Thursday, 30 June 2016

Bridesmaids' Dresses

Joanne and Alison in the final bridesmaid dresses. These are sleeveless with armhole princess seams and a hem band which was a feature added at the last minute
Early Inspiration

My three daughters and I sat down and tried to work out what we wanted from a bridesmaid's dress for two of my daughters at the third’s, (Helen's) wedding. The bride’s fiancĂ©, Anthony, was also involved in the discussion and decisions.

All three were keen on some back interest, perhaps backless with a bow, as the front was going to be pretty plain.  Following discussion, we thought the dresses might have a lace overlay on the bodice and organza on the skirt and the sleeves would be lace; our first discussions had involved long sleeves.

At this stage, lace 3/4 length sleeves, ribbon trimming to lace bodice and a lace waist treatment;
the bows persisted but the neckline became less of a V shape

Lace bodice with V neck trimmed with ribbon.
After this, we tried boat neck before finalising shape and of course removing sleeves.

The dresses did not need to be identical. Originally we were not thinking of full circle skirts, more like a half circle or even A line perhaps. Gradually these ideas were modified.

The bridesmaids

Daughter 1, Alison, is of above average height about 5’9”. She is slim, with large breasts which caused her considerable distress when she was younger. Her bra size is UK32G +. (the exact size of course depends on the style). In common with most people with large breasts, she has larger shoulders and upper arms than she would like - she doesn't like the size of her arms and would prefer to hide them with a small sleeve like a cap sleeve or a three-quarter or long sleeve. She doesn't like tee shirt length sleeves as they are unflattering to her. She also feels she can look shapeless if the under bust area is not sufficiently tight. She likes a deep waistband/yoke. She discussed neck shapes and thought she'd like a boat neck, quite wide and fairly low. She has a pretty good idea of what suits her.

Daughter 2, Joanne, is slightly taller. Like her mother, she is pear-shaped and considers herself overweight as she won't let me make anything for her until she ‘slims down’. I'm quoting what she says - these aren't my thoughts. Her waist is her best asset and she likes to emphasise it with a narrower waistband; she doesn't suit a wide waistband. She has a large tattoo on her upper arm and she thought Helen would prefer her to cover this with a sleeve (Helen didn't mind either way) - also she wanted to keep it concealed from her grandmother.  I must say I told my mother about the tattoo before the wedding to minimise the issue - this was successful as a ploy as my mother very surprisingly didn't even mention the tattoo once at the wedding or since for that matter! Joanne also liked the idea of a wide boat neck and small cap sleeves.


Anthony and Helen wanted the dresses to be in the shade Cambridge Blue (I've discussed this choice in the waistcoat post). They searched for suitable fabric that would match the groom’s and ushers’ ties, and groom’s waistcoat (this fabric was bought at the same time). They found a good quality crepe-back satin in the right shade in Joel and Son, and bought this after telephoning me for reassurance about quantities (design not finalised at this point).The dresses are very close to the shade they were looking for - I don't believe they could have done any better. Having found this fabric in this shade, that dictaede the final fabric - we had looked at various silks etc without finding the right shade. So we now abandoned the idea of lace or of a silk organza overlay. 

Unfortunately Joel and Son doesn't sell thread or other notions and I had to buy them separately. I also had to buy underlining and lining materials.  I bought the underlining, a faux dupion silk, from Bombay Stores in Bradford - this fabric was in the perfect shade. I bought the lining after searching online and getting samples from Truro Fabrics - again, a pretty perfect shade, important in case any of the bagged lining peaked out despite understitching.  The fabric was going to be used satin side out and really didn't need additional lace - and we decided against an organza overlay to the skirt.

A bit more work on the design

Some internet searching led us to an inspiration photograph. This particular dress was sleeveless, had princess seams and a jewel neck and a low back with bows across. Our final design ended up rather more like that than our original inspiration.

This still had a lace bodice but the back ended up virtually the same shape

The cap sleeves were later dropped, otherwise the silhouette is similar to the final dress, though fabrics changed

Dress Design and Toiles

My first step for both girls was to make up a basic fitting toile, after getting a lot of measurements. I used the Sure Fit Designs system to draw up the bodices. Alison would require a very substantial FBA from a regular commercial pattern and Joanne would require a lesser one. The SFD kit allows cup size to be taken into account. The kit also uses bust point, bust apex to apex width, length of shoulder to apex and shoulder to waist etc as well as shoulder width. I paired these bodices with a simple circular skirt, did the toiles, using the same toile for both daughters as it happens (and we eventually decided to go with this type of skirt). I was making these up without my daughters being present as they live at a distance from me.

