Thread Theory

Welcome to the new era of menswear sewing. Go ahead and create something exceptional!


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The Newcastle Cardigan Pattern has been Drafted!

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Great news!  Early yesterday Sabine of Suncoast Custom emailed me to announce that she had finished drafting the medium size of the Newcastle Cardigan.  It was ready for me to mock up to approve the fit before she grades it to all the sizes!  We met at my school (The Pacific Design Academy) because she had an appointment there regarding an evening patternmaking course that she will soon be teaching and she handed over the big white roll of paper that represents the beginning of the Parkland Collection.

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This morning I got right to it and cut out the pieces from 1.5m of a 150cm wide olive knit called Oslo Plain (85% Acrylic, 15% wool).  I bought it from Gordon Fabrics Ltd. in Vancouver as a good mock up material because, as far as knits go, I thought it was pretty cheap, a medium weight, and had a medium amount of stretch.  After completing the sample though, I think the cardigan will look better in a heavier weight and maybe in something with a little more stretch to it.

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I sewed up the sample and made notes on the process which will eventually become the instructions.  I concentrated on accuracy of seam allowances and simply serged all the raw edges for now because for the first mock up, I am mostly just examining the fit and style.

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The arms and shoulders fit Matt very well which is good because he has medium sized shoulders but the body was quite snug.  Matt has a size small body so, seeing as the mock up was supposed to be a medium fit, the width of the garment will have to be increased quite a bit.  I’ve let Sabine know the fit adjustments I would like and next time I mock the garment up I’ll test it out on as many size medium men as I can get my hands on 😛

full front

full back

Before sewing the next sample I’ll be brainstorming different finishing techniques to use – should I add stabilizing elastic at the shoulders?  Should the collar be interfaced?  Should the main seams be french or maybe flat felled seams?  All those answers are still to come but for now, I’m really happy with the appearance of the cardigan.

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For this sample, I haven’t added the button placket as Sabine, my patternmaker, chose to include a full width body piece which could be cut narrower to make room for the placket.  I think I’ll continue to use the placket I designed though because it will provide options for stitching the facing firmly in place so it doesn’t flap around (which, I’m sure you can agree, is the most annoying thing for a facing to do!)

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Next step – finalizing the pattern, writing the instructions and sending it out to pattern testers (for free!) – anyone interested?  Leave a comment or email me at mmmeredith@hotmail.ca.


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How to Teach Yourself Fashion Photography

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Using the instructions below, this is our result! Pretty nice, no?

This post is a winner I think – Matt (my husband) and I worked really hard to compile a beginner’s guide to teaching yourself fashion photography.

Nothing is more satisfying than finishing a big sewing project and displaying it for all the world to see in a format that you’re proud of.  By following these steps, we hope that you will be able to take glamorous pictures that accurately represent the fabric and colours you chose and also be able to better understand your camera!

We have written this tutorial for people taking pictures with a camera on which you can manually adjust aperture, ISO and shutter speed.  Even if your camera doesn’t allow you to do these things, we think there are still some good tips and great inspiration in here, so read on!

Step 1 – Research:

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Matt – engaging in research and snacks.

Find fashion photography resources so that you have them at your fingertips the moment you need them: websites, blogs, forums, mentors, books.

Step 2 – Inspiration:

Go to a gallery, scroll through your favorite photography websites, watch a photography documentary…whatever your style is, simply:

  • Find existing fashion photography that you like.
  • Make a list of what you like about each photo.
  • Keep list in mind during next step.

Matt took these steps and found the following images which he discusses below:

Photo #1:

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(Photo credit: Aleksandra)

What Matt Likes:

  • Depth of Field (Aperture): Depth of field is perfect; just deep enough to get the entire subject in focus whilst keeping an amazing bokeh (bokeh is the soft blurring of everything that isn’t in focus)
  • Framing:  There is no background distraction; the background is all the same color/shape and there is not a whole lot on either side of the model
  • Post Processing: The colours are stunning and contrast very well. The post processing is tastefully done, accentuating the shadows and colors but not ruining the realism of the image.

