How quickly we forget

In my warehouse cleansing frenzy, I found an old dress that I’d saved for demonstration purposes.

The thing is mentionable because it won third place in an annual design contest -earning a scholarship- and it’s horrible! Don’t get me wrong, the designer had a cute idea but the quality is appallingly bad. It’s distressingly bad. It’s awful! One can only imagine how horrible the 4th and 5th place winners were. I save this as a reminder of what design schools put out and/or put up with; it depends on your perspective. Anyway, here’s the list of this student’s sins:


First of all, the right side seam is at least an inch shorter than the left side seam. The hems are off.

Speaking of hems, here’s a sample of this one. Yes, those are lovely crudely cut raw edges sticking out there. I don’t know that I’d flatter this sample by actually describing these hems as “sewn”. It almost makes me wonder if the designer would have preferred a stapler and dispensed with formalities. Where’s a stapler when you need one?

The only redeeming feature -what I’d call actual engineering- is shown here; it’s a zipper set in to the armhole, and it opens all the way. I remember the members of the design committee were momentarily nonplussed as it this closure wasn’t ever done “before” and I thought why not?

Unfortunately, this student wasn’t privy to the same zipper tutorial that you all have been. Still worse, the facings aren’t only hand tacked, they aren’t even the same width!

Here’s a view of the inside; I don’t know that I’d flatter this sample by even calling these facings. Look at those seam allowances off to the left. The allowances here are 3/4″ when they should be 1/4″.

These side seams are just tacky. Failing to cut the selvedges away is such an amateur effort, I don’t know why she bothered to design or make the thing.

It’s pretty scary if you think about it…this student won third place and a scholarship! Has the entire world taken leave of its senses? One can only hope that the standards in design school have improved because this sample bodes poorly.

No matter, there’s no accounting for taste so I suppose it’s only fair I come clean at this point. I made this dress -oh the bloom of innocence- I knew so little then. I suppose I’d do well to take this as a gentle reminder to be more patient and thank karma that’s all it was. I should hang this thing over my desk to remind myself to be nicer. The dress fell out of one of my bundle bags; the two disparate reminders of my career couldn’t be more poignantly or painfully clear. I was a girl with dreams -thankfully- I haven’t lost them yet.

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15 comments

  1. Carol says:

    There are two different issues here: design and implementation.

    The design is clever, as is the zip opening fully.

    The sewing is dreadful, as noted. That wasn’t the judgement criteria. As for the basic construction:

    1. She didn’t know any better.
    2. She didn’t know any better.
    3. She didn’t know any better.

    4. Now she knows better.

    One of my early jobs was alterations in a pricey women’s store. The sales staff were on commission and fought over customers like crows on roadkill. They would promise anything could be altered – a fitted princess line clipped to the stitching, up two sizes? No problem.

    When the client returned to try on the dress the saleslady would yank the zipper to try to close it. When the fabric split out, it was obvious that I had done a bad job.

    Another problem with me was that I was too finicky, particularly about inside finishes. The owner kept wanting me to sloppy up. In desperation (and spite) I whacked off a hem, turned it up uneven and raw and finished it much like the above. The owner had kittens. We parted company not long after – I pretended I’d had a better job offer, being too chicken (my, there are lots of animals in this reply) to just quit.

    I do plan to add to previous comments as requested. Soon.

  2. Josh says:

    I’m glad you shared that with us Kathleen! I hate looking back on my own things. It can put me in a state of sheer terror for a week lol. Hopefully I won’t look back on these jeans we finished today in horror. Actually I hope I do, because it means I’ve gotten better.
    http://www.bvfonts.com/livejournal/jeans.jpg

    Keep in mind we have no bar tacker and the belt loops were just put on with a single needle, not too bright but if you don’t have a bar tacker you just have to do whatever to test your pattern. Also the back pockets were not tacked on first and they slid around, so they aren’t a shining example either. The waistband turned out great. I was very happy with that. We had had problems with the waistband turning outward. Whatever problems I guess were worked out during the different stages the pattern went through.

  3. J says:

    …that kinda’ makes me feel better about sewing blunders I’ve made in the past. Makes me feel like a darn good sewer ;)

  4. Susan McElroy says:

    This place is so intriguing…here I get here on Sat ready to do the zipper tutorial (got all the templates made) and I get waylaid by this discussion…I was talking to some people who attended a local university-sponsored “design workshop” and was very surprised to learn (as were these pretty experienced home sewers) that the prof didn’t care much about sewing quality; in fact there was a lot of what is shown in this example in terms of bad seams, closings, etc. One woman brought the sample to show just how awful “good” was for the purposes of this seminar. Of course we asked why, and this lady said that the attitude was that the “samples” didn’t need to be well sewn; that it was assumed that the detail quality would be worked out later. (I assume by the contractor?) As someone fascintated by the business of sewing, I was perplexed. Does this mean that these garments are considered like say, three-dimentional “sketches” or something? When I’ve come across the term “sample” when I read what I can about the industry, I figured that the object is to show how the item is to be sewn, not a rendering for purely design demonstration. At what point does a contractor prove to the designer his/her ability to render the item into a quality finished product? Are there two kinds of “samples”?