I quickly found that I really couldn't pair a wide low boat neck at the front with cap sleeves and no neck support at the back. Boy, I tried!  
An early toile;
the final neckline is both higher and narrower as bra straps are visible on the inside and the sleeve was falling off the shoulder

An early toile; the centre back panel is very narrow here and was widened significantly, although the final shape was very similar
The back consists of two side panels joining via a princes seam to centre panels which themselves don't meet so there is an area of waistband/yoke with no centre panel above it. There just wasn't enough support - the sleeves wanted to ride down the arms, just falling off the shoulder. Not a good look. I felt that the sleeves contributed to this.  I tried more than one type of cap sleeve with no luck.

I rebelled! I narrowed the neck width by widening the shoulder inwards towards the centre to provide additional support. So I ended up with more of a slightly lowered jewel neck. There were a few bodice toiles and I fitted these by mail and photos, and when I visited my daughters or vice versa. Joanne also had a visit to my sewing class where my tutor helped me adjust the fit. Later, Alison required very similar adjustments, which I did on my own. For both the shoulder had actually started much too wide, despite starting with accurate measurements and using those as instructed. As the same happened with the bodice I made for myself, I find I am less trusting of the kit than I was previously. Or do I not know how to measure shoulder width accurately?
The shoulder needed to be narrowed significantly.
I wanted to bring it in to cover the bra straps so both daughters could wear their normal bras
This photo on Joanne shows the rear princess seam and some of the earlier alterations required

During toile fitting, I adjusted the type of princess seams on a number of occasions - I tried shoulder, armhole and highest armhole. I wanted to find the most flattering fit but minimise the difficulty of sewing - Alison in particular had a very marked curve in the side front panel and I did find it difficult to sew, though reducing the seam width did help. I used 1cm seams.  Joanne's was easier to sew as the curve was less marked. I wanted to match the position of the seams on the two dresses, although the waistlines were different. The final dresses had armhole princess seams, as shown in the introductory photo of the final dresses at the wedding.
It was a shoulder princess seam at this stage.
I cut one of the sleeves off and later we agreed to have a sleeveless dress instead.
My changes to the front neckline and the shoulder helped stabilise. I followed a number of contouring instructions from Helen Joseph Armstrong's book to help the back side panels lie nicely without gaping - this included substantially reducing back width and taking out a wedge as well as slightly altering shoulder angle. I did this partly by flat pattern making but a live fitting appears always to be necessary!

By now, we had our design, not substantially different from the drawings above, other than fabrics to be used - and sleeveless. 

After Joanne's live fitting with my tutor, I made another toile and felt the fit was very satisfactory. Now it was time to think about making up her dress in the final fabric. I finalised the pattern pieces for the main dress with separate pattern pieces for the lining. I can't lay my hands on any photos of this stage, for some reason (lack of organisation again I'm afraid)

Too big at sides
had thought Alison’s dress would be at the same stage, but I was wrong. When she visited, I adjusted the toile and it seemed very satisfactory so I decided to go ahead with a final toile with all the adjustments made to the pattern - and the toile fit was awful!! Her weight had changed slightly but the fit changed dramatically! I pinned the changes on the toile as on the photos here and then tried to make further adjustments to the pattern pieces based on this and on photos, as by this time she was back home. I asked my tutor for help with this. I modified the pattern pieces. However, I hadn't tried out these changes by making a final toile and time was by now running out I felt (as I was far behind with the wedding dress)

Too big under bust and in waist
Too long and baggy in the back

Change of direction

By this time, just a few weeks away from the wedding, I realised, finally, that I just didn't have enough time to do these dresses justice and make the wedding dress. My tutors agreed to make up the dresses,  checking Alison's pattern first to make sure it was trued and do a final fit when the girls arrived a couple of days in advance of the wedding. They estimated the cost of this based on 10 hours per dress - I reckoned if they took 10 hours it would take me at least twice that although by this time I'd had plenty of practice making this dress up!  

The relief in handing over was great, although I felt somewhat panicky towards the end as my tutors clearly didn't feel any need to make up much in advance of the final fitting. They were booked into their workload a week ahead of the wedding. One of the tutors became ill leaving both dresses to one, who was then herself under a great deal of pressure, particularly as the final dresses appeared to fit much more closely than the toiles. That is, they were tight  - no,  the girls hadn’t gained weight, indeed Alison had lost a bit, so this was presumably the result of fabric change or maybe interpretation of pattern seam allowances, or in Alison's case the fact that the pattern changes hadn't been tried out.

Final Construction

Some adjustment was required for both girls - allowing more space around the waist in both cases. When they arrived for the Thursday morning fitting (Saturday wedding), Alison's dress was more or less done apart from the hem but Joanne's hadn't been made up. Alison's dress had to be altered. Joanne was able to try the bodice and skirt on separately. However, there was a significant problem with the zip. It seemed that there was insufficient girth and this was putting a great deal of strain on the zip. Joanne has a significant difference in girth between hips and waist. More adjustment before we were able to pick up the dresses late Friday afternoon.

