Last week, I started shooting images of the Stieg Collection. Cataloging these custom-made garments is more fun than I could tell you. The Utah Tailoring Mills were really producers of American couture. Every item that I pull of the rack to photograph instantly becomes my new favorite. The quality of craftsmanship, the attention to detail, and the timeless silhouettes illustrate the capabilities of the designers and seamstresses employed by the company.
This floral silk satin dress is a perfect example. Many of the students and art faculty members that see me with the Stieg Collection are intrigued. They come over and inspect the garments, marveling at the the various styles. Yet they always assume that the fabrics are polyester due to the print. This brings out the textile professor in me . . .
Knowing fabrics is so essential, not just for fashion history, but for developing your personal wardrobe. So let’s take a closer look at this beautiful dress. Satin is a woven fabric with a glossy, smooth surface. This is achieved by arranging the the weft (horizontal) threads to float over the tops of groups of warp (vertical) threads on the loom. So this means that satin can be made of any type of fiber, synthetic or manmade.
Polyester gained a lot of popularity in America after World War II. By the 1960s, it was the cheapest type of fabric, which led to it flooding the marketplace. So many of the iconic prints of the 1960s and 1970s are associated with polyester because of this. (Polyester is made from petroleum in a lab, while silk is a protein fiber that comes from a silkworm spinning a cocoon.) All of Jane Stieg’s clothes from The Utah Tailoring Mills were made with the best textiles available. Every piece in her wardrobe was made from high-quality, natural fibers. Even her wool suits are lined in silk.
If you continue to look at the fabric, you will start seeing amazing construction details. At first glance, you might not notice how the pattern of the fabric is matched to the seams and buttons. Look closely. The buttons match the pattern of the fabric perfectly – they are the center of the flowers.
This is a seam at the center back of the dress. Look at how the pattern continues without disruption. Matching seam lines in this way has become a lost art today. It’s mostly because this type of detail is more costly. It uses more fabric, requires special markers, and increases the manufacturing price. However, it makes a huge difference in the overall appearance of the garment.