Wednesday, December 22, 2010

g dot moda inc.

Well, the company is now incorporated under Canadian law as "g dot moda inc." The incorporation process consists of having an official name search done for the proposed name and any likely variants (the idea is that the name must be distinct from those of other businesses so as not to cause confusion), preparing the Articles of Incorporation, then paying some fees and submitting the application for approval. This used to take several days, but this time the approval came back the same day. It turned out that there is already a "C.G. Moda Ltd" in Canada, and I know there is a G. Moda in New York (a furniture company), so going with "g dot moda inc." is much more distinctive and is what my website address is anyway!

I now have to have the company Registered under Quebec law - the Quebec government will give the company a unique taxation number and the name will be recorded in the Quebec business registry. The paperwork has gone in the mail for this - unlike the feds, this still has to be done the old way.

So is now officially incorporated, which means I am ready to set up a bank account for the company, as soon as I get home in January. I'm leaving for Victoria later today for the Christmas holidays, to spend time with one of my brothers and his family, as well as old friends.

My priorities when I get back are to finalize the design of the g-zip garment line (my first line) and get the company's finances into order. I have decided to focus my effort more towards the first garment line, to at least get that off the ground ASAP, before focusing more on the second planned garment line, g-eode. I have ideas about several other lines - these ideas are firming up over time.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Moving forward

Well, the bank approved my application for a loan, so I'm good to go, to set up my company and move the project forward! This morning I couldn't keep still, I was bouncing up and down so hard!

I've a website up and running, too - the address is "". My company is called "" - "g" for my name, and "moda" for fashion, although you could also interpret it as "g's way". The "dot" is a kind of bridge between the design and the production. The website is kind of a "placeholder" site right now - nothing is really revealed, but you get a glimpse at some of what is being planned. Essentially, the first two garment lines are described in fairly general terms. As the company moves towards its inaugural event, I plan to slowly reveal a bit more, just to keep prospective clients interested, with the big reveal happening at the inaugural event and its online equivalent. The website will be transformed into a sales site, where you can purchase garments directly online.

There is, however, a ton of stuff that has to be done to get to that point. More later!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Incorporation Mysticism

I thought of calling this blog entry "Incorporation Blues", but it isn't really a downer - on the contrary, it's incredibly exciting! But it is rather mysterious...

I have actually been through the incorporation process three times before, so it should be no great mystery. I was a shareholder in a company a couple of my friends created way back in the 80's - I sold my shares back to my friends when I realized I couldn't participate as fully as I had originally expected, and eventually one of them took over the whole company and that was that.

Then, for four years, I was Associate Director and later Director for a large pan-Canadian research network with an incorporated Business Centre. That was the second time, but it wasn't me who actually drew up the paper work, even though I learned by the seat of my pants how a CEO with no vote on the Board still has to manage the Board and how much power a non-voting member can still have. A very interesting experience, with a budget in excess of 25 million dollars, so not small fry at all!

Finally, I co-owned a small business with my collaborator and business partner of long date, Marie Louise Bourbeau. Here I really learned the nuts and bolts of incorporating, setting up shareholders meetings, a Board of Directors, and so forth. However, our company didn't actually make any money! We incorporated before we knew where we needed to go with the concept (my fault actually, I was the one who jumped the gun!) and we ended up funding most of the things we wanted to get done through my research grants at the university. We did remarkable things at the edge between the sciences and the arts .... but it wasn't really a business. It was also a constant nightmare trying to keep separate my business for the company from my contributions as a researcher, so as to avoid conflict of interest situations. We finally decided to close down the "business" last year since we were still not making any money and had no idea how we were going to!

So this is my fourth venture, albeit the first really commercial one based on my personal initiative. Nonetheless, the other experiences give me background and a certain amount of experience with the mechanics of setting up a business, including developing a business plan (we developed business plans for both the research network and the arts-science initiative), developing Articles of Incorporation, developing a logo and brochure, etc.

My business coach in Toronto tells me that my number one principle for spending money (or doing anything at all), is "lead with revenue" - that is, make sure that there is a direct line between what I'm doing/spending and how this is going to generate revenue! It seems such an obvious thing, somehow, but I find it really useful to review all my expenditures in light of how they relate to income!

So after reviewing all the choices (do I incorporate or merely register as a single-person business? do I incorporate under provincial law or federal law? does the company offer a single type of share or more types of shares? how many shares should I issue, and of what value? how many directors do I need on the Board? etc.), and consulting with some people with good knowledge of what is appropriate, I am moving forward to the next stage. Still, the process still seems mysterious and somewhat heady - one is making a rapid series of decisions that will set in place many of my activities over the next umpteen years!

It turns out that I may need to contact the bank initially before incorporating, as they may have some requirements regarding the Articles of Incorporation. These could always be accommodated later, but I'd have to pay another chunk of money to have an amendment made, so it makes sense to do it all in one go (I think!).

