Reducing production costs: Mobius scarf

It’s a very long story but I’ve developed this wacko theory that cutting on the bias doesn’t necessarily need to be as costly as we’ve all been led to believe. I think bias patterns can be engineered in specific ways to reduce allocation. Toward an exploration of reduced fabric consumption, my first approach (it’s been several years now) had been to recreate some of the styles designed by Vionnet using the patterns that Betty Kirke reprinted in her book. The easiest example to show you is the mobius band scarf as depicted on page 72.

As you can see below, my pattern -rendered from the book- looks similar.


Like the Vionnet sample, I made my first prototype out of a taffeta -not that taffeta would have been my first choice- because the book shows a black taffeta scarf (if you’re comparing apples to apples, you need to stick to apples). I wasn’t very happy with the results because the seams were too obvious. Then again, seams are less obvious in black (Vionnet’s sample). If you have the book and can see Vionnet’s sample, you’ll also notice that my scarf is comparatively small (below). That is unfortunate but understandable since Kirke’s book does not provide scale upon which to base the enlargement of the patterns.

I don’t consider the size of my scarf to be a problem; it’s a small matter to grade it up. What is more important is to translate the details correctly. Now, since I had a successful result, I still wanted to redesign the pattern for two reasons:

1. Sewing the scarf as Vionnet designed the pattern was a pain in the butt (you have to join those tiny neck edge seams together after the scarf has been “tubed”) and I could already see a better way to do that.

2. I didn’t like the seam placement. You’d have to do it yourself to understand what I mean but the Vionnet seams worked to enforce lines and corners and I wanted a different effect. I wanted my scarf to be more of a fluid tube rather than a rigidly shaped flat piece.

Therefore, I redesigned the pattern, putting the neck (the narrow portion) in the middle of the pattern, with the tips of the scarf on the ends. Below is a comparison of the two patterns.

You’ll also note that I split the tie ends from the body, making each scarf section a total of three pieces rather than 1. I’ll bet you’re thinking I did that to reduce allocation but nope, a whole piece would nest just fine in a marker. Originally I’d split it because I was curious to see what the scarf would look like if I did it in contrasting fabrics. Below is a photo of what the second proto looked like (not contrasting fabrics).

For the contrasting fabrics effect, I decided to recut the pattern for a third time. This time, I had the split going the length of the scarf body but twisted (long story, probably a future post if there is sufficient interest). Below is a photo of the prototype that I made from that. I think I should have used fabrics with more contrast; this design seems to blend and doesn’t show the pattern effects. Bummer.

Below is a photo of all three protos laid next to each other. From left to right, the protos are 1, 3, 2.

I realize it is difficult to judge the effects of the pattern changes and whether they compromise Vionnet’s effect from these photos but I’m satisfied with the results. My pattern lowered costs in two ways. The first was in labor. Sewing the Vionnet pattern was a pain, mine was easier and therefore less costly. It’s also less costly if it’s easier to sew because it is less likely to be sewn incorrectly and therefore, you have fewer quality rejects in any lot. The second part of the exercise was to lower the amount of yardage needed and I was able to reduce allocation by nearly 1/4 of a yard. With the altered pattern shape, the pieces will nest in the marker more readily.

Reengineering the pattern was a significant cost savings. I’d think the changes could amount to lowering the cost of producing these by at least 30 to 40 percent. Now, were these changes worth it? In this case I think so but that’s not to say it’d work for everyone or in every circumstance.

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15 comments

  1. Beverly says:

    Brilliant! This is why we all love you, Kathleen. You’ve taken Vionnet from her dusty loft in the couture houses and put her designs within reach. I can see this scarf popping up in someone’s “original” fashion line-up next season.lol

  2. Camille says:

    Hey, those are beautiful. It would be interesting to see you hand a traditional oblong scarf to a scarf clutz and ask her to arrange it nicely on her neck, and then do the same with a mobius scarf, and see if the mobius scarf is easier to arrange attractively because there are people (like me) who don’t seem to “get” scarf tying. I have about 10 scarves and they are pretty but I hardly ever wear them. Would it be doable in a sheer crepe chiffon thing? I think if there were beautiful tiny seams it might work… maybe? Or would that fabric be too limp? It would be interesting to see the pieces in silk hand-died or handpainted with dye and resist….

  3. moss says:

    Those are gorgeous, will you be giving us pattern templates?

    It seems like you really made the pattern a lot more “lean”, by making it less easy to make mistakes and coming out with a nicer finished result.

  4. Carol Kimball says:

    Using Vionnet as a starting place and springboarding up from there is fascinating and inspiring. Whether the end product fits her canon is beside the point.

    I’d love to see anything more you want to post on this.

    “…I had the split going the length of the scarf body but twisted…”

    Please, please, please.

  5. Suz Summers says:

    This is fascinating!
    It is exactly the sort of thing I love to go into. Please do continue with your post on the Mobius Scarf.
    If you decide to distribute your re-engineered version, I think you’ll have a lot of buyers. (me for one!)

  6. Josh says:

    Love the scarf! I should make one for my mother. It’s very nice looking. I actually like the crispness of the taffeta sample better than the other 2. It has more body and shape.

  7. jinjer says:

    I really lik the last one, low-contrast fabrics and all, but the seams at the ends of the bow on the second one (purple tie-dye) bug me. What did you do differently on the last one to get rid of those?

  8. Penny says:

    Great pattern improvement Kathleen.

    I made one of these Mobius scarves when it appeared in Threads #91 but wasn’t happy with the seams joining either.

    Your method makes the seams more artistic. Think I’ll give it another try. Thanks!

  9. hi,

    chanced upon your mobius article – really excellent. I’m a designer, and my new collection will be based around the mobius technique – I am experienting with scale, so I will take your methods into considereation. Vionnet is the greatest fashion-technician-maker in history, I am greatly inspired by her work. Taffetta works wonderfully for mobius bands- it had body and hold which makes the piece more sculptural.

    Lauren in England

  10. laura says:

    How did you sew this together??! i was lookin at the vionnet pattern book earlier today tried making this..but i cant understand how you get the right sides of the fabric and all seams encased!!! mysterious…!

  11. Caroline says:

    Tried making the scarf following the article in Threads November 2000. It turned out way too small….so I don”t know if I made it correctly. Any suggestions would be helpful. Do you sell your pattern (both original & new)?

  12. Stephanie Green says:

    Great to see your scarf protos laid out. Thanks for that visual! Years ago, I scaled up Vionnet’s Mobius Dress in Kirke’s book (….to be my wedding dress, it was lovely!). It was surprisingly challenging to figure out how to construct the upper bodice, as the instructions in Kirke’s book are sparse. I didn’t think to twist the bands, now you’ve inspired me to revisit the garment, maybe de-construct and re-construct. Cheers!

  13. Hannah says:

    From Kirks book it’s difficult to understand the pattern, it helps to have the Japanse pattern book (mentioned in another post from Kathleen). My pattern is about 100 cm x 40 cm (one piece) and I forgot to gave it a twist but it looks all right. I’ll make a few others now from different fabrics and a slightly bigger pattern.

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