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Creating Couture Garments
Creating couture garments is a special skill that is learned over time with practice and patience. It is a diminishing art that is being replaced by cheaper, off-the-rack clothing made in developing countries, where workers are less skilled and paid a meager amount of wages.

There are many reasons why we sew our own clothing, whether it be to stop the exploitation of the �sweatshop� worker, or that we just want a better fit in our clothing that retailers can offer. Maybe we want something special, made with our own positive energies manifesting into something that carries special meaning.

The couture garment is a combination of technique, proper fit, and quality. When we sew our own couture garments, we are creating a special item of clothing where we have paid special attention to the details of the design and construction.

Hand sewing is an important key in couture sewing, as well as straight seams, darts, and pressing techniques. Along with interfacing and fabric backing (also called interlining), they add depth and dimension to a simple piece of fabric.

If you inspected a couture garment, the one thing that would stand out most is the fine hand stitching. The many virtues of hand sewing are apparent: you have more control over the precise construction of the garment; the top side of the garment can be sewn inconspicuously; corners that are too narrow for a sewing machine (such as lapels and collars) can be navigated more easily by hand; the removal of hand stitching does not ruin the fabric; and lastly, the tension of hand sewing is softer than machine stitching due to the fact that there is one thread instead of two.

When constructing a sleeved garment, such as a jacket, you will notice that sleeves are shaped to fit the body�s form, and the fabric hangs correctly. Steam and gentle pressing are used to coax the fabric to the desired shape. Sleeves are eased into the armscye by hand to produce a perfect fit to allow plenty of free movement without binding.

Long straight lines can be machine stitched. However, to prevent common stitching problems such as fabric slippage and uneven lines, all seams are hand basted together before being machine stitched.

Backstitching with a machine is not used in couture sewing. Though it is a fast and easy way to secure threads at endpoints, couture is not about fast and easy. When you remove the garment from the machine, leave extra room to make a tailor�s knot (also called an overhand knot) to end the straight stitch.

A toile or fitting is always made to create a pattern for a couture garment. It is basted together by hand over and over for successive fittings until the fit is perfect. The fit is examined multiple times to make sure all lines are even and trued up, and that there are no wrinkles or signs that the garment is ill-fitting.

Thread-tracing is used to mark garments and fittings. This is a durable way to mark garments and it is visible from both sides of the fabric.

Fashion fabrics of couture garments aren�t always lined. You will most often find that fabrics are backed with a light fabric to stabilize and give body to the garment�s fabric. If a couture garment is lined, it will usually be lined in silk fabric or other light natural fiber. This prohibits extra bulk that would otherwise affect the fit of the garment. Linings and backings should be made from high quality fabrics even though they are not seen. Silk muslin, silk crepe, cotton batiste, voile handkerchief linen, or self fabrics are all excellent choices for backings.

Hemlines are often controlled by adding weights. Also, the addition of interfacing adds support and creates a smoother hemline. Uses of bias-cut strips of hair canvas, muslin, and horsehair braid are wonderful ways to smooth a hemline.

Buttonholes and zipper are always hand sewn in couture garments. You�ll also notice that patterns, stripes, and plaids are always perfectly matched at the seams, darts and pockets. You�ll even see brocades and jacquard patterns matched.

If you traveled to Europe to purchase a couture garment, you could expect to pay anywhere from $2000 to $15000 for a garment. Couturiers charge what they are worth: sometimes over 130 hours of hand sewing can go into a finished garment.

When choosing a design for your garments, picture yourself paying attention to all these details and the many hours needed to achieve this level of perfection. If you want a garment that lasts and that wears well, invest the time and energy into using couture techniques.

Most people find it is easier and cheaper to by clothing off-the-rack. But will the garment last? Will it be made using quality techniques? Will it fit correctly? If you make a couture garment, you can be assured that the answers to these questions will be an undoubted and resounding YES.

Resources used for this article: Bridal Couture, by Susan Khalje (ISBN 0801987571) and Couture Sewing Techniques, by Claire B. Shaeffer (ISBN 0942391888)

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