My workshop is ready - I shall be posting some photos of the space shortly. I've been working on a business card, and I am starting to look into creating an initial website. And the sewing still has to happen as well!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Setting the Company Up

Well, my logo is done, as is my Business Plan, both in English and French. My next steps are to look into the incorporation process and to set up a meeting at the bank.

The logo turned out to be a fascinating experience. I have done work with local graphics companies in the past, and was not looking forward to a reprise of the difficulties encountered. But before I could even think about that, my business friend and coach showed me the "" website. This is essentially a kind of online brokerage for doing graphics design. The site claims to have nearly 70000 graphics design individuals available. You prepare a "creative brief" describing your project - about 70% of the business on the site seems to be logo development, but they also do website design, printed documents, stationary and business cards and so on as well - then post it and pay your money. The cost of the service is incredibly cheap - 200$US minimum for a logo (actually, it's a bit more, because the crowdspring site charges a 39$US fee to use the service, and a 15% overhead, and they also offer several options to improve your chances or gain greater control over the process). I spent 390$, including the option of having my brief sent to the "50 best creatives", which turns out to mean the 50 designers who are the most productive. You also determine a length of time for the submissions with a closing date - they suggest 7 days for a logo, which I followed.

Now, get this - I had 199 submissions for my logo over the week interval! With so many submissions from nearly 60 different companies, I had no trouble selecting a winning design. So within 10 days and 400$, I have a logo for my new company. The last time I worked with a company in town, it cost me nearly 1000$ and 6 months to get a logo!

At the same time, working with my business friend/coach (actually, I'm going to promote her, she's a really savvy real estate agent in Toronto - her web site is Just Call Jane - but she used to run her own company doing marketing and graphic design, so she's very knowledgeable about business as well), I drafted and then completed a business plan. This week, I used a Quebec City translation bureau to have it translated into French.

In the mean time, I've completely re-organized my home. I live in a three storey town house looking north down the "falaise" or cliff between upper and lower town, hence a view of the city and the mountains to the north. My bedroom, for the past 8 years since I moved in has been the top room at the front, the one with the view and the incredible light, and my sewing room has been a small room at the back of the house (south side). So I've switched them - my bedroom is now the small room at the back, and the front room at the top has been converted into a full scale designers workshop!

Next steps are to start moving my designs forward again as well as pursuing the funding efforts. More to come!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Next step - Start my own business!

Well, the late summer and early fall have led to big things, even though things seemed to be moving along incredibly slowly! I found that the sewing course I did in London left me with a huge boost in confidence with regard to my sewing ability, and that this boost translated into a much surer hand when I sew! Where I used to struggle a lot to get a straight seam, now it seems more or less automatic. I've also done dozens of zippers lately, and so zippers no longer present themselves as a kind of nightmare part of the project - I know exactly what I'm doing.

Between a massive amount of work preparing my fall courses, I managed to steal about one day a week for my designing efforts. Since the summer I've come up with designs for more than a dozen garments. I've mapped out two garment lines, each with a common flavor to them, and I've constructed the pattern, cut and sewn up the first prototypes for each of the two lines. Somewhat to my surprise, the results are... well, in my opinion, stunning. I've checked this perception out with some savvy (and critical) friends, and I don't think I'm mistaken.

So I started to plan a fashion show to launch the garment lines, what I call my Collection 2011 show. However, when I sat down to work out production and event costs, I realized that I couldn't do a decent event, even under a scaled down framework for a group of friends and colleagues, for less than, say, 5000$ - and that doesn't take into account much in the way of production costs. So if I actually want to turn my garments into something I can sell, even in a small way, I am looking at a significant outlay of funds.

This led me to rethink my strategy... Because, in my humble opinion, the garments I am developing deserve more than a "minimal effort" with a lot of corner cutting to show something for the effort I've put into them.

Hence, I decided to rethink my strategy - what would it take to launch a business to do this properly? Well, it turns out it will take some real financing, so I will need to go to the bank, and for that I will need a decent business plan among other things. So I have decided to go forward with this adventure. I am working on a name and a logo right now, I have a draft business plan developed, and at the same time I am continuing to develop my garments (while also working on my lessons at the university, sigh!). Busy times!

I will be reporting more here as the whole adventure moves forward.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Dynamic Clothing Prints

As part of a research project earlier this year, a colleague and I developed an idea about the use of dynamic garment prints which we presented to a scientific conference concerned with a special kind of computer data structure (called the Voronoi diagram). I often don't think to connect my fashion/sewing blog to some of the more relevant research projects with which I'm involved. In the future, I'll try to remember to do this more, as I think some of these projects may be of interest to people interested in fashion design.

Our original idea was to use this particular kind of data structure as a support for software that could be used to combine the stages of printing, layout, garment construction and garment wearing. Using modern animation techniques such as dynamic cloth simulations, it is becoming easier to link the garment construction and the overall look of the garment under motion, and existing software packages allow one to specify fabric and layout and infer garment construction. However, incorporating the printing stage is still very difficult to do, even though, with digital fabric printers, it is now possible to custom design prints to create the final garment appearance. Right now, the process of getting from the printing to the appearance of the final garment is very much by trial and error. It would be great to have access to software that would allow one to "slide the print around", or make changes to the print and see instantly the effect on the final garment.

