This is the second story in the series on making the Ophelia dress. In part one ( check it out here) we saw the research and print design. This culminated in the drawing below.
Part two is about the construction of the garment.
Ingrid takes this drawing and writes out the initial specifications for the dress style on a spec sheet. Lots of thought goes into making a dress just-so.
At the drawing stage things have to be decided like where the bust dart is going to sit, like the yoke width, the binding measurements, hem length, how the gathering should work, where the yoke might sit. The yoke is a very important building block in a dress as that is the piece that sits around the shoulders, from which the other pieces drape or come down from. The spec sheet will usually reference existing Ingrid Starnes styles to communicate the idea of this fit.
Our pattern maker, Veronica, is amazing. It is a real mixture of art, science, experience and intuition.
There are a lot of steps that go into making a garment.
This is a series that shows the process, start to finish, to make the Ophelia dress. Here is the final result.
The steps Ingrid takes are the same ways that original dresses have been made for generations. Through a series of drawings, on the machine experimentations, making a toile in another fabric, pattern-making, fitting and refinement an original shape and style is created. Detail touches, special gathers and stitches, pleats and pin-tucks create shape and drape and character. It is a time and work intensive process taking the skills of many people, skills built up over a long time.
In this modern age of the big vertical fashion houses it is becoming a skill that is a bit expensive and hard, and the number of houses working like this falls all the time. These days many fashion labels go off already successful shapes they buy on overseas trips to the big main-street retailers, or increasingly drawings and mood boards are sent to China, and then samples are sent back, without anyone having got out a measuring tape or needle.
That is not to say that all change is bad, and there certainly is an art to that process also, but we wondered if a look into how we do things might be of interest -so here is our series on The Make.
Pt1. The Feel. Research, drawing and print design
Every collection has a feel and series of influences and moods, people places, songs, colours. This is a selection from the moodboard for what ended up being Norwegian Wood.
Ingrid works from the moodboard to design a range of styles, starting with paper drawings and reference books, magazines, movies and collections.
The style of the dress is sketched out, still very much a work in progress. Many dresses are an evolution from past styles we have done and what we have learnt from customer feedback, the fit and Ingrid’s wearing them.
For each collection we design and make our own prints. As a little label in order to have something all of our own it is really the only way. It is a big process, and because our numbers are so small it is not something an accountant might approve of.
For this print, that we have called the Poppy, Ingrid started out with a range of flowers and was interested in making an oriental feeling for the print, layering chrysanthemum flowers into Poppy colours as a watercolour pencil drawing. A bit swimmy and lovely.
Once the design and drawing is done and decided, we send it to our wonderful print makers at Design and Print. Click the print photo below to see a whole story about that process.
And voila! Here we have a piece of the finished fabric, sitting back at Ingrid’s desk.
The poppy print is then added to the drawing ideas for the style. Referencing a favourite design from one of our past seasons.
And now that we have a print, an idea of the style of the dress we are ready to start the process of trying to take this idea and make it into a dress.
Look for Pt 2 next week for the toile process, fitting and pattern making, more of the steps that go into the making of this, the Ophelia Dress.
Greta has wonderful style and does things for the best possible reasons. We really admire the Love From knits that she makes with her mum, and the way that it has grown out of making things for themselves that people kept asking for. They knit to order -so if you head to their website www.lovefrom.co.nz you can choose a colour, wool and style. Or, you can head in to our stores and get one that, like Alison Holst, they have prepared earlier. It is great to come in, try the fit, feel the lovely wool and then get your own made too!
Here are a few of the things that Greta loves.
A very quick what-you-do?
Image maker, stylist and half of Love From.
How did Love From come to be?
It’s a project I work on with my mum. She’s a very talented and generous lady, who has knitted me jumpers throughout my existence. A few years ago I started to request colours and styles (what is now, after a few design tweaks known as the Audrey and the Jane), and people would ask me where they could get one! When I told people my mum made them I would be greeted with a sigh and a muttered “lucky”. Love From was born..
