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Newbie-interested in couture

proegge | Posted in General Discussion on

Hello-I am new here!  I tried posting this once before, but it never showed up, so am hoping it doesn’t double up on me now!

I have been sewing since I was little-probably around 4 or 5.  I do mostly garment sewing, but am also doing home dec as we are renovating our house so I am making all new curtains, etc.

I am really interested in couture sewing and am working on an entry for the Threads contest.  I would love to talk to someone who wouldn’t mind me asking a few questions here and there about couture.  I have been learning from books, but still have a few questions (not a lot!  I promise!)



  1. MaryinColorado | | #1

    You will find lots of support and encouragement here.   There are lots of people who are really knowledgeable and share your interests.  Don't be shy about asking questions!!!  Welcome to the forum, hope you enjoy it as much as I do!  Mary

  2. LindaG | | #2

    Hi,I'm not sure that I would qualify to answer your questions about couture sewing, but it got me to thinking about the techniques that helped me get more sophisticated results. My list included:Sleeve headers
    Taping roll lines
    Decent looking welt pocketsI've made about 25 jackets in the past 7 or 8 years and am finally feeling like I can reliably get the lapels done well. Welt pockets are still a gamble every time!Good luck,

  3. tmorris1 | | #3

    Hey Pro, The best advice that I can give you about sewing couture is to pick up a needle and thread. The truly couture stuff is completely hand done and takes upwards of 1800 hours to make. But I encourage you to put away the serger and learn how to do things differently. Study the different seams (french, welt, double welt, bound, etc) and incorporate them into your work. Go to the used book store and buy up the reference books from the 20's, 30's and 40's and learn the vintage techniques. Your garments will shine because of their workmanship, and you will wear them with so much pride knowing that there is a perfect french seam somewhere that no one will ever see. I do use a lot of their techniques, and if you have any specific questions I would be happy to help.

    1. proegge | | #4

      Well,I have to admit that was one of my questions. That, with sergers so readily available, were they still doing everything by hand?  I guess they are!  I am working on my toile, so haven't gotten to the actual garment yet, I will get my needles ready. 

      I love the idea of french seams-but I am going to make a trench coat out of a high-quality cotton-lycra blend.  Wouldn't that be too heavy for a french seam?  I'm also not sure about underlining it with a cotton batiste.  It is white, and I do not want it to be see thru at all (the seams).  Would that help?  I plan to line it with a silk or silk-like fabric.

      Another question I had was a good source for unusual notions.  I am looking for a particular type of hook that I have only ever seen on better-made garments.  Any ideas there?  I live in the middle of nowhere (Kansas), so online is my best shopping place.


      Thank you to everyone for your help!!!



      1. tmorris1 | | #5

        I love to use ribbon bindings and hong kong finish on a lot of my jackets and coats. They are both beautiful seam finishing techniques (more suitable in this instance than a french seam.) I love to use the double welt seams to accentuate the seams of a casual jacket.Try http://www.agreatnotion.com they are an online source for everything notions, and they have a free catalog they will send you as well.I am so happy to see someone going back to traditional ways in sewing good luck and keep in touch.

        1. fabricholic | | #6

          Hi tmorris1,I read that you use ribbon binding. Is that the type binding often seen in RTW? What kind of ribbon do you use and how do you apply it? This is very interesting to me. I have noticed in some unlined jackets that I have, they have used some type of ribbon binding and it looks very nice. Thanks for any help.Marcy