Brainstorming how to create this look:

  • Depth of field: Use a depth of field calculator!  Matt says, “The goal is to get about 4 feet of depth to be in focus and have the background be blurred.  I estimate the lens used to be around 100mm (short telephoto) based on the small amount of background around the subject. This puts the photographer around 30-40 feet away from the subject in order to get her whole body in the frame. Putting that information into the calculator, we end up with a aperture of f-2.8 giving a depth of field of 4.38 feet (close enough!). During the shoot, always try a few f-stops above and below to test out the results, especially if you’re using a digital camera.”

Here is what this information would look like entered into the depth of field calculator (click to read the fine print!):

DOF in use

  • Setting: This photo is taken on a sunny day in a shady spot – often the ideal situation for getting an even exposure without any harsh shadows. Matt points out, “The other option to avoid shadows is shooting an hour after dawn or an hour before dusk, but you will often have to slow your shutter speed down as there isn’t as much light at that time.”
  • Post Production: Matt says, to emulate this image, “I would definitely add a fair amount of vibrancy, contrast, and a little bit of saturation (not too much as this can make your photo look “painted”).”

Photo #2:

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(Photo credit: Eugene Vernier)

What Matt Likes:

  • The Pose: The simple profile pose with slightly tipped hat highlights the vertical stripes of the outfit and allows the thin scarf on the hat to catch the wind and sunlight to emphasize how gauzy and delicate it is.
  • Low Contrast: Even though the photo is depicting a hot summer day by the water the model isn’t hidden in harsh shadows and the water doesn’t sparkle too much.
  • Setting: Simple but it matches the style of the outfit.
  • Film: As Matt says, “Black and white FTW!”

Brainstorming how to create this look:

  • Depth of Field and Exposure: This photo has a deeper depth of field than the previous example but removes the background by adjusting the exposure; the sky is so washed out that it fades into the hills on the far shore. The only interest in the background are the boats and they are carefully framed around the model so as not to distract.
  • Settings: Matt says, “I would estimate the lens to be around a 55mm (maybe a bit longer) and the aperture to be around f-11 and the subject to be about 15 feet away from the camera. According the the DOF calculator, this would give us a depth of field of ~12 feet – pretty close to my estimate!”
  • Post Processing: Because the photo was taken in broad sunlight, there are some strong shadows present. The post production work (in this case, film processing) would be used to lower the contrast to avoid washing out the models body or having her face entirely hidden in dark shadows.  This could be quite tricky…
  • Framing: The pose, like the last photograph, is quite simple, framing the model in the centre of the image. Matt notes, “An interesting commonality between the last two sample photos is that they are both framed for the clothing, not the model. If you look at where the red dress is relative to the top and bottom of the frame,  you’ll notice the striped dress in Vernier’s photo uses about the same space. The model’s legs are cut off, but it doesn’t matter because the clothes are what’s important here!”

Photo #3:

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(Photo credit: Nigel Hamid of Toronto Verve)

What Matt Likes:

  • The exposure: Black satin properly exposed so you can see the details!
  • Setting: Neat background – lots of detail but the bokeh prevents the cityscape from overwhelming the fashion mode.  Awesome perspective.
  • Pose/Framing: Simple pose with the subject looking into the “negative” space so that the subject first catches the eye and then the viewer looks at the rest of the picture in the direction that the subject is looking.
  • Colours: Contrast of colours; subject and foreground are black, background is very colorful.

Brainstorming how to create this look:

  • Lighting: To get the detail in the black velvet without completely overexposing the background, a flash (or reflector) would most likely be used to shine extra light on the model. If you don’t have a flash and can’t afford one, buy a big piece of white poster-board to use a reflector.
  • Lens: This shot probably uses a slightly wider lens than the previous two (likely somewhere between a 35-55). This puts the photographer closer to the subject while still getting material in the background.
  • Depth of Field: Matt notes, “The depth of field in this photograph isn’t super important; the model is in the foreground (with nothing in front of her) and the background is all very far away. Even with the wider angle lens and f-11, the background will be slightly blurry. However, if you wanted just the colours and less detail, open the aperture up to f-5.6 or lower and get some bokeh!”
  • Post Processing: Post processing in the photo is very minimal. The photographer seemed to be going for the “as close to reality as possible” look. A bit of contrast, saturation, and sharpness make it look similar to real life, but with a tiny bit of “pop” without being too exaggerated.