Last Minute Design Change

The design changed even in those two days before the wedding!  As often happens, the hem of the circle skirts dropped unevenly - and of course, they hadn't been made for that long. When the hems were evened off, with the girls wearing them and the skirts marked from the floor to the shortest length and this distance marked all around, the skirts were too short, although we had been happy with the length of the toiles. The original inspiration photograph had a contrast band of organza at the bottom of the skirt and Rory suggested she could add a band, even reversing the satin to provide a greater contrast. There was just enough fabric. We all agreed that the band was necessary for length but felt we didn't want the satin reversed. I had originally decided against such a band as I felt it added too much complexity for my skill level. I'm glad the band was added as this is the part commented on most (Images I have are from the front, so no opportunity for people to comment on the back). Thank you for rescuing the dresses, Rory.

I had originally intended a horsehair braid hem but with the band, that wasn't necessary. As I didn't construct the dresses, I'm not aware if there were any other changes to my original working drawings and constructional instructions. We literally picked up the dresses on the eve of the wedding. After the wedding, I handed the dresses back to Rory for our display and won't get them back for a couple of weeks. So I haven't examined them - but I seem to have an awful lot of fabric left! 

Edited to add - I've just got the dresses back.  Now that I have them back, I'll show an image of the back of both dresses but not, unfortunately on the live models. Missy is somewhat smaller than either dress so the backs are rather gapey compared to how they were on the live models and I decided against steaming them so these are as they just came out my carrier bag! I'm afraid it's miserable weather, pouring rain and rather dark so this is the best I can do for photos today.  I'm going to leave this post and schedule it to post automatically in a couple of days - the weather is forecast as being even worse tomorrow. I plan to put them away and move on.

Back detail of Joanne's dress. on Missy

Back of Joanne's dress and front/side of Alison's

Although I didn't do the final sewing, I nevertheless feel a sense of achievement. Alison feels the same - she says it feels great that we all designed the dresses together, that I made the patterns to fit them perfectly, checking fit via the toiles; she loves having a well fitting dress. To my surprise, Alison says this is a dress she might wear again - I had thought of them as pretty much wear once only.

We held our collective breaths as we zipped Joanne into her dress on the wedding day but thankfully it held!

As we didn't get the dresses until the eve of the wedding, I don't have pictures of the girls in them at that stage; I had to leave Alison to pick up the dresses after a final try on and get to the church for the rehearsal as I had to leave to pick my mother up from the station. A big rush!  The wedding snaps I have so far don't show the reverse of the dresses. I can't do anything about that, I'm afraid. I do have a photo of the reverse of one of the dresses (they are not identical) as they hang at the college display. This unfortunately doesn't show how well they fitted.

An image from college showing my boards x3, my sketchbook, some of the cardboard pattern pieces, the two bridesmaid dresses, the waistcoat and the wedding dress sans veil and belt. That's the back of Alison's dress, front of Joanne's. I don't like the length of my dress, btw.

Would I do It Again?

I said earlier that I had made these dresses up many times at toile stage. Of course, I still have the personalised patterns and could consider making up a dress in a different fashion fabric for Alison (I don't think it's Joanne's style, somehow). I probably would alter the pattern to include the hem band although an alternative would be to make the skirt longer if fabric width allowed that. Then I would feel I could legitimately lay claim to having made the dress from start, making the pattern, to finish and only then could I put a review on PR of course. Yes, I'm disappointed that someone else made them up (although that's allowed and is standard practice for the design students - as my fellow students and I found to our amazement) but it was essential at the time as I had taken too much on;  also essential was buying my mother of the bride outfit rather than making the outfit I had planned.

Thank you, Rory, for making up the dresses for me - I appreciate it especially when there were so many other things going on at the time. Thank you, too, Dan for your help.

Yes, I'd do it again (even if slightly differently!)

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

What I learned and skills I gained from making Helen's wedding dress

I said I didn't want to have lots of posts with construction details of the wedding dress. My tutor, classmates and some others In person and via my blog have asked for more detail.  So I've decided to do a couple of posts saying what techniques I had to use, what challenges I had to master and what I learned. These will not be in tutorial form! I can highly recommend a few good books (you are aware that I'm a bookaholic) and of course, if you're lucky like me, you might have access to a real live tutor! I know that in this respect I am lucky. I find direct help easier than videos, books etc,  though they are all valuable. The books I can recommend come from the fitting area and also from general sewing. They include Vogue Sewing, Cole Czachor Professional Sewing Techniques for Designers, Joseph-Armstrong Patternmaking for Fashion Design - and others; this is not a comprehensive list.


One of the first things I (David) did was to modify a dressmaker's dummy to as close to Helen's sizes as I could, including extending length quite considerably. I have posted about that process previously. (here) I knew that I would have less access to Helen than optimum.

