Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Design Process

How does an idea become a rack of clothes?
Follow along- I'm working on my 2010 Spring line right now, and you can see the process first-hand.

All Winter long many ideas pop into my head. Most make it onto paper. Some are ripped out of magazines and catalogs to remind me of a cool detail or interesting color combination. If I find a great piece of fabric, I cut a swatch and pin it to my wall along with all the other ideas, so it ends up looking something like this photo- an odd collage of images, nothing concrete. In the real fashion world, a designer's line for a particular season would begin years in advance, making it necessary for the designer to predict the trends. I'm lucky in that my work happens in the moment, though it would be nice if I had the self-discipline to have started this back in December. The other good thing about my work is that I don't start over each season with all new ideas. My "Line" contains over sixty designs from the last ten years, perfected to work together, or mix and match, allowing the client to build a wardrobe that works with itself. If I can add seven or eight new designs each year that I feel are timeless and classic, then I'm happy.

Last week I panicked a little when so many ideas swirled in my head I couldn't decide which to try first, or which had already been tried. So I channeled my Virgo side, took all the little things I'd been seeing in my head and sketched them quickly onto the backs of old business cards. Some were new items, some were changes I'd been wanting to make to old designs (always perfecting), and a couple were designs that came out of my "3-dresses in 3 days" challenge that weren't quite ready for the racks. Some even had variations- for example, one skirt had four different ways it could go. Then each card was assigned a letter- "Skirt A", "Pants F", and so on. When I pinned them up in a row, I was surprised to see 16 new things to try! Gulp! So I created a chart to document the work done on each design, knowing that each garment will have to go through four stages: Prototype, Pattern, Parade, and Promotion.

Prototype- From a sketch, I make the garment, usually in a size Small. The sketch may not have all the details, those are usually filled in as I make the pattern. (Side note: the pattern might be draped on a dressform with muslin, then transferred to paper, or drafted straight onto paper, then cut and sewn. For more about this process, scroll down to the 3-dress challenge from a couple months ago.) Here you can see a dress that morphed out of Dress #2 from the "3-dress" challenge. The challenge dress is nice, and will please several clients, but I kept looking at it and thinking- "This has one more incarnation before it's ready". You'll have to scroll down to the challenge to see its predecessor.

Pattern- If I like the prototype and feel ready to commit, the next investment of time is to take the Small pattern, make any changes noticed in the prototype, then draft all the other sizes. In most cases, this means I draft four patterns- Small, Medium, Large, and X-Large. If a design is not too fitted, I may take it up to a 2X for Plus-Size. This process of "scaling up" the design is called Grading, and usually takes 3 to 4 hours, depending on the design.

Parade- I just coined this term! I used to call it "1st Run", but now I'm going for alliteration. After a pattern is graded, we have to make one in every size to make sure the proportions translated correctly, and that they really fit the sizes they are marked as. I have 4 dressforms in the studio with measurements that fit my standard size chart. If the garments fit their respective dressform size correctly, I proceed to make another run or two, to have a variety of color choices on the rack. (I will post a picture of all four sizes when that's accomplished.)

Promotion- Once a new design is on the rack, I have to let people know about it. And what a wonderful world of options is out there for me now as opposed to when I started this 10 years ago! Here I sit blogging, hoping someone has found this interesting enough to check out my website or join my email list, or follow me on Facebook, and so on... This year I have chosen to take my line out to four larger cities in my vicinity- Dallas, St Louis, Little Rock and Kansas City. Each show is booked 3 weeks apart, which gives us very little time to re-load the racks and fill custom orders in between, much less what we do through the showroom in Eureka Springs! The Postcard you see here is for the first show- in St Louis on April 17, at the home of Mary Ann Kroeck and Laura Cohen at 4128 W. Pine Blvd, 12-4pm. Join us if you can! (Now THAT's promotion!)
The final bit of promotion is a slow process- updating my website to include all the new garments. They have to be photographed and described with text that my web designer can upload as I feed it to her. And with all the other jobs I do at this time, she waits patiently.

Thanks for reading this post- I hope you found it interesting. I'll try to add some additional postings as new items hit the racks or other things happen that I think you might like.


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  2. MARK!!!
    1. I love this new dress. It is beautiful. I remember reading somewhere that large color blocks arranged vertically are slimming, and I think esp. so with the black waistband.
    2. I also love the first dress though! Original #1 Butterfly. I know its not for everyone, but it is definitely for me, preggo or no. I really hope you still feel it is worthwhile to size it b/c that medium in the shop is too big.... I could totally model it like a pregnant movie star...gimme another month or two...and with that and the tent dress you could add a Maternity section to your website.