There are a number of technical problems that have to be overcome to be able to do this. Although not the only solution, and perhaps not even the best, the Voronoi data structure offers some flexibility in being able to do this, which is why we investigated this for our research.

However, once we got onto the idea of being able to "slide around and update" a fabric print within the garment layout, and see instantly the result on the final garment, we realized that a similar procedure might be used to generate "dynamic patterns" that change in real time on the garment's surface. This rather cool idea, requires new technology to actually implement - we are not (yet) at an era where fabrics are a kind of flexible computer screen, which is what one would need, ideally, to achieve such an effect. However, with a little imagination and technical know-how, it is possible to conceive of a number of lesser effects that would still provide interesting garment experiences.

(a) One way to do this would be to equip a garment with an array of LEDs (light emitting diodes). LEDs are cheap (less than 2 cents a diode) and there are now a number of technologies that allow them to be integrated into clothes. Although controlling a large array of lights is still quite demanding, controlling a smaller number (a dozen or so) is relatively straight forward, even for the amateur. Over time, controlling arrays of LEDs should become easier. However, this is perhaps not the best solution.

(b) The use of chromothermic inks provides another means to dynamically change fabric prints - however, the principle is fairly constraining. Essentially, different colored inks can be used that become transparent at different temperatures - for example, red at 15 degrees celsius, blue at 16 degrees, green at 17 degrees and so on. By heating the garment with a low voltage electric circuit (or simply as the ambient temperature changes), the garment's printed pattern will change its appearance. A number of new garments presently emerging from experimental stages are using this principle. However, for dynamic garment prints, the applicability is still limited.

(c) An alternative approach, and one closer to our interest, is to use augmented reality. The term refers to the idea of viewing a camera image which shows the "world" as it is, but overlaid on top are virtual objects, which, in sophisticated AR applications, appear to be part of real world objects. Traditionally, the use of AR involves wearing specially designed glasses or goggles that incorporate the cameras, but recently the iPhone and similar devices has been used to provide a similar capacity, not "glued" to our eyes in the same way. That is, when you look "through" the iPhone, you see the world "augmented" by the virtual elements.

(d) A fourth possibility, related to the AR approach, is to project images onto the garment. This could make sense, for example, for a play or dance show that one watches from a distance - the effect is limited to a particular viewing direction. This has been done on several occasions by avant-garde artists, so it is not particularly new, although before the arrival of Augmented Reality software modules in the public domain (of which there are now several), this effect was very challenging to achieve!

To explore what this might look like (either option (c) or option (d)), we simulated the use of a dynamically "corrected" print using a virtual development environment (Poser 7). In the video segment below, you will see a virtual woman wearing a blouse with a static print (the usual!), lean forward and then back, followed by a sequence showing the same movement using a dynamic blouse pattern. The idea is to note that the dynamic blouse pattern leads us to view the body differently than does the static pattern. There is a bit of a "moiré" effect, due to the single perspective and the "perfection" of the dynamic pattern - in a real implementation, one would not expect to see this effect, as there will be many small imperfections in the way the pattern will look, but overall the different perception should still be maintained if the print changes over time.

Of course, there are many other ways to make the print vary over time - in our work, we were particularly interest in body image and body perception.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Design Opinions

Clothes should reflect the intensities we carry around within ourselves.

While I was out ogling the fashions (and the women ... and men... wearing them!) this afternoon, this phrase came fully formed into my mind. It expresses something I feel strongly about. I'd say about a third of the people I see dress in a way consistent with this statement. I can't say that all my clothes speak to it either. But it is something I think we should pay more attention to. Clothes, in my mind, should be "strong", they should make an unambiguous statement. Even if that statement is about ambiguity!

Note that the affirmation does not say that we should dress "intensely", that the clothes we wear should necessarily be "intense", although many of them will be if we try to live up to the statement. Instead, it is a statement about attitude, about how clothes speak for us, of us.

Many people dress as if to hide the intensity they carry around inside of themselves. This is regrettable, our inner intensity is part of what makes us, each of us, interesting, both to ourselves and to others.

Some people may think they are not "intense", but that isn't quite what I say either. We all carry with us an inner intensity, even if we don't think of ourselves that way. Sometimes, also, this inner intensity is tied up with painful things and feelings, but that isn't necessarily a counter argument either. We should have clothes that allow us to speak to such things as well.

I think people are drawn to designer fashions partly because designers struggle to do this, to express the intensities that they share with us, with potential clients. It is also about aesthetics, and style and those other things, but designers are also tuned in to this question of intensity.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

On Fashion Drawing

In my efforts to develop a working design practice, I have struggled mightily with the problem of drawing. After thinking I couldn't "fashion draw" for years, because everytime I put pencil to paper the results were so bad as to not even contemplate, I finally remembered that, over a number of years, I have done watercolors while traveling instead of postcards with quite creditable results, so the reason can't be that I have no talent whatsoever! Perhaps what I lack is training, but who has the time to invest hundreds of hours in learning to "draw"...

