We are excited to announce that sewing educator, designer and author, Claire Shaeffer, will be contributing to a series of articles on our website where she will impart her vast knowledge of couture sewing techniques with our customers. For those of you who have not heard of Claire, she is the author of such books as High Fashion Sewing Secrets, Sew Successful, and Couture Tailoring. Her books are sought after around the globe and are a ‘must-read’ for sewers of all skill levels. Claire has been a long time supporter of Linton Tweeds and has even visited our mill in the UK. Before we delve into the first of her articles, we asked her to write a little about herself – where she learnt to sew and how she became such an authority in the world of high-end sewing techniques.
Who is Claire Shaeffer
Like many of you I learned to sew from my mother and grandmother and by reading the pattern guides. Learning to sew was a must since I was so small. As I grew older, I realized that my wardrobe would be more interesting, better quality, and fit better if I made it.
When my husband was in the military, I went to a trade-technical school because I wanted to sew better and make my own patterns. I had the mistaken idea that making my own patterns would eliminate the need for fitting. I learned patternmaking and how garments were made at all prices from the cheapest ready-to-wear (off-the-peg) to custom-made haute couture. I also learned that even custom-made patterns usually require fine tuning to fit properly.
When we moved to Palm Springs, CA, I got a part-time job teaching at the College of the Desert, and I began writing my first book. The Complete Book of Sewing Short Cuts was published in 1981. It introduced a variety of techniques from the ready-to-wear industry which are common knowledge today.
I wrote 7 or 8 books including High Fashion Sewing Secrets, Claire Shaeffer’s Fabric Sewing Guide, Sew Successful, and Sew a Beautiful Gift while I worked on the research for Couture Sewing Techniques.
My couture research began by visiting museum collections and couture workrooms. When my husband had meetings in New York, I made appointments at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology); in London, I made appointments at the Victoria & Albert and visited the workrooms of Hardy Amies, Victor Edelstein, Bellville Sassoon, and the tailors on Savile Row. In Paris, I visited the workrooms of Dior, Givenchy, Hanae Mori, Lecroix, and Yves Saint Laurent, but never Chanel.
I learned a lot from visiting the workrooms and museums, but there were limits–particularly when examining lined garments so I began collecting. Two of my earliest purchases were a couple of suits—a Chanel and a Hardy Amies. Both were in poor condition, but they were treasures of information.
I’ve learned many things from examining couture designs. Only a few techniques are difficult, and most can be mastered by home-sewers; but they take time and patience to sew them well. Many techniques are not new; frequently, they are methods we already know but they are applied in a different way.
Collecting is addictive and my collection mushroomed. I used my Chanel collection extensively when writing The Couture Cardigan Jacket, The Couture Skirt, and Making Designer Trims; and it was the primary resource for a Threads Magazine Trims DVD.
My most recent book, Couture Tailoring, features 72 jackets from my collection. It includes techniques for the traditional man-tailored designs of Yves Saint Laurent and Dior as well as the many softer, more feminine jackets of Cardin, Fortuny, and Chanel.
When you sew fine fabrics, couture techniques are the best choice.