  5. Jan d'Heurle says:

    Clearly, the criteria for Kathleen’s dress was not fine sewing, but design talent. Anyone can learn to sew; but in the end it’s all those other things that really count: knowing what fabric to use for the design, for instance, and using that fabric (whether a print, plaid or solid) to best advantage; integrity of design; and that quality of flair or panache that adds a sparkle of excitement to a garment. All the defects in this particular dress could be fixed without too much trouble, I think.

  6. Susan McElroy says:

    This does make sense; in other words, the dress is a design rendering in fabric. I’d assume that a drawing can never convey the way the actual fabric would look or behave, and the reward was for that success. So say a DE wants to take it further. If I recall in Kathleen’s book (by memory because MY SISTER WON’T GIVE IT BACK and my copy is being delivered) this item wouldn’t be the “sample” she/he gives to her rep, right? It has to be resewn for that, as no rep could sell a future order if the sewing quality was so poor. Is the assumption of design schools that the designer will work for a company that will buy the design outright and take it from there?

  7. Jinjer says:

    Although I’ve ever been to design school, I’m certain Jan is right about the 3D sketch thing. Which is fine, becase it was design school, not sewing school.

    The frightening thing is the rise in popularity of “deconstructed” clothing in underground fashion circles. Really, they should say “Barely put together,” because it’s so awfully made. And the designers command super high prices because they’re such geniuses with such original ideas.

    The thing that REALLY gets my goat is they HAVE A MARKET. I mean, people buy this stuff; really, they do. I’ve tried to figure out this phenomenon, and the only reasons I can come up with are:

    1) The buyers believe the hype of the pretentious designers
    2) Most “factory” clothes are sewn nicely, so crappily sewn clothing automatically looks “original”
    3) Wearing unfinished clothes is rebelling against the establishment.
    4) there’s a surplus of graphic designers in this town (San Francisco), and maybe they like these clothes ’cause they look more like graphic design experiments than clothes.

    I get VERY frustrated in my ongoing endeavor to improve my quality, etc, because whenever I throw in the towel and make some crappy experiment, it sells. I need to enter a new market (but I haven’t got the capital…working on it.)

  8. Danielle says:

    Aw, this reminds me of the dress I included in my portfolio to get into university. I shudder when I think of it now; no drafting, random s/a, grain – what’s that?, major glitches in the lining – I’m talking puckers an inch and half deep!, uneven buttons… I could go on! And yet it got me into university, one which is notorious for turning people down. Everyone has to begin somehow:) – everyone has their hack sewing experience. Thanks for showing yours Kathleen. It reminds me how much I’ve learned in a few years. I bet a few years from now I’ll look back at my grad collection and roll my eyes… I hope I’ll be that much better by then.

  9. Natasha says:

    Well this reminds me of the fashion show at my college one year where despite the efforts of my production team to get quality work on the runway someone snuck her dress into the line up (self modelled) which was pinned onto her body. Yes she DID dispense with sewing and MAY have used a stapler and yet somehow the “industry” professionals judging choose to give her an award for her *cough* efforts.

  10. intransigentia says:

    Hi, lurking fan showing up to comment – I’m a pretty beginner sewist and even I wouldn’t do that to a dress. But if you ignore the construction, the design itself is quite lovely. I’d really like to see it in more detail!

  11. AJ says:

    omg Kathleen thanks for linking to this from FinalFashion.ca today. The inside of my wedding dress looked like this!! And by god I would have used staples if I could have…I remember thinking about using them as I was sewing the hem actually. I designed the dress with around 16 panels and boy did I tire of sewing them (all the way to the train) rather quickly!!

  12. Jen Rocket says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I too will admit something. I began sewing with my mother at the age if 5, never really stopped, then after college I was sewing for 4 years successfully draping dresses and selling them, doing alterations and couture gowns & costumes, and I didn’t once “use” the grain line. In fact I didn’t even really know what it was or why. I just made the fabric work knowing where it should fall and where the stretch should be. Once I found out what the word meant and why it was being used a lot- unfortunately on the job in LA! It was just after I had been there for a year so I was a resident California so I started taking classes in pattern making, couture and production sewing techniques etc. I have to say that when I was taking classes I was happily teaching other students just as much as I was learning new things from the instructors!
    When I look back it was just a word more than anything else,I knew the technique just not the lingo. But, It was a good kick in the butt I’ll ever forget.

  13. Susan says:

    Kathleen – you are so awesome…seriously!!! I’ll be lucky if my first garment in design school turns out half as good as that. I’m terrified. Oh boy…

  14. Jessica says:

    I have looked at so much of your site over the last year. I started sewing a couple of years ago and I don’t have many resources where I live so the Internet has become my friend. I am so very happy that I have found your site, so are my zippers as a matter of fact. I love this dress! It’s a wonderful reminder that we all start somewhere and have the ability to improve if we try. I am never going to start a line of clothing or even enter this arena for a career. But if I can enjoy my hobby sewing and it turn out presentable then I feel like I win.

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