Over the past few weeks, I have more or less solved the problem using a combination of techniques. I bought the "Fashionary" book from its Chinese author, following a recommendation from someone through BurdaStyle - essentially, the book is a drawing book with very discrete profiles of women printed in dots on the page. You have to look closely to see the dots, but they provide a template for body drawing. Since I already used templates in earlier efforts, this proved quite successful to get some initial designs sketched out.

Secondly, I am not a bad draughtsman, and I work professionally with maps where you use the 2D maps to infer 3D features of the landscape. I am thus quite good at visualizing the 3D results of a 2D garment pattern, and because I develop flat patterns, I can often sidestep the 3D drawing stage and go directly to a tentative pattern, then use this to backstep out to the drawing.

Between these two techniques, I can develop sketches of sufficient quality and detail that I can use them to advance my thinking about the designs, but the results are not professional enough to show to an audience. I have therefore also been struggling with this issue. And I think I've found a workable, albeit not perfect, solution to that as well.

I had been contemplating using photographs of women downloaded from the web. I did some experiments with fashion ads, where I replaced what they were wearing for the ad with garments of my own design. The problem, of course, is that the photos are too "realistic" to support adding on "cut-outs" and still look good. I did try degrading the quality of the photos, but there are other issues, such as how to remove the pre-existing garments.

Then I thought, why not use nudes... there are, after all, millions of nudes on the web. The problem is, of course, copyright. I'm sure you could get away with using arbitrary nudes, there are so many of them, but the solution doesn't quite sit right. Also, I need images where the hands and arms do not block one's view of the torso, as their presence makes the drawing of "cut-outs" considerable harder. It would be nice, then, to have control over my own model...

Finally, a light bulb went off. What about using Poser, or another 3D design software that incorporates human figures? I do own a version of Poser (Poser 7), but Poser is quite awkward to use if you want results quickly. However, over the past couple of years, I've been using a piece of software called DAZ Studio, which uses Poser figures and objects as well as objects in its own internal format. Although there are some downsides to DAZ Studio (file management, in particular, is messy), it is an environment which is much easier to use than Poser in terms of getting a workable result rapidly. With a small layout of funds (the DAZ Studio software itself is free), it is possible to construct some quite interesting environments and then pose a number of nude figures within these landscapes. So I spent the weekend testing this idea out, and the result is quite workable.

Shown in the image is a variation on the standard 4th generation figure used in DAZ Studio (Victoria or V4) - I have dressed her in a sports bra and panties that are provided with the figure, although I actually work with the nude figure. For a modest fee (I pay 7,95$/month), you can join the "Platinum Club", which gives you access to a large number of environments and figures at minimal cost. Hence the environment shown, called the "Veranda Cafe", is available for Platinum Club members for 1,99$. Within this environment, you can control the placement of all the chairs, the lights, the camera views and, for another 1,99$, you can choose different background scenery to be viewed through the windows. (I think the hair also cost me another 1,99$.)

Once I have "rendered" my scene (see first image), as for the photos I used earlier, I apply a Photoshop "filter" to get an image that is more like a drawing (i.e. it is simplified to form 8 different colors only), and then I can add my "cut-out" garments on top with a result that looks snazzy without looking too odd (larger image at right). As my ability to "draw" with the software improves, my "cut-outs" should begin to look better, and I think the result is presentable to a larger audience. Perhaps not quite as sharp as a good drawing, but the use of 3D graphics environments offers other advantages. It is true you are stuck with the landscapes somebody has decided to build and offer to the users, but the choice of scenery and environments is actually quite large, especially if you are willing to pay a bit more money (e.g. entire city blocks for about 30$, for example).

Using Photoshop to add my cutouts allows me, for example, to make small modifications or switch out one cutout element for another at the touch of a button.

In principle the garments could be "built" within DAZ Studio and their appearance entirely simulated within the environment, but this takes a lot of effort and know-how. I've looked into it, but unless you want to pay a lot of money, it is not presently doable to a "layperson" such as myself.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

On Corset-Making

I recently put the finishing touches on my very first corset - I made one for my cousin, who is still stunning to look at in her fifties and who was seriously interested when I told her I was learning to make corsets. This was actually my second effort, although it is the first one I've finished. I started making another corset for a friend here in Quebec City several weeks before beginning the one for my cousin, but I needed to finish hers first as I was traveling to England and could fit her for the final adjustments if I had a pre-finalized version ready.

Despite the fact that it took hundreds of hours to make (I took my time, because I wanted to do everything right, so I didn't actually count the hours - I'm sure as I make more I'll be able to bring the time down, but I'm told even the best can't do it faster than about 30 to 40 hours!), I enjoyed every minute of the process! The development process is complex, but carries its own charm - between the usual steps of laying out and cutting the fabric and sewing, one adds putting in the grommets (hammer and anvil!), the bones and the busk, along with finishing and lacing.

