Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Behind the Design:

From time to time, I'm asked about how everything comes together here at FDS. Through my detailed tutorials, you are already familiar with the process for constructing a garment from point A to B. And, you already know where I look for inspiration. Today however, I decided to take a break from my usual posts to give you a "behind the scenes" look at my workspace. In the normal design process, a designer would put together a "moodboard" (collage of inspirational images), fabric board (swatches & colors), notebook with hundreds of sketches, before moving on to the "first model" or toile and ultimately the completed garment. But for most of us, this is a hobby. And since we aren't putting together "collections," my process is a simplified version of what happens in a design atelier.
My desk
Welcome to my work doll's space.

On my chest of drawers
My dresser drawers
My dolls "live" with me. I have no separate doll room. My collection (which is what this has become) started out with a handful of Barbie Basic dolls in little black dresses posed high atop my chest of drawers. But those girls sent for their family and friends and now the dolls have taken over the entire room! And yes, I know...You really shouldn't work where you sleep, but technically, it's not work. I'm "playing" with dolls!!!
My night stand. They wait for me to wake up and make them more clothes!
Ideas simply don't fall out of the sky. To design anything, you must open your eyes, look around you and be inspired. By now you know I rely on a plethora of catwalk shows, red carpet events, TV personalities, rock stars and even people on the street for ideas! Don't consider this copying. It's called research and is what every designer does! Even if it is your desire to create an exact replica of a designer garment, it will still be different because of the compromises you are forced make due to the constraints of the doll's properties and proportions. Moreover, most photos  show neither the back view nor the details, leaving much to the imagination. Don't shy away from more challenging looks. No matter the result, treat it as a learning experience. It's how you grow.

The Notebook
I keep a notebook. I use Pinterest as an online "scrapbook," where I collect catwalk photos, fabric swatches and accessories I like as well as craft techniques I'd like to try. I'm also "old school." I sketch out ideas for clothes and accessories and pin in samples of my textile experiments. The sketchbook is my personal reference tool for all things doll.

Waiting to be dressed next to the clothes rack!
 Tip: If you cannot draw, take a picture of your doll and print it out. Then use it as a template to draw your idea directly on the photo!

My Mannequins
Not all designs start out as a paper patterns. Once we get away from basic silhouettes and venture into "couture" looks, it's time to create the garment (or the pattern) directly on the doll. At first, I started out working directly on the doll, using her as a sort of "fit model." Over the years I've collected a few forms which more or less, double for the bodies of my dolls. You can find these "Barbie" forms on eBay or sometimes Amazon. (The FR form is more rare, more expensive and not out of sync with the latest bodies.) But the best form is the headless doll body if you can find one. Better than the dress form, the doll body has arms and legs and takes the guesswork out of how the final garment will look. Even when you work with a pattern, you can try it on the mannequin without disturbing your diva.

Style Analysis

I have always been amazed how the gurus of New York's fashion industry look at style through a super simplified prism then translate high end trends into a similar, more simple garments priced for the masses. In effect, I do the same thing when making designer clothes for my dolls..
I look at a photo, analyze it, then try to break the design down to the simplest construction. Most of today's fashions are already super simple. In fact, most things in stores today are based on the basic patterns featured on this blog! From season to season, it is simply a difference of fabric, color and details. But for catwalk creations, you'll need to look a little closer. What is ultimately the shape of foundation garment closest to the body? What elements are essential to the look? Describe the look in as few words as possible, then translate this into the look. In other words, don't sweat the details! For this black evening gown, I saw: short, straight, strapless dress (yellow diagram) with fabric roses added on, and a long full skirt (blue diagram) with front slit wrapped around the waist. Everything is in sheer fabric. (A pleated sheer is even better, but a simple chiffon is just fine!) I opted for satin ribbon straps (green diagram) instead of the existing leather truss.


For the design of the white dress, the silhouette is simple enough. What sets this dress apart is the fabric's change of direction. I opted to keep the back of the dress super simple--cut in one single piece. I used a worn out cotton sweat sock and a piece of men's long underwear. I liked the ragged edges of the original, but my material was cotton knit and wouldn't give me the edge I wanted. So I stitched a ripped strip of muslin onto each edge.
While I was analyzing the design (and before I started to cut), I took a sock and posed it against the mannequin to see if it would yield the look I was going for.

