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You may prefer quick sewing to lengthy couture hand sewing, but one thing is sure – couture sewing classes are in demand.

Earlier this April I contacted Claire Shaeffer, author of Couture Sewing Techniques and instructor, asking for information on her Chanel suit class. Imagine my surprise when I learned that all classes for 2011 were full and the first available class was in January 2012!

It was a discovery for me that there were so many people willing to invest money and time (a lot of time, actually) to learn couture sewing. Fortunately, there are quite a few learning options available for couture enthusiasts like myself, ranging from classroom instruction to online classes.

Most of these classes offer the foundation of couture sewing. “The technical base is the same throughout the couture,” said Martine Houdet, one of Chanel’s head dressmakers in an interview with Vogue a couple of years ago, “but after that you need to learn the technique of the house.” And, while some of the techniques have been described by couture experts in books, magazine articles, (such as quilting on Chanel jackets, or light chains to weight hems), many of them are still a well-guarded secret.

If you are lucky and your instructors are industry insiders who have had hands-on experience – you will learn a lot. However, in couture – and that’s what attracts me most – you will always be learning and looking for innovative ways to solve a construction problem. “There is always research to be done – every time it’s different,” said head Chanel seamstress Madam Martine as quoted by AFP. Knowledge of fabrics, pattern-making, draping and other techniques will help you in making the best decisions.

But for the start, here are a few options for US-based courses.


Classroom Instruction: F.I.T. Haute Couture classes

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Image courtesy of FIT.

The Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) offers a Competency-Based Certificate Program in Haute Couture. Classes include Haute Couture Sewing Techniques, Decorative Techniques and Embelishments, Construction and Technology, Haute Couture Apparel Design and Haute Couture Portfolio.

These are semester-long classes, and to attend this course you will want to be based in New York. For more information on the program, check out the FIT website.


Classroom instruction: Susan Khalje’s Couture Sewing School

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Image courtesy of Susan Khalje.

I’ve taken a few classes with Susan Khalje, who learned couture sewing at the New York couture salon, Chez Cez et Bez. She is the author of two sought-after books: Bridal Couture: Fine Sewing Techniques for Wedding Gowns and Evening Wear (Krause) and Linen and Cotton: Classic Sewing Techniques for Great Results (Taunton). She started her Couture Sewing School in 1993 and has been teaching couture throughout the US.

Her classes are project-based and last from four to six days. Some of the highlights include:

-The Classic French Jacket Class where you will learn how to construct a jacket inspired by Chanel Haute Couture version
-The Couture Sewing School in which participants work on a project of their choice incorporating the couture techniques that go into Susan Khalje’s
exquisite garments
-The Draping Class with her Paris-based colleague Julien Cristofoli.
-and, finally, her Sit-and-Sew with Kenneth King is another great project-based class.

Visit Susan’s website for more information on her workshops.


Classroom Instruction: Claire Shaeffer’s Sewfari Workshops

Claire Shaeffer, the author of the bestselling Couture Sewing Techniques and frequent contributor to Threads magazine, as well as Vogue Patterns magazine, teaches two workshops a year in her hometown Palm Springs.

Chanel and That Suit – focuses on Chanel, her life and contributions to fashion, the House of Chanel, the Chanel suit, and the French dressmaker suit. The primary emphasis will be on elements such as the unique hand buttonholes, chain weights, unusual and contrast linings, and decorative trims, which Chanel used to make the French dressmaker suit unique.

More Chanel – continues with additional details from Chanel garments such as moving and reshaping the princess seam, shaping collars, additional cuff and trim designs, skirts, and designing with fabrics.

Haute Couture Workshop – focuses on traditional haute couture techniques such as those described in Couture Sewing Techniques. This unique workshop provides an overview of European dressmaking and tailoring methods.

For more information on Claire’s workshops, contact her at sewfari@earthlink.net.


Online classes:

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LBD class board.

If you are looking for online couture classes, you must check out PatternReview. Their classes are a combination of PDF downloads, live chats and message board interaction and, if you are disciplined and diligent, you will enjoy it.

Take any class by Susan Khalje – it will be packed with couture sewing techniques. Some of the classes she offered so far are: Couture Hand Stitches, Top 10 Couture Techniques, The Lace Class, The Little Black Dress, Wedding Gown 101. The great thing is that these classes are the most affordable option for learning couture.


I also recommend taking several classes by Sarah Veblen for some of the important foundation techniques, especially The Technique of Underlining Garments. In addition, try her Fun with Fitting series and fabric classes!

These are just a few classes, which I took myself or which have been recommended by others. I know there are more available, so if you have participated in other classes or want to share your opinion about those I mentioned, I would love to hear your opinion.

At the end, a quick tip: If you are not sure about a particular class check out Patternreview.com for feedback, or ask a question about the class in sewing forums. Good luck!

~Marina

Marina von Koenig is a couture enthusiast blogging at Frabjous Couture.

