I was first struck by Barbara's skill, wit, tenacity and talent many years ago when I interviewed her for a story about her then home-based custom clothing designs.
I reconnected with Barbara about eight months ago when she designed and created a beautiful raw silk pants suit for me to wear to my son's June wedding in the Czech Republic.
Barbara was born in England. She attended the University of California at Santa Barbara where she majored in art.
She moved to Redding in 1980 and received a Dressmaking and Alterations certificate from Shasta College. That led to the start of her home-based business, Barbara Stone Dressmaking, while she worked weekends at the Redding Museum of Art & History.
She expanded her fashion-design knowledge through classes and workshops all over the country, including an intensive pattern-making workshop on pants and sleeves in San Francisco from a woman certified by the Chambre Sindicale in Paris, as well as training with various American designers and garment-industry experts through her membership with the Professional Association of Custom Clothiers. Barbara says experience has been her best teacher, which includes work for Shasta College's costume department, and for such north state shops as Sunflower, The Men’s Wearhouse and various small manufacturers that specialize in clothing.
She is trained in men's and women's alterations; and clothing design, pattern-making and clothing construction for women. Barbara refers to herself as a dressmaker and alterationist.
To submit questions to Barbara for her future Q&A columns, e-mail her at [email protected]
Q: I've always wondered: What exactly is a dressmaker and what is the difference between a dressmaker and a tailor? Nancy G., Fall River Mills
A: Historically, a dressmaker made gowns for the upper classes when you couldn't just buy a gown in a store. A tailor, on the other hand, was a man who made suits and shirts for well-to-do males. The work was rather "cut" and dry, so to speak; women sewed for women and men sewed for men. In the last century, however, as women started wearing suits and pants, dressmakers drifted into the men's arena, as we have in so many occupations. Many of the same techniques used for sewing gowns are used in making suits.
Now, a tailor is someone who works on men's suits (either from scratch or by altering it) and can be a man or a woman. Dressmakers work on all types of women's clothing. Both are professionals and usually have years of training before going into business.
Q: I've sewn for many years, but it was just my kids' Halloween costumes, T-shirts, and that sort of thing. Now I would like to try something more daring, like a jacket. I found a simple pattern (kind of a boxy style) and a nice heavy cotton in an ethnic print. I'm having trouble deciding which interfacing to use. Any tips? Sharon H., Redding
A: I understand your dilemma, Sharon, because there are so many choices: fusible or non-fusible; woven or non-woven; featherweight to heavyweight; white, off-white, black and many shades in between!
Let's talk first about the purpose of interfacing. It is usually lighter weight than your fashion fabric and it lends strength and durability to certain areas of your garment. The most common uses are in the collar and facings. It gives body to the collar and reinforces the front facings for buttons and buttonholes.
That said, for an ethnic-type garment, you may not want to use any interfacing at all! Many garments from Mexico, Guatemala, Africa, and Indonesia, have very simple construction with no interfacing. They may use a simple cotton muslin or broadcloth to reinforce buttonholes and the front facings. And I've seen many garments heavily stitched, either decoratively or with standard topstitching, and that effectively reinforces the fabric.
If you decide to use interfacing, the best way to choose is to take your fabric to the fabric store and sandwich the interfacing between two layers and see how it feels to you. Is it crisp or is it soft and drape-y? Which one will work with the style of your garment? Also, hold it up to the light. Can you see the interfacing? If your cloth is white, you may want to use an off-white interfacing which will usually blend better. I suggest using sew-in interfacing for your first project. Hand stitching will give you more flexibility and I just like hand-tailoring! If you want to experiment with fusible, make sure your iron is the proper temperature and keep the heat on long enough to get a good fuse. This is especially important if you plan to machine wash your garment. Non-woven may be good for a beginner because you won't have to deal with fraying.
Q: I'm getting married in June of next year and I have found the perfect gown but it needs some alterations. How do I find a good alterationist and how soon should I make my appointment? Karen S., Redding
A: Congratulations on your upcoming wedding and on finding your dress. Shopping for the perfect gown can the single-most stressful part of the wedding. Finding a reliable alterationist can be stressful too. I would start with the phone book. All professional tailors and dressmakers advertise. Look under Alterations and also the Wedding and Bridal headings. The ads will usually say how long they have been in business and where they are located. Although I have customers come to me from all over the North State, it would be more convenient for fittings if you find someone close by. Then call some of them and ask a few basic questions. Do they work on wedding gowns; not all alterationists do. Ask how long they have been in business. You can also ask them when they prefer you to make the appointment for the first fitting. Talking with them will give you a sense of how you will work together. You want someone with whom you feel comfortable asking questions and sharing personal information about your body and fit needs.