I also love the fact that though a corset is custom made for a particular body shape, the ultimate fit is handled through the lacing, hence no fiddling with small adjustments at the end of the process!

I was interested in corsetry also to learn more how to use boning to shape a garment. Although I'm very happy with my first effort, I shall need to experiment more to feel that I really master this latter issue.

There are so many different types of corset, the challenges seem endless - one can do historic corsets, fashion corsets, corsets for men (an area I could definately get into!), corsets for burlesque shows, ultra sexy corsets, underbust vs overbust corsets, corset variations (basque, corsellette, etc.), overwear corsets, the list goes on. And there is a kind of "subculture" of people who "dig" corsets, whether making them or wearing them.

Intermediate-Level Sewing at the London College of Fashion

During the third week of July, 2010, I took an intermediate-level "short course" at the London College of Fashion - it was called "More Sewing Skills". As a self-taught sewer (seamster?), I felt it would be useful to "even out" my skills a bit by taking a formal course, and also, the descriptions of the course included sewing stretch and on the bias, skills I have yet to master. I had no idea what the experience would bring me other than these very general expectations, nor who would take such a course. (The image shows the lovely little courtyard next to the entry to the Curtain Road building.)

The course was held at the Curtain Road facility, which I understand to be a more industrial setting than most of the sites of the LCF. London was in the middle of a heat wave when I arrived, although it cooled off over the course of the week.

Upon arrival at the site on the Monday morning, the cafeteria area served as an assembly point for the students, actually for two courses being given at the same time (I'm not sure what the other course was, actually). Although several had already arrived when I got there, I took a table on my own. After a few minutes, first one young woman and then another joined me at the table. We got to talking and I discovered one was Greek and the other Italian (but living in Ireland).

In a few minutes we were introduced to our teacher, Ms. Siaw-Lee Priddle, a diminutive Chinese woman, who took us to the back of the building to the rooms that were to be ours for the week. Within a short time it became clear that Ms. Priddle knew precisely what she was doing, but her English diction wasn't always easy to decipher! Nonetheless, she impressed me with her evident expertise and, over the course of the week, what I came to recognize as both a passion for sewing, and a passion for passing on some of her knowledge to others. I found her to be an excellent teacher, and would have no second thoughts recommending her.

Over the course of the week, we made miniature versions of a shirt, a lined dress (just the top part, actually, above the waist), a stretch t-shirt and a lined skirt cut on the bias. It was implied that these were children's versions, but at one point over the week, we discovered that the patterns were all in Ms. Priddle's size! She had recycled several patterns she had developed for her own clothing for our use!

Although I have made lots of shirts and several dresses and skirts, I actually learned a lot about different ways of doing these things. Ms. Priddle taught us to do things quickly and efficiently, with a minimum use of pins (which is usually where things slow down a lot!). She didn't actually forbid us pins, but whenever someone suggested using pins, for example, to set a sleeve, she laughed and told us we didn't need pins to do these things.

Unfortunately, over the early part of the week I developed a very bad cold with a hacking cough, which reduced my energy level and left me exhausted every day (with the cough I was having trouble sleeping). I ended up "skipping class" Thursday morning when my energy was at an all time low. This cold made it difficult to get the maximum benefit of the class (and the time in London!).

Overall, however, I've very pleased with the class. I believe I "honed" my skills - I learned a lot of tips and tricks for doing things faster and more efficiently. I finally understood what the issue is with sewing on the bias - it wasn't all that complicated, but it's hard to explain in (or learn from) written texts. It's the kind of thing you need to see, and then you understand it. So I got more or less what I wanted out of the course, despite my low levels of energy as a result of the cough.

When I asked Ms. Priddle what she thought might be appropriate as a follow-up course, eventually, she more or less said that I didn't really need one. She did suggest that the course on Jackets might be useful, however, which confirms my own opinion. She paid me a very nice compliment at one point in the week - I took in my finished corset to show them, and when she saw it her jaw dropped and she said "I thought you were joking when you said you'd made a corset!"

Two Cities, Two Fashion Cultures

Last month (July, 2010) I spent several days in Madrid, Spain, followed after a short interval by several days in London, England. Somewhat to my amazement, I found people in both cities to be highly fashion conscious. I have been reading lately in the academic literature on fashion a number of criticisms of so-called "street fashion", writers who are disappointed with the apparent lack of imagination of everyday people regarding fashion. I must say, however, that my experience in several cities does not support this jaded view. I find street fashion to be quite fascinating, especially as it seems to differ in "flavor" in different cultures. I wish I could share more photos from Madrid - I took several photos while there, but I then lost my camera with the images still not transferred to my computer, to me great frustration. I could have accepted the loss of the camera if I hadn't also lost a number of great pictures!

