Runway Sewn Your Way Challenge: Becky Fulgoni’s Inspiration
Choose a designer, past or present, as inspiration for a garment. What? With so many to choose from, how do you pick just one? That was my first thought when Threads presented the 2021 challenge for the digital ambassadors and for the Threads audience. There are so many designers I admire and so many who have already influenced my sewing. It seemed impossible to narrow it to just one.
Selecting a designer
Once I took a breath and recomposed myself, I realized that it was an easy choice. For a while, I have been saving Pinterest pictures of garments by a designer who intrigues me. I have thought about using her garments as inspiration in my sewing but hadn’t done anything about it. Now was the perfect opportunity. I pulled up my Pinterest board with the dozens of pictures of her designs and knew I had plenty to work with.
An unlikely choice
The designer I am looking to as inspiration for my garment is not necessarily one who is a household name, certainly not in the way that we know Coco Chanel or Ralph Lauren. Isabel Marant is a French designer, born in 1967, who has been creating and showing her designs since launching her brand in 1994. At first glance, Marant’s designs might seem over-the-top feminine, dripping with lace and layers of ruffles. This aesthetic, as anyone who knows me, is definitely NOT my style. I tend toward tailored, simpler lines in my designs. But something has kept me coming back to Marant’s work. I was intrigued but couldn’t figure out what was attracting me to her clothing. The more I looked, the more I started to see, though.
Under all the lace and frills, there is a strong, almost masculine, emphasis on the shoulders. Now that is something I can relate to. My broad shoulders have been alternately a positive and the bane of my existence. As a swimmer, I had an awesome advantage in the pool. As a sewist, I discovered confoundingly irritating fitting issues. But here was a designer who was celebrating them within the context of feminine garments. I have never thought that I could wear overly lacy, ruffly clothes. But Marant’s designs showed me that traditionally feminine details could be done with strength and presence that created a dynamic tension in the design. I knew my design would need to showcase shoulders.
Making the design wearable
I wanted my interpretation to be wearable. It would need to somehow hint at the layers, ruffles, and lace that are quintessentially Marant, but in a way that could come down off the runway and into my conservative, Midwestern home. Wearable also meant that I wanted to feel comfortable in 2021. Many of the elements that define Marant’s style are part of the current design aesthetic. Runways this year are filled with ruffles. Tiers and layers are everywhere. Lace and eyelet are having a heyday. Boho and 1970s’ baby-doll dresses have taken over again, and statement sleeves are not just for pirates this year. (Of course I had to get over the fact that my high school years are now considered “vintage.” Really!?) It would take some head-scratching to incorporate all these elements, but that’s why we call it a challenge, right?
Two garment sewing challenges
On a practical note, I had created a little challenge for myself in 2021. I have done this over the years to give structure and focus to my otherwise random projects. I have noticed that many people do similar things, like choosing several fabrics from their stashes or patterns they would like to try. My challenge this year is to make a white shirt for every month. Knowing that I would need to think about the amount of time I had, I thought it would be a good idea to make a “twofer.” It would be something that would work for the Threads challenge as well as my personal challenge. Could I create a garment that inspired by Isabel Marant and be the September white shirt?
I studied my cache of “Pins,” looking for a few to get the juices flowing. There was one that seemed to float to the top of the pile. It has the telltale Marant elements: shoulder attention, statement sleeves, lace, ruffles, layers, baby-doll 1970s look. Plus, it’s white. I decided to use it as my focus and draw on other elements from Marant’s portfolio to fill in the details of my design.
My first thought was to make a tunic with a lacy striped yoke. I noodled around with this idea for a while but wasn’t getting far.
On closer examination of my inspiration image, I realized that the “layers” in this garment were a tunic and a vest. That was the idea that triggered the basics of my design. I would make some kind of white tunic with a lacy vest.
Choosing patterns and fabrics
I knew I wanted a pattern that was all about the shoulders and the sleeves. I have written before about how much I love the Fit For Art Tabula Rasa Jacket pattern. In fact, it is the way the shoulder is drafted that has earned my undying love for this pattern. It was going to be my starting point for the tunic. For the vest, I decided I would draft with the Tabula Rasa Tunic in mind.
I ordered several white fabrics at the beginning of the year to have choices for my monthly white shirts. For this design I decided to use a light, almost sheer, rayon challis for the tunic and an off-white rayon twill for the vest. I liked the drape of the rayons and knew the weight of the challis would be lovely for gathering. Then I headed to my stash and collected every bit of lacy edging I could find.
Things were coming together.
Letting the fabrics speak
My preferred method of working is to let the fabrics take the lead. I have found that if I try to make a fabric do something that doesn’t come naturally, I am usually disappointed. The rayon twill would be able to stand up to the more tailored vest, while the challis would drape beautifully for the tunic. I started sampling. My original plan was to make a new “fabric” that would be stripes of all the different laces, intermixed with the rayon twill. I could then cut the pattern pieces from this fabric to make the vest. As I sampled, I felt myself getting caught up in the layers and the lace, it all started to feel like too much.
It definitely possessed a Marant influence, but somewhere I was losing “me” in the process. I started again, this time trying to hang on to the essence of a Marant design without going over the top.
In the end I decided to ditch the lace altogether and do a hand-sewing technique called fagoting, which can also be done by machine, to make the fabric for my vest. The open stripes created by the pearl cotton stitches gave me a “lacy” look while still speaking to my simpler design aesthetic, and without going overboard with different laces. I needed to figure out the technical steps of creating a fabric with this process, but we will save that for another post.
My plan was to now incorporate the laces into the tunic. How could I have an Isabel Marant garment without lace?
Overcoming a creative block
At this point, my creative well seemed to dry up. I draped my challis over my dress form with several pieces of lace edging and there they sat . . . and sat . . . and sat some more. The challis just seemed too light and delicate to carry the weight of all that lace. It wasn’t until a sewing friend came for lunch one day that the creative juices started to flow again. I showed her my stalled project, and we both scratched our heads. She was looking at the challis and commented about how lovely the torn edge was. The “fringe” of the torn edge had a sheen from the rayon fiber which didn’t show up in the matte finish of the fabric. It really was delicate and lovely. She also shared a picture she had taken of a sleeve detail that was created with open spaces between geometric fabric shapes, almost like miniature windows in the sleeves. Her thoughts got me heading in a new direction. Maybe lace wasn’t the answer after all.
I love to use elements of a fabric, such as the raw edges, bias or the selvages to create embellishments. It can add a detail without necessarily adding another fabric or trim to the design. I went back to the drawing board and started to think about how to use the raw edge of my challis.
Raw-edge details are also something that Marant uses in her designs.
What I ended up with was a series of raw-edge squares alternating with open spaces in a checkerboard effect. I was on track again. I sent a big thank-you to my sewing buddy.
The checkerboard look would work for my statement sleeves and echo the open work that the fagoting created in the vest. Yes!