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Louise gets some color!

A VISIT TO CONGRESS

The most amazing thing happened yesterday. As I was boarding a flight to Washington, DC, where I was to participate in a number of store events, I got the following email out of the blue-

“I worked for Slaughter for five years. She was one of (if not, the) greatest women I ever knew. It was such a privileged and an honor to work for her. I miss her everyday. She used to talk about these suits so often, and was so proud of the suit you were going to make for her. She used to talk about it all the time and brag about representing this line. Reading this brought tears to my eyes. I just want to say thank you for honoring her. I still work on Capitol Hill, for the Rules Committee – which she used to chair – and try and find ways to honor her daily. I hope to see her collection walking the halls of Congress soon!”

I, of course, responded right away and mentioned that by happy coincidence I was on my way to DC and asked if she would be interested in being fitted for a suit, which she was. She added “Also, if you have any free time today or tomorrow and want to come by the Capitol I can give you a tour and show you the Rules Committee she used to chair and her portrait that hanging.”

I was thrilled by the opportunity to see Louise’s former office, to see her portait hanging in the Committee chamber, and have a private tour of the House of Representatives, where we sat and listened to debate , as well as the crypt and the halls of the Senate. What an amazing opportunity, yet again thanks to Louise.

PREVIEWING THE COLLECTION

A few weeks ago we had a very special preview event. Local interior designer Sonya Allen generously opened her lovely house to us so that a select group of women (and a couple of men!) could see the first garments on a live model, and look at my sketches of the collection. Elaine Spaull, Executive Director of the Center for Youth and member of the Rochester City Council talked about the important legislation regarding homeless youth that Louise Slaughter got through congress in her first year representing our district. Meg Mundy spoke about Fashion Week of Rochester and the funds that it will raise to support the center, and how very important this event is, given that the center takes absolutely no government money. Robin Slaughter Minerva shared recollections about her mother, Louise, and how Louise’s fondness for clothing led her to take a course in hand-tailoring to improve her awareness and appreciation of finely crafted clothing. Sonya explained that the catering, which was provided by the excellent local restaurant Avvino was inspired by Louise’s favorite foods; being a Kentucky native, sweet tea was a must, as well as cheese puffs, fried chicken sliders, country ham, mini cakes, and more. Sonya even had special cocktail napkins and Kombucha tags made with the sketch I had done of Missy’s suit. Then I spoke briefly about my inspiration for the collection, some of the technical challenges of making it, and some of the key features that will be available, notably a focus on the ability to perform alterations in order to get the best possible fit out of the garment, and a special focus on making the garments available in plus sizes.

In all, we had over 100 people come out to preview the collection and funds from ticket sales went to support the Center For Youth and Fashion Week Rochester.

A special custom cocktail napkin
Meg Mundy, Elaine Spaull, Missy Briscoe, Me and Sonya Allen
Missy Briscoe, Me, Biff Boswell, Robin Slaughter Minerva, Sonya Allen and Elaine Spaull with a magazine cover featuring our Louise.

BEHIND THE SEAMS- THE MAKING OF THE COLLECTION

When we started this project, the factory was just shutting down for the summer holidays. If I waited until we reopened three weeks later, it would have been too late to get the garments done in time. So I commandeered some of our home office space to make patterns during my holiday, and cut the first eight suits and started sewing them in my basement “tailor shop”. I hope to have the last two or three suits made in our factory.
The back of Shania’s jacket coming together. This will be a double-breasted model, and slightly longer than the single-breasted ones
A properly balanced sleeve is the result of a good pattern, but also skillful stretching and shrinking of the fibers to give a 3-dimensional shape.
The several layers of cloth and interlining in the lapel of a jacket are rolled gently as rows of stitching, known as “pad stitching” hold the layers in place. While we have automated machines at the factory that can do this in a matter of minutes (and which cost $100,000 a set), in my home tailor shop I do them by hand, as on Shania’s jacket. These peaked lapels take about 45 minutes each to properly work up.
The back of Missy’s jacket, ready for a fitting.

This is me and Missy, one of the models for the Louise Collection, to be shown at Fashion Week of Rochester. 


 This kind of large, rolled shawl collar was very popular in the 1950’s, which was when Louise got engaged.  There is a picture of her, dated 1956, I think, that was taken for her engagement announcement;  in it she is wearing a jacket with a 3/4 length sleeve and gloves, and she is posed in manner which is very reminiscent of the photographs that Irving Penn shot in the 1950’s for Vogue magazine, so it was clear that Louise was very aware of the fashion trends of the times.

Irving Penn’s photograph for Vogue Magazine, circa 1950
Vogue Pattern from the
1950s. I grew up sewing with these old patterns.


This kind of collar is very difficult to execute properly as the cut of it has be carefully balanced to the person wearing it, and you need to select just the right kind of interlining to support the volume and shape, without overpowering it.  I couldn’t find the right kind of canvas to use in the collar in a shade of white; the canvas used in tailoring has natural horse and goat hair to give it support, and this is usually a darker color, so I had to layer an additional piece of white pocketing over top of the layer of canvas to make sure it didn’t show through.  When you have layers of cloth and interlining (and especially, as in this case, an additional layer) we roll the layers into the correct shape and run lines of stitches, known as padstitching, to hold all the layers together, rolled in to shape.  There are automated machines, costing $100,000 a set, which can do this padstitching very quickly, but I wasn’t sure how to fit this shape of collar on the machines and get the result I wanted so I opted to do this collar by hand.  Thousands of little stitches gave it its shape, and then some careful blocking and molding using steam to set the shape.  Wool and animal hair react the same way your own hair does to heat and humidity, so the same way you might set the curls in your hair or straighten it, I can set a shape in to a garment made of wool.
To balance the volume of the large shawl, I decided to cut a very wide-legged pant to accompany it.  This pant has a 24″ bottom opening and is well-suited to this heavy yet fluid cloth.

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