Madrid in July is hot and humid and filled with people - lots of tourists, yes, but also lots of locals. In the evening, the city is abuzz with places for eating tapas. There are streets more devoted to tourists and others which seem to cater more to the indigineous population. I went down one set of streets that clearly catered to the young crowd. (The photo is the only one I've got from Madrid - it just shows me in a restaurant that could be anywhere in the world... but it is a kind of "proof" I was there :) ... )

Everywhere you go, people dress up - they are extremely chic, men and women. The ones who don't are actually more the tourists. Fabulous clothes, many quite originally, for the most part very sexy, even, I would say, sensual. None of it in bad taste, none of it crass or vulgar. Often, very elegant but also very simple clothing, but lots of attention to how the clothes move with the body and not just how they look when you're standing still.

Madrid struck me as a very livable city, with a vibrant lifestyle and many different areas of quite different character. I understand it is listed as one of the world's most liveable cities - I can see why.

London, England, provides a very different sense of fashion, but no less trendy or interesting in its own way. The one label I would use to describe London street fashion (obviously more relevant to women than to men) is "cleavage, cleavage, cleavage"! This is very different from Madrid (or Quebec, for that matter). Londonians seem to think that cleavage is sexy (well, it is, too, but it can be rather overwhelming and not always appropriate, in my experience!). I would say that well over 50% of the women in the streets display a lot of cleavage, and this includes young teens as well as women in their sixties. Where women might wear a man's shirt in other cultures with the top one or two buttons left undone, in London it is likely that the top three buttons are left open, if not more. (The photo shows some cleavage, but is not a great example of the fashion-sense I found in much of London - perhaps more so in the green dress... I have to say that I discovered that the second floor of London's buses makes a great platform for taking interesting pictures!)

Londonian clothes in general I found to be eclectic and chic, but not stuffy or overly conservative, as I half expected. No doubt it depends which parts of London you visit, but I was staying in North London (Hackney and Islington), working in Shoreditch and visited areas in Southwark, Kensington and Greenwich/Blackheath. I'm sure if I hung around in more business areas, I would have seen more conservative dress, but overall I say a wide range of clothing and fashion styles.

The trip left me intruiged by the whole issue of street fashions. I wish I hadn't lost my camera, because I become convinced that good photos would help reveal these cultural differences from place to place. The world could use more "sartorialists" I think!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The moment of commitment

One of the most intense sensations when designing and sewing, I find in my own practice, is the moment when I must commit to cutting the fabric following the finalization of the pattern. When you are working from a pattern someone else has prepared, you also get this in a milder form - have you selected the right size and traced out all the lines correctly? But when you've worked for days coming up with a pattern that you think serves and must commit to turning the pattern into a garment, this moment is particularly intense. It is true that you can make a muslin shell rather than use the good fabric, but even for that, you are committing to several hours work that may be less than adequate if you need to rethink the design at that point. As long as you are working on paper, you are not "committed" to the design, but after switching to laying out, cutting and sewing, mistakes become more serious and what you do has direct consequences.

It is both a terrifying and an exhilerating experience, even for the most modest garment. I'm sure if you did this professionally, you would learn to manage this moment more routinely, but I'm not sure even then that the intensity of the moment of commitment will every quite disappear!

Friday, April 2, 2010

What I do...

Several people have asked me recently, online, what I do. They may have seen me write that I'm a scientist and they are curious about what kind of scientist I am. Some people are themselves scientists, and want to know what my specialty is, partly out of professional interest. Also, I have stated in several locations that my passion for sewing has begun to intersect with my scientific research, and, of course, that catches people's eye and they want to know more.

It is actually not all that easy to tell you what I do. I can tell you what academic department I work in ("geomatics", sometimes called "surveying" or "surveying engineering"), and what discipline my Ph.D. was in ("astrophysics" - actually "observational cosmology" if you want to be precise). But my current research is very, VERY interdisciplinary - I work at the intersection between "rehabilitation science", "new media and performance art", "geomatics", "cognitive psychology" and "computer science", more specifically "artificial intelligence", and, more recently, "fashion". For example, I am constructing a new media laboratory within a physical rehabilitation hospital that incorporates a range of sensors (cameras, microphones, touch sensitive devices, pressure-sensitive mats, data gloves, physiological sensors, radio frequency identity tags, etc.) and provides a wide set of perceptual experiences (via mono and stereo projections on walls and the floor, loudspeakers located throughout the room space, motorized devices that engage the body, etc.) with the goal of exploring the impact of new types of interaction between the self and the environment, on our ability to adapt to changes in our body or to learn new ways of understanding who we are.

Furthermore, to a large extent, the "science" I do is less about "measuring" and more about "engineering", or "designing" environments (although we do some assessment as well). This is where fashion issues come into play. One of the lines of inquiry we are following involves developing garments that showcase dynamically moving images, and investigating how certain dynamic images may be used to change our postural control, for example. For example, imagine that you are wearing a shirt which displays a horizontal line - no matter how you hold your body, the line is always horizontal with respect to the surrounding environment! Does this absolute horizontal reference affect how you stand or move?

