Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Dying Arts

I just came off a cruise of the Mediterranean. One thing that struck me was the sophistication of Roman art, architecture, science and technology- they had lavishly decorated homes with running water, sewage, self-cleaning latrines, indoor heating systems.... then wandering the medieval village of old Rhodes it seemed as though the dates had been reversed. The simple, almost crude, architecture and sanitation of a thousand years later seemed as though it should have come first, with the Roman villages coming a thousand years after. How much knowledge and craftsmanship was lost during the dark ages?

The Celcius Library, around 1 BC, I think. Ephesus, Turkey.

Celsius Library

Medieval Rhodes, over a thousand years later, when sewage in Europe was dumped into the streets from overhanging windows.


On the ship was a hot glass show put on by the Corning Museum of Glass; three girls with impressive pedigrees gave glass-blowing demonstrations and I have to say I was impressed. They each started by sweeping floors, and they explained that it takes a minimum of six years of hard study to be considered competent to hold a gaffe. Sounds familiar. One of the girls had trained with a Murano family, and explained how the secrets were once jealously guarded by the families in Murano, that to divulge the secrets would get your hand cut off, but now there are only 7 remaining masters in Murano, each over seventy, and that their families are not interested in the art, which is at risk of dying out.

Something very interesting to me was that one of the girls emphasized the importance of a production job to perfect their skills. She said that doing one-offs were good, but once you started repeating the object over and over in a production setting, you got much better (something I have repeated often), but also that when you placed many of the same object side by side, the little imperfections you may not otherwise have noticed become much more obvious and you start to really develop to a new level of finesse and perfection. I had not thought about that angle.

I also saw a presentations by Turkish carpet weavers, who explained that their art, which often requires as many as two years for the completion of one rug, was dying because young people today would rather sit in front of a computer than a loom.

At which point I wondered if, long term, we are not entering another sort of dark age in which a certain level of craftsmanship, in which the artist is able to create something from scratch, unaided by machines, is about to be lost. Will the world look dull and mass-produced 100 or 500 years from now? Or maybe I've just had too much sun and ouzo......

Monday, July 6, 2009

A Look Under the Hood- Chanel

Yet another look inside someone else’s garment, but this time a real treat; instead of looking inside one garment we get a look at a whole bunch.

At the recent YSL exhibit the garments were, thankfully, not enclosed behind glass cases; I attracted more than my fair share of strange glances by lying flat on my back, trying to peer up the hems of dresses to see how things were finished inside and contorting myself around the garments to get a good look at details few would care about. In my most recent purchase I am saved the backache and the contortions; a new CD entitled Behind the Seams- The Schaeffer Collection, Volume One- Chanel does the work for me. Chanel has long been known for groundbreaking construction techniques and fanatical attention to detail; in this e-book we get a close up look at many of the techniques which made her famous.

CH Cover

David Page Coffin and Claire Schaeffer are both well known to hobbyist sewers and pros alike; this CD is a multimedia collaboration between the two. Claire is a well-known writer and teacher of couture sewing techniques who has visited ateliers and workshops around the world so it is not only through the historian’s or collector’s eye that we get to see these garments but from the perspective of a fellow sewing junkie. One can only imagine the amount of time and the vast sums it must have cost to accumulate such a collection so I am particularly grateful that she has chosen to share it with us. All photos and multimedia are by David, who I came to know a number of years ago when we collaborated on a few articles for Threads magazine, of which he was the editor, so I know the very high caliber of work to expect from any book he puts his name to. If five photos were finally used in an article, David would have shot over a hundred to make sure he had what he wanted, and this book certainly does not disappoint.

The book ships on an interactive CD and requires the free Adobe Reader. The content is intelligently and attractively presented and although some may prefer print versions, the fact that photos can be zoomed is a great benefit and I am finding that although I do enjoy physical books, I am beginning to appreciate the portability of electronic versions. I am about to go on vacation and as I carefully select which books I bring with me (bloody excess baggage charges) I am starting to wish more of my book were in electronic format- the Kindle is unfortunately not available in Canada yet :(

Full of great full-sized photos of the garments, it also looks at the individual construction details like these hand made buttonholes

CH Buttonhole

CH sleeve

And this hand set zipper

CH zipper

One warning- like me, you will be very tempted to run out and buy the biggest, best monitor on which to view these lovely images. I am stuck using PCs at work so I use them at home as well; on a hunch I brought the CD over to a friend’s house who has a sparkling new Mac 24” monitor, and do they ever sing. I am tempted to splurge just on the merit of the quality of image reproduction on this incredible monitor. But I digress.

Claire also looks at knock-offs, and how to spot counterfeits and misrepresentations which will be especially useful to other collectors. David includes information on how to use the book and navigate the interactive features which will be a huge benefit to those who may be new to this kind of format. Links to other web resources are also provided.

And on a similar subject, David will also be releasing a new multimedia book on making trousers soon.

With more looks inside a wide range of trousers this book is geared toward home sewers primarily, but like his Shirtmaking book, even pros will be able to find interesting things inside, like close-up glances at (and inside) these bespoke trousers from SR firm Gieves and Hawkes.

Gieves bh

Gieves pants

There is a DVD accompanying the book, which is to start shipping any day now; here’s a preview of the DVD

Introducing Making Trousers: The DVD from David Coffin on Vimeo.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am not receiving any kind of commission on sales of this or any other book or product- if I am choosing to plug it on this blog it is merely because I believe it is a wonderful resource.