          1. tmorris1 | | #7

            Marcy;You can really use any ribbon that you like to do this, and it is mainly a higher end RTW technique. I usually apply a 1 inch grosgrain or satin ribbon, and here is how I do it...1) I am a bit weird and like to serge or overlock all of my raw edges before I even start to construct a garment. I do this to keep the fabric from unraveling and thus changing the shape of my pattern pieces while I work with it.2) I then construct the body of the garment and check it for fit (make any alterations needed at this point)3) Press all seams flat and clip edges where necessary.4) Place ribbon on seam right sides together (one side at a time) and run a straight seam about 5/16 of an inch through just the seam allowance and the ribbon.5) Press flat and wrap ribbon around raw edge of seam. Press again to get a nice crisp edge.6) stitch in the ditch (that is along the line where the fabric and the ribbon meet) from the top side of the seam to catch the ribbon that you have folded under to the backside. This technique takes a little practice, but when you have it perfected, you get a beautiful seam edge with no visible stitching line.7) Continue constructing the arms adjusting for fit and finishing the seams before you set the sleeves Keep in mind that this does add bulk to your seams and is not really appropriate for lightweight fabrics, and it uses a lot more ribbon than you would expect (measure each seam and double the number will give you a rough estimate.)Ps. I made the threads trench coat Simplicity #4084 in a white on white jacquard cammo print with big silver accessories on it. It looks very Channel, and always get rave comments on it.

          2. Rubydarling | | #10

            Hello Tmorris1,

            I'm a newbe to sewing and found your description really useful.  Any chance you could supply some photo's of your ribbion technique ?  I just find it really difficult to get my head around such concepts without picture's I'm sure (I hope) I'm not the only one.  Thanks


          3. tmorris1 | | #11

            I wish that I had my own step-by-step instructions photographed, but unfortunately I do not. Try borrowing "The New Sewing Essentials" from the singer sewing reference library published by Cowles Creative Publishing in 1996. This is a great reference book to get you started, with beautiful color step-by-step instructions that are very clear and easy to follow. You could buy the book, but I think that you may find that you grow out of it rather quickly.Happy sewing

            Edited 4/16/2007 5:40 am ET by tmorris1

          4. Rubydarling | | #17

            Thanks tmorris1,

            I'll have a look for that book.  Not sure if we have a Singer sewing reference Library around here but I'll investigate that too.

            Cheers Rubydarling (Melbourne, Australia)

          5. tmorris1 | | #19

            Oh Ruby the "singer sewing reference library" is a series of sewing books produced by singer, not an actual library. Your local library should have them in stock though. I like this book because of all of the color photos and easy to follow instructions, but there are many others (I think someone even mentioned on line)
            This is the link that I could find and it does have photos. Happy sewing.

          6. solosmocker | | #12

            This is called a HongKong seam finish if it is using a bias strip to finish the seam edges. I have used this often. If you google or check your books for Hong Kong seams you will probably come up with some good pictures. It's a beautiful finish. It's important to use really thin fabric so you don't add bulk to the seam. I like to use georgettes or blouse weight silks.

          7. Rubydarling | | #18

            Thanks Solosmocker,

            I've got a few ref books I'll have a look.  Gosh I'm glad I found this forum site.  Looks like it could be very helpful.


          8. fabricholic | | #13

            Thank you for your timely answer. It does look beautiful and now I have the directions. I would love to see a picture of your trench coat. It sounds awesome.Marcy

          9. proegge | | #15

            Simplicity 4084 is the one I'm working on!  Funny thing is, mine will also be white, and I was seriously considering large silver accessories!  I too wanted to serge my edges, because it just makes me feel much better about the raveling, but didn't know about that with the 'couture' way.  But with the ribbon covering it, I guess no one would know anyway.  Plus the ribbon gives a much more finished look. 

            Thanks for the great idea!


          10. tmorris1 | | #20

            Paula;It is true that no one else will see the finish if you line your jacket, but imagine the pride of knowing that this little secret hides inside.
            A lot of couture technique for me is in knowing that the garments I make are higher quality than RTW, and I wear them with proudly. In fact, many people think that I buy designer - until I tell them that I sew ;) I do not know if you live in a warm climate or not, but this finish can make linings unnecessary thus making your jacket cooler as well.

          11. proegge | | #21

            No I meant that no one would see that I serged if I did the hong kong finish over the serged edges.  I just hate the idea of raveling after I've gone to all that work.  Or do you feel that the hong kong edge finishes it well enough you don't have to worry about raveling?