I'm not sure if that is any clearer, though. You'd have to see us in action to really understand what we are doing, and since the lab is presently under construction, it is hard to actually show you concrete results at this point. There isn't much to see, yet...

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Perfect Shirt

I've made four different shirts for myself over the past 18 months now, each using a different design (and incorporating a number of mistakes). Now I'm working on the "perfect shirt" for me (see Figure at right). There may appear to be nothing particularly outstanding about the design shown, but it incorporates a number of features that are important. First of all, it is wide - the design is made to fit my girth, not my waist. Secondly, it uses a dress shirt style hem at the bottom - this ensures there is lots of fabric below the belt so that when the shirt is tucked in, it stays tucked in! The top of the curves at the hem at the bottom are low enough that they also stay out of sight, even when the fabric pulls up (such as when I do stretching exercises). Third, the neck line is much lower than for most commercially-made men's shirts - it is closer to a boat neck in overall form. This allows me to button the shirt up to the top without putting any pressure on the neck - I hate how regular shirts are too tight around the neck, even when they are "loose". I like wearing a shirt I can button up to the top (without a tie - I don't wear ties!) without feeling like I am being strangled! Fourth, the fabric extends several centimeters past the Centre Front line, so that when the shirt it buttoned up, there is no possibility of the shirt gapping open between buttons and showing skin underneath.

The upper part of the shirt may or may not be modified into a yoke - I have tried both, and I generally prefer the non-yoked versions of shirts over the yoked versions. I tend to make my shirts without a pocket, also - I've taken to put the things I usually put into my shirt pocket into my back pants pocket instead - I like the uncluttered look of a shirt without its pocket. I've also found that most ready-to-wear shorts have too long a shoulder and I have shortened the shoulder seam (and moved it towards the front slightly for my particular case).

I have experimented with several collars for shirts, including a mandarin style collar and standup collars - I prefer the latter. I've also experimented with wide cuffs (which I like), and wide sleeve openings (which I don't like as much).

I like the sleeve to be fairly wide at the sleeve cap - I narrowed the sleeve on one of my shirts and found the results to be uncomfortable.

I found that offsetting the buttons slightly from where the collar fastens gives a slightly asymmetrical feel to the shirt front which I like, very different from ready-to-wear shirts. This is particularly effective when using high quality fabrics like hammered silk, where the quality of the fabric highlights the design features of the shirt that make it different from a standard shirt.

I'm not sure whether my "perfect shirt" is right for everyone, but for me, after a considerable amount of experimentation, I think I have found a "look" that suits me and that I like, while still remaining dressy and chic.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Mathematics of Sewing!

I have been thinking about the mathematics of sewing for some time. It seems to me that one could develop a really interesting little memoir on the subject. Here's a mini table of contents for such a text :

  1. Introduction
  2. Metric spaces - from 1D to 2D
  3. Metric spaces - from 2D to 3D
  4. Fabric, manifolds and topology
  5. Tilings and prints
  6. Draping, gravity and constrained dynamic systems
  7. Conclusion

I'm sure I haven't exhausted the possible topics, either. Here's a few notes about each of these topics.

Metric spaces - from 1D to 2D : The practice of drafting a sloper or block (or pattern) is one familiar to engineers and users of Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software - it consists of using interconnected lines of pre-determined length to lay out a set of two-dimensional shapes. In addition, the process of weaving threads to form two-dimensional sheets is another example of extruding one dimensional objects (threads under simplification) to form two dimension objects (sheets). The process of manipulating patterns (or fabric, for that matter) by cutting and then reattaching cut pieces at different locations exploits particular sets of the metric properties of 2D spaces. The relationship between the metric and its properties on the one hand, and the manipulation of sewing patterns on the other, could be rendered explicit.

Metric spaces - from 2D to 3D : The process of stitching fabric together in complex ways to form 3D objects constitutes a second class of transformations that could be explored.

Fabric, manifolds and topology : During the process of taking pieces of fabric that have been cut and sewing them to form 3D objects, topological properties of the sheets are also exploited. Indeed, whether sheets, tubes (thread) or 3D objects (garments), we are dealing with entities that are mathematically described as 'manifolds'. The topology of the objects concerned affects the fabrication process - for example, turning a jacket inside out is a manifestation of certain topoological properties of the garment.

Tilings and Prints : The procedure by which one generates a print pattern through repetitions of a motif is a form of tiling, for which there is a very interesting mathematics derived of both very old and very new ideas. Hence exploring tilings presents an interesting area of study, inlcuding repetitive tilings but also non repetitive tilings such as Penrose tilings.

Draping, gravity and constrained dynamic systems : Once garments are design, printed and constructed, they are worn. How they are worn depends upon the behavior of dynamic systems under gravity, especially in the presence of particular classes of constraints (e.g. adjacency or connectivity constraints).

A full exposition of these different aspects would make fascinating reading!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Footprints in the sand...

