would love to know where to purchase this type of material...Note it was not uncommon for my mother to be finishing my fit on the way to rodeo...she made all my western wear...suits included.

  8. Horse4Hmom | | #8

    very pretty, but I am confused. is this person actually making the jacket or is she having someone make it for her?
    and where does the pattern come from?

  9. User avater
    ppinnc | | #9

    Wow !! wonderful and most interesting article, Susan. Thank you. I would love to have access to that very fine fusible web and the fabrics used were exquisite. Were the appliques cut from the original fabric and then resewn? Were the sequined areas fused ? ShowClothes, do you have these types of products available ? Do you have a website?? Inquiring minds want/need to know !

  10. LindaA | | #10

    For many years I made equestrian show clothes and loved it. LA is great but I always found the unusual in NY. Found fabrics dreams are made of. I always preferred natural fabrics as being the best and most comfortable. I am a couture seamstress and lined everything in silk. It breathed and the ladies always felt like a million and showed it in their confidence.

    These are very beautiful and tastefully designed.

  11. anitat | | #11

    Loved this article. I also show Quarter Horses on a regional level. I have sewn some clothing and found this article inspirational to take my show clothing to a new level. Of course I would love to know resources for embellishment like these shown. The pattern company that I use for show clothing is "Suitablility". I learned a good deal from this article about making the cuffs and collar stand tall and how to make the garment look crisp but stay functional for competition. Thanks so much.

  12. Moosemaniac | | #12

    Wow....combining two of my three loves! Sewing & horseback riding. I have a Tennessee Walking Horse & ride both Western & English. I can't wait to make a new outfit for riding Western! I may even try to figure out how to dress my horse, Style by Stella, to match.

  13. SusanKhalje | | #13

    Good morning!
    I'm so glad you're enjoying this post - I was pretty interested when I saw these jackets, and I'm glad you like them as well. It was a fun post to put together!
    I've asked Mary Ellen to respond to some of your specific questions, and I'm sure she will.

  14. JodyBlonde | | #14

    Several years ago I made blouses for the show ring, Always silk, interlined and lined. I always thought horse shows were for the horses but found out differently when the $300.00 a yard fabric showed up. These were for the Jr. girls. Champions every time. I may get back into it again. One girl was a large girl and we did victorian sleeves, with high necks and always black silk on the sides to go with the black wranglers. It slimmed her up and and the embellished fabric down the front and back. They were absoultely stunning. So was the trophy.

  15. User avater
    JannaSue | | #15

    My granddaughter began showing Appaloosa's last year. She is a very tall, lean girl so finding ready made show clothes was impossible. I got ou the sewing maching and with lots of help, began making her outfits. She is only 12 and growing like a weed, so we didn't put outrageous amounts of money into them. I found the "Suitability" patterns worked well, except for the pants. I found a Simplicity jean pattern that works well. I always use fabric with some stretch to it. My daughter's job was to "embellish" them. Lots of crystals and rhinestones. Being able to make her clothes has saved us so much and had made it a family project. Thanks for the article. I look forward to getting your publication to find new ideas!

  16. User avater
    JannaSue | | #16

    Susan: Loved your article. I have a suggestion for you if the Western Show CLothes is an idea you wouldn't mind following again. Learning to sew your own is difficult but there are a few people out there really willing to help. One of them is Pegg Johnson from Show Clothes Unlimited. She has always been so helpful to me from suggesting patterns, fabrics, zippers and notions; to books, articles and now DVD's on how to make your own Western Show CLothes. She commented on your recent article and is on Facebook. I think she would provide some great info for an article.

  17. dowserjaney | | #17

    These are the most beautiful embellished clothes I've ever seen in my life.
    I never think of Western riding clothes as being truly tasteful and beautiful rather than just glitzy, but these glorious jackets certainly are. Congratulations!

  18. User avater
    racu | | #18

    Lovely! and your friend looks like Bo Derek!!!. I have a question: what about the pattern? Did she design and drafted the patterns?

  19. poppysquash2 | | #19

    These jackets are so beautiful, and remind me of my sister who used to show when she was younger. It wasn't until she started showing that I realized how important your clothes are! And how they make you and your horse a team. These jackets make me want to wear them JUST CAUSE! Who knows,I just might go out grocery shopping one day all buttoned up.

  20. User avater
    sewso65 | | #20

    Wow! Beautiful jackets and wonderful work........exquisite.

  21. sewing_mev | | #21

    The pattern for the first and second jackets were a spinoff of a shoulder seam princess pattern (Vogue 7975) to which I made more fitted and added a collar stand, collar, and to the first cuffs. The last jacket was custom made by Wood's western, but the orientation of the applique and buckle cut out were my idea/design.

  22. User avater
    ShowClothes | | #22

    In answer to the question posted below - yes, I have a website. http://www.showclothesunlimited.com

    I am always happy to help you find the fabric and supplies that you need for your show clothing.

    I'm going to put copies of this article in my booth at the trade shows. It is just so exciting to see the horse show world acknowledged by the sewing community!

  23. User avater
    omhamadino | | #23

    i love it thanxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

  24. Kapaibro | | #24

    Love the work. I make Jackets for English riding, and the thought, and planning that goes into it is just as involved.
    What does the horse look like, matching browband, colour of the saddlery, the whole bit.
    My nephew is 7 and has just finished his last season of Lead Rein (where he rides but has an attendant, me, for safety).
    My outfit matches his, and has a big hat as well.
    For a recent event, he wore his shirt(with french cuffs and cufflinks), jodphurs(hand picked for correct formal turnout), waistcoat and jacket that I had made.
    Saved about $1000 from what buying them from an outfitter would.

  25. suzannity | | #25

    Wow! Stunning! I'm inspired to go to the next horse show around town just to see the outfits!

  26. patty_zoe | | #26

    I rode Dressage, so an extremely tailored black coat was the uniform of the day. I made one once, and got it to fit just as well as the ones that cost hundreds. Now I'm work really hard to get sleeves into a blouse and corners to square up on a quilt.

  27. patty_zoe | | #27

    I rode Dressage, so an extremely tailored black coat was the uniform of the day. I made one once, and got it to fit just as well as the ones that cost hundreds. Now I'm work really hard to get sleeves into a blouse and corners to square up on a quilt.

  28. Kyla | | #28

    I just love that jacket it is gorgeous alsome.

  29. lindalouise | | #29

    The fabric Mary Ellen started with is beautiful. It was purchased at the trade show. Where can ladies who do not go to trade shows purchase such fabric?

    Thank you & this is a very beautiful art piece & of the highest quality. This was a pleasure to see & learn about.

  30. SusanKhalje | | #30

    To LindaLouise -
    It really depends on the show. Some are quite strict, and you need a wholesale license to get in; others are more relaxed and sell to the general public as well as to professionals. Often the vendors are reluctant to sell small orders to the general public - and understandably so - they're just not set up for that, and in fact, sometimes they only have sample fabrics with them. Then again, there are vendors who are perfectly happy to sell small amounts of fabric.
    I'd contact the office of the show you're interested in and see what they say.

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