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Apprenticed as a woman’s bespoke tailor and …tired

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me-with-lilac-blouse

Hi there… remember me? It’s been forever since I last posted.

I have been struggling to write the last few months. I worked so long on the same project, Marie Jokerette’s dress, that after a while, I couldn’t convince myself that anyone would be interested in continuing to hear about the same project.

So even though I kept taking pictures and even started a few articles, I never finished them. I don’t know if anybody was following the project and reading the – admittedly – long, over-detailed and complicated posts I was writing. Or if anybody wants to see like 10 posts on the same project. Please tell what you think.

***

In other news, I started an apprenticeship here in Germany as a women’s bespoke tailor this September. This is a unique opportunity – and something I’ve been avoiding for 6 years.

You see, here in Germany,  tailoring (and many other technical/artisan jobs) are taught in a three-year program of apprenticeship to a tailor. This is supplemented by classes in design and the technical intricacies of fabric, fibers, patternmaking, etc. Not anyone can call themselves a tailor, or costume designer, or stitcher – they need to complete the apprenticeship and pass exams to be certified.

unikat_shop
The shop where I’m apprenticing.

I waffled for a long time before going for the apprenticeship because I already have training through my theatre degree and years of experience in theatre costume shops in the US.  As I saw it in my early twenties, doing a 3-year apprenticeship seemed like wasting years of my life.

However, I’ve logged years of working in service jobs since then, so now I see things differently. Spending a couple years in an apprenticeship to do what I love doesn’t seem like too long. Nevertheless, it is stressful to trade in my steady paycheck for a stipend that is a fraction of what even a minimum-wage job pays *le sigh*.

And because open apprenticeship positions are few and far between nowadays, I’ve got a two-hour commute, each direction, using public transport. So I’ve been spending 70 hours a week commuting and working, a grueling schedule, powered mostly by instant coffee, that has eaten all of my free time. There is an end in sight – I’m working towards getting a German driver’s license by the end of 2016. Then I will have only an hour commute in each direction.

But enough complaining. I’ve been in the apprenticeship for 2 months and I’m trying to learn as much as I can. And I’m finding that it has a different emphasis than my theater training. For one thing, the apprenticeship is focused on very traditional sewn details. To start with, I’ve been practicing hand-sewn buttonholes, bound buttonholes, arrowhead tacks – all new to me, since these time-consuming techniques wouldn’t even be visible to an audience when the actor was on-stage. (At an opera I worked at, our mantra was “”50 feet and an orchestra pit” whenever we got caught up in miniscule details.)

handmade-buttonholes-arrowhead-tacks
Some of my practice pieces: hand-worked buttonholes, arrowhead tacks, bound buttonholes.

On the other hand, the tailor I’m apprenticed for is very detail-oriented. None of the pockets in this picture are up to snuff, for instance:

(Which is not a complaint. I’m here to learn. Otherwise, what would be the point?)

double-welt-pockets
Welt pockets, with and without pocket flaps.

 

welt-pockets-closeup
The dark pocket with the curved flap is my favorite. The striped one took forever – and the stripes still aren’t quite lined up!

 

The apprenticeship is focused around making classic garments: blouses, skirts, blazers. I’ve made two blouses so far. My first one was striped with contrasting ruched details.

 

The tailor chose the fabric and the design (it’s hers to wear now), though I designed the pocket myself.

lilac-blouse-pocket

 

lilac-blouse-front_full-copy

lilac-blouse-cuffs-copy
Cuff placket with hand-worked buttonhole.

 

lilac-blouse-collar
The buttonhole on the collar stand is worked from the inside since the collar is meant to be worn open
lilac-blouse-button-placket-copy
Bound buttonholes down the front placket.

lilac-blouse-back-view-copy

The second blouse I made was the same pattern in a bolder print. It has fewer extra embellishments, but I got to design the pocket on this one as well.

yellow-blouse-front_pocket

 

yellow-blouse-front_full

yellow-blouse-cuffs
Neat and tidy cuffs, if I do say so myself.

yellow-blouse-back

So that’s my life at the moment, at least until I get my driver’s license.  I’ve been slowly inching my way through a couple of my own projects on the side, and I’ll try to post about these sometime soon.

Comments
  • Meredith Newman

    Super awesome, Helen! As someone who spent 3 years in residency on a tiny stipend in order to do what she loves, I can promise you it is worth the investment! You won’t regret it! Great job!!!!

  • Bernice

    This sounds terrific! Thank you for sharing these details. I look forward to reading more…when you get the chance to post! Good luck and hang in there with that commute.

  • Meigan

    Wow, what a great opportunity and experience. I’d love to see more details as your apprenticeship continues.

  • Holly Brown

    Hello! I recently began following you, lured here by the Jokerette thingy. I don’t know for everyone else, but I follow a lot of seamstresses for different reasons and ten detailed posts about different bits of a garment sound very interesting to me. Being a usabound sewist myself, the apprenticeship sounds fascinating as well!!
    Personally, I say, write what you want! People will read or not, as they so choose but your opinion matters most.

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