Step 3 – Action:

Once you’ve gathered information, analyzed photography you loved, and sewn a garment that deserves a photo shoot, it’s time for action!

  • Find photo shoot location, model, and garments.
  • Plan out time of day and equipment needed.
  • Take photos.
  • Setting/Styling: I had sewn two shirts for my sister’s boyfriend, Jeremy using McCall’s  shirt pattern M6044.  We chose to photograph the shirts at the university setting that he wears them and Jeremy dressed as he would for an interview or meeting within his business department at the University of Victoria.  We wanted him to be comfortable for his first photo shoot so we didn’t go crazy with styling a used only minimal props.  (I had visions of fabulously layered outfits with a battered leather briefcase and bowler hat as props but for a start, I think simple is more fool-hardy).
  • Time of Day: We shot an hour before dusk to reduce the risk of harsh shadows and catch the “sweet spot” for lighting.  In the end we struggled a little with lack of lighting and so our location was limited to the least shadowed areas of the school grounds.
  • Equipment: Pentax K100D – a basic digital SLR (has removable lenses).  Matt chose his SMC Pentax DA – this is a telephoto lens that ranges from 55-300 mm so it provides a variety of shooting options.  Out of Matt’s selection, this lens was the best choice for fashion photography because, after analyzing the inspiration images we realized it would be best to have a long focal length (85-200 mm)

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Examples of What NOT to do:

  • Shoot with model very close to the background.  While framing is nice due to lens choice, little bokeh results so all the detail in the image distracts from the shirt.

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  • Shoot close to the model using a wide angle lense (50 mm).  First of all, the model tends to stiffen due to the invasive nature of the large lens in their face and even more importantly, the resulting image looks like a snap shot – no bokeh, too much background around the model and distortion around the edges of the image.

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Step 4 – Polish:

Post process and publish!  Matt turns all automatic adjustments off within his camera so that he can edit the colour, contrast, and saturation of his photos himself to result the most realistic but also eye-catching image as possible.

  • In a program such as Lightroom, Photoshop, or Gimp, adjust settings such as contrast, saturation and colour balance very minutely until the image accurately represents what your eye saw during the photo shoot.  Matt urges newer photographers to refrain from cropping or otherwise drastically altering an image because the best way to learn fashion photography is to practice until the photo is successful without any editing!

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Negroni!

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I finished Colette Pattern’s Negroni men’s button up shirt!  Here is my husband looking dashing in it:

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And a view on the hanger before I added buttons:

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Colette Pattern instructions were wonderful, leading me through each detail step-by-step complete with many more illustrations then you would expect from one of the big pattern companies.  Nifty finishing steps were included such as sturdy flat-felled seams and a tricky but well explained lined yoke.

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The first few times my husband tried the shirt on in the early stages of the sewing process, we were both a little worried about how well the convertible collar would sit and how fitted the body of the shirt would be.  The facings added a lot more bulk than I was accustomed to along the centre front and caused the collar and neck area to ripple a little bit instead of sitting crisply.  I continued sewing along, trusting the quality of Colette instructions and was not at all dissapointed.  I added  topstitching at centre front just to make sure the facing wouldn’t peek out.  Once on, the shirt looks great, it is a fairly slim fit and the grosgrain, button holes and topstitching secure the facing completely in place.

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In addition to the pattern’s features I added shoulder details, contrasting yoke and cuffs, a grosgrain ribbon underneath the buttons, and contrast thread when sewing the buttons on.  Below is a little photo tutorial for my shoulder and ribbon additions in case you are curious how I added these details!

Shoulder Detail:

To create the shoulder detail shape, create a tissue pattern piece to use when cutting out all other included pieces.

To do this, trace the front shirt piece (Piece A) on tissue paper.  Trace along the neckline, shoulder and arm hole and across from the arm hole to the shoulder to create a style line (account for 3/8 seam allowance on the style line where you will fold later to hide raw edges).  Cut out this pattern piece in either self or contrasting fabric to create a shoulder detail that fits perfectly on top of the existing Piece A as shown below:

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Fold style line under and press:

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Topstitch shoulder detail to shirt front, keeping within the seam allowances on shoulder, neck and arm edges.  Edgestitch along style line:

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Sew up the rest of the shirt as directed resulting in a subtle shoulder detail like this!:

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Grosgrain Ribbon:

For this detail, you will need a metre of 1/4″ wide grosgrain ribbon in the colour of your choice:

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I added the ribbon just before hemming because I wasn’t sure, when completing the collar earlier on in the sewing process, if  I actually wanted to add a ribbon.  You could either add your ribbon before attaching the collar so that the top end of the ribbon is enclosed on the neck seam or you could add it before hemming as I did if you’d prefer to see how it would look on a more completed shirt.

