I have just finished running my annual 2 week workshop in 19th Century men’s tailoring at the Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne. A very enjoyable time was had by all. 

We work in half scale to make it quicker, cheaper and most important of all, cuter. There is nothing like a table full of half scale tailcoat and waistcoat toiled to gladden the heart. The students first made a half scale waistcoat fully finished, then a toile of a tailcoat, then a toile of a manipulated garment using the tailcoat pattern as a base. There were some amazing creations showing real creativity.

Table full of half scale 19th Century waistcoats and tailcoat toiles

Table full of half scale 19th Century waistcoats and tailcoat toiles

We began the fortnight by making our half scale male dress stands and arms. I originally made the pattern by scaling down a pattern from my full scale stand.  We weight them down with bags of lentils or dry peas (depending on taste) One of the students, Laura, gave her stand an added tattoo. 

Laura's dress stand and finished waistcoat with tattoo

Laura's dress stand and finished waistcoat with tattoo

As he went on to sport a fabulous denim version of a tailcoat, complete with yellow topstitching,  leather label and pockets, it seemed to fit. I would love to see this toile fully finished with a great lining. 

Laura's denim tailcoat

Laura's denim tailcoat

One of my other favourite coats was the manipulated tailcoat by Lucy. It looked like the costume for  a villain in a dodgy 70s science fiction show, albeit exquisitely made in black and red vinyl. 

Lucy's vinyl tailcoat

Lucy's vinyl tailcoat

The students could choose their own fabrics from the stock. As we were making in half scale it meant that they were able to work with a variety of fabrics that would be too expensive to use in full scale. It also tested their sewing skills as some of them chose some really dodgy fabrics to work with; velvet, organza, vinyl, stretch. But it was all a learning experience and they battled on. I will recommend easier fabrics next year. It was a bit mean of me to let them choose freely, not knowing what they were getting into. But haven’t we all been seduced by a lovely stipey stretch velvet. Laura’s choice of denim for the tailcoat toile was inspired, it was lovely to work with, the sleeve heads shaped beautifully, had a good weight, and it ended up looking rather fetching. 

Another great choice of fabric was by Jessica. She chose vilene for her manipulated jacket. She worked with the waistcoat pattern as her base and used the Japanese pattern cutting books by Tomoko Nakamichi as inspiration. Her final jacket was a lovely sculptural piece with added flowers on the surface and trapped between the layers. It would be great to see it on stage lit from behind, or with added LED lights in the folds and pleats.

And here are some of the rest of the toiles. Unfortunately a lot of my photos were very blurry. A lesson for me to wear my specs when taking photos. 

And here is a photo of us all on the last day doing 'jazz hands' (I never knew that was a term but there you go, I clearly haven't spent enough time around musical theatre)

A group photo with the wonderful Kym on the right who is the big boss of all production at the VCA

A group photo with the wonderful Kym on the right who is the big boss of all production at the VCA

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