08/02/2010

Reflections on production sewing

Done and delivered - 7 gowns for the new Linné Universtiy, plus one special for the rector (or, if you will, the vice chancellor). In the end, his was the only one making it on the actual stage.
The official pictures are no longer available, but there is one on my website.

Here is one:


When I got my first order for academic gowns, in 1999, I thought I could sew. I had never sewn other than "one at a time" - but, sewing several of the same would only make it easier, right?

Right.
Until I started to think... making calculations, timing myself and, well, reflect on the process of sewing.

These gowns, just delivered, consist of 14 pieces + collar: 2 fronts, 2 sides, 1 back, 1 yoke, 2 sleeves, 2 sleeve trimmings, 4 facings (inside and outside). The collar cosists of 2 pieces for the stand, 2 pieces for the actual collar and 2 pieces of horsehair interlining. Each gown has some 16-17 meters of machine stitching and about 6 meters of handstitching.

The first thing to consider is the design compared to the cutting. How much material does each gown need? How can the pattern pieces be laid out to minimize waste? Can the design be manipulated some, to maximize the fabric usage? (For instance: if the back is made 3 cm narrower, one side piece AND one facing will fit in the width of the fabric... or is more efficient to cut all facings beside each other and have some waste between the back and the side? Is the fabric reversible, so that the fronts can be cut the same, turning one "inside out" when sewing? If so - will the chalk come out easily, or do I have to reverse the fabric for cutting? If the chalk is difficult to get out - do I actually need to trace the piece, or can I trust my eye when cutting/sewing?)
Nearly always it is most efficient to cut all the "same" pieces at the same time. For seven gowns I needed 14 front pieces, 7 backs (which also gave me 7 sides). The other 7 sides could be cut 4 to a width, plus 3 with material over for 2 (or was it 3?) pieces of facings - and so on. As can be seen here I have a stack of drawers to sort the pieces. I also have a record sheet of what is cut, and what is missing, for each piece and length.

When designing, it also pays to think about how the sewing is to be done - if "this" seam is shifted some, then "that" seam will be easier to put in. In what order should the seams be done, for easiest assembly? When doing "this" seam, stop at "this" exact point, because "that" piece will be easier to attach...

Pins. Consider the material - how many pins do I need to put in? For the bourrette version of this gown, there is a minimal need for pins: the bourrette is sturdy and matte, it doesn't stretch or slide. Pins at top, bottom and around mid-length are enough. The special, however, is made of a silk crepe that needs pins every 5 cm - or more.

Meet my best sewing friend: Princess Pfaff. She is about as old as I am, and she has "needle feed" - that is, the whole needle thingy moves from front to back when the presser foot lifts and moves from back to front.



Pressing: again consider the construction. When is the best time to press a seam? Sometimes it is more efficient to sew (say) three shorter seams between pressings, sometimes it is better to press each seam immediately as sewn.

When it comes to the hand sewing - hems, inside facings, some special here-and-there corners. All in all this gown requires about 1000 hand stitches (give or take - ). If I took one stitch at a time, sweeping out with the whole arm - . So I don't. I test each material: how many stitches can I make before "sweeping" and tightening the stitches? When hemming the bourrette, I can make 5-7 stiches - take more, and the risk of breaking the thread is greatly increased. Take less, and feel the shoulder wear out (and the seconds adding up). When hemming the crepe, I can take 8-10 stitches.(Why I don't machine hem? Easy - the hem curves some, and it would take a lot longer to press, pin, "fix" and sew... I checked the time, so I know.)
Meet my two best hand sewing friends: the "Baronet" and the third hand. OK, so the Baronet started his life as a mortar, but now he is both pin cushion and a heay weight to help control the hemming. The third hand is better for shorter seams.




By reflecting on methods, trying out ideas and looking at the clock, I have shortened the construction
time of the Malmö gowns with nearly 2 hours PER GOWN... As I have made more than a hundred of them, it means I have "gained" several days just by looking at methods.

Read more about academic dress on the website of the Burgon Society. More about what I have done on the academic dress front can be found here.

3 comments:

Laura said...

Yep - those seconds do add up!

Cheers on getting the gowns done by deadline!!!!

Laura

Dorothy said...

I am impressed by the sewing skills you have developed, and a envious of your wonderful old sewing machine, what a super workhorse!

Cynthia said...

Fascinating post and beautiful robes. My husband is a professor & wears academic robes regularly but his are not nearly as well made.