Couture Sewing in a Locked-Down World, with Susan Khalje | Episode 48
Threads Contributing Editor Susan Khalje offers a peek into what she’s been doing throughout the pandemic. She also shares what’s coming up for her in the new year.
Couture gets practical
Susan is an internationally recognized couture sewing expert, instructor, and author. She begins with a short overview of changes she sees among her students’ projects: Rather than making fancy eveningwear, they are exploring their stashes and making more practical pieces—though still to a couture standard.
She notes that, no matter how much her students’ garments change, they remain interested in using the tried-and-true couture techniques Susan is best known for teaching. As with much of garment sewing, each piece calls for figuring out how to apply these classic methods in new ways.
One of Susan’s regrets over the past couple of years is the fact that silk basting thread has become difficult to source. When she rediscovered some recently, she found herself revisiting the joy of basting with great ease.
Return to in-person teaching
After a year of cancelled classes, Susan has returned to in-person teaching, with all the safety protocols in place. These days, she no longer takes her classes on a field trip to New York City to purchase fabrics for her French jacket class. Students have learned to shop online more effectively.
Travel is back: Paris and London
Known for her European couture trips, Susan has missed traveling and introducing couture students to the finest of textiles and artisanal work. She has plans to take groups to London in March 2022, and to Paris in April 2022. We learn how Susan started these exciting tours and how they have changed and expanded over the years. Because of her background in couture sewing, she has many connections in Paris and has developed close relationships with top experts in many fields, from textile archiving to custom umbrella construction.
In London and the United Kingdom, there are trips to Savile Row tailoring shops and several museums with world-class costume collections. Susan notes that some of her favorite places to visit have closed since the pandemic.
Wish-list: Central Asia and ikats
When asked where she’d love to go on a textile tour, Susan says she’d like to visit Central Asia. She is curious about textile traditions from that part of the world, in particular ikat woven fabrics. In the last half of the 19th century, silk ikat-making flourished in Jewish textile guilds. Susan has been able to collect some stunning examples. She explains how traditional ikats are made, with resist-dyeing the hand-woven warp threads. From expensive quilted coats to bedcovers, these fabrics are now difficult to find.
New video studio and patterns
Susan runs a couture club and offers classes, with in-person and virtual, video-based teaching. To record her lessons efficiently, she has recently built a new studio in a barn on her property. It’s large, sound-insulated, and furnished. Look forward to new classes from Susan in the coming year. She’ll be collaborating with independent pattern designers and will be issuing new patterns of her own, too. You’ll see some vintage evening coat designs that give you an opportunity to try couture methods.
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