Valentino, Couture, SS08.
The Cutting Class recently received a query about how the skirt folds had been constructed on two dresses from Valentino’s final Couture show in Spring-Summer 2008. This seemed like a good opportunity to talk through some strategies for working out these sorts of details yourself.
In this post we will talk through a possible process for working out a detail like this so that you might be able to apply the same process to other details that you are unsure of.
Please note that as always this is not to encourage exact plagiarism, however sometimes you may visualise design details and need strategies to be able to realise them as pattern pieces, or you may want to build on details you see in the collections of other designers.
The best way to start is on a small scale with just some scraps of paper or fabric. You don’t need to know anything about the pattern shape before you start but some good reference photographs will help to guide you. You may also find it helpful to take some quick photographs as you go along so that you remember how it all goes together.
First look for clues and ask yourself questions like:
- What does the detail look similar to?
- Where are the seams?
- Where is the grain line?
What Does the Detail Look Similar to?
For example, does the detail look sort of like a dart? Does the fabric look like it’s been gathered? If you unfolded or released the fabric in a certain section of the garment would you get a better idea of the shape of the fabric? In this case, the detail looks kind of like a pleat, but with the edge folded back, so we’ll keep this in mind when we start testing.
Where Are the Seams?
Locating the seams can be key to understanding where one pattern piece ends and another one begins. In this case we can see that a contrast fabric has been layered in, so even though we can’t see the seams clearly, we can develop our pattern based on the assumption that there are seams used to panel in the contrast fabric.
Where Is the Grain Line?
This point isn’t really very vital for this detail, and the pictures are too small for us to see this clearly. You may come across other details though where this is really important and the pattern or weave of the fabric may give you some clues. For example if the fabric has a stripe or check pattern then you can probably use these to show you where the grain line is flowing on the pattern pieces.
Patterned fabric may also show you where any small darts or seams have been made, giving you extra clues about how the garment has been constructed. For example if you are looking at a garment with a check that is uneven in one area then this might help to point out where a dart has been used to pull the fabric in closer to the body.
You may also want to consider where the grain line will help to make the shape of the detail. This is especially true in draped details where you may need the bias of the fabric to help to create smooth curves and folds in the fabric.
Use Fabric or Paper to Make Test Swatches
The next step is to take paper or fabric and start folding it to help to visualise what the pattern is doing. Start with a single flat piece first, and try to fold it or manipulate it to create the effect using only a single piece of fabric or paper and maybe some pins or tape to help to approximate the stitching lines.
You may find sections of the paper or fabric that you need to take away or add to in order to create the shapes of the detail, and knowing where you need more or less fabric will help you to work out the shapes of the pattern.
Use Coloured Pens to Mark the Separate Pieces
Once you have the basic shape you can use coloured pens to help you to work out the different pattern pieces and to mark the location of seam lines. The use of colour coding is important because it will help you to know which piece is which once you flatten the piece back out again.
Flatten the Paper or Fabric Out to Show You the Pattern Shapes
Once you have all this in place you can then unpin and flatten out the paper or fabric to reveal the shape of the pattern pieces.
Using the Steps for the Valentino Folds
The diagrams before outline how these basic steps were used to create the shapes of the Valentino folds. While the small tests don’t give the exact pattern shapes, they will help you to visualise how it all goes together so that you can then draft up your own full size patterns from measurements or using your own pattern blocks. For some details you may even want to drape fabric on a mannequin to further refine the shape before you create the pattern, but at least starting in small scale will give you a head start.