I began by making the back in a single piece. I traced this off onto paper, then cut it up like a jigsaw puzzle, added seam allowance to the top and bottom of each piece, then marked the change of direction directly on each piece. You'll need to number the pieces to remember, what goes where. When the front is stitched up, I pin then stitch it together at the side seams, leaving one shoulder seam free. (The dress is closed with hooks at the shoulder.) The bottom line---The essence or spirit of the look is more important than a line for line interpretation! Think similar fabric, similar silhouette, similar detailing. The doll is tiny. Accept you will have to sacrifice a few details. It's a question of eliminating bulk, avoiding delicate seams which may fray and pull apart. Less is always better on this scale. Avoid complication wherever possible.

Tip: When trying closely replicate a look, have the image in view as you work so that you can properly gauge proportions and compare your garment against the original .

Have the original image in view as you work.
Like the rest of you, I do try to anticipate my needs and buy fabric. If I don't have the fabric or the right color, I'll use something else, keeping in mind the properties of the material in the original garment. I do like to get creative with my fabric search. I like to use recycled fabric found in clothes I don't wear anymore. Nothing is off limits! Places like Salvation Army, garage sales or resale shops are good resources for scarves, men's neckties, vintage laces, trims or crocheted doilies. Pay attention to scale when it comes to prints or textures. Imagine that fabric six times thicker or six times larger, then think "How would that look on me? Would I wear a dress made from this?" For an alternative to evening fabrics, look in the trim department. Many stores today, insist on 1/2 yard (or 50cm) minimums. So unless you plan to make LOTS of silver sequin dresses, a 2"(45mm) sequin trim may be enough for your doll's needs.

Machine or Hand Stitch?
My sewing machine is in another room (the den). I use a machine for straight, long stitching. But often, I will hand stitch tiny pieces, complicated curves or difficult areas. A good backstitch (8-10 stitches per inch (22mm) is just as good as a machine. (See "Sew What" under Tutorials for description and photo of this stitch) In fact, until about 50 years ago, all Haute Couture garments were entirely hand stitched because it was believed this was contributed to a higher quality!)
Casting Call
Each doll has her own personality. Some are very girly, others can only wear edgy. Still, much to the chagrin of some's not because I have fitted a dress on a specific doll that she'll be photographed in it. After all....that's why there's a collection of dolls with different looks, skin tones, ethnicities and hair colors! Except for the red carpet shots where I chose a doll who looks similar to the celebrity, I will try the garment on several girls before deciding who wears it best.

Portable Photo Studio
Like most of you, I use a point and shoot camera. I like to work in natural light, never flash. Though I sometimes put the dolls in a diorama setting, I also like to Photoshop the backgrounds in. As such, I need a "seamless studio." To create the look of a "seamless" background with diffused lighting, I bought a white translucent plastic "storage" box with a piece of poster board, fabric or construction paper inside. The translucence disperses the light evenly through the top. The box (a 16 quart (15 liter container) can be carried around the house or grounds for optimum lighting. Need another color of background? Slide another color of poster board. If you must photograph at night, you can "bounce" light off an adjacent white board which will softly illuminate the subject inside of the box.

A little bit of writing (well maybe a lot) and.... Voila....a post is born!!!

Normally these girls are downstairs on the piano. But they came to my room and onto the far nightstand to escape the summer heat.

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  1. Ohhhh... Your room looks like the most beautiful dream for me! Amazing place... You are right that we shouldn't work there, where we sleep, and that this is some times technically impossible, but "playing" with dolls at work - this is the best work in the world! :-) You have beautiful collecion of dolls. You know, your room is really magical place for me :-)

    1. Thank you, Aya, for your kind and sweet words. To be honest...there was a time when I worked as a journalist, I had my computer on the table next to my bed. Each morning, as soon as I woke up, I was up and at work. I know that's bad, but it worked for me!

  2. *clap, clap, clap!* A wonderful and fascinating look at your workspace. Seeing people's spaces and thought processes is so interesting to me. Thanks so much for sharing this.

    1. "bow," "bow," "bow"....Thank you Muff.... I've been working like this for so long, I tend to take this for granted. Recently a few people have been curious as to how I work. So that prompted me dedicate a post to my "design" process. Glad to know you found this interesting.

  3. This was brilliant to read - I love seeing a peak behind the creative process, and seeing how people live with their dolls, so this post was perfect! :)

    1. Thank you, jSarie. This post allowed me to divulge a bit more insight into my workflow that wasn't possible with the "Liebster Awards." Glad you enjoyed this.