Is there anyone/anything you’d like the world to know more about?
Great question! The idea of sharing knowledge, to make informed decisions, is how Wiki New Zealand was born. A special friend, Lillian Grace, while working at the New Zealand institute, had an epiphany; that the information we need to make great decisions for us, and our country is available, but not easily accessible. So she set about building a small team of volunteers who help her extract information from research sources and place it into easily digestible info graphics. All for the love of NZ! You can see how NZ stacks up with other countries in the OECD, as well as see interesting local information about our environment, wealth, religion, vehicles, marriage, crime.. anything! Check it out: http://wikinewzealand.org/
The wiki part is coming soon in stage 2 of development, so everyone can share their knowledge!
A song that you love, and why?
Sweet Little Angel by B.B. King. It makes my hips swing, and reminds me of driving through the California desert with one of my dearest.
A place you like to escape to?
My uncle’s house on the Thames coast. It’s simple, he lives off the land, and all there is to do is read, walk, and watch the sky change.
A painting or a photograph that you love
It’s forever changing, but I’m currently obsessed with Max Ernst’s forest series. They’re dark with subtle colours, lots of texture, and they’re a bit haphazard; like his painting technique, which included dropping his paintings on to wooden floorboards, and scraping them over twine, twigs and wire. I find them threatening and enchanting at the same time.
A quote/motto/saying you like
Remember the hits, not the misses.
What is your takeaways treat?
Burgers.. can’t get enough! The vege burger at The Food Truck Garage is currently holding top place in my personal Auckland burger chart.
What blogs/online writing/ sites do you follow?
The lip balm is a favourite of ours at the store - a non-petroleum lip balm that you don’t need to re-apply every five minutes
Check out more on the Sans website here: http://sansceuticals.com/
How did Polka come to be?
I have always wanted to start a chocolate brand. After spending the past eight years working on large scale interior design projects in Auckland and London I really wanted to come back home and create a New Zealand made bean-to-bar chocolate brand. It had to be pure in its aspirations and an indulgent, sensory experience.
Is it what you thought you would do?
Well, I always knew I would be designing things while eating killer dark chocolate, so I suppose it is all meant to be!
Is there anyone/anything you’d like the world to know more about?
To help the forgotten animals that need a home or rehabilitation. Designer pets are beautiful but rescue breeds are the best!
Check out Polka online here:
Viva in the NZ Herald have been kind enough to run selections from the Handmade in New Zealand series.
Below is the story, roughly as it went out, with links in all the right places to the full stories and full photo essays by Duncan Innes about these amazing people that make up the local industry. The backstory is that we ran a series on the blog that interviewed and photographed local fashion craftspeople, giving a face, and showing the work that goes in to made in New Zealand clothing. Along the way we found a story of an industry facing big challenges.
Below Simon Pound, partner in the label, explains why we started this series and introduces five local lynchpins of the fashion industry.
Ingrid in the workroom.
Why Handmade in NZ?
Since starting the label we’ve been constantly impressed by the skill and dedication of the craftspeople and specialists in the local fashion industry who work to make our garments. However, from everyone we talk to, it seems that local production is in a shaky state due to the move by many labels to cheap offshore production. And it’s not over yet; designers are still going overseas -check the labels of prominent NZ designers and you might be in for a surprise. Talking with our suppliers we kept hearing how tough things are, and how mad/brave we were to be starting. As a strong story emerged we started an interview and photo series on our blog to get a record of what it means to be Handmade in New Zealand. At times it felt like it might be a last record, if so, it would be terribly sad. Each garment is special thanks to the experience of these people; as clothes become more disposable, with fast fashion and cheap imports, this is often forgotten.
