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The Way We Were & What We Wore

A blank book covered in a familiar fabric, and after a minute of head scratching, realized that I had made the cover. When I opened the book, there were just a few photos of a trip to Europe back in the '80's that Sandra and I organized.


The trip was a bit of a disaster, we were truly innocents abroad.

Too many people in the group, a series of mis-adventures.

But still, there were moments.

And we made all our own clothes.

Shopped for fabric.

Had custom patterns made in Paris.

Every so often I run into someone who was on this roller coaster adventure and we smile.

I remember making the bias striped skirt and knit top.



Shopping for fabric in Italy, and still loving stripes.


In Paris, I found a shop that specialized in making custom patterns which were draped directly on the body. A group from the tour went to have patterns made. We'd all been collecting Italian and French fashion magazines, so picked a photo to have the pattern draped.Shown below, a photo of a jacket is pinned on one side of the body, while the pattern is draped on the other side using a special tissue paper. It took about a half hour to drape the pattern which was then marked and refined without seam allowances or hems...or directions!


The shop is long gone.

This artisan craft is gone too.

Mme Berthy on the left is the pattern maker. Of course we all wanted to learn how to do this. She smiled, (crazy Americans), not possible any more. She was the youngest in the shop which closed a couple of years later. Madame started as an apprentice at 15, swept the floor for 2 years while observing, then learned the craft slowly under the supervision & expertise of the older women who owned the shop. This was the last shop of its kind in Paris and this art is no longer being formally taught.

There was a time in Paris, when every neighborhood had 'modistes', skilled custom dressmakers who could replicate the most current fashions from couture salons at a more reasonable cost. The client would take the photo of the garment she wanted and have the pattern made as shown here, then take the pattern to her local modiste, whose skills rivaled the artisans who worked in the couture houses. She could have her own version of a Chanel or Dior design from the current season.

With the advent of ready-to-wear manufacturing, this has disappeared.

It was such an eye opener to watch her work. Note the leather bag at her waist where she kept her special pins.

During our visit I discovered that Mme. Berthy's son lived in San Franciso, so I arranged for her to come to The Sewing Workshop for a week, where she made custom patterns and people could come watch her work. NOT a how-to class, but a chance to see her process.

Fascinating to witness this now lost art.


Draping a coat for Sandra who is wearing a sweater knit from leather 'yarn' found in Ialy.


I bought the gold silk lame bikini in Nice (Sandra made me do it),wearing a top, skirt and bag I made.

After this trip I went on to Corsica to visit my friend Martine, and actually wore the bikini.

Still have it.....


Re-visiting these photos makes me realize how sewing and the clothes I've made over a lifetime are intertwined with memories and friendship.

Sandra Betzina and I are still sharing our knowledge and enthusiasm and love of sewing. We both design for Vogue Patterns and teach Craftsy classes. Sandra does a marvelous online sewing series, conducts retreats in San Francisco and travels all over creation teaching. When Sandra talks or teaches something, I listen...and you should too!

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© Marcy Tilton