At first Missy, the dummy, was helpful. However, Helen decided to tone up for the wedding, not unreasonably for her big day. She lost a bit of weight (which I didn't think was possible as she was already so slim) but more significantly she started going to gym classes and workouts on a daily basis and her figure changed quite a bit becoming much more toned. This led to having to change the fitting of the toiles, of course - I expected that and this was one of the reasons why the dress could not be completed too soon (though admittedly there was never any danger of that!!).

The reason I mention it is that Missy no longer worked to help with fitting. I couldn't actually get my toiles onto her. Collapsible shoulders may have helped, I'm not sure. I could have removed padding from the hip and bum but the bust area is less adjustable. An earlier toile was on display at Sunderland Museum along with work from the other courses and that toile, which was too tight for Helen (I had overdone the taking in) could only fit on a half body. The final dress is on display at the college and does actually fit on a small mannequin - height not really being an issue.

I'm not sure at this stage what I do with Missy?  Strip her right back and repad probably? Any ideas? I don't know if Helen wants her - her flat is very small. There would have to be a great deal of padding for her ever to work for me!!

I made a LOT of  toiles! And of course pattern pieces. I can assure you that you don't want to see even photos of all of these. I do have photos of most stages (my disorganisation and using phone, camera and tablet on various occasions not to mention David using his, means that they are too scattered for comfort)

At first, Helen and I didn't really have our ideas in sync. Helen had a clear idea of what she wanted. I tried. I didn't like the result (I mean the style here) and didn't feel capable of pulling off an acceptable result (skill here). I kept coming up against my lack of skill and lack of experience. This led us down some blind ends. When Helen asked me to make her dress (no, I didn't offer!), she very sweetly said said she'd rather have a simple dress made by me than an expensive shop bought dress, which is why I agreed, but at first her ideas were far from simple. We regrouped and modified time and again. I love the end result - to me, it is so Helen. It is simple and elegant but as my tutor said, this is deceptive as it is more complex than it looks and there is nowhere to hide any problems.

The skirt front changed but otherwise skirt changes were for fit only, to make the skirt close fitting and flare out nicely at the bottom for the train. I thought I had the skirt cracked early on but it wasn't to be and it took a lot more work to get it right than I had anticipated, including adding additional fabric to get the drape correct as the fools were not lying correctly. Somehow the skirt had slipped at one of the fittings, I guess - to get the contour fitting where it should, I had to add to the waist though it had been right at one stage. Anyway, it worked out. Eventually!

The bodice had MANY changes. With illusion tulle, with stretch lace, with chantilly lace, with appliqued motifs, without any of these. On the bias,  on the straight grain. Princess seams, standard bust darts, French darts, multiple darts. With a back, backless, with shoulders, with straps etc. I made toiles for all of these. I needed to as I didn't have the experience to imagine or to communicate to Helen. She needed to see and to hear of the problems.
I mention this because
  • More experience would have meant fewer toiles
  • Ideally each toile would have been made in a fabric much closer to the real thing but that was too expensive. Helen would have been happier, earlier, as she was looking for very light weight and some of the toile fabrics were much heavier that the real thing and lay differently
  • I didn't get a chance to sew with the real fabrics until the real dress (I started with the lining. With the outside fabric, I started with the straps)
  • One advantage is that I got a lot of practice, earlier and so had a clear idea of the construction process and was sure the dress fitted (in the toile fabric at least!)
  • In the final dress, I was aware that fit might be different. Time had run out so the dress had to be made to allow final tweaks to fit in the last few days before the wedding. The toiles had a side zip but this process was too difficult in the real fabric which although lighter was also spongier and I felt it was too bulky with the three underlined darts. Therefore, at the last minute I changed to a back zip. This would allow easier changes to the sides but in the event weren't required. My tutor suggested stopping the zip at the waist but I so wish I had taken it all the way to the back V. It was too late to modify by this time. The top part was held together by two hooks and eyes but the zip would have been more effective. My tutor thinks I risked it straining at the waist; I would have included an additional zip stay as was the plan with the side zip.

This was an earlier full working toile on display at the local museum as part of our college work -  only one bust dart at this stage instead of the 3 parallel darts we finished with
These are the cardboard template pattern pieces for the toile, above. I didn't cut me out as you can just see the reverse of the toile  above my shoulder with at that stage 3 wide straps rather than the spaghetti straps we ended up with

Helen wanted soft, unstructured, fluid. She had to be dragged kicking and screaming (no, not literally!) to the idea of structure
Waist stay
Seam edge support
A layer of silk organza interlining to back in addition to underlining
She has a sandwashed silk dress which doesn't have any of these supports and couldn't see the need. By the end she was happy though and would when have accepted some side seam boning if I'd felt that essential,  though in the end I didn't.