The series we ran showed us an industry that has changed remarkably, but that also holds hope. Near everyone we spoke to said they thought the future lay in niche products with ecological or ethical underpinning. If, as a country, we can make things with integrity and tell the stories behind our products there might just be a future to local manufacturing. And this is important: losing this industry isn’t just about the jobs and knowledge that will go. It is also about keeping the conditions that allow businesses to grow. All of our local suppliers have helped us - they’ve shared experience, passed on contacts, lent us equipment, given favourable payment terms to help us grow and taken a punt on a little New Zealand operator. Try getting that from a factory on the other side of the world. We’re only here because they were here to help us.
To us, and the customers that support made in New Zealand labels, clothes aren’t just another commodity. They’re special things made by skilled people. So we thought we’d quickly introduce a few of our stars to you. To read the full stories and interviews, and see the lovely photo essays by Duncan Innes that show how each of these producers ply their trade, head to the links that go to the full photo essay, interview and story.
Roger Wall and the team at Wall Fabrics are a big part of the reason many labels are in business. Fashion is a funny industry. You design roughly a year ahead. To start the process you visit fabric suppliers to get an idea of what might be available and what you can have made up specially.
You then make a sample range. After showing this to potential buyers and getting orders you take delivery of those fabrics. However, you still need to make the garments and deliver them to stores around the country and the world. You then wait to get paid. It can be many months between ordering cloth and seeing a return on a sale, and that is where the fabric suppliers come in. They support all labels, big and small, by providing terms that reflect the quirks of the industry.
Because of this they get to know a lot about the business as people come to them for help. They’ve seen people come and go and with their experience are a vital place for a new label to go and ask a fair few questions. Roger has helped us along the way, sharing his knowledge and guiding us through some big decisions, and he’s done the same for many others too.
Q+A Excerpt, Roger Wall.
What does the move to offshore production mean for the industry here?
It’s a damned thing for skills and experience within a country. What happens is that there’s no jobs for people who would go and work in sewing factories, no jobs for cutters, and it’s a sad thing for the garment industry.
What’s the future of the industry?
I think there is a very definite future for the industry here. I think the whole world is seeking a better way to do things. The people who stay in NZ and make a NZ made product have a distinctive edge. We need to show them how to do things better.
And tell me about your role supporting fashion labels?
We only support people of caliber. Good businesses are made by good people who have the right idea and have the right ethics, and also, can design. The most important thing in this business is the product. And that’s that.
One of the amazing things about the local industry is how people in fashion will help others. One example is the way Madeleine Richards - the buyer at Britomart boutique Made, reached out to make sure we got to know Noelene Slaughter at Avenue Clothing, telling us that she was the best, and perfect for Ingrid’s attention to traditional details. Maddy couldn’t have been more right, Noelene and her team are now one of the main makers of the clothes, providing the quality that is so important to the label.
Noelene’s been in the industry for 35 years, many of which she worked for Marilyn Sainty. She has loved the job and the industry, but now, with so much production going overseas, wonders if a career path will be there in the future.
Q+A Excerpt: Noelene Slaughter
What does the move to overseas production mean for skills?
It’s hard to find a good machinist –as they retire no young people are coming through wanting to sew. It means we are going to run out of machinists and we won’t have an industry. It means that more designers will need to go off shore eventually, even the ones that have tried to stay.
What do you think is the future for the industry?
It’s a bit sad really, I have students come in and I’m happy to teach anybody -but no-one wants to sew -so I don’t really know what is going to happen to the industry.
Johnston Press are a great outfit. We first went there because so many friends in fashion recommended them. They’re a family-owned local company that print things the special way –letterpress and offset –all very tactile and crafty work.
We’d been going through an agent trying to do swing-tags. Nothing was right and there were long lead times for us to see samples as they were being made up in China. We were getting depressed really at how hard and wrong it all was.
The difference, as soon as we went to Johnston Press, was unbelievable. Our contact, Jan Eastwick, one of the most wonderfully knowledgeable and helpful people we’ve met, immediately realised what we were after. She set up the letterpress and we got to see how it worked, and after making up our block we were able to come back and see the first swing tag printed by hand. We could give it the go-ahead right on the spot.
