Posts Tagged ‘designs’

So You Want To Be a Designer? Part Three

August 31, 2010

This rough design is the dress (as I remember it) that I did in my first job training to be a designer. I was sixteen at the time. The other dress is a basic design I used for a number of best-selling designs.

My first dress design at the factory. I don't like it much but I was paid!

Part three

Having got over the shock of having my dreams shattered, I caught the bus for work the next day with lower expectations of job satisfaction.
In a way I was in a privileged position compared with the workers. I was on the monthly staff roll and that meant I could use the staff toilet just off the stone stairway below. For this we had a communal key. No mixing with the girls at the toilet level! I was also allowed to go in at eight-thirty, the girls had to be there for eight. Mind you, they lived almost on the doorstep, I had to go five miles, or so, by bus and then walk the rest of the way.
The staff usually went out for lunch. They had their coffee break in their office. I went down to the canteen with the cutters. The girls tended to eat with their coffee. Likely they hadn’t had breakfast. I soon picked up the habit of enjoying a delightful cheese bap and a Swiss tart each morning. Was this comfort eating or piggishness? Possibly both. After all, for me, this was ‘eating out’. Only those with money or a good wage ate outside of the home, except that great take-away — fish and chips. Foreign food had yet to make inroads into British eating habits. Few people went abroad to know anything different. Few English cafes were around, never mind foreign food ones. My mother once took me to a Lyons Corner House and I thought that quite posh.
I was soon given samples to cut. Of course, my work was checked to make sure I had the patterns placed correctly. If a lay had already been made, it was just a case of making sure it came to the edge of the fabric fold. And, of course, that I cut it out exactly on the lines — smoothly.
I was asked to assist the head designer. I knew how to cut out economically just as I knew how to cut patterns. It is always essential to get patterns laid according to the grain of the material. The line of grain is always marked on the pattern. Measuring the each side of the line to the edge makes sure it is correct. Deviations and the fit of the bodice, and hang of the skirt, could be ruined. Turnings are always allowed on the pattern. A drawing of how to lay the pattern on the fabric correctly and for the most economical use of fabric is drawn on the largest piece of pattern with the actual amount of cloth needed. This is essential for the costing of each garment.
Before long I was grading patterns to different sizes. I also helped the designer by communicating with her sample hand and the girls who did the trimming, embroidery, finishing or pressing. In other words I was her gofer. After each buyer had been there would be much gofer activity.
Then came the day, when things had gone quiet, I was asked to do a few drawings for dresses. Now this was exciting. I was given an office to work in. It was being used as an extra stockroom so rolls of fabric and boxes of trimmings were carted off elsewhere. Before long I produced a few drawings. I showed these to the head designer and she suggested additions were needed. I added a pocket, which then had appliqué embroidery as an extra to pep it up a bit. It was in two shades of grey. Apart from the dress, the only comment I recall was that I had put arms, legs and a head to my designs. As to whether she could draw I have no idea but her drawings were of the garments alone as if hanging on hangers. No need for anything else — working drawings for the workgirls being the only essential.
I have done a rough drawing of the dress as I remember it. Normally sketches would not be shaded, it was enough to put which fabric was being used and maybe a swatch if needed. I can’t say I liked it with the pockets but the designer knew what she was doing. In fact I think it was the boss who suggested the appliqué on a pocket. The dress sold well and in a number of sizes and shades. So began my designing there. How exciting when the buyers came! I would be in my room waiting and then in would come the boss with a pile of dresses on his arm and instructions on how some needed changes to suit the customer.
I still had gradings to do and the designer to assist, samples to cut when required. That season was over and my contribution was small but quite successful. I was back on cutting again. I asked to go on the machines for practice. But I got worried when the chief designer said that would be useful. They could put me where needed.
We had a new overlooker for the cutters and he was a menace. Every time he passed me by he would rub the knuckle of his thumb down my spine. Did he think he was giving me a thrill? I asked him several times not to do it. He would just laugh. So when I had had enough of being laughed at, I swung my booted foot at his shin. He called me an unpleasant name, but I had the last laugh!
He wasn’t the only teaser. The one before him was training for management and quite pleasant. But he knew how easily I blushed and would stand staring until I looked up, knowing my cheeks would turn red. The cutters would laugh with him. Even so, they were a pleasant bunch.
From that first design beak, each time the new season stuff was being designed and new fabrics coming in, I was given a chance to design again. I had my own sample hand and she was a wonderful help. But this in-between position was not good. Assisting the designer was one thing but working on the shop floor denied me the respect the rest of the monthly staff received. My wages were not brilliant either. When I reached eighteen I looked around for another position.
Meanwhile, while walking down the street one day, I saw a woman walking towards me wearing one of my designs. It was unmistakable. The cut was simple enough, but I’d put appliquéd flowers flowing out of a pocket on the skirt and out of one on the bodice.
More to come — working in an almost windowless low-ceiled room, in a factory with only one toilet; working in a factory where mice played; working in others too…
And then my really big chance…

