An Epic Road Trip and Meeting Susan Khalje!

Okay, despite the title, there was only one thing truly epic about my road trip to Maryland, and that was meeting haute couture sewing expert and master teacher Susan Khalje!

When I contacted Susan, she graciously invited me to visit her studio, north of Baltimore, where her popular haute couture sewing classes are held. I wanted to hear about her recently-launched online video series, which includes “The Cocktail Dress” course (now available), and a number of other courses in the pipeline. (Find details here on SusanKhalje.com)

Susan has given me access to the Cocktail Dress course for review, and I’m very eager to have a look. Here’s the pretty pattern that goes with the course (which comes in a range of sizes, up to a 50″ bust):

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Susan even gave me a sneak peek at the French jacket pattern she’s currently tweaking, which will be released in conjunction with her highly-anticipated “French Couture Jacket” online course:

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Between you and me, I think it will be the go-to pattern for a lot of sewing enthusiasts, so if making a Chanel-style jacket is on your bucket list, you may want to hold off until that course launches in the fall.

Susan and I talked about the sleeve alone for about 20 minutes, during which I learned its little secret… (Shhh…I’ve taken a vow of silence on that subject until the course is launched.)

Susan very nicely allowed me to interview her for a whopping two hours, giving me enough material for about 10 articles. So in the coming weeks I’ll be going over my notes and writing an article to be featured on Bernina USA’s website WeAllSew.com. (For details about the collaboration between Bernina USA and JetSetSewing.com, please click the “Bernina Collaboration” tab at the top of this post.)

I’ll let you know when that post goes up. Many thanks to Susan Khalje for taking the time to meet up with me!

While I was on the road, I decided to join Instagram, and discovered that most of you sewing peeps were already having a party there without me! So I’ve started daily posts featuring my favorite vintage patterns, using the hashtag #patterndujour.

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You can find me on Instagram under the name “jetsetsewing.” Let me know if you’re a reader, and I’ll be happy to follow you!

Though I was torn away from my dear Bernina 560, “Karl,” for a week, sewing was still on my mind, so I visited G Street fabrics in Rockville, Maryland, which is right outside of Washington, DC.

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I’ll admit that I’m a little spoiled having shopped for fabrics in L.A. and Paris this year, but I did find a few fun things among the fabrics rolls.

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I really liked this selection of vintage-style oilcloth yardage, but just couldn’t get in the mood to make a tablecloth.

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They do have a nice selection of fabrics for both basic garment sewing and high-end dress-making, as well as some quality suit fabrics and designer fabrics, like this brocade from Anna Sui.

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While I was there, I picked up supplies for my next project, which is to make a Claire McCardell dress and bolero jacket from this 50s Spadea pattern.

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This style of Grecian-inspired design, with long adjustable strings cinching the waist, is a recurring theme in McCardell’s collections, and in fact there’s a black rayon version in the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute collection.

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(Claire McCardell Dress in the Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute’s Collection)

Though this style may look familiar now, the dart-free, adjustable-waist concept pioneered by McCardell was radical in its time.

I’ve written in the past about how the Spadea pattern company took existing garments that were being sold in stores, deconstructed them, and drafted patterns from the pieces. So by using this pattern, I should be able to create a clone of the dress in the Met. Here’s a brief history of the Spadea company, written by Lizzie of The Vintage Traveler blog: (Article about Spadea Patterns)

The pattern has a matching bolero, and in researching McCardell, I found this description of the outfit in an ad: “Evening Elegance: black crinkle-crepe sheath, red and black reversible jacket, $55.” Sounds great, huh? I’ve also seen modified versions of this dress in wool jersey, another McCardell signature.

So if all goes well, I’ll be putting together this dress from black merino jersey bought during my mad dash through The Fabric Store in L.A., (L.A. Fabric Stores), and lining the bolero with the red wool jersey I just bought at G Street Fabrics.

And the dress will be worn by…my sister?!?! No fair!

Well, here’s what we’re cooking up.

I’ve mentioned before that my sister, Janet Eilber, is the artistic director of the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance, AKA The Martha Graham Dance Company. You can peruse Janet’s impressive bio here.

Like McCardell, Martha Graham knew her way around a length of jersey, and one of her most famous dances, Lamentation, is danced entirely inside a jersey tube. Graham used the fabric to give the feeling of “stretching in your own skin” from grief. Janet also told me that Martha designed many of her own costumes, via draping.

I’ve always thought that Claire McCardell’s designs, which use a recurring set of pared-down “American Look” elements, have a lot in common with Martha Graham’s spare choreography, which uses a recurring language of movement to reveal the emotional core of the dances.

So, when my sis told me that she would be speaking at the upcoming DANCE & FASHION (!!) exhibit held by the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, and that she needed a dress to wear, I said “have I got a designer for you!”

Here’s a link that describes the exhibit in depth: (Dance & Fashion MFIT exhibit details) The exhibit will feature actual dance costumes as well as dance-inspired designer gowns and streetwear. It sounds fantastic, so I’ll definitely be there!

The exhibit opens at The Museum at FIT on Monday, September 12th, 2014, and runs through January 3rd, 2015. On Tuesday, October 28th, dancers from the Martha Graham Company will be performing Graham’s works “Lamentation” and “Spectre-1914,” to be followed by a panel discussion including Janet, designer Doo-Ri Chung, and Melissa Marra of MFIT.