This experience helped us think about the benefits of being local as more than financial. Doing things locally is not as cheap as it could be by going overseas. But in the end, who wants to be the cheapest? That is a race to the bottom. We are really proud to work with Johnston Press as they make us beautiful business-cards, swing-tags and postcards that are special. All of them are letterpress and offset printed, debossed, using traditional skills and machines.
Q+A Excerpt: Director Glenn Simpson
What does offshoring mean?
The only advantage is that things are cheaper, clothing, whiteware cars, are all down in price. The man in the street can buy more stuff, cheaply for sure, but soon he won’t have a job because there is nothing he is producing. The end of it –I don’t know what it will be. For manufacturing anyway, it is hard to know where it is going to end.
Stephen is an amazing dyer. Many of our fabrics we dye to our own colourways as having exclusive colours is so important to us. Often Ingrid will go to Stephen with a scrap of vintage fabric and say something like -‘Do you think you can get a peach like this but a bit stronger?’ -and he gets it so perfect that it makes you wonder if he can read minds!
We’re a small operation and find his work invaluable to standing out. It is cheaper overseas, but as Stephen tells us the cost then is environmental: “Dyeing involves using chemicals and water. I follow eco-standards. I can’t discharge water without that water being tested. In other countries it just goes straight into the waterways. My biggest expenses are water based: wastewater and water in. In other countries there is no eco concern.”
Talking to Stephen really hammers home the threat the local industry is under. He’s now the last commission dyer operating, where once 20 dyehouses competed. And he has gone from 12 staff to just him. Once he’s gone so are all those skills and possibilities, all that craft and art.
Q+A Excerpt: Stephen Roy Whitby, North Shore Dyers
Do cheap clothes have other costs?
Yes, I don’t understand how it is so cheap. I wonder if there are Government subsidies in places like China that are giving them dominance. You can buy made t-shirts for less than raw cotton costs on the world market. It is madness and you only have to look at all the businesses closing here to see the result.
How do you work, how do you get the colours just right?
A lot is intuitive, I always go off previous jobs –and I have thousands of those to call on over 30 years – so I vary the formula. If I don’t have one to work from I have to make a decision off my own head. You never know what will wash out as you adjust levels, so you learn what is going to change by experience.
Dyeing is an art form, not a science. The reason I’m lucky to still be here is that I am a good dyer. It’s still, for me, very difficult. It’s not like plugging in a knitting machine and then out it comes.
And what will happen to your skills and knowledge?
Unless I can pay for an apprentice I’ll be shutting down. I can’t afford it. The inevitable conclusion is that I will shut down in 5-10 years. And there will be no-one to replace what I do. I can’t afford to get a labourer. Survival for me is working alone until I’m too tired to carry on.
Paul and Upula Design and print
Every season we make exclusive prints. This is very important to us so that we can have something entirely of our own and because it is pretty much the most fun thing in the world to design, make and have your own print, perfect, just as you wanted.
We make runs of a few hundred metres. The process of making a print involves Ingrid drafting up a design and then getting a test screen made. The day the fabric arrives on the courier is keenly anticipated. It’s a bit like waiting for Christmas. Every morning we open the front door hoping that our present has arrived. A great result is always met with a squeal of delight.
The guys at Design and Print are gurus. They have the knack for getting the mix just right, and making sure that we can make special, exclusive styles quickly, easily and locally. Over the years their business has experienced change, like the rest of the industry, from offshoring of work. But they, like many other businesses have found a new niche –being small, responsive and special.
Q+A Excerpt Paul, Print Production Manager.
What makes what you do special here?
We make sure that everything we use is water-based and eco-friendly, right from the start.
How has your business changed?
A few years ago now we had 10 staff excluding owners, we’re now down to two staff. Off and on, as the work demands, we sometimes do four day weeks.
What does Made in NZ mean to you?
Made in New Zealand means supporting the locals.