Designing in Post-War Britain

August 26, 2010

Design while at art college late 1948

So You Want To Be A Designer? Part One

Me, age 10 (?) doing my party piece, wearing the dress of a four year old with huge hanky pinned to dress (as some young children did many years ago)


My pencil sketch while at Nottingham College Of Art (design course), late 1948


The sort of design I turned out at Nottingham Art College late 1948. Pencil lines faded with age.

There is no doubt that interest in fashion, and dress design in particular, is a highly popular subject. Together the hits on my few postings concerned with design must top up to over 2,000, the majority on one post with plenty of sketches. I have been asked to write more about this interesting topic.
First let me say, I cannot speak for what happens in design offices and factories today. Of course, I could comment profusely on today’s fashion but I see that as pointless simply because ‘anything’ goes. The top of the pops celebrity of the week, or day, or hour, seems to set a rotating ephemeral trend. The only key theme seems to be ABSURD.
I look at some of the clothes and smile.
Many years ago when I was about nine or ten, I used to go on the stage dressed like a very young child at a concert reciting ‘A little ship’ in a lisping voice. Before getting to the end of the first verse, I would stumble and start again, and again, and again, gradually getting more tearful until I ran off the stage, accompanied by much laughter. Now, to perform my little act I would wear a small child’s dress with a large hanky pinned to the garment, usually with a huge safety-pin (see picture). Since children’s dresses used to be generous with sizing (they had to last as long as possible in those days) I could just get into one, but it was exceedingly short on a growing girl like me. So imagine the scene — girl walks onto the stage looking nervous. Her dress is short but covers her knickers, her hair is tied in two bunches, each with a large bow. She dabs her nose with the big hanky and gives a nervous grin. She gives little swinging movements as she lisps what she is going to recite.
Now open any page in a popular magazine and see that the celebs are wearing. Quite recently it was girly dresses with tiny puffed sleeves. Any one of them could have been styled on that dress I used to wear for the concert. (The main, if not only, difference being bosom exposure.) Open another magazine and you may well see baby doll dresses that look like the sleepwear I designed so many years ago when Lolita was all the rage.
The expression, ‘been there, done it, got the T shirt’ could never be more apt as far as fashion goes. For some women, T shirts — embroidered, sequined, printed, or plain and simple have almost replaced blouses, and the longer ones, dresses. Is it just fashion or a reluctance to use an iron?
I recall when I was designing in the late 50’s, we had some special expensive fabric to try out. To keep costs down we were encouraged to create slim fitting designs. The fabric, being beautifully patterned, required no extra adornments. I styled a perfectly plain dress — pencil line with split skirt. I added a square piece of fabric folded into a small shawl, which fastened in front. Simple, slick and ‘with it’. After gaining approval from the bosses, we had a little fun when returning to my room. I pulled a hat flat down over our model’s head to look like a cloche and we did a laughing interpretation of a pre-war flappers’ dance.
Nothing is new. Anyone can wear anything, all you need is confidence. If a celeb wore a flour sack deliberately splashed with paint, and fastened a wide leather belt at whatever she regards as her waist, the fashion world would go nuts — Gina Wotsername photographed in posh restaurant wearing a sack. Now everyone wants one with that special paint splashing. Wow, now Gina has her own fashion label. Years ago many of these magazines did not exist, neither did TV, but more people went to the pictures (as we called the cinema).
When I was working freelance, one of the firms took on a designer who was the wife of a well known film director. I think she might have been an actress too. The firm contracted to buy a certain number of her designs. She visited the firm to get the samples made just like I did. She was useless and had little idea how to cut a pattern. Since she was in when I was not there, she worked in my office and used my patterns when she could get hold of them (my sample hand started hiding my made-up designs and their patterns when possible). But, evidently, what she designed from them could not have been up to much, as I was told that this minor celebrity had cost the firm a lot of money. Goodness knows what she was paid but she stayed in a city hotel while she was doing the work.
But then, the sort of designs I was doing at art school in late 1948 (see pictures) would have been useless for the firms I worked for after leaving. It was more a case of turning impractical designs into ones that would be acceptable for the garment market. Clothes were not just thrown out in those days, they had to last.
More next time…

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