So we’re going to find out if this ingeniously simple design can be easily adjusted to fit a variety of figures, which was McCardell’s intention. I’ll be making up the dress here, then sending it to my string-bean sister to see if we can fit it via photos and sister mental telepathy. (Or possibly via Skype, as my blogging pal CarmencitaB does with some of her clients in France.)

If the whole thing’s a bust, I have some original McCardell dresses in my collection that I just might be willing to loan to my sister. Considering how many times I raided her closet as a teen, it seems only fair.

Speaking of L.A., the West Coast branch of Mood Fabrics has just reopened, after sustaining earthquake damage in the spring. I’m glad they had the opportunity to work on their roof, as the day I was there (during an early March deluge) there were garbage cans everywhere to catch the raindrops dribbling in from the old skylights.

Phew, that’s it for me! How’s your sewing going?

22 thoughts on “An Epic Road Trip and Meeting Susan Khalje!

  1. Wow, lots of information here! Thanks for the links to Lizzie’s posts about Spadea. I am now a convert and am trying to find some patterns in my size. And next time you’re in LA, please let me know!

    • I guess I was experiencing a little blogging back-up! It’s true about those Spadea patterns. Though many of the designers are obscure now, they were a big deal back then. It’s getting harder and harder to find the rare 50s-60s patterns, and some are going for hundreds of dollars (like the Ceil Chapmans).
      I’ll definitely let you know when I get out your way!

  2. I would like to thank you for the shout out, in a post Suzan herself might read no less. Blush blush! Though I have no desire to make a Chanel jacket, I do want the dibs ont the sleeves and will be following closely.

    • Well, I think fitting via Skype is a brilliant idea, Carmen! The sleeve really is a feat of engineering, and it’s quite authentic. I can’t wait to see the finished pattern.

  3. Enuf already! At 11:00 AM am still in PJ’s and clicking thru all your links. Your blog is addictive!
    Hope I have enough will power to finish during Happy Hour on patio.

  4. How exciting that you are auditioning to be a couturier to such a celebrated artiste! Your sister is gorgeous, and I love the jacket she is wearing in her bio picture. The dress is a work of art, I can’t wait to see it.

    I am wondering what the differences are between Susan’s sleeves and Claire’s sleeves. Although I’d love to make another jacket, I really don’t need one. I am curious, though.

    • Hi Susie! We’ll see how the McCardell pattern goes, but it looks authentic, and has some interesting vintage techniques in the instructions.
      I only had a quick peek at Susan’s pattern, so I don’t feel qualified to compare the patterns without seeing them side-by-side. There are some design differences, though, so it may be worth the wait to decide for yourself.

  5. You have the Claire McCardell Spadea pattern?! (Before I read that, the purpose of this comment was to tell you to totally feel free to drop me an email if you’re ever around these parts again, as I’d love to grab coffee. Your Karl and my Demeter are the same make and model. Actually, my purpose of popping over was seeing your 2.55, then Susan Khalje distracted me, as she is wont to do.) I saw it on eBay a few weeks ago, and almost took the plunge, but chickened out. Jealous, here. Okay, onward to look at your (assuredly fabulous) bag.

    • Charlotte, you’re awesome, so I’ll definitely look you up next time I’m in your area. You do know I made the 2.55 bag from a vintage Vogue pattern, right? I’d like to make a Tyvek Birkin from the same pattern at some point in the future. I wish you well with your studies, and hope you and your college friends are slacking off as much as many of the boomer readers of my blog did. Because basically all we can remember is what we did when we were hanging out.

  6. I always get a kick out of reading your posts, it’s the next best thing to being with you. I’m wondering if you would be able to give me some advice regarding my upcoming trip to NYC. I’m planning a visits at the end of August through Labour Day, but unfortunately the Charles James exhibit will have gone from NYC by the time I get there. I’m so upset that I’m missing out on that wonderful show, but I’m planning on visiting the gift shop to pick up what I can re: Mr. James. Would you be able to suggest some other clothing exhibit to visit while I’m visiting?

    Thank you,
    Betty

    • Hi Betty, I’m glad you’re enjoying my posts! Too bad you’re going to be missing the Charles James exhibit; it doesn’t seem like it had a long enough run.
      I don’t live in NYC these days, and when I visit, my cultural pilgrimage is usually to Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdales.
      However, I was looking at this cultural listing: http://www.nycgo.com/fashioncalendar, and saw that there is a History of Lingerie exhibit at the Museum at FIT that looks like fun. They have a great garment collection in their archive. Also, Susan Khalje told me that her favorite fabric store in NYC is Mendel Goldberg on the lower east side, and here’s a New York Times article about them: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/13/nyregion/13joint.html?_r=0 They sound pricey, but worth it.
      New York area readers, any suggestions?
      When I lived in the city, I used to love being there on Labor Day weekend, because everyone would leave, and you’d have the place to yourself. Have a great time!

      • Thank you for the suggestions. I think that I’ll visit both the museum and the fabric store. With any luck I’ll find some material to buy and take back with me. I can’t wait to visit NYC.

      • I will. I just read the article and can’t wait to visit the shop. Thanks again for the recommendation.

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