Waist Stay
Over the course of my various toiles, I experimented with different waist stays. My final waist stay was lighter and narrower than some of the earlier ones to avoid it being seen through the close fitting dress.
Even though the dress was light and fluid, a waist stay was still required. I haven't put in any constructional details. The pattern pieces for one version of the waist stay is shown on the board above. This wasn't what I used in the end though.

I ‘auditioned’ a number of silk underlinings and with the help of my tutor choose a lightweight silk habotai. This kept the soft, fluid, unstructured feel that Helen wanted. It was a bear to sew with though!

There are a number of suggested ways to underline - I found it easiest to cut out the pieces the same size and attach to the main fabric. I found it too difficult to keep the grain when I tried larger interlining which then got cut back. This is choice, I guess.
I didn't sew down the middle to secure and then fold and trim as books suggest as I was afraid the silk would mark. I found that marks disappeared though so I could have done this.
I hand tacked the layers together using silk thread.
On the advice of my tutor, I sewed, by machine after hand tacking, just inside each of the dart legs - I had 3 darts on each side and I had been struggling a bit with these. This helped enormously, holding the layers properly together.
Insert image of darts here
I have joked that my outer fabric structured my underlining rather than the other way around! Half in fun, whole in earnest as they say!

Stay stitching
Although I was going to be using seam tape, I stay stitched all relevant edges as stretching was a big risk. I checked all the seams against the pattern.

Seam Edge Support
I used a fusible edging with a row of stitching - Vilene Formband T12 bias tape - as advised by my tutor.

I understitched what I could of the bagged lining.

V front  neck
My V front was difficult to create as the edges of the fabric were a bit too stiff and wanted to fold in the ‘wrong’ place! I think the fusible edging was too stiff, particularly with its row of stitching. Despite several practices I still find V necklines very difficult. I find the turning through of the lined V extremely scary. In one of my practices I cut too far;  in others I had to increase the snipping as I didn't cut far enough. I found trimming difficult too.
Verdict - a lot more practice required.

Hemming and weights
I used 50mm horsehair braid with the gathering thread along one edge. In my full working toile I had used a narrower braid 25 - 30mm which doesn't have that.
I didn't find using the braid difficult. I covered the braids edges with fabric to stop it abrading and remembered that as the braid is turned up,  being sewn on the right side of the fabric,  that it is the inside later that requires this.
I hand sewed curtain string weights into the hem, from side seam around the back and train to the other side seam.
What I did find difficult was the hand hemming - with such a very lightweight underlining, it was much trickier to ensure good stitching.
I made up penny weights for the side seams, enclosed in little bags - this was to ensure the side seams lay straight. Unfortunately I mislaid them and didn't have time to replace!  That is, I had more weights and more fabric,  but no time.

I've come to the end of what I wanted to say but realise I have said little or nothing of the fabrics. Before I started working with them, I got them all dry cleaned.

Main fabric
The main fabric was a lovely double crepe sandwashed silk from Berwick Silks.
I had to be careful to make sure I marked the sides so I didn't get them mixed up. There were differences but quite difficult to see - but I'm sure they would have been visible in the dress.
Also, I used a nap layout for the same reason. This used a lot more fabric, of course, due to the shape of my pieces. I'm not sure if it was 100% necessary.
I found the fabric okay to use, having been built up to it being very difficult. Also, it showed minimal fraying.
Conclusion - I really liked this fabric and would use it again. I don't have enough pieces left to create a vest top for Helen, which I had hoped to do. Helen and I need to discuss what will happen to the dress - there is a lot of fabric in that.

A lightweight silk habotai from Bedford Silks.
I sent off for their sample book and larger samples of the fabrics I was interested in. The samples were great, giving details including weight etc.
This fabric allowed the drape that Helen was looking for (originally I had planned to use silk organza but that wasn't drapey enough;  I did use an additional layer of silk organza on the rear wings)
I swear that my main fabric provided support for the underlining rather than vice versa! Together, they felt lovely and very lightweight.

In the UK,  I wasn't able to get ‘silk charmeuse’. I had wondered if this was a US term but my tutor had suggested it and says that there is a great loss of fabric knowledge in this country. Silk charmeuse had previously been available. Every time I searched online, crepe-back satin came up. It's similar but the construction process is slightly different.
I bought a very fine beautiful crepe-back satin silk, a sister to charmeuse, also from Bedford Silks.
Lovely fabric, felt luxurious but I found it difficult to work with. Helen said it felt fabulous next to the skin.
This fabric frayed like mad.
Right side; stitching less visible. 