Line up the grosgrain ribbon along the button placement markings on the right side of the shirt (the right side when you are wearing it, the left side when you have it face up on the table in front of you…this is always confusing!):

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Fold under the top edge of the grosgrain ribbon and stitch around all edges of the ribbon through both the shirt front and the facing layers.  Make sure that the sides of the tucked in ribbon end are enclosed by your stitching.  At the hem, simply snip off any extra ribbon so the ribbon end is in line with the hem seam allowance:

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Continue sewing as per the Colette instructions.  When you go to sew your buttons on, place them directly on top of the grosgrain ribbon.

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And last but not least, now that my triumphs have been thoroughly documented, here’s a very sad “oops”…I snipped through the shirt front when trimming seam allowances!

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Negroni Progress and Pattern Company News

I’ve been working away at Colette Pattern’s Negroni men’s shirt today as mentioned in this previous blog post and it’s going well.  I’m taking pictures as I go so there will be a tutorial added once I have finished – it will explain how to add shoulder patch details, and add details such as buttons with contrast thread, a grosgrain ribbon under the buttons, decorative top-stitching, and contrast cuffs .  Here are a few sneak peek photos of my progress so far:

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Isn’t that such a lovely green?  I’ve chosen to use a Kona cotton because my husband tends to skip ironing pretty regularly and surprisingly enough, even when I offer to do it, he won’t let me iron  the old shirt I made for him out of quilting cotton because he likes the crinkled, casual look.  I wouldn’t agree with him on most shirts, but, for a casual with-jeans look, the heavier cotton actually looks pretty nice.  It gives an intentionally well-loved designer look to the shirt.  And anything that keeps us away from the ironing board is worth pursuing!

Lately I’ve been making good progress with Thread Theory menswear patterns.  After consulting often with my very helpful patternmaking instructor, I decided a month ago to hire a professional patternmaker for the Parkland Collection and then sew the samples and write/illustrate/photograph the instructions myself.  Kathleen Fasanella has written on the amazing site, Fashion Incubator, a great analogy that I agree with wholeheartedly.  She says that we don’t expect a restaurant owner to be the only cook  (or, I might add, to even be the cook!), why should independent pattern company owners expect to be able to successfully design garments, create patterns, write instructions and sell products?  Most independent pattern companies I have come across seem to operate in this way, but I think it is best, at least while I am starting up, to begin with a completely accurate and well drafted pattern based on my design so that I can fully concentrate on writing and illustrating clear instructions where I think my strengths lie .  This way, I hope the collection will be a dream to sew and the patterns will produce very satisfying results!

After a month of searching, I have found a great patternmaking company right here in Victoria, B.C. where I live!  My wonderfully supportive patternmaking instructor, Alex, owner of In House Patterns, ran across the company on Linked In.  I want Thread Theory Designs Inc. to use as many local services and connections as possible so I am thrilled to have found Sabine David of Suncoast Custom Patternmaking and Design Service.  She has been incredibly prompt at replying to all my questions so far and has agreed to make my designs.  I’m hoping to start with just the Newcastle Cardigan so that I can experience the whole process from drafting to fitting to receiving the digital pattern and then have the rest of the designs made.

The Newcastle Cardigan - hopefully the first completed pattern within the Parkland Collection!

The Newcastle Cardigan – hopefully the first completed pattern within the Parkland Collection!

I was beginning to worry after a month of contacting patternmaking companies to no avail but now that I have found a patternmaker, the June collection launch date is still looking very realistic!

If anyone has any hopes for the patterns or advice for a new company, here are some questions I would love to hear answers to!

– What menswear sewing patterns would you like to see and to sew?

– How do you prefer sewing instructions to be formatted: booklet or a single large sheet?

– What do you find easier to understand: photo or line drawing illustrations?  Or a combination of both?

Have a great weekend!