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Sewing Inspiration: Susan Khalje Shares Couture Work by Her Students

I’m often asked where I get my inspiration. Much of the time, it’s from my students. Last week’s crop of garments from students at my San Diego class offered lots of inspiration. Here’s a look at the students’ class projects. 

Nora’s Stella McCartney Top

Nora sews beautifully, and apart from her other training, she studied draping last spring with my Paris-based colleague Julien Cristofoli. That gave her the skills to create this top. It’s a Stella McCartney design. The fabric was a silk twill. Because the fabric is not heavy, we took the unusual step, at least in the couture workroom, of fusing the fabric first. We tested several fusibles and chose one that maintained the essential nature of the fabric without making it too stiff. 

student inspiration

The top is one-shouldered, so a little boning was called for. There are three pieces of boning hidden in the top, including a piece tucked into the right angle at the center front.

student inspiration

Here is a view from the back.

The right angle at the center front corner just wasn’t staying put, so we strengthened it. One of the challenges of boning is to camouflage it. It was tricky with this smooth, slick fabric, but we encased the boning in cashmere. (Someone in the class was working on a cashmere coat, so we poached some of the fabric.) There’s also a waist stay to help anchor the garment firmly around Nora’s waist.

Marianne’s Vintage Dress

Marianne made a dress from a vintage pattern that featured four princess panels, which narrowed at the hemline, and four bias-cut godets. One of dress’s charms was the zipper, which curved up the left-side back seam. The fabric was interfaced with silk organza, and we steamed the fabrics to mesh the layers. To my great surprise, the fabric shrunk noticeably. Boy, am I glad we steamed thoroughly. I generally recommend steaming, but it’s so rare to see such a degree of change. We gave the bias panels a day or two to stretch out after their steaming adventure, and we were careful when sewing them to the main panels of the dress. It’s always tricky sewing a bias edge to a nonbias edge.  

vintage dress - student inspiration - susan khalje

We added two weights (not visible in this photo) to the bottom of each main panel. 

The weights kept the main panels straight and allowed the bias panels to flare. The result made for a lovely contrast.

vintage dress - student inpisration

There was one small detail–a hook at the top of the zipper. 

We didn’t want to use a regular hook and eye because the hook would have caught on the fabric instead of the eye. Instead, we used a rhinestone-embellished silver coat hook from Marianne’s stash. The hook fastens to a sturdy white thread bar on the other side. We used only the hook since there was no way to camouflage the matching eye, and we didn’t like seeing that much metal on the dress shoulder. The rhinestone hook is a lovely touch.

Elizabeth’s Black Wool Jacket

Elizabeth worked on a black wool jacket and, while it was lovely, it needed a little embellishment. We made bias tubes from the black wool and then stretched them out on the sleeve board, steamed them, and let them dry to get them uniformly thin and taut before fashioning them into ornaments. Elizabeth is playing around with placement. The final jacket won’t have so many swirls stacked on top of each other, but at this point, she’s just getting the lay of the land.

student inspiration wool jacket

The black wool jacket eventually will be adorned with carefully placed bias-tube embellishments.

wool jacket

Embellishment also will be added to the sleeves.

Jeanne’s Burda Dress

susan khlaje student inspiration

Jeanne made a dress from a Burda pattern, a free download, no less. 

The fabric was lovely and lively. While it appeared nice and stable, the fabric’s horizontal grain was all over the place. It needed to be tamed. If the horizontal lines on the dress were anything less than perfect, the whole garment would have lost much of its charm. 

creative tool susan khalje

We went to great lengths to tame the fabric grain. We even made a tool from two rulers that allowed us to control the horizontal grain as well as the vertical grain.

creative tool susan khalje

The tool got a workout when we lined up the sleeve grains.

student inspiration susan khalje

The center front was carefully basted after we lined up everything with our tool.

student inspiration susan khalje

All the layers of the center front overlap eventually will be held in place by a button.

student inspiration susan khlaje

The nearly finished dress needed its hem pinned.