Reverse side; still shows markings and hand tacking
In the sandwashed silk with habotai underlining, I had found darts difficult to sew and make them look good. My tutor suggested machine sewing along just inside the dart legs to hold the fabrics thereto properly and this helped enormously.
Overall dress
Yes, the dress was light, drapey, felt luxurious

Knowing what I know now, I'd do it again.
It was a great honour to be asked by Helen to make her dress - she put a great deal of faith in me. We were both naive (or perhaps she wouldn't have asked and I wouldn't have agreed) and that naivety led us down some blind alleys which were time consuming but I learned a lot and would go into it now with open eyes.
Yes, I'd do it differently, but that is what learning is about, isn't it?
Helen, I hope you have a wonderful marriage. I thought you looked beautiful. I'm a proud mother.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Developing a Fabric - the story of our tartan silk (Including guest post by DH)

I'm starting this post in August 2015 but don't expect to post in its entirety until 2016. I'll be saving it for my own benefit and it's easier to put in my steps as I go along.

My husband is a McClure. The McClures were largely based in the south west of Scotland. The clan was a precept of the McLeod clan - this effectively means that the smaller clan got protection from the larger in return for support in battle etc. Or so we believe. The small clan is a separate clan,  with its own tartan.

Over the years,  however,  while the patterns for the McClure tartan still existed, DH was not aware of that as he had not found any information about them and it was impossible to buy the tartan - or at least he could not find a source and could not find a anyone who was aware of the existence of the tartan. While DH was young, he could only find links to McLeod tartans when searching on his name in available tartan reference books. There was McLeod of Harris and McLeod of Lewis,  dress,  hunting,  ancient and modern tartans. He clearly would have preferred a McClure tartan but had been led to believe that such didn't exist by other local McClures. A teacher at school with the McClure name wore a kilt made from McLeod tartan and said that was the one that was meant to be worn. DH didn't take this any further at that stage.

Fast forward a number of years.

My husband had never had a kilt. One reason was the expense of the kilt outfit. The other was that he had no real desire or incentive to get a kilt. For years,  I had been trying to persuade him to get a kilt. I wasn't keen on him getting one in McLeod tartan as I didn't like it. We decided to look at various options as we were now firmly in the Internet age; visits to tartan shops with clan tartan reference books weren't successful.

We did a lot of online searching,  coming up short in most tartan websites. However, we eventually found mention of and a picture of his own clan tartan! There were two tartans with green and red/orange being the main colours with additional blue, white and black - the green is the dominant colour in the hunting tartan,   and the red/orange is dominant in the dress tartan.

We can't remember all the details - this was in 2003 - but our reference source led to us contacting Lochcarron mills. This mill was prepared to access the online pattern information we had found and use this to set up a special weave. This was very expensive, since apart from anything else,  there was a minimum weave amount. We had the option of different weights of tartan and chose the heavyweight, in double width. Later, the mill made up a kilt from the tartan. A traditional kilt takes nine yards of single width tartan - hence the saying 'the whole nine yards'. We have a fair bit if this heavyweight tartan left.

Zoom forward another few years.
Our youngest daughter requested a skirt for herself made from the tartan.

More time passed
Our youngest daughter asked a few more times.

Eventually, we got in touch with the mill again. It was still operating.  After discussion,  they were able to custom weave the same hunting tartan we'd had before in a medium weight tartan (light weight was also available) - subject to the minimum order of 30 metres. They still had the details on record.
I still haven't made that skirt....

Meantime, this same daughter got engaged. She requested integration of our tartan into the wedding (corsages etc) - and her fiance requested a waistcoat to be made with our tartan at the back. Officially we were still thinking of the wool tartan.

I thought it would be nice to have printed silk or cotton as I thought that medium weight wool would be very heavy for the back of a waistcoat. I was a bit concerned with ordering from US sources because of import duty which is hefty and also because of time delays in posting samples.

The first few sources I chased up were no use.

Then Kate of Fabrikated (Fit and Flare)  gave me a couple of leads. One didn't work out as they largely supply silk scarfs. They suggested another source.
The other source from Kate looked very promising and I sent off for silk and cotton samples and colour samples in these mediums.

The instructions and guidance from them is excellent. Currently,  however,  we are stuck as DH's Colormunki isn't working. This is needed to calibrate the colour on the computer monitor screen, so we can be sure that when we order what we see it's an think it should be. We have scanned direct from tartan,  copied the tartan and we also have the original printout from 2003, complete with weaving instructions and colours used,  unfortunately using a different system.

I like the look of the silk satin weave and like the look of the colours on it. I think this would make a great back to A's waistcoat (he'll be wearing morning suit by the way) and also sashes, corsages etc.

Hopefully, we will be able to move on to the next step soon.