            I probably wouldn't have to line it, but I like my coats to 'slide smoothly' over whatever I am wearing, and since I am making the coat out of a cotton-lycra blend, I think the lining will be especially important for that.  Plus the coat will be white, and I am thinking about underlining with a white cotton batisite so I can put in a really pretty, but bright, pink floral silk lining.  Kind of a 'surprise' inside.

            I really like the idea of doing the hong kong finish with either the ribbon or the bias-I agree the ribbon would be much easier, but I will have to see if I can find a thin one so it's not too bulky with the fabric I am using.

            Thank you!!!!  That's been a really good idea!


          12. tmorris1 | | #24

            Yes, I always finish the edges of my pattern pieces before I begin to work with them. If you are serging, you can drop the blade and just run around the pattern pieces, or zig zag them. My machine has an overlock stitch (looks like a blanket stitch) and I use that. If you finish the edges before you begin working with the fabric it will not unravel, or stretch out of shape before you can get them together.

          13. user-51823 | | #22

            no offense taken or intended :-)
            i was just trying to clarify that i can see you are a pro and truly know what you are doing, so i wasn't trying to convince you that bias is better; rather, i was introducing the tool to proegge since she's interested in couture looks, and making one's own matching bias had not been mentioned. i love my tool and find that it is more a matter of minutes of ironing, rather than hours, although i suppose it depends on the fabric you use. using a pressing block right behind the steam iron helps set the folds immediately. i have made wide double bias of dupioni and other self-fabrics to add matching visible edging to sleeves, necklines, etc. And when you have an outfit with a jacket, it is really posh to have your hand made seam binding match the silky blouse that goes with it.

      2. user-51823 | | #8

        ditto tmorris to use ribbon binding on heavy fabrics and elsewhere when bulk would show.
        i sometimes make my own bias tape out of fine silky fabrics, using one of those nifty inexpensive tools that you run a strip of bias-cut fabric through; it folds it in at both edges and you meet it with a hot iron on the way out. adds a tres couture touch!

        1. tmorris1 | | #9

          MSM-S;You can also use the technique I have described above with your bias strips. If you trim the excess bias very close on your initial seam (before you turn the bias strip over the raw edge) and then stitch in the ditch, you will eliminate 2 layers of fabric in your seam finish. The other advantage of this is that you do not have to spend the time ironing your bias strip, and you do not have a visible seam on the top of your bias finish. This is the Hong Kong finish that I had eluded to above, and is absolutely beautiful. I often use the ribbon trim with this method, simply because I don't like the seams in the middle of bias strips, and find cutting them to be time consuming.

          Edited 4/16/2007 2:06 am ET by tmorris1

          1. user-51823 | | #14

            but it is so nice to have the bias trim match your garment, lining, etc.
            the info about the tool was for proegge, who may not know about it. i know you others are savvy!
            if trim abric is fine enough and fashion fabric heavier, there's really no noticable bulk added. there was a diagram in an old threads for making a tube with one seam, then cutting in a spiral to get long yardage bias strip with minimal sewing."...lost in an orchestral maelstrom of lunacy..."

            Edited 4/16/2007 12:38 pm ET by msm-s

          2. tmorris1 | | #16

            Oh, I didn't mean that you should always use ribbon to do this, in fact bias has a better stretch for curved seams, and matching bias is a beautiful finish. I just wanted to tell you that the traditional hong kong finish is much faster and cleaner looking. The only thing that I was trying to emphasize was that you can do this without using that tool to double fold your bias first - it is not necessary, and takes hours of ironing. I hope that I haven't offended, just like to help make things easier.

      3. MaryinColorado | | #23

        Did you see the recent Threads article on sewing with the wovens that have lycra in them?  It may be helpful. 

        1. proegge | | #25

          No I didn't-is that in the current issue?  I really need to get a subscription!



          1. MaryinColorado | | #26

            There is info in issue 86.  Mary

  4. tmorris1 | | #27

    Hey pro, you might want to check out the book "high fashion sewing secrets from the worlds best designers" by Claire B. Shaeffer. It has detailed instructions on how to achieve a lot of the designers signature details like Oscar De La Renta's french binding, and Calvin Klein's welt pockets.

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