18 Comments

  • Missing

    Aug 9, 2011, 06.54 PMby Robin Denning

    I love all kinds of sewing (fast, couture and everything in between). I’ve taken a week-long class with Susan, the NYC Sit and Sew, as well as private study with Susan Khalje, Kenneth King and Sarah Veblen. It is not inexpensive, but I love each class or lesson more than the last, so this will be an ongoing commitment for me. I’d love to study with Claire Schaeffer, too. Her DVD (http://tiny.cc/m297n) about couture basics is fantastic. I like to leave it playing in the background while I work on other things, because I keep picking up details I missed on previous viewings. I can’t say enough positive about all of them. I have learned so much from each of them. I like to attend at least one week-long class every year and everything else I can get my little paws on! Great article!

    1 Reply
    • Marina_large

      Aug 10, 2011, 04.32 PMby Marina von Koenig

      Thank you, Robin! Hope to meet you in one of these classes – with Susan and Kenneth, you can never learn enough, right?

  • Missing

    Aug 8, 2011, 06.48 AMby guideessay

    I admire the valuable information you offered in your article Keep inspiring your readers thanks.

  • 532698_10150742947249316_1888144941_n_large

    Aug 6, 2011, 12.05 PMby keren

    Hi Marina,

    Unfortunately the classes on the Pattern Review website are not open for registration and are not scheduled for any future dates. I’ve asked to be notified when one of them becomes open, but who knows when that will be :-(

    Keren

    1 Reply
  • Missing

    Aug 6, 2011, 10.27 AMby Tokie Ang

    this is sound excited..wish there is also e-classes for us who live far away from NY :)

  • Missing

    Aug 5, 2011, 05.46 PMby Jen Charney

    Is hard to find somwhere for beginner to learn basics, sewing store classes don’t give enough individual attention, they make you make their pattern and they just have you cut a standard size, which for me doesn’t fit. There needs to be basic course on how to make the pattern fit for people who are thin and the smalles size is too big, need know how/where to cut down the pattern. Hopefully I’m going to learn this with my sewing teacher, but finding a teacher that is qualified to teach sewing has been really hard and I live in metro NYC area so I can imagine someone from smaller town having loads of trouble.

    1 Reply
    • Marina_large

      Aug 6, 2011, 11.47 AMby Marina von Koenig

      Have you tried Kenneth D. King classes? They are really good – and his Fit Clinic ( I believe this is what you are looking for ) will be offered in August and in October.

      Check out this site http://sewright.com/Classes.html

      And, also the Moulage class, which is a foundation pattern made for you body.

      His e-books are a great reference material, too
      http://www.kennethdking.com/book.html

      Hope this helps!
      Marina

  • Me_large

    Aug 4, 2011, 11.35 AMby jessdunstan

    Such a great post! I am attending Susan’s couture course in October. I live in South Africa and this will be my first trip to the States so I am looking so forward to it!

    7 Replies
    • Marina_large

      Aug 6, 2011, 11.49 AMby Marina von Koenig

      Will you be taking the Couture School or Sit & Sew? I may come to COuture School – it would be great to meet you!

    • Me_large

      Aug 7, 2011, 10.41 AMby jessdunstan

      I’m going to be doing the couture school. It would be fantastic to meet you!

    • Marina_large

      Aug 8, 2011, 10.07 PMby Marina von Koenig

      Oh, great! I can now confirm that I will join – looking forward to meeting you too! You will love it – Susan is an excellent teacher!

    • Me_large

      Aug 9, 2011, 11.17 AMby jessdunstan

      Fantastic! Looking so forward to it :)

    • Weddingheadshot_large

      Aug 10, 2011, 02.21 PMby clearfieldborn

      Hi Jess,
      I will be attending too, although from much closer (I live in Metro DC). Have a wonderful trip and I’ll see you at the Couture School!
      Pam (in Virginia)

    • Me_large

      Aug 11, 2011, 05.57 AMby jessdunstan

      Hi Pam
      So nice to meet another person who’s going to be on the course. This course is going to be so much fun!

    • Me_large

      Aug 12, 2011, 08.38 AMby jessdunstan

      Hi Marina and Pam
      I wanted to ask you both where you would be staying during the course? Are you going to be staying at the hotel or somewhere else?
      Jess

  • 532698_10150742947249316_1888144941_n_large

    Aug 4, 2011, 07.12 AMby keren

    Hi Marina,

    Thanks so much for this article – it’s great! A few weeks ago I took Gertie’s online course (Sew Retro Bombshell Dress). It’s a great course with couture techniques, and I would recommend it. I learned a lot from it and wanted to learn more but wasn’t sure where to go from here. Not being based in the US, I will check out the courses on patternreview.com. Thanks again!

    Keren

    1 Reply
    • Marina_large

      Aug 6, 2011, 11.51 AMby Marina von Koenig

      Yes, you are right! Gertie’s class is really good! Thanks for adding it to the list!

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