As part of my ongoing work on the fabric wiki, I have been researching so-called "eco-friendly" fabrics and the issues that surround them. This makes fascinating reading (see my wiki article on this for more details). It turns out there is no "perfect" eco-fabric - all of them have issues (even recycled fabrics), despite what some people on the net seem to believe. That said, it is possible to make intelligent choices that can put pressure on the system to change for the better.

What I found particularly interesting, though, is the whole notion of a "footprint". First of all, there seem to be several footprint concepts being used now, including the "ecological footprint", the "carbon footprint", even the "water footprint" or the "energy footprint", with a certain amount of confusion as to what each represents. Although we probably hear more about the carbon footprint, the most general concept is actually the ecological footprint. The ecological footprint is the amount of land that would be needed to produce and/or absorb the materials needed and/or generated by our activities. The reason for the "slashes" in this statement is that land is required to make things, but the pollution or garbage generated by our activities (and the nature of the world means that waste products are ALWAYS generated by activities) also requires land support. This notion of footprint is hence, truly a footprint - it is expressed in surface area that activity generates. The footprint per capita is then multiplied by the total population of the Earth to determine the total surface area needed to support all our current activities. Well, it turns out that we would need, roughly 1,5 planet Earth's to support current activity levels. In other terms, we are using up the planet's resources faster than they can be renewed. This is NOT a GOOD state of affairs for future generations.

Interesting, and perhaps surprisingly to many, our use of fabric is a primary component of our overly large ecological footprint. The textile industry is a heavy polluter as well as an energy gourmand, and the result is a direct contribution of something near 15 to 20% of our ecological footprint, due mainly, of course, to the use of fabrics in the developed world (Europe and North America). It should be noted that the ecological footprint of the developed world rings in at five (5!) planet Earths - we are using resources five times faster than the planet can renew itself. Therefore, the 15% to 20% contributed by the world of fabrics actually represents one whole Earth ON ITS OWN. This is a serious problem, and one that those of us interested in sewing and fashion need to be aware of and doing something about!

This means not just what and how we buy, but also how we talk about and promote fashion, how we engage with the community, and so forth.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

MycoAnna and Recycled Fabrics

While in Montrreal for a visit with my brother (who was staying with mutual friends), one of my friends suggested that I go and visit the MycoAnna boutique on St-Laurent. Although she didn't quite remember the name, when I finally found the shop, the name rang a bell, although I couldn't remember from where or when. Well, it turns out this is a company that started in Quebec City, right down the road from where I live (no wonder the name resonated!). I was stunned by the garments showcased on the store in Montreal. This is the first time I've really gotten excited over the aesthetics of using recycled fabrics (no doubt from personal ignorance - I haven't gone out of my way to find out more). Interestingly, MykoAnna has been in business for 15 years, long before the current interest in recycled fabrics developed. It seems that the store hit mainstream only about 8 years ago and has been expanding ever since.

I've always considered working with recycled fabrics to be an interesting but challenging task for a beginner sewer, and one that I would eventually explore but would leave until I mastered better some of the basic techniques. MycoAnna uses a majority of stretch fabrics in their designs, which is another area I have "left for later", although working with stretch fabrics is one of my spring projects this year. I don't understand much about stretch fabrics, but I was as much impressed with the shape as well as the eclectic colors and textures of the MycoAnna designs. Since different fabrics have different stretch properties, sewing these fabrics together higgly-piggly would no doubt leave a garment with odd shaping properties - their garments obviously do not do this. I also noticed that their fabrics are sewn without apparent attention to the grain, even when non-stretch fabrics are used. I'm sure this apparent inattention is an illusion, but it seems to me that doing this kind of sewing well would require a lot of knowledge and know-how about how fabrics work together and drape. One can shape a stretch fabric by changing its flat pattern seam shapes. It would be great to better understand this process.

The saleswoman in the Montreal boutique mentionned that these garments work well for both older women and for bigger women - the color contrasts draw the eye in interesting ways that result in a strong appearance for women across a range of sizes and body shapes. I get it, looking at the garments, even though the models on display on the runways are the classic thin models.

Anyway, MykoAnna turned me on to the possibilities of working with recycled fabrics. And I shall certainly check out the Quebec store. This is a story to watch as it unfolds. See MycoAnna Creations for more on their collections.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Pencil Skirt....and Indian clothes

Took a break over the fall from my sewing, as I had a very busy teaching session since mid summer. In preparation for Christmas, I made a pencil skirt for my niece - it worked out well, although I have already modified the design for the next time - for some reason, I had the button panels open to the front instead of the back, which would have been more discrete and just as effective as a fashion embellishment. The photo shows my niece, Melina, wearing the finished skirt! I am now working on a jacket to go with the pencil skirt, made out of the same fabric. While in Vancouver over Christmas I bought some tartan fabric which will make a great lining.

Also, while in Vancouver, I found a two block section of Scott Road in North Delta with 10 fabric stores for Indian fabrics, saris and other Indian clothes. I bought some fabulous fabric there to begin making my first salwar kameez, another of my projects for the spring. More soon.