  4. I absolutely love this post! You are the closest I will ever get to going to design school myself. It's great to see how a real designer operates in the doll world. I'm always wanted (and plan to one day) to have a set of sketchbooks, so it was fascinating to see yours. Thanks for sharing the behind the scenes.

    1. Thank you, Vanessa. Very happy to oblige. You can start a sketchbook immediately, you know. Choose a size that's small enough to carry around with you or easily tuck into a handbag or drawer. Begin by treating it like a scrapbook. Cut things out you see you like and staple or glue them in. Add stuff whenever you see stuff you like or an idea pops into your head. Think of it as your "creative diary." Just don't be intimidated by the blank page!

    2. Thanks. I think that is great advice. I have a large sketchbook, but it's just way too large to carry around, so it rarely gets used. Consider it done.

  5. I love your little niche with the desk and drawers for everything! I used to have dolls all over house, but the addition of a cat made me confine them to shelves lined with scotch tape and hide my supplies in places where I can't just bring them together quick when I feel inspired (she opens drawers and sleeps in them). Do you have pets?

  6. BlackKitty, I can totally understand why your dolls are no longer out all over the house. I don't have any pets so I can do this. But many years ago I had a cat and I know what cats are capable of....especially those moments when they are not happy and want you to know it. If I ever saw one of my dolls in the jaws of a pet..... this would be tragic!!!! (I go crazy whenever a fly gets into the house and lands on a doll!)

  7. This was just like being there with you! My dolls and sewing nook are in my bedroom and is funny how they encourage you to create. I love your portable studio that is such a great ideal. Thanks for sharing and of course the inspiration to create eloquent designs.

    1. I totally agree with you, Brini. Fashion has always been a part of my life, so waking up to my favorite little divas is eye candy every morning. My lifestyle has drastically changed, so I don't need all these clothes anymore for myself. But I can still "stay in the mix" through my dolls. So everything I see that I'd like to wear, I stop and think, "hmmmm...How can I make that in 1/6 scale!!!"

    2. I call it living all my fashion fantasies through dolls! :) I absolutely LOVED this article! As I always enjoy em!

    3. Yeah, me too. At this point...I'm living my fashion fantasies through my dolls as well!!! Thank you.

  8. Jestem bardzo wdzięczna, że pozwoliłaś nam wejść do swojej pracowni! To niezwykłe i bardzo ciekawe miejsce! Ja też lubię, kiedy moje lalki są obok mnie. Inspirują mnie do tworzenia nowych ubrań! Uśmiechają się i czekają, kiedy zacznę coś dla nich robić. Bawi mnie to ogromnie!
    Bardzo mi się podoba szafa, w której wiszą ubrania na wieszakach! Koniecznie muszę zrobić też coś takiego!
    Dziękuję i pozdrawiam Cię serdecznie!

    1. Olla wrote: I am very grateful that you let us into your studio ! It is an unusual and very interesting place! I also like when my dolls are next to me. They inspire me to create new clothes! They smile and wait for me to start something for them to do. I enjoy it immensely!
      I really like the wardrobe in which to hang clothes on hangers! I really have to do something like that too!
      Thank you and I greet you warmly!

      So true, Olla. Dolls are great muses which help with the inspiration. In many cases, they are more beautiful than many models on today's catwalks!!! So the clothes look even better!
      I built this little wardrobe (See "Taking Stock" on this blog, dated August 2, 2013). But truthfully, we've outgrown it and I need to built something bigger!

  9. Thanks for sharing your doll space with us and the creative process. I love it! I especially like the photo tip with the plastic box.

  10. So happy you enjoyed this post, Chris. It was nice welcoming you all into my home.

  11. Hello April. I loved your post! I'm not very good at fashion designing and totally hopeless with sewing, but your blog makes me want to try. I found your photography tips very interesting, I'm always trying to improve my photos. I usually use a large piece of colored cardboard (50x70cm) and place the dolls there, but sometimes I have problems with the shadows, so I'll probably try your trick.

    1. Thank you so much Monstercrafts. In addition to the portable studio, here's a way of dealing with shadows. Take a piece of cardboard and cover it with aluminum foil. Use it to reflect light to the areas that are lost in the shadows. This will brighten that area softly. But if it isn't enough, use a mirror which will give you a stronger light! (Hmmm...I'm thinking maybe I'll do a photo tips post in the near future!)

    2. That would be fantastic! I'm looking foward to read it


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