That was started last year. I have since made the waistcoat (blogged here).
Helen and Anthony at the reception; waistcoat front
Waistcoat back showing tartan silk

Many have asked for further details about the fabric printing and I asked David to write up a 'guest' blog post for inclusion here. So here we go:

The McClure tartan by David McClure

My wife has already given a brief history of how the printed silk back for the waistcoat worn by my new son-in law, Anthony, was created. This is my account which in no way contradicts Anne’s version and really adds only a few asides, personal thoughts and minor technical details.

As Anne pointed out we both laboured under the impression that my ‘family’ tartan was that of the Clan McLeod. I had no real problem with this since one of my best friends at school was a firmly established member of this clan, being related to Dame Flora McLeod.
McLeod tartan. Image source: Lochcarron of Scotland –
However the tartan was a very vibrant pattern with a strong bright yellow component which Anne found not entirely to her taste. Initially we decided that we would not pursue any incorporation of this particular tartan into any garments which she constructed, but just to make sure that we were not missing any alternatives I carried out a fairly exhaustive search using what are now very familiar tools namely the internet and Google.
I found a link to what appeared to be a very authoritative site with well referenced sources which indicated that there might be an authentic McClure tartan. Eventually I traced images of a Dress and Hunting pattern for a tartan listed as the McClure tartan. Unfortunately this was several years ago, the initial search trail has long since gone cold and, as is the way with these things, become a bit blurred. In other words I cannot remember where I have filed the web addresses and images of the tartan found originally. However I did determine to try to obtain a real sample of the cloth and possibly even consider having a kilt made with the ‘Hunting’ version of the tartan.
First a small aside which might cast some light on my early assumptions that no tartan other than that of McLeod was available to me.
As with many Scottish clan names the meaning of the name can be traced to possible Scottish or Irish Gaelic origins and the clan ‘home territory’ can be linked to some part of Scotland. The McClure name is apparently found in greatest density in the south west of Scotland. This was the area which I considered home being a native of what was Ayrshire. In fact in my years at secondary school there were four McClures all of similar age. We were, in our own way, the strongest ‘mini clan’ in the year. There is however no clan chief or clan stronghold.
Apart from the group of four McClures in my year we had one other noteworthy McClure in the school, namely the PE teacher, affectionately known as ‘Stiffy’. Unfortunately this teacher had also come to believe that the McClure name was inextricably linked to the McLeod tartan and since we are referring to the period 1963 to 1969 during which time the internet and Google were not readily available, this was accepted as fact. I wonder if he still wears his McLeod tartan kilt?
However back to the present. Having established that I could claim a tartan as my own rather than one borrowed from someone else, I set about finding a supplier of the cloth. This was not too difficult since there are not too many tartan weavers left in Scotland. Unfortunately none of them had any stocks of the McClure tartan and in fact most of them did not even recognise the pattern. There was one well established firm who were able to locate the source of information which I had identified as an authentic record of the pattern and who would also weave the tartan to order, namely Lochcarron of Scotland. Not only would they weave the tartan but they were also kilt makers and could advise on the quality of cloth required, the amount and make the kilt.
The company sent a detailed print of the pattern with specifications of the colours of threads used; this print showed a full ‘cell’ of the tartan pattern which would, of course, be repeated in a regular fashion.
Source sheet for McClure ‘Hunting pattern’ tartan. From Lochcarron of Scotland.

