Comme des Garçons, AW12, Paris.
For her Autumn-Winter 2012 collection for Comme des Garçons, Rei Kawakubo presented a very flat collection that called into question the very nature of the way we view fashion. As a comment on the way that we generally view collections as endless catwalk thumbnail images the garments were made out of very thick felt, giving the appearance of paperdolls playing dress-up, and making the garments perfectly suited to only being viewed front on.
The collection also appeared in fashions most clichéd prints – the floral, the polka dot, camouflage, the leopard print.
The garments presented in this way provide a perfect example of seam allowance – a section of fabric that is usually unseen in garment images. Seam allowance is effectively like a border of free space on the fabric. If you imagine the finished edge of a garment when it is on the body, following the stitching line that joins the pieces of fabric together, then the seam allowance is the extra margin that runs parallel to this finished edge.
Basically because you can’t join fabric edge to edge as it will fray away, there must always be some sort of margin of spare fabric on either side of the stitching line so that the stitches have something to grip into.
In the case of the Comme des Garçons collection, the seam allowance has been left visible along the top shoulder edges of the first garments to allow us to see this element that would normally be hidden inside the garment.
The below explains the basic process of sewing a seam in a garment. As you can see in some of the garments above, the seam allowance on the shoulders is not turned to the inside so it is as though the machinist has only sewn the first 3 steps, but with the wrong sides of the fabric together:
The amount of seam allowance that is added to the pattern of a garment, and therefore the margin for when you sew the garment, will depend on the type of fabric you are sewing and how you intend on finishing the seam. For example, some garments may take just 6mm (essentially the width of a sewing machine foot), 1.2cm or 1.5cm or as wide as your require.
Understanding seam allowance is extremely important in pattern making and sewing, as sewing along the stitching line must be exact. If you leave the wrong seam allowance when you are pattern making then your machinist may not be able to sew the pieces together correctly. If you are sewing and take more or less seam allowance than you should then you will effectively be shrinking or growing the size of the entire garment.
If you are pattern making a garment and are unsure how much seam allowance to add to your finished outline then the best practice is to do a small test of the seam finish that you want for that seam, in the correct or similar weight fabric wherever possible. Then you will be able to ensure that you have left enough space.
Read more about seams and seam allowance in Fundamentals of Sewing: Seams» and Fundamentals of Patternmaking: Seam Allowance»
Images from Vogue.co.uk»