Mary Ellen’s Zandra Rhodes Vogue Patterns Dress

Mary Ellen is using a cute Zandra Rhodes Vogue pattern for her dress. She plans to use lace for the yoke and cap sleeves and black wool crepe for the rest of it. Her Guipure lace is gorgeous, and the flesh-colored silk organza underlay will be invisible under the lace when it lies against the skin.

student inspiration susan khalje

The flesh-colored silk organza serves as an underlay, and is totally invisible under the lace once it’s against the skin.

More Inspiration from the San Diego Class

We had a lot of fun with rickrack during the week. One of the students was working on a side project, so my friend Cindy dug out embellishments she’d made. Her work features two pieces of rickrack that are interlocked-–not twisted. You can see that the concept of embellishing with everyday rickrack can be expanded.

rick rack

Sharon’s Gown

Sharon’s inspiration was a gown she saw at the Jacqueline de Ribes exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The original was bias cut and ankle length. Sharon also has studied draping with Julien, and she draped the dress. She chose a weighty satin-backed silk crepe and underlined it with something similarly flowing, in this case, silk crepe de Chine.  


The collar was underlined with silk organza, which, in the final analysis, had too much body for the silk crepe collar. 

We cut the underlining out of the collar, leaving it in the seams, and it worked just fine.

sharon's gown

Notice the dress flounce. Its contrasting facing is from the same fabric that Sharon used for the collar.

sharon's gown

The buttons and their placement turned out beautifully. We fused the area to which the buttons were applied. It’s a good idea anyway, and as they were on the bias in this instance, it was wise to stabilize the fabric.

sharon's gown

The flounce’s fullness is nicely distributed around its curved edge.

sharon's gown

Sharon’s “Lacroix” dress

Finally, here’s another dress that Sharon draped and created using a Lacroix fabric that we found in Paris last fall. The sleeves are matched precisely. They were set in by hand, and that guaranteed perfect placement.

draped lacroix fabric

Where do you find sewing and design inspiration? What did you think about the projects I shared? Are you taking any sewing classes or attending any workshops in the near future?


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  1. yellowrabbit141 | | #1

    I love everything from this collection, but especially Nora's Stella McCartney Top. It just impressed me so much, how a simple top can look so good!

  2. twobees | | #2

    Love Jenna's Burda Dress & the fact it was a free download! I think I could even make that so how do I get the pattern; does it have a number?
    I really admire Stella's top too. It looks quite unique & cleverly done, you certainly wouldn't bump into another one like it.

  3. User avater
    eussiwel | | #3

    I loved all of items presented in this article. My favorite is the embellishment for the black wool jacket. I sew all of the time since I am finally retired from the work world. I especially love to sew for my grand daughter--seems like I was at work too much when my daughters were small (yes I sew sometimes for them even now) Sewing keeps me sane & smiling. Unless I have a week like this week, when I have made two dumb mistakes on the dress I am making for Ms. Khalje's Couture Dress class.....practice, practice, practice.....

  4. User avater
    kennethdking | | #4

    Everyone who was under Susan's watchful eye can testify to the quality of her classes. I'm honored to call her a colleague!

  5. Sissy709 | | #5

    I love the off or one shoulder top. But surely someone there noticed the fit of that poor woman's pants. They fit her like some that I have made for myself. They fit very poorly and are three sizes to big.

  6. Sissy709 | | #6

    I love the off or one shoulder top. But surely someone there noticed the fit of that poor woman's pants. They fit her like some that I have made for myself. They fit very poorly and are three sizes to big.

  7. User avater
    BobTenant | | #7

    I'm definitely not an expert, but some of these look quite beautiful.

  8. User avater
    LuvThreadsMagazine | | #8

    Utterly AMAZING!

    Loads of content in this article.

    Thank you Susan, for this and all of your contributions.

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