Designing is more than stitches

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By Jennifer Fong

Ever watch Fashion Television and wonder what those designers were thinking when they decided to put that on a runway? Making a functional piece of clothing – a few stitches here, a little cutting there – sounds simple enough doesn’t it? As it turns out, there’s a lot more than a little hemming to be done before creating a wearable, comfortable, and creative outfit.
“The thing about fashion design is that you really have to love the process – you have to love the pattern drafting and the sewing… I think people underestimate the amount of work, time, and patience you need to get through it,” says second-year Ryerson fashion design student Natasha Lenart.
Lenart is creating a stunning gown for Electric Alley, a fashion show held Mar. 27 and 28, staged by Ryerson’s first-, second-, and third-year fashion students. Lenart’s dress is peacock-inspired, has four detachable parts: The bodice, the skirt, the belt and the tail – which measures almost three yards and contains over 200 real peacock feathers. A dress of this calibre is not sewn overnight – Lenart has worked on it since the beginning of the semester and spent her study week in room SK161, a fashion design studio in Kerr Hall. So how did Lenart plan to pull off something to elaborate?
Step one was brainstorming ideas. Ideas may come to a designer through costumes they see on television, in movies, or in magazines. Lenart is often inspired by material she sees while fabric shopping. She says one small swatch of a really unique materials can spawn a big idea.
“Sometimes I’ll find a fabric first and think, ‘Oh, that would make such a perfect dress,’” says Lenart. Then, it’s off to the drawing board.
At the beginning of the year, fashion design students came up with 20 rough sketches and picked their favorite. Once a design was chosen, the students further research into the style they wish to pursue.
The next step was the inspiration board. All the results of the students’ preliminary work went on the board, including pictures, fabric swatches, sketches, and drawings. The inspiration board was presented to teachers who met with the students and discussed the technical aspects of turning the design into something wearable. Students then created a technical drawing containing the measurements of the garment, based on the industry standard size 10.
“When you do an illustration, you kind of exaggerate to sell the idea You exaggerate the proportions and usually, for me at least, you want your dress to look exactly like the illustration. Sometimes, though, you can’t do it and you have to compromise,” says Lenart.
Once technical drawing is complete, it was time to move on to drapery. The design became three-dimensional when it was draped on a mannequin. Simple shapes were cut out of cheap material according to the measurements on the technical drawing. Theses pieces of fabric were pinned onto the mannequin to resemble the final product.
Second-year fashion design student Stephanie Pyne’s technical drawing included tiny swatches of the types of fabric she will be using, as well as beads she will use for decoration. She decided on sheer, lightweight muslin in her initial draping because her final gown will be made of expensive pink chiffon. She didn’t have enough chiffon to make mistakes on. Despite this long process, Pyne feels that fashion design gives her a voice.
“It’s an outlet for creativity but also relevant creativity. It’s not random abstract stuff, it’s relevant to everyday life.”
Once Pyne’s muslin is pinned onto the mannequin correctly, and all necessary changes have been made, the material was marked, realigned and cut out, then transferred onto the pattern. Patterns are labelled with guidelines for the designer that allow the garment to be replicated. Once the entire pattern was completed, the pieces were ready to be cut out of the final material.
Lenart decided against using a pattern for the skirt of her dress. Instead, she draped the skirt on her mannequin using her final fabrics: Polyester crepe and chiffon.
“I want to visually see it before I cut it out, because I’m going to drape the skirt very carefully. The initial draping was kind of like a practice run, this time it’s for real,” she says. She will drape on the different layers of of the skirt and cut out the pieces one at a time.
This leaves the bodice, which is sewn according to the pattern and worn separately by the model. The belt and tail are done the same way. Before she sewed, however, Lenart beaded the material and added other embellishments by hand. She says she added beading according to her own vision for the dress.
“It’s very sporadic, and it’s not a set design. I don’t have a pattern, I’m just adding it for a little bit of shimmer.”
The lining was sewn onto the dress and finished with a serger, a special sewing machine that hems the fabric’s raw edges and ensures that they don’t pop out and unravel.
When the dresses are complete, they are labelled and locked in cages in the basement of the school to keep them safe before the models, chosen by Ryerson’s fashion communication students, come for fittings.
Melissa Wong is a second-year fashion communications student involved in planning the show. She says designers have little say in who will be wearing their outfits. They give the event planners their preferences, but Wong says “it has to be collective because models have to wear a lot of different outfits.”
Within the fashion design process, the one problem almost everyone faces is money. “The toughest thing is how we have a really, really tight budget. Basically we have to try to get sponsors to do things for free and advertising is all we can really offer them,” says Wong. The show is projected to cost $20,000, but Wong says ticket sales and fundraisers only cover about two-thirds of the cost.
Lenart says she spent over $600 of her own money for fabric, but investment paid off. “When you calculate a garment’s retail value, you add in a lot of stuff and you triple it. My dress would probably be worth about $1,600 to $2,000.”
After Electric Alley, fourth-year fashion students will begin preparing for Mass Exodus in April. Their work will later be critiqued by industry professionals before the show in April, which will be attended by high-profile media such as Fashion Television’s Jeannie Becker and Flare magazine.

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