Having placed the order I was contacted by the company and invited to inspect the weave on the loom. This, I thought, was more of a favour and a courtesy than any indication that I was going to be able to verify that they were producing the correct item. However, as I was to discover later, and have now come to understand, this was indeed a vital part of the process. I was delighted to be able to visit the mill and see the tartan in production and dutifully took along a bottle of single malt with which I toasted the birth of my tartan. In due course the bale of tartan was completed and the kilt produced.
Anne may already have reproduced this image in her blog but I include it here because it gives some substance to my possibly protracted tale:
Kilt in the McClure tartan modelled by me! Photo by Joanne McClure.
Apart from a request from Helen for a plaid skirt using the tartan, incorporating the tartan into garments associated with Helen’s wedding was seen as a particularly attractive possibility. Having a panel of the tartan as part of Anthony’s waistcoat was one way of achieving this and would allow for a very interesting ‘reveal’ at an appropriate point in the ceremony if the opportunity arose. The only flaw in this plan was the nature of the tartan, namely heavyweight wool cloth. Not exactly ideal for a June 4th wedding, even if the wearer of the garment was acclimatised to southern English temperatures and the wedding was to be in sunny Newcastle upon Tyne. The obvious solution was to have the tartan reproduced in a lighter weight material e.g. silk. After all printing on silk was a well established process and there would be no problem finding a company who could carry out this task
Well not exactly. Although in a global community, where the need is for industrial quantities of product and the timescale is measured in months or years, this is probably a relatively easy undertaking, a small piece, sourced locally as a one off, did not prove so easy. Eventually we heard of Lacuna Press and read several very encouraging reports of the experience of others who had used their services. Initial contact, by email, directed us toward their web site and their extensive, detailed and very informative help files. These files guided us through the process of creating an image file of the pattern to be printed onto the fabric. In addition a range of different fabrics can be used and a test sample is offered as a 1 meter wide 10cm section. The cost of this test print is then offset against the cost of any final order.
The important stages of producing the image for printing are the colour matching and sizing of the image. Here the help files are vital and although working through these for the first time was a bit daunting, they are presented in a clear and logical manner. I used a combination of Adobe Photoshop to produce the image file and a ColorMunki calibration device to ensure that my monitor was correctly adjusted.
Here I will further lengthen my tale by including another aside. Lacuna Press stress the importance of ensuring that the monitor or screen on the computer used to view the image as it is being prepared, is correctly adjusted to show the true colours of the image. This can be achieved ‘manually’ using various methods including a set of detailed instructions in Photoshop. However by far the easiest method is to use one of the commercially available devices specifically designed to perform this function. Since I am interested in photography to the point where I have almost as much photographic kit as Anne has sewing associated items, I had, and was in the habit of using, a ColorMunki. This is a calibration device which synchronises the colour settings for monitors, printers and scanners. Unfortunately I appeared to have electrocuted my munki. I plugged it in via its USB ‘tail’ in order to calibrate the monitors of the computer I was about to use and it promptly ceased to be a ColorMunki. It was now a DeadMunki. There then swiftly followed a short period of my expressing my thoughts on all munkis and a slightly longer period during which I tried the manual calibration methods before admitting defeat and buying a new munki. I also rebuilt the USB stage of my computer just in case a fault in that area had caused the munki’s demise. The monitors were then calibrated and the task of having the tartan printed on silk recommenced.
Producing the image file was possibly the most tedious part of the whole process. I had my bale of tartan cloth which I could use for the image. A simple photo of the cloth would have been sufficient. However I wanted to have the finished item look as good as possible so I started off with a photocopy of the reference cell of the tartan provided by Lochcarron. I then selected the representative cell and proceeded to copy and merge this to create an image which would print to produce a 1 meter wide pattern. There were two main difficulties in this process. One was achieving alignment and register of the pattern and the second was the rapidly increasing size of the file as the process progressed. Fortunately Adobe Photoshop is extremely comprehensive in its provision of tools to achieve virtually any image manipulation task which can be imagined. In addition many of the tasks are possible using Photoshop’s automated features. Thus the alignment was helped immensely by the photomerge function and the file size, though increasing rapidly with each duplication and merge of the image, was no real obstacle.

In this image the representative cell has been copied and merged to produce a single strip of the required width which will be copied lengthwise to create the 1 x 1 meter print.
We decided that the full size cell of the real tartan was too large for the waistcoat and opted for a reduction to approximately one half of the original size. Lacuna Press allow some choice in the resolution of the final print and I chose the maximum 300 dpi quality meaning that for a 1 meter by 1 meter print my final image needed to be 11,811 by 11,811pixels.
This is the image which was used to produce the tartan sample on silk. Initially the file was massive but saving it at 300 dpi in Photoshop reduced it to manageable proportions.
This is a very truncated version of the process since any attempt by me to provide detailed instruction would probably be completely incomprehensible and could not possibly be better than the excellent help files available through the Lacuna Press website. However as a final comment on this stage of the process I think it is worth adding that the colours of the final print were adjusted to be muted by comparison with the original since this blended much better with the fabric of Anthony’s waistcoat.
I can now put a little twist in the tail of this tale. As I mentioned earlier my daughter Helen expressed a wish to have a plaid skirt made in the family tartan. However the fabric produced for my kilt is the heavyweight version and while it would be possible to use it for a plaid skirt, it would be better to have a lighter weight fabric. I therefore contacted Lochcarron again with a view to having a length of the tartan produced in a medium weight version. This is when I discovered that my participation in the creation of the original fabric was not simply that of a customer placing an order. Before I was able to order more of the tartan from Lochcarron, I had to establish that I had the right to use the pattern. It seems that in placing the original order I was now part of the ownership formality for that tartan. The tartan was regarded as a private tartan by the mill with only a few able to have it made for them. Not only was it my family tartan it was MY family tartan. I’m still not sure of the implications of this but I am strangely very pleased at the thought of this exclusivity. The bale of medium weight tartan now rests securely with the rest of Anne’s fabric stash where it is supremely safe since no one in his or her right mind would try to penetrate that gargantuan collection.
Finally an image of Anthony modelling the waistcoat.
Incidentally the malt used to christen the tartan was a 15 year old Dalwhinnie.

Update and Continuing with Machine Embroidery Course

I haven’t been sewing anything recently. I’ve managed a few alterations and repairs and a little bit of machine embroidery - though I’ve f...