Yeah, I can do simple…
A friend asked me to partake in a special project he is overseeing, and asked if I’d like to make something for one of his dolls to wear. He sent me this photo of Catherine Deneuve wearing a little black dress by Yves St. Laurent. I was intrigued for a number of reasons, which I’ll divulge herein…
And before you start sending me tons of pics saying, “Here, Tommy – make this!” Please refrain. Reproduction of existing designs is not something with which I have the strongest of skills. But like others that are able to do this much more effectively than I can, one can easily learn and find inspiration in re-creating something else. There is no copying in miniature doll clothing – unless someone has made a garment, line-for-line, like another miniature – and even then, those that have the ability to do so don’t really care if someone else has made a Christian Dior Bar Suit already – they either want one, too…or they have a client who does. Whatever – it only becomes a problem when someone copies a miniature outfit, manufacturers it – and sells the design as original. This isn’t re-casting – it’s clothing design, and the same rules don’t always apply. There are boundaries, of course…as there are exceptions. For example, if I made a one-of-a-kind outfit that was remarkably similar, if not exactly the same, as a manufactured doll outfit or for something like say – a Chalk White Sybarite, which is already one-of-a-kind (and assuming I could even pull off the skills needed for its execution) – that’s a different story.
Copying fashion design is a blurred line, but it’s being refined – and it’s largely accepted in the doll world. I am certain the original creator of the design, if aware of the copy, is none-too-happy – but the truth is, you can’t enforce it, really; and even then, who has the money to try? Most designers I know are flattered when another is inspired by their creations – and much like the repainters, they will even share techniques all in the name of community. Look, we’re just doll collectors who are playing with our dolls…and unless someone is actually trying to do it better than another (which does happen), it’s just doll play.
In the 1967 film Belle de Jour, Catherine Deneuve wears Yves St. Laurent classics to the nines. Every costume in the story builds a fantasy wardrobe harking to clean design and precise execution. Sounds like a great challenge, yes? I agree wholeheartedly – what I loved about this dress was its simplicity. Had I seen more detailed images of the dress, I would have known more about its construction (and varied my own interpretation of it). But after seeing an image of one dress version, a good friend told me it was a knit – and that excited me even more. I don’t have much skill with knits…so I said yes to the challenge. That’s the beauty about being challenged – you see an opportunity to sharpen your skill set – because in the simplest of designs, precision is key.
The first step was to create a pattern. I used a rayon jersey backed with a fusible knit interfacing for the toile. Knit fabrics have many admirable qualities when it comes to sewing: edges need not always be finished, they have a stretch that gives appreciable ease in curves and bias lines, and they can be very forgiving in terms of stitch removal. On the other hand, each of these qualities can also send you spiraling toward an uncertain sewing hell: not all knits press well, they can stretch out of shape, and if you rip a chain in the knit when trying to remove a seam…the resulting hole can be easily pulled further into the fabric (like a run in your stockings).
The fibers were also a challenge. My guess is YSL used a silk or rayon lightweight weft knit. I had a great rayon jersey I used for the toile…but couldn’t get it in black – and dying just wasn’t an option as it is difficult to get true black. “Oh well, my fine fabric store has loads you could choose from!” I’m sure – and thank you – but there was a time crunch, and the fine fabric section of my backwoods Joann’s offered one, and one option only in a matte black knit – of polyester, no less. Yeah, you heard me – good ol’ reliable polyester – in a double-knit. The fabric that has been reduced to most senior citizens’ lounge wear and children’s Halloween costumes was my only option. I can’t make this shit up…
I liked everything about this fabric, though…save one: It does not press well. Even with a pressing cloth, too much heat or steam would cause shiny surfaces at the seams. It had enough body to stitch well, but I had to use interfacing on the outer shell to get the placket and darts neat. The overall result was pleasing, but I never could get those pressed seams as flat as I would have liked.
Now…scale plays a large part in this, too – even with a more pliable material. For example, a manufacturer could make a dress like this easily by omitting a lining, using only neck facings – and that ever wonderful commercial contraption – merrowing, which can be done on a Serger – but not the one I have. Besides…I don’t have any black thread for it (stainer) – so I opted to line the whole damn thing. Gee…if we could only make stuff like the manufacturers do. We can, but we don’t always have the same commercial equipment.
And then there is that damn placket. The last placket I sewed was in 1983 for a clothing construction college class – it was beautiful, and yes, you would have been impressed – but sadly, that shirt does not survive today. So it became necessary to review the various forms of plackets, and practice one that would work best with this design.
This close-up of the actual dress would have helped greatly – as it’s not the same placket you see in the mannequin dress at the beginning. There is also the issue of exactly where you will place the slash line – I’ve seen it done a number of ways: you can place it in the center, and have the placket overlap off-center…or you can align everything in the center front, leaving your actual slash mark slightly off-center to account for symmetry.
How the placket closed ultimately would be the answer for me. Since knits have stretch, it’s unlikely I would be able to get a perfectly matched overlap using hooks/eyes or snaps. A zipper would be the best solution, but I could just see the bulk of a miniature zipper working on this scale – and placing a zipper in the back meant I would have to modify the collar, thereby breaking the clean line of a beautiful back. See? Much goes into miniature sewing decision-making…
Decisions, decision…agony. Since I didn’t have time to try the different solutions, I went with my gut and opted for an off-center placket front, which would offset the lines of the underlap portion when pulled snugly – using interior hooks and eyes, so snaps or other hardware wouldn’t be seen from the doll’s left side. Human scale designers don’t deal with this kind of crap, because in their scale, things like these are more cleanly concealed. Not in 1:4 scale (or 16 inch dolls) – and not with double knit polyester.
The off-center placket bothered me a little during finishing…but I warmed up to it when I saw it on the doll, and in relation to the silk collar meeting cleanly at the neckline. Is there room for improvement? You bet your softly sweet and supple ass there is…and now that I have a pattern, I will try it again with a better knit more suitable to this scale. But the end result was nicely accomplished, and I re-learned so many things about using knits in miniature sewing. Gee, and it only took Deneuve, St. Laurent, and my Viking to do it.
This is where lack of appreciation in even the most simplest of things can be detrimental in doll collecting, and it’s a theme I use frequently: those that complain about things being too expensive without any working knowledge of what it cost to design and manufacture products in miniature. More often than not, misinformed collectors think that just because it’s made in mass quantity in a low cost of labor, that it should be pennies to make such things. This rational is conditioned upon the selective memory and perceived quality of things that ‘look’ expensive…when they don’t really know what in the fuck ‘good quality’ means. Case in point, if this little black dress hemline was extended to the floor, a collector is more likely to pay more for it because it’s now a gown. Even though the added cost in material and 4 inches of sewing thread at the side seams adds little to the actual production cost of this dress. The labor to make either would be virtually the same, differing only by mere seconds.
Let’s break it down, shall we?
Materials– Fabric: (¼ yard of poly double knit fabric, ¼ yard of fusible knit interfacing, , Notions: pearl buttons X4, thread, and hooks/eyes): Note: Silk dupioni scraps were used for collar and cuffs, and it is not included in material cost.
Time– Patterns adjustments, muslin mock-ups and placket tests: 5 hours
Cutting and fabric preparation: 1 hour
Sewing, including hand-finishing: 5 hours
Overhead/Profit– You’ll also note there’s no added cost in this breakdown to cover cost of electricity, wear and tear on my sewing equipment, and a reasonable profit which is a reward for risks and/or skill level not observed in labor costs…not to mention a hole burned in the carpet when my Clover mini-iron dropped and sat there until I smelled the odor)…
Total: 11 @ $8.05/hr for Florida non-tip wage earners = $88.55
Add cost of materials: +$7.03 = $95.58
Would you pay $95 for this little black dress with no included accessories? If you said ‘no’, then piss off. If you said, “not from you,” that’s OK…I’ll take that – there are others who will. This is why we have a perception issue in doll collecting today, and those that blindly vomit criticisms as to how much something should cost without knowing a damn thing about it. Don’t put up with this behavior. If you think that this is too much to pay for a doll dress – or think that just because it’s made in China, it should be more like $30 – think again, Sweetie – you’re one of the biggest problems facing doll manufacturers today. And for doll artists like me? Well…we are appreciated by fine human beings that not only know better…they actually care.
I won’t apologize for repeatedly using the same theme in my ‘anatomy’ posts…no one else is writing about OR talking about this tender little subject – and you should be.