verbal croquis

q&a time

Posted in advice,opinions by verbalcroquis on March 17, 2006

The Fashion Student poses this question and instead of rambling excessively on her blog, I thought I’d address it here.  Her question:

I’ve been pondering over the actual process of designing my collection. Do I design a collection then source fabrics to suit my designs, or do I source fabrics that I love and inspire me and design a collection based around them?

If you don’t mind, I’d like to offer my two cents.

Fabric selection and design has to be done simultaneously, or hustle back and forth.  What I do is to have a list of fabrics I want to work with, and possible alternates.  I design several pieces, I revisit my fabrics.  In the real world, I order my sample yardage as soon as I have a basic idea of what I need, and then design with those fabrics in mind.  Not all fabrics make the cut, pardon the pun, and at the last minute, you will desperately need the perfect 18 mummy silk charmeuse in Pantone 18-1751 TC, but such is life in this industry.  When in school, I would swatch extensively in the beginning and part of the design process is to create the beautiful fabric stories.  Your designs are nothing without the right fabric so you have to consider them as part of your design process, not something you do before or after designing.

And edit fiercely.  The best skill you can hone for yourself is the ability to self-edit. Do not fall in love with anything–if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work and you have to teach yourself to have that discipline.


13 Responses to 'q&a time'

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  1. Danielle said,

    I changed my mind so many times for my fabrics. I’m still not happy with all of them. VC you’re absolutely right that the wrong fabric makes any design seem wrong. And now reading this it makes me want to cut about half of my collection! I will do it =)
    I love these little blips about how you do your job, so fascinating.

  2. thanks, danielle!

    if you are going to refabricate your collection for sales, keep in mind that when something doesn’t work, it might not be the fabric. correct fit, balanced patterns, and careful fusible selection and placement also go a long way.

  3. henri-v said,

    Ballpark, for each collection, how many samples do you go through? 30 or more? And do you (or most designers in your situation) purchase undyed or unprinted and then go from there if you have the weight/sheen/drape/weave that fits your design? I’ve always wondered how that worked.

    Does your company have a “textile person” on staff?

    Nosy me.

  4. Lol B said,

    Hey, thanks so much VQ, I really appreciate this!

    You are absolutely right, you’ve made a really good point about this being an organic process that needs to be edited and revisited several times to get things just right.

    I suppose my confusion comes with the way we are taught to do things at my school. I’ve had so many disagreements with my design teacher. Each time we are set a new design project at school, we are made to sit in the lab and told to start sketching out our ideas.We work to a ‘critical path’ (timeline),each project is normally 12 weeks, and we are instructed to start sketching in the lab so that our designs will be ready by the end of the first day.The remaining 11 design lessons will be pattern making and sewing the collection. We have to get the designing done pretty darn sharpish ! Which seems to make it a thoughtless process.

    I have several problems with this, firstly I can’t create in a vacum, sitting in the lab at school without any of my books, mags and visual stimuli that I would usually have at home in my studio, makes it impossible for me to come up with innovative Ideas. Don’t just give me a blank piece of paper and ask me to sketch away ideas for a kids collection ! I need to see fabrics, look through books, mags etc take time to work out my angle on the project. I’ve been told by my design teacher to first design , pattern make,’toile’ then go and find fabrics later! I argue and say the whole concept for my kids wear may be based purely on the fabrics I find, she says “get on with it”.

    This approach, as you point out, is useless!, as many times fabrics turn out to be unsuitable for your design. I’ve learnt this so many times after toiling in calico then constructing in a completely different fabric, I’ts just dumb! You need to do your toile in the same or similar fabric to the one you intend to use!

    I’ll try and heed your advice and be very critical of the final fabrics suitability to the design, I’m worried about how fabrics will wash and wear too, so I may just do some testing first, I believe that there can be a great deal of shrinkage in hemp and some other organic fabrics so It’s probably a good idea to wash and launder first!

    Thanks again VQ, it’s more than cool getting sensible advice from someone who is succeeding and experienced in this business! Ta!

    ( I’ve buggered up many a design with the wrong fusings and fabric, see my next posting Fugly Jacket !!)

    P.S Am I the only person who says “toile”? do you call it something different in the states?

  5. samples or sets of samples? if your guys are good, you only have to see one sample before the final sample you send to shows or sales reps and one sewing sample before production. i’ve worked at places where the patternmaker was such a joke we would make things 3 times over to get it to look right just for the show.

    the number of samples you take to a show range all over the board. we make several sets of final samples so our various sales reps can each have a set and we have a set inhouse.

    we never purchase undyed or unprinted except for muslin, of course. we cut all samples from the actual fabric–how else are you going to know how they really look?

    the last company i worked for was 70% silks and 30% cotton. we drape or make first samples in fabrics leftover from the previous season, but the fabric is the same, even if the colors are not. with stretch fabrics, it’s extremely important that you drape/cut samples from something with the exact same amount of stretch.

    our company does not have a textile person on staff. the last company i worked for, i designed the prints as part of my job, but we didn’t have a specific textile staffer.

    good enough answer, miz nosypants? ;P

  6. we say “muslin”, you ignoramus. i kid, i kid. it seems all countries have their own versions. i did a summer in london and was really confused by the terminology in the beginning. first of all, i got all confused at the paper shop cuz i had to buy A4 paper and i had no idea what that was. i thought i was looking for a paper quality like bristol board or hotpress watercolor paper. d’oh.

    i think you said somewhere that your school emphasizes the technical more so than the creative and if that’s the case, i can see how they’re structuring their program in the way you describe. it can be incredibly informative to see how your designs change in the process of physically fabricating it. it’s like the design has a life of its own, evolving merrily on its own accord with no regard for the designer.

    on the other hand, without sounding like a bitch, it may do you some good to learn to pick up the pace on the design. in the real world, we don’t have a lot of time to design–the life cycle of a garment is mostly spent off the drawing board, so to speak. i know it’s difficult, but this too is a learned skill. as i said in a previous post, most designers never get to design under their ideal circumstances.

    and no problem–come bug me with questions anytime. i used to peer tutor illustration and garment construction while in college and i really enjoy teaching. i was considering hitting up one of the local art schools to see if they have an evening class in need of a teacher.

  7. Lol B said,

    You’d make a fun ‘teach’! ( that’s what we call em down our neck of the woods)

    Yes I probably would get a kick up the ass in the real world , I mean I’ve been poncing around with books on bacteria and Fractal geometry, I’m sure I’d be told ‘get real sister’! “Where’s the designs?'”

    But seriously though, I’m sure your boss wouldn’t take away all your resources, put you in a sterile room and say “come up with a whole range of kids wear before lunch, or your outta here honey”.

    I do have a particular gripe with this ‘teach’ though as she is not qualified in pattern making, garment construction or even design.We have to go ask another teacher who is running her own class for help, This really shits the other teacher as she’s working her butt off which results in her becoming very fierce and angry, so ultimately we don’t bother and all struggle along.

    I did some research on this teacher and It turns out she has a tertiary certificate in screen printing !!! Yeah , really helpful when you want pattern cutting advice. Some of the other students lost it as they struggle with pattern cutting, so the whole class put in a formal complaint about this teacher.It got quite out of control, people were talking of withholding their fees.

    Nothing was done about it, as the school is run by an 85 year old, I kid you not! The stories I could tell If I wasn’t fearful of retribution!

    I wont say any more as It could become tricky for me, that’s why I haven’t named my school. I’m a positive person so I hate ranting about this stuff , but really the sh** that goes on this joint is truly unbelievable.

    Sorry to use this space as a ranting space about my school , I just feel safer here than on my own blog !

    I’ll try not to bug you too much!

  8. Danielle said,

    Some of my designs it’s the fabric and fit that are off – other designs are just clunky – other ones it really is a fabric issue – but as for proper fusing placement and balanced seams – I know what those are! Just ask my presser 😉

    But mostly like you said, some things just do not work. Cut!

  9. Lol, I really don’t what advice to give you at this point. Your school environment does sound nuts(a screenprinter teaching patterns! *#$^(!*&%*#!), but your life doesn’t live out by itself–take charge of it and do what you need to do, even if it means a lot of time is spent on outside research or asking people like me lots of questions. And no, you’re not bugging me–like I said, I love working with students. 🙂

    I hope I didn’t come off too harsh–believe me, I have a lot of empathy for students who find gaps in their curriculum. The school from which I earned my BFA was fantastic, but my summer program in London lacked quite a bit. I learned more from just living in London and working on my own things. (Turns out Central Saint Martin’s isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be…)

  10. Danielle, good for you! I’m very interested in hearing about your own editing process, what you think doesn’t work and why so.

  11. By the way, Lol, I want to see more about your design development on the bacteria and fractals! I don’t see any reason why anyone would tell you to “get real” about that–everyone finds inspiration in different places. I did a small group based on broken eggs once.

  12. henri-v said,

    Merci for the answers! It seems like when you *know* what you are doing you can cut out a lot of wasted time, wasted fabric, and guess-work. I just didn’t know if you worked from a palette or available fabrics (sounds more like this), or if each new season required starting with fabric design as a major element of the design process.

    It sounds like it differs with each company/situation, too …

    Thanks for sharing all this info, Zoe. 😉

  13. “It seems like when you *know* what you are doing you can cut out a lot of wasted time, wasted fabric, and guess-work. ”

    But isn’t that every industry? And isn’t that why we hire the ones who’ve been around?

    And if you really look closely, a lot of different companies has a central fabric focus or started with one, even if they work with other fabrics as well: sonia rykiel–knits, anna molinari–chiffon, all the fur houses, all the denim houses, all the t-shirt companies, donna karan–jerseys, j.crew does almost all their suiting in wool gab. To master a fabric